Saturday, December 8, 2012

Uh-Oh Canada

In a world dominated by skirmishes and outright war over lines on a map thousands of miles away from home, you might be forgiven for forgetting about our own brewing conflict over similar lines being drawn by the likes of United States, Russia, and, *gulp* Canada?

Among the circumpolar nations puffing their chests out is Canada, who inarguably has the most to lose as countries decide among themselves how best to carve up the top of this little blue marble we call home. But isn’t the extreme tundra right on up to the tip of the Earth Canada’s sovereign territory?

Let’s face it. Until recently, no country really cared about the Arctic. It was too vast, too cold, too empty. All were pleased as punch to have Canada be the caretaker of the giant ice cube. That is, until large commercial deposits of resources were determined to be there and the requisite technology to exploit it developed. Now, every country and their corporate puppeteers have their eyes firmly affixed to our North and have every desire to be the landlord.

There is another event that quietly sailed its way under our noses recently that is perhaps at least equally tantalizing to corporations worldwide. With global warming, the Arctic Ocean is warming and chief among the results of this phenomenon is that seafaring lanes are now accessible year round.

Want proof?

On Thursday, December 06th, 2012, the Ob River, a tanker chartered by Russia’s GazProm carrying some 134,000 cubic metres of LNG (liquefied natural gas) completed the 6000 kilometre voyage from Norway to Japan using the Northern Sea Route, also known as the Northeast Passage. In so doing, the Ob River chopped 20 days from the normal schedule of shipping via Suez Canal or Panama Canal, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs. Those kind of profits and efficiencies are worth further exploitation, no matter what your political leanings.

It is the first time a winter voyage of this type has occurred on the Northeast Passage, although in 2009, two bulk cargo ships made successful summer voyages from South Korea to the Netherlands using this route.

What does this mean for Canada?

It means the Northwest Passage is next for further exploitation. It means increased shipping in fragile ecosystems. It means greater challenges on the sovereignty of our most northern reaches. It means our military and Coast Guard have their work cut out for them, using sparse resources to patrol the harshest, most unforgiving terrain in our land. It means our envied international reputation as diplomats and peacekeepers may have to take a back seat as we appropriately posture and act to defend our country against commercial and military advancement.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christians Embroiled in a Crisis of Faith

While the Nation of Islam welcomes a huge and rabid surge to the Muslim faith, and the Jewish faith enjoys an insular growing population, the Christian religion struggles to envelop the hearts and minds of the western world’s remaining majority. So why then, with our planet teetering on the brink of proving ancient prophecies correct, are we not witnessing, as one might reasonably expect, a massive resurrection in Christianity? Why has the flock not sought the guidance and deliverance of all that is holy?

Religion is a daily news event now. It hasn’t always been this way. But religion is being politicized as never before, to the point of being used as an adjective a la the news reporting during the American civil rights movement where someone described in a news story would be identified as colored (or the many euphemisms used during those turbulent times). The defining of one’s religion now seems to feed the hysteria of division among the general population. It helps to sell newspapers.

Colonial empires and Christianity collaborated (in the name of God and the monarchy, of course) to invade foreign lands and peoples, plundering the rich resources, razing the aged cultures, and writing the history books to make it seem as though the invasions were ‘discoveries’ and that the inhabitants of these new found lands were justifiably and mercifully saved from themselves and delivered into the righteous hands of God Almighty Himself.

And perhaps that very expansionist collaboration is at the root of the crisis of faith which embroils Christians today. From such a pompous tree of greed can come only spoiled fruit.

Amassing untold wealth after centuries of ransacking indigenous peoples around the world has provided Christian churches with the financial means to privately address the criminal acts committed by the many sex abusers they employ and protect. Bribery, cover-ups, and out of court settlements don’t come cheap, but save for the selling of a few underperforming local churches, the major Christian sects are still among the richest corporations in your country. Business is slipping though as it would be a rare follower indeed who could knowingly condone, through continued membership and tithe, the rape of their sons and daughters.

The world clips along at a pace few can maintain, and while it is comforting to have sanctuaries in our life where we can find solace, those refuges must be realistic and congruent to the realities of our life if they are to be an influence. Christianity, as one of those possibly coveted sanctuaries, fails to address many of the complexities of modern times, choosing instead to maintain obsolete and ultra-conservative interpretations of often conflicting ideals, burying its head in the sand like an ostrich.

We need to believe! We want to believe! But, frankly, it is almost impossible to believe in Christianity when the image of the religion is suffering greatly at a time when it could be basking in the radiance of salvation. In troubled times, we need a strong focal point to guide us through the minefields of trepidation. For many in the world, that shining light is a religion or some form of spirituality.

Increasingly so, Christianity is losing its devotees to alternate forms of worship and other organized religions that are more representative of a contemporary life and bereft of the morally corrupt activities recently exposed.

Originally published August 23, 2010

Monday, November 26, 2012

The True Cost of Shopping at WalMart

The weekend horror of more than 100 deaths at a factory in Bangladesh making garments for WalMart underscores the true cost of the goods purchased at the mammoth retailer and others like it.

Far removed from Main Street, USA, and for that matter, Main Street, Everywhere, factories in third world nations churn out everything from garments to laptops at breakneck speed to feed the lust and desire of consumers in western nations. At one point, not that long ago, goods made in these such factory nations were widely regarded as low quality and generally shunned by major retailers and consumers alike.

Times have changed.

In fact, so profound the changes that it is becoming akin to a miracle to find anything manufactured in Canada or United States anymore. Cheap labor costs, lax environmental regulations, and a certain worshipping of companies who bring desperately needed jobs to otherwise destitute areas have led to a proliferation of sweat shop-like workforces in Asian and Latin American countries.

It's easy to pick on WalMart. They are the world's largest retailer. But they are not without blame either. In their mandate to feed a frenzied appetite of low prices demanded by the likes of you and I, corporations such as WalMart look to those who have little of anything and impose rigorous self-serving policies in every attempt to meet the demand.

At the end of the day, you can purchase goods at lower prices, but the fair market cost of those goods are never taken into account. In far away lands, a wide swath of environmental disruption and upheaval is left, workers slave away in conditions we could easily liken to P.O.W. camps, and the almost complete erosion of manufacturing jobs in our home country has left its fair share of ghost towns in its wake.

Those one hundred plus lives lost in a Bangladesh factory were not the first for the country. Nor will they be the last, if history teaches us anything. Nobody is ever punished for such atrocities, and WalMart can issue press releases from the relative safety of their corporate headquarters thousands of miles away from the conditions in which they have a starring role.

Oh, and on a parting note, it is widely reported in mainstream media that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it would stand by the victims' families and offered $1,250 to each of the families of the dead.

Now you know the true cost.