Monday, May 28, 2012

By redefining war, drones may redefine the Presidency

Peter Singer examines a trend towards war without deliberation in this fascinating article via the CIC:
The United States has carried out more than 300 drone strikes [in Pakistan] since 2004. 

Yet, this operation has never been debated in Congress. More than seven years after it began, there has not even been a single vote for or against it.
Apparently, it isn't a real war until U.S. ground troops are in the line of fire. The President can blow Pakistan to pieces without congressional approval as long as he sticks with unmanned machinery.

If left unchecked, this could fundamentally alter the balance of power within the U.S. government. Evidence, perhaps, of the increasingly imperial-bureaucratic nature of the regime.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The New Bad Jobs

Dear artists, Jim Flaherty's "There is no bad job" comment wasn't intended for you.

How could it be? You invented the day job. You figured out long ago that bussing tables beat going broke. You didn't study writing, or illustration, or music, or theatre, to become fabulously wealthy. You went into the field because you love it, and you're good at what you do.  Those are solid reasons, my friend. They always will be.

You know who needed to hear that taking a less-than-ideal job is okay? The people who went into traditionally stable industries, like government, business and education, who expected a clear path to success but were met instead with hiring freezes. The people who looked up to their unionized parents and planned to land the same kind of job. The people who chose their area of study based on what appeared to be economically solid reasons just a few years ago.

Generational conflict and a stagnant economy hit those people hard. It isn't because they're lazy or entitled, it's because working a job on the side isn't as socially acceptable in those circles.

Community makes a huge difference. When you're freelancing, there's no shame in walking dogs to make ends meet. People "get" that. Your friends are probably doing the same thing, and the writers you admire were likely once in the same boat.

That humble path is hard to take when your dream job was to work as a high school teacher, an assembler or a fabricator. What has changed isn't that artists are facing up to the fact that they might have to accept a job outside of their field, it's that other industries are discovering the artist's way.

Success wasn't always defined in terms of security. In ancient Greece, people preferred backbreaking day-to-day labour to cushier full-time careers. Assured work was considered akin to slavery, because the indefinitely employed didn't have the freedom to choose what to do everyday.

Rather than say "there is no such thing as a bad job," maybe it's time to rethink what makes a job bad. Not a lack of security, but a false sense of security. Not too few hours, but too many: the type of job that eliminates the individual's ability to start something new. When no job lasts forever, freedom and flexibility become vitally important.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"The conventional wisdom of 3,500 calories less is what it takes to lose a pound of weight is wrong."

"The body changes as you lose," reports the New York Times in what is essentially a mathematician's guide to weight loss. "An extra 10 calories a day puts more weight onto an obese person than on a thinner one." 

So calories in vs. calories out is scrapped, but a restricted calorie diet is still recommended. Takeaway: lower your expectations and stick with it. Forever. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The new mass movements

By this time, you've already heard of the Greek extremist party the "Golden Dawn" [GD]. On May 6th, they took 7% of the Greek vote, winning 21 seats in parliament and leaving the world bewildered. The party has a bizarre platform of Hitler-ish measures, that are so detached from reality, so fantastical, it is difficult to take them seriously.

In an election centered on austerity, GD ran on anti-immigration policy, as if the world's tired and poor were begging to get in to Greece (immigrants make up about 9% of the Greek population, compared to about 19% of Canada's). Really, calling their platform "policy" is flattery.  It is insanity. They demanded land mines at the borders.

Who supports the party? Reuters reports that the people who voted for GD were "men aged 25-34, unemployed and without higher education."

In other words, they were people who weren't generally interested in politics. The isolated masses. The demographic that traditional political parties wrote off as chronically disengaged, too fickle to bring them to power.

The fact that these people are voting is remarkable. It goes against everything we know. Education and wealth are supposed to be the most accurate indicator of whether a person will cast a ballot. Parties cater to them. They hold the power. But they could lose that power to a fresh batch of mass movements.

This Le Monde article sees the success of the GD as indication of a larger shift away from politics-as-usual. Citing movements from across Europe of all political stripes, they note that they "have nothing in common" except "the potential to upset traditional political parties."

The press was quick to draw parallels between the GD and the Nazis, but I'll add another. In tough times, fiction is so much more compelling than reality. Don't get hung up on trying to make sense of the rhetoric, because the power of these movements is in their absurdity. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her Origins of Totalitarianism, mass movements provide a "lying world of consistency" that is "more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself."

Though the GD didn't run on monetary policy, it was the current economic turmoil that compelled these otherwise apolitical people to join their movement. When people worry, an unnatural certainty is the most potent political opiate.