Quote of the Week:

"Don't be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn't do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn't know what you know today." – Malcolm X

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Today I had an experience that I feel warrants a blog entry, even during these hectic times during the month of may. A few weeks ago, I began my month long Initial Practicum placement as part of my Bachelor of Education, and I have thus far had a wonderful experience teaching in a small outskirts school where the atmosphere feels very warm and familial. All along it felt weird to a degree--after all, it was when i was the age of many of my students that my experiences being bullied first occurred. Given this, the feeling of coming full circle has been prevalent throughout my placement, though today I really had this feeling driven home. Simply put, my placement class attended a presentation being given at my old high school, and this meant my being there in an official capacity.

How can I describe to you the intense feelings of nostalgia that swept over me? It began as we got off the bus and made our way inside. The minute I set foot in the main entrance, it hit me immediately. The sights, the smells, the sounds...all were as I remembered them having been nearly four years before. Guiding the class into rooms that I myself had used as a student, my memories kicked into overdrive and I found myself once more overcome by the feeling of nostalgia. It got to the point where, if I looked hard enough, I could almost see ghostly after-images of my friends and I going about our daily lives and interacting while in high school. The ghosts of my past were rampant today, but at the same time they were clearly just that--ghosts...remnants of a prior time.

This whole experience today really drove home for me how quickly the years do pass. I remember being in high school like it was yesterday. In fact, given my experiences being bullied in elementary school, I treasured high school as the thing that saved me and allowed me to come into my own. Given this, it felt very strange to be back, though as a teacher not a student. Interacting with former teachers as colleagues was one of the weirdest experiences of the day, as was being told by my former homeroom teacher that I seemed to fit the role of educator well. It all served to prove to me though how fickle the passage of time really is. If it seems to any of you that the present will always be, then you are sorely mistaken. Four years ago in Grade 12 I felt as though my graduation from university was still a long time away...and yet now here I am, about to embark on another new chapter of my life. Lately I find myself wondering where all the time has gone, and a certain line uttered by Dr. Soran in Star Trek Generations comes to mind:

"Time is a predator, that stalks us all our lives."

It's easy to see the logic of this quote, seeing as how our lives seem to go by so quickly. Given this, it almost seems unfair to live at all, since it's all over too quickly to be enjoyed. Even so, however, while I can understand the sentiment underlying these words, I don't fully agree...while time may in fact be a predator, our lives are also defined by our mortality, and the quickness of our lives. As Jean Luc Picard says in that very same movie, "Time is a companion, one who comes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment, for they won't come again." Personally, it is the latter quote I choose to embrace, since to me it is the one that rings more true. While yes, the quick passage of my life has lately been making me feel uncomfortable and nostalgic, I also believe that many great days are yet to come and I plan to cherish them all. The title of this blog is a reference to Bob Dylan, and his song by the same name has a similar message: that time is always changing, that the march is always forward, and that we should either embrace and enjoy it, or have no part in it whatsoever. Here's to you, Bob.

So say we all.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bullying, and Why It Most Definitely IS a Crime!

I know I haven't been very active in my blogging recently - school, work and exams have all conspired to get in my way of that. Today, however, I thought I'd share my feelings on an issue which has a deep personal meaning to me because of my own life experiences, and one which is a serious concern to anyone involved in the school system, whether as parents, teachers or administrators. I am of course, talking about bullying.

Bullying is something which most people have traditionally considered a typical part of growing up. It's something we all go through, and how we deal with it is supposed to "build character" according to many a parent in the 1950s. "Boys will be boys" many would say, encouraging their children to stand up to their tormentors and fight back against them. This is all well and good in theory, but am I the only one who thinks standing alone against a gang of five or more schoolyard kids intent on abusing me is more than a LITTLE scary and impossible?

The thing about bullying is that often, it isn't as easy to overcome as simply standing up to them. What many people have traditionally failed to understand until recently is that the schoolyard very much has its own pecking order. Kids form a very real society in elementary schools, and it is a tribal one at that, where politics are dominated by the strong alpha kids. These kids show their superiority over the others through bullying, and often making fun of another kid earns them serious prestige points in the eyes of their peers. Ask any of the bullies if they think they are causing any serious harm, and most would say no, but the reality is far different. As a survivor of bullying myself, I can safely say that the intense mental anguish and torment suffered by kids who are put down on a daily basis by their peers at school is not one which easily goes away. I still feel outrage over what happened to me back then, and though I have been able to channel this rage into a desire to make things better and stamp out bullying when I myself become an educator, many other kids aren't so lucky.

Maybe I should explain my reasons for writing this reflection. I was sitting at dinner the other night and came across an issue of People Magazine which was talking about the suicide of a young girl named Phoebe Prince. The magazine pointed out this tragedy's link to bullying, and instantly my heart went out to both she and her family. The bullies themselves were arrested, but now their attorney, along with the school coach, are arguing that the kids are not guilty. Erm...excuse me? Let me read that again....not...guilty? After a girl committed suicide because of the bullying antics of these kids? Yeah...right! Don't get me wrong--I don't think these kids should go to prison...they should get educated on the effects of their actions however. Neuroscience has proven that bullying alters the brain chemistry of all those who endure it, often for the worse. If this is not a form of serious damage, then I don't know what is.

The years I was bullied are some of the worst years of my life, and though in many ways I wouldn't be the kindhearted defender of the underdog I am today, it is not an experience I would wish upon anyone. Granted, being bullied made me stronger, and I may not be as strong were it not for it, the act of bullying is wrong and its effects are everlasting. It's time people realized this. Ultimately, the strength I gained from being bullied came only after several more good years of confidence-building after the fact. During those dark years, I would tell everyone I didn't know to go away, fearing that I could not trust them and that they would ultimately backstab me. These are the devastating effects that bullying can have, and I am grateful that at least I had my good friends and family to guide me through the darkness. Phoebe Prince is a case-in-point example that not all kids are so lucky, and because of this bullying most definitely is a crime...and one which we must all be vigilant in preventing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

iPad Nano!

A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable size.

Oh, and it makes phone calls too!

I found this image on the 'net just now and couldn't resist sharing it with what few people actually read my blog!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On Humans and Technology

As I sit here and write this entry, I find myself bored after having just handed my Macbook over to the computer store for a trackpad repair. Using a school-owned computer to check my Facebook and blog is a colossal pain in the ass, given that my Mac already knows my browsing habits intimately and makes accessing this information much easier than a generic PC. The whole ordeal, however, got me thinking about how truly reliant people are on technology to function in society in the modern day. Not a day goes by that we don't check our Facebooks or Twitters or text our friends/family on our mobile phones. Over two thousand years ago, when Rome ruled the mediterranean and most of the civilizations of the world were at a much more primitive level of development, the thought of communicating from one side of the empire to the other was not something easily conceived. In the modern day, on the other hand, people routinely keep in touch with family and friends half a world away. I myself know people who live or have lived in Japan, Korea, and the United States, and yet have kept in touch with them as easily as I do with people in my physical real life. The "linked in" state of our modern society is undeniable, but a question many have asked is whether or not this is a good thing. Frankly, I think it is.

There are many people of the older generation who think that the internet obsession experienced by our modern generation is dangerous and anti-social, but to anyone in the know this really is the farthest thing from the truth. In reality, the internet has allowed a greater amount of socialization between people than ever before in human history. We have access to information and ideas more easily than ever before, and communication is quick and painless no matter where one lives in the world, provided there's a stable enough connection to the internet in the area. Most importantly, the internet has proven to be the last bastion of freedom of speech in our modern world, and has done more to further this cause than any social activist group. People on the internet share their opinions freely whether for good or for ill, feeling safe behind their veils of anonymity.

Granted, there are dangers inherent to technology...a fact which can be seen in my own situation. I'm separated from my laptop for even four hours, and I feel bored out of my mind. We really are so connected to technology that we cannot fathom a life apart from it. Rather than look at this negatively, however, I choose the opposite view. A laptop or any computer is not an enemy but rather a trusted friend who stands by you during the most painful work, helps you communicate with distant acquaintances, and is a trusted ally of a thousand online Counter-Strike battles. As strange as it sounds, like with most things, the more people use their technology, the more they come to personify it, and this in itself shows the close connection between people and their tech in the modern world.

In the end, whether you like it or not, computers and information technology has become an essential element of our modern existence. We all use the internet-whether for work, school, fun, or communication, and so we all understand its power. Are we over-reliant on it? Definitely, but then again it really has leveled the playing field and given even the average joe a voice to be heard (some might say my blog fits this bill). With the internet, everyone can be heard, and everyone can succeed...it truly is the land of e-opportunity.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ann Coulter: Spreading Hate or Freedom of Speech?

The other day I was eating lunch and talking to my dad about politics and world events, when he told me something that I found deeply disturbing. Ann Coulter, a prominent Republican pundit for the extremely right-wing Fox News, had recently come to Canada to speak at universities across the country. In her addresses to the students, she argued against allowing people of middle-eastern descent on to airplanes since they apparently pose a safety risk, and told one middle-eastern student who asked how she should then travel to take a magic carpet or camel instead. She went on to make other claims, such as how great the world would be if everyone was white, conservative and Christian, and defends these abhorrent comments by stating that she was only joking. The subsequent debate centred around her right to say these things under freedom of speech, and got most people thinking and talking, including myself. Does someone have a right to say what they please, free of persecution, if the things being said are hurtful to many in society? To what extent do we apply freedom of speech to others and ourselves?

First off, let me just say that, while I believe in freedom of speech, it should have its limits within the bounds of a caring and tolerant society. People should indeed be free to say things as they please and express themselves to others, but when these things threaten to hurt others, the limit is fast approached. There's a very fine line, after all, between free speech and hate, and to allow someone like Ann Coulter to spread her racist views under the tenets of free speech would be to invite hatred into our nation. No one would dare say that Adolf Hitler had a right to preach the systematic annihilation of 6 million Jewish Europeans during the Second World War. The argument made against this is that Hitler had the military means to back up his hate and actually kill people, while Coulter is merely using her words, but as any survivor of verbal abuse knows, words can often stab and cut more sharply than the sharpest knife or sword.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh. After all, should we not all be allowed to listen to Coulter speak, and then come to our own conclusions regarding what she has to say? This is probably a very reasonable idea, since to most people her ideas are utterly reprehensible, and she has certainly be torn up quite efficiently in interviews with celebrities such as Bill Mayher. The thing is though, is that Coulter is a public face in the media, and such people have enormous sway over the minds of the masses in our society, whether for good or ill. This is an immense power to be wielded by any organization, let alone one person, and in such a situation, one must be careful not to overstep the bounds. If there's one thing that Spider-Man: The Animated Series taught me while growing up its that with great power must come great responsibility. Freedom of speech is such a power, it is only too obvious that Ann Coulter does not have the responsibility to match its use.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Perfect Dark XBLA: A Reflection on the Years of Yore

I know I haven't blogged in some time, a fact which I blame squarely on the insanity of the end of term rush that always happens around this time every year, but today I would like to talk about a subject of a geekier tone. Specifically, why it is that gamers old enough to count themselves as university students, if not professionals in the workforce, clamour for older vintage games, while the younger crowd often scoffs at us for liking what they refer to as a "piece of shit game" and ridicule us for being less gamers because of it?

In case you wanted to know, the reason I feel strongly enough about this issue to make it the subject of my blog, even in the face of more important topics with actual relevance to society is quite simple. Yesterday, on Wednesday, March 17th, Microsoft and Rare Ltd. released a cleaned up, high-def, high framerate version of what many console gamers consider to be one of the classics of the first person shooter genre. Perfect Dark, the spiritual successor to the classic N64 title Goldeneye 007, is widely considered among those old enough to remember to be one of the defining games of that console generation, and certainly led the charge into the console FPS craze later popularized by games like Halo: Combat Evolved and Call of Duty. Given this, I was understandably excited to learn that Microsoft planned to re-release this game on Live Arcade with enhanced visuals and online multiplayer options. Finally, a reason to play on Xbox Live again! I downloaded it and was very pleased by what Rare had done with the game and how well it played even to this day, but it seemed not all were as enthralled as I.

Logging onto the internet this morning, I was disappointed to learn that Gamespot had given the game a mere 7.5, claiming it was a good game but felt dated by modern standards and lacked several elements of a more modern game, which meant it would not appeal to the more hardcore modern FPS enthusiasts who routinely dominate Live. Reading this, I felt like saying "no crap!" After all, it ISN'T a modern FPS, therefore should it not have been judged as a romp through nostalgia instead of as a modern game destined to compete with the Call of Dutys and Halos of the world? Is the fact that I played this game at 14 years of age somehow making me see it through rose-coloured glasses, or are modern gamers really so spoiled by their high-def visuals and mission objective waypoints that they cannot tolerate anything that came out when they were still in diapers?

Thinking about this, I've come to the conclusion that it is a little bit of both. After all, the fact that I, like many gamers, played this and other classic gems as children means that we by nature look at them with fond and nostalgic sentiments. Most of our best memories of our nerdy childhoods come from gathering with friends and playing videogames against each other. This kindof experience is bound to make anyone who lived through it biased towards the "good ol' days", and in ten years, any modern gamer in his or her early teens will probably look back on Call of Duty favourably and nostalgically as well. At the same time, however, the game industry, like the movie industry, has seen a gradual shift towards high-fidelity visual effects and 1080p visual resolutions, and in so doing has lost sight of the value of story and gameplay. The fact remains that most modern gamers would not care at all to download what they probably see as an antequated game from another era, and yet most of us in the older crowd rushed to our local store to get Microsoft Points just to add Perfect Dark to our Live Arcade game libraries. Its sad to say that to most young people, the calibur of a game's graphics equates with its quality on the whole. By this logic, anything from the 16-bit era should suck since its 2D, not to mention the original Metal Gear Solid should be garbage due to its low-res textures, and yet these remain classics to this day. Is it fair to judge a game by modern standards and write it off simply due to the limitations caused by its age? No, and this holds true in any media.

At the end of the day, games like Perfect Dark and Banjo Kazooie on Xbox Live are very much released for us old-school fans more than for any other gamer demographic, but even given that, it should not be written off. Anyone who suggests modernizing the gameplay and graphics to represent the modern trend in first person action games is missing the point--its not about stripping a game of its soul just to conform, but rather enjoying it as a relic from the time it came out. I've ranted before about how high-end visuals detract from storytelling, and I think it holds true here too. Any modern gamer who considers him/herself worth their salt and yet have never played the classics because "the graphics suck" has no right to call himself a gamer, much as any literature enthusiast who refuses to read Shakespeare should never be granted a degree in the subject. Do I look at vintage games through rose-coloured glasses? Maybe, but then again these games, when rereleased should not be judged by modern standards, but rather enjoyed for showing us how far the industry has come.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2012: Apocalypse or New Beginning?

I wrote briefly in my earlier post on the sad state of modern hollywood about how society these days seems to have an almost disturbingly obsessive need to think about the end of the world. The recent surge in popularity surrounding the end-times has had a lot to do with the increasing public awareness of a certain little prophecy written by an ancient Mayan prophet that predicted the end of the world occurring in the year 2012 A.D. Naturally, as we draw closer and closer to this date, people of all stripes begin throwing in their own two cents. Opinions seem split in this regard; some argue that it will be the end of everything as we know it, while others claim December 21st, 2012 represents the date of a new spiritual or cosmic awakening for mankind. About the only thing these people CAN agree on is their belief that something will, in fact, happen on that date.

It seems to me that all of this panic, excitement and confusion is a little premature. Sure, the world MIGHT end in 2012, but how can any of us know what the future really holds? By this logic, how would someone several thousand years ago have known that the world would end in 2012, when he himself didn't even use the same dating system as we do? I know the arguments made about this--that he didn't specifically say 2012, but the number he chose to end his calendar with simply equates with what we would consider to be 2012--but even so, there is no way to know what was going through this ancient Mayan's mind as he wrote out his calendar. He could have indeed been watching the skies and predicting the astronomical phenomenon that would cause the end of the world thousands of years later, but it's equally likely that he just arbitrarily ended the calendar with that date because, much like if one of us thinks of the year 4000 AD, its almost inconceivable a date to consider since one's own lifetime doesn't extend that far.

The New Ageists argue that 2012 represents the dawn of a new era in human spiritual understanding and existence, and in some ways this is a much more reasonable answer than the flat-out "we're all going to die!" argument of some of the naysayers. Even so though, I'm tempted to wonder how much growth we're really going to accomplish in only two years that we haven't so far over the last hundred. It's almost impossible to walk into a Chapters or other bookstore these days and not find the New Age section literally flooded with apocalyptic literature. I fancy myself a bit of a New Ageist too, but personally I'd rather read about something OTHER than the end of the world.

So when it comes to the end of the world, where do I stand? Frankly, I don't think the world is going to end. The United States' economy may finally collapse and China may rise as a power, the West may embrace a new spiritual direction, or any number of other things may happen, but the world will not end. Remember how silly we all felt when the year 2000 rolled around and nothing happened? This is the same thing I predict will happen in 2012, and then all those apocalyptic naysayers are going to seem pretty silly. Then again, who knows? Maybe we'll all get lulled into a false sense of security, thinking nothing will happen until its too late and we're living in our own post-apocalyptic wasteland!...er...probably not.