February 29, 2008

Lawrence King (1993-2008)

On February 12 Lawrence, an openly gay eighth-grader, was shot in the head while in class at his Oxnard, CA school by a 14 year old male classmate after Lawrence had asked him to be his Valentine. Within days Lawrence was declared brain dead and removed from life support. Words fail me...

February 28, 2008

25 Years of War

25 years ago today U2 released "War", their third album, and one that solidified their status as a group to be reckoned with. In the influential music magazine NME Bono explained that "War" was as much a reaction to the music scence itself as it was a more political statement of the times: "People are growing disillusioned with pap, with the wallpaper music and the gloss. It's as if someone has eaten too many Smarties over the last couple of years, and they're beginning to feel ill as they look at all the wrapping paper strewn around the room."
"War" is certainly a product of its time, with references to the Troubles of Northern Ireland, the threat of nuclear winter, and the rise of Poland's Solidarity movement. It was made during the Falkland Islands conflict and, ironically, one month after the record was released Ronald Reagan announced his plans for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Latter dubbed "Star Wars" by a cynical public SDI never fully materialized, although the NeoCons kept the vision alive and well.
"Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is the album's most famous song but "New Year's Day" is probably the best, with a trademark bass line that has been sampled many times. The lovely final track "40" was the closing number of U2's live shows until well into the '90s. Thankfully, they started using it again on outside shows of the "Vertigo" tour.
Listening to "War" again really brings a rush of nostalgia. I was 11 when the record was released, and I only discovered it a few years later. The song "Seconds" features The Edge on vocals and is about the threat of nuclear war with Russia, a theme taken up by Genesis in 1986 with their song "Land of Confusion". Another gem is "Like a Song" with some great drum bashing by Larry Mullen, Jnr.
25 years on and "War" is still sadly relevant, if not slightly dated. It doesn't have the timelessness of "The Joshua Tree" (1987) but it has always remained necessary to yell and scream about the madness, banality, and horror of human conflicts. As for the boy in the iconic cover shot...he grew up to become a photographer.

February 25, 2008

- The American people woke up this morning to learn the tragic news that Europeans won all four acting Oscars the night before. A Congressional panel led by Kenneth Starr will launch a full investigation

- In an act of stellar creativity the folks at K-ROCK have named the new entertainment complex in downtown Kingston the "K-ROCK Centre", adding it to the pile along with Kingston Centre, Cataraqui Town Centre, and the Queen's Centre.

- Scientists in Norway have unveiled plans for a "doomsday" vault being tunneled into a mountain, where key plant seeds will be stored to protect them from environmental or military catastrophes.

- Since homosexuality is illegal in Iran the government will pay for transsexual surgery to "correct" the individuals diagnosed

- In the wake of the high-profile tragic shootings at universities and colleges in the U.S. and Canada a student organization called The Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is gaining momentum across both countries

February 13, 2008

Emotions in [Work] Space

Kirk: You're not going to admit that, for the first time in your life, you made a completely emotional decision based on desperation?
Spock: No, sir.
Kirk: Mr. Spock, you're a stubborn man.
Spock: Yes, Sir.

In the original 1960s television series Star Trek a central thematic arc was the inherent conflict between logic and emotion, as depicted though the character of half-human Mr. Spock. According to Spock the most logical course of action is always down the path of reason. He found humans to be fully illogical, largely a result of their susceptibility to their emotions. As the series progressed, the Vulcan’s attachment to his captain and friend, James T. Kirk, and his fellow crewmates grows and evolves to supersede his logic. This caused some fascinating narrative tension, and allowed the viewer to question the role emotions play in their lives.
Clearly, the need to understand oneself and our relation to others remains vital to the Star Trek ethos, for the second installment of the franchise
[ii] would continue this dialectic through the character of Data, an android which tried to learn and understand human behaviours and emotions throughout his time on the iconic spaceship. Indeed, if we learned anything at all from Spock’s and Data’s journeys, we learned that emotions are an irrevocable human trait; and what matters most is what we do with those emotions. If we move from the bridge to the boardroom I believe we can apply the same tenet: emotions will always be present in the workforce; what is most important is how we manage them.

Perhaps the distance between logic and emotion is not as large after all. In the end, a better understanding how an employee’s personality, mood, and emotional intelligence combine to affect their reactions to both positive and negative emotions can better prepare a manager to predict and manage the employee’s behaviour and, ultimately, their overall work performance.

[i] "The Galileo Seven." Star Trek. By Oliver Crawford. Perf. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley. NBC. WBCN, Boston. 5 January, 1967.
[ii] See Star Trek: The New Generation. By Gene Roddenberry. Perf. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Levar Burton. Paramount, 1987-1994.

February 9, 2008

Dying in America

A Homeland Security (DHS) fact sheet reports that President Bush is requesting $50.5-billion budget for DHS's 2009 fiscal year. According to this same document the mission of DHS is "to prevent terrorist attacks against the nation and to protect our nation from dangerous people". Hmmm...

Now that's a magnificent sum of money and when you question the rationale you are immediately labelled as a liberal, terrorist-loving, pinko. But please bear with me, and let's have a look at data from The National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control for causes and numbers of deaths of Americans in 2005 (the most recent year for complete data):

Heart Disease: 652,091
Diabetes: 75,119
Transportation deaths: 47,894
Suicide: 32,637
Firearms, 30,694
Homicide: 18,124
Drowning: 4,248
Terrorism: 0

Have a look at those numbers again. They are staggering. But here's the profound kick in the head that no politician is talking about: the American medical system is the leading cause of death in America today. A report entitled "
Death by Medicine" reports that 783,936 people die in the United States every year as a result of conventional medicine mistakes. That's 1 in 3 of every death in America on an anual basis. Let's say that again: 1 in 3.

Okay, okay, so clearly DHS is doing its job.Right...? Er...maybe, and maybe not. My real point is that the American Government is not truly fighting the actual leading causes of death of its citizens despite all rhetoric to the contrary. Even in 2001 more Americans died of food poisoning than were killed by acts of terrorism by a ratio of 5:3. And Professor
Erica Frank of Emory University estimates that 5,208 Americans died on Sept 11 alone from the top-10 leading causes of death. As she points out, "In 2002, New York State designated $1.3 million to reduce heart disease, the leading killer of New Yorkers [37% of all deaths]; contrast this with the $34 million awarded by DHS for bioterrorism preparedness".

It says a great deal about America in what it chooses and chooses not to do...

February 6, 2008

What a KROCK

How unfortunate. Kingston City Council has just announced that it has granted naming rights for its soon-to-be-opened sports and entertainment complex to local radio station K-ROCK. Now, let me be clear: I am delighted to learn that a company has stepped up. It's just a shame it's K-ROCK. This much-maligned complex has been the source of endless civic controversy (you know you have lost perspective when this is what riles you up) and I have no doubt that the large contingency of cynical and scornful residents will quickly adopt "CROCK" into the local vernacular if only to be able to continue venting their, ahem, cynicism and scorn. To make matters worse, the City is hosting an on-line survey to help pick a referrent, with such exciting choices as...get ready..."Place" and "Centre". I can just hear the barflies now..."Yep, off to watch the Frons at the Crock Pot".