Category Archives: Elective Posts

My Year in Pictures

For my LAST elective post I decided to do a little photo journal: A few photos that remind me of the highlights of my year.

Drugs: Always a problem…

Drugs have been causing issues in human society for centuries… or… only as long as we’ve had laws against them? If this was an essay, I’d start out by defining what a “drug” is – a complex definition indeed. Luckily, this is a blog post and I don’t need to go into it. Let’s just define it as a mood-altering substance. Drugs have been around since… well probably as long as society has been around. African witch-doctors and other spiritual leaders (eg. the standing monks in India) have been using various drugs (magic mushrooms and hash, to name a couple) habitually for ages. However, the real issue with drugs seems to arise with the sub-culture that surrounds them: drug cartels, gang warfare, addicts resigned to street life, HIV, the list goes on.

According to the Huffington post, “the only beneficiaries of prohibition are the drug cartels.” The “war on drugs” has done nothing but serve to marginalize addicts, empower traffickers, and fuel the violent drug trade. It’s very uninformed for people to claim that a legalization of drugs such as marijuana suggests a pro-drug stance. It doesn’t at all, it is simply a pragmatic response to our ineffective paradigm of drug prohibition. Notably, legalization does not mean decriminalization. Legalization implies strict government regulation and greater ability for governments to navigate the hostile territory of the gang-controlled drug trade. Prohibition of a coveted substance hasn’t really every proven to be effective. Rather, it results in a dangerous sub-culture by pushing drug users and suppliers to the fringe of society, to the margins that exist beyond legality and regulation. The rationale of prohibiting drugs like marijuana is based almost entirely upon archaic stigmatization. Cannabis has been proven to be less harmful than both alcohol and cigarettes, and legalization of this narcotic could provide governments and law enforcement with new tactics to combat the drug trade.

TITANOBOA.

TITANOBOA. A team at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has recently discovered a “world of lost reptiles” in a coal mine in Northern Columbia, including the vertebrae of a giant snake. This discovery is mind-boggling. After the extinction of the dinosaurs, scientists believe that Titanoboa was the largest predator on the planet for around ten million years. Here’s where it gets really interesting: Scientists think the reason why the titanoboa got so large (50 ft long!!) was because of global warming. Snakes – cold blooded reptiles in general, actually – thrive in warm climates… this is why after the extinction of the dinosaurs, there seems to have been a period of substantial reptile growth.

The world has never seen climate change at the rate at which it is currently happening. We know that over millions of years, as climates warm, species evolve differently. The Titanoboa is a case in point – a symptom of a warming climate. However, we really have no idea what happens to biodiversity when a climate warms as rapidly as ours currently is. It’s unlikely that giant snakes are going to be popping up all over the place. But maybe it’s something to consider.

Things I Learned Today

I love my critical studies in sexuality textbook. Here are some life lessons:

1. You actually CAN get multiple STDs from a toilet. I thought that was a myth.

2. In response to possibilities of a male oral contraceptive, 63% of young Canadian women said that they would not trust a man to take a pill everyday. Yeah, we think boys suck that much.

3. About 1% of Western Europeans are actually born immune to HIV/AIDS. This genetic immunity has also been found amongst some Thai prostitutes.

4. Most of us know that when you catch Herpes, you have it for life. You know why? Because the virus just goes and chills in your lower spine until it’s time for a flare up. Stress is a main indicator for flare ups, and stress is also a key indicator in whether HPV will lead to cervical cancer.

Shameless Advertising yeah whatever

Kavita Ramdas, president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women from 1996-2010 is coming to speak at UBC on March 26! It’s free, and she’ll be speaking at 12:30 pm @ Frederick Wood Theatre. Kavita is currently the co-founder of Stanfords social entrepreneurship program Ripples to Waves, a program that seeks to deepen links between grassroots activism, global philanthropy, academia, and the private sector. Kavita’s a truly inspirational speaker, and do NOT miss your chance to hear her speak in person!

 
 

Just tell me.

I just want to know HOW, at this point, Russia and China are veto-ing humanitarian intervention in Syria.

I’m not necessarily pro-intervention, as a general rule of thumb. But there is a BLOODY MASSACRE occurring in that country.

I know that Hillary Clinton said that their opposition to intervention is “despicable”… and good, I’m glad someone is acknowledging it. But I just don’t understand how two countries can implicitly support a merciless, tyrannical bloodbath and be met with disdain instead of outrage. I WANT TO SEE SOME OUTRAGE.

Just a side note: I agree that it’s very concerning that journalists are getting caught in the crossfire of Syrian civil war. But a couple points on that:

1. Even if you want to get the scoop of the year, even if it’s your passion and your life’s calling, and even if journalists are technically supposed to be granted immunity, now is still a pretty bad time to go to Syria if you value your life.

2. Western media places as much if not more emphasis on the lost lives of one or two Western journalists than they do on the lost lives of thousands of Syrians. It’s like: “Breaking news: Marie Colvin dies in Syria” (subheading: hundreds of Syrians are also dead). I don’t mean to undermine death; any death is tragic and worthy of note.

Really, it’s just that at this point I’ve lost my ability to calmly assess this situation from a strategic, political viewpoint. I think it’s time to just make Assad stop killing people.

The Shock Doctrine

I am in the midst of reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and damn, is it eye-opening. I’m not very far in yet – only about 100 pages – but if you have any interest in international politics and economics it’s a must read. The book is essentially an expose on disaster capitalism – what Klein defines as “orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities.”

The book is both disturbing and fascinating; it describes how American politicians and economists (beginning in the ’50s and ’60s, continuing til the Bush administration of the millennium) have used the “shock” of disasters to strategically restructure economies in the interest of big businesses. This is the first “shock,” to be followed by a series of other economic reforms; the next set of “shocks” (hence the title of the book: The Shock Doctrine). So far in 100 pages, the book has discussed economic restructuring in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, political restructuring in the wake of 9/11, and the USA’s role in various Latin American coups (most notably in Chile).

I would like to insert a bit of shameless advertising – though I swear this is not my reason for posting about this book. My reason for posting this book is because I’ve been stressed recently, and when I become stressed I become apathetic, and this book is a veritable cure for apathy. BUT: Naomi Klein is coming to UBC on March 8 (actually funding hasn’t been entirely confirmed yet but shhh pretty sure this is going to happen) and the UBC project that I work for (terry.ubc.ca) is organizing her talk. Also, it’s free for UBC students. So read this book, come listen to Klein speak, and be inspired.

Region Choice

I am going to do the Middle East for my paper – both because it’s an interesting region in terms of democratic transition, and because I have personal interest in the region.

Sarkozy: Not All Civilizations are Equal

French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently said that in his view, not all civilizations are equal… and people got mad. Essentially, Sarkozy was accused of being a narrow-minded conservative xenophobe (and maybe he is). Claude Guaent, the French Interior Minister, had this to say in support of Sarkozy (click here to read the full article from Al-Jazeera):

“Contrary to what the left’s relativist ideology says, for us all civilizations are not of equal value… Those which defend liberty, equality and fraternity, seem to us superior to those which accept tyranny, the subservience of women, social and ethnic hatred.”

I think it’s pretty interesting that everyone got so upset about this. Sarkozy and Guaent may both be conservative bigots, or maybe they aren’t, but that’s sort of beside the point. It’s no secret: in the West, we love liberal democracy. We love liberal values. We think they’re great. In fact, most of us probably do think that they are “better” than tyrannical persecution. For example, In Pol333, we are looking at different criteria for measuring democracy. These measurements classify certain types of regimes as more democratic than others, and the implicit, underlying notion is that a more democratic regime is a better regime. It seems obvious to me. Regimes are structured differently based on different beliefs and different values; the obvious implication is that regimes favour certain beliefs and values over others. So Sarkozy came out and said it… so what?

 

Astroturfing

Courtesy of Wikipedia:

Astroturfing is a form of advocacy in support of a political, organizational, or corporate agenda, designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement. The goal of such campaigns is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. The term is a derivation of AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass.

(these are actually astroturf coasters... classy)

Now let’s compare this to a term most of us are probably more familiar with:

grassroots movement (often referenced in the context of a political movement) is one driven by the politics of a community. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures. Grassroots movements are often at the local level, as many volunteers in the community give their time to support the local party, which can lead to helping the national party. For instance, a grassroots movement can lead to significant voter registration for a political party, which in turn helps the state and national parties.

Alright, so here’s my question. The Tea Party – Grassroots, or Astroturfing?