What Should We Do About Kim-Jong-un?

Youth often times proves a torrent of wind and wild fire.  Like a geyser spouting unpredictable fits of brilliance, its strength and weakness no doubt lies in its reckless abandon.  Without mindfulness or fear of consequence, youth can manifest like a runaway freight train, consuming everything in its path.  If history is anything to go by, we know that youthful fervour has the potential to destroy as much as it does to inspire.  Caligula and Nero taught us that, paving the way for the likes of Alexander III of Macedon and King Henry VIII, who are just a few among a long list of despotic youths that blot the human saga.  Without want of another cliché, we reluctantly usher a new era of youth by the ascension of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s Supreme Leader and the world’s youngest head of state.  Since assuming leadership, the 29-year son of the late Kim Jong-il has already threatened to attack Washington with nuclear weapons, declared a state of war with neighbouring South Korea and warned diplomats to evacuate the peninsula.  We ask, why? We say how?  After all, this isn’t Rome 40 AD.  Yet notwithstanding all 21st conveniences, technologies and rhetoric, our instincts seem to be the same as they were 2000 years ago – only now they are charged by nuclear power.

The belligerence of North Korea induces a clear take-home message: nuclear war remains a serious threat.  Despite decades of extensive humanitarianism, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism efforts on both sides of the hemisphere, it seems the Cold War never really thawed.  While North Korea’s antagonisms continue, a feverish Asian arms race has begun, which collectively, (for the first time), exceeds military spending in Europe.  However amidst all this jostling for power, a pageant of east-meets-west sees an unlikely alliance between the United States and China.  In tandem with the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the two superpowers have come together on strategy and deliberation, recognizing North Korea’s lack of experience with certain technologies, lack of nuclear and missile capacity, UN sanctions, and strained global diplomatic relations.  However, despite this, Kim Jong-un remains, an unshakable youth.

So who is this Kim Jong-un anyway?  Of all the political and military positions young Kim has assumed over the years, (which altogether seem quasi comedic), the latest title of Supreme Leader of North Korea is by far, the most disconcerting.  After all, the title assumes power over an ultra-nationalistic government that not only occupies a hot seat with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but also seeks to join the nuclear power club via fear and exhibition. The lack of biographical information available on Kim Jong-un however, provokes a greater unease within the international community.  What little we do know about the mysterious youth is a silhouetted profile that casts a much bigger shadow than the man himself.

Having attended a western education in Switzerland under the alias, Un Pak, Kim Jong-un went on to complete two degrees from both Kim Il-sung University and Kim Il-sung Military University, (albeit with reportedly poor attendance and grades).  Coveting a love for Yves Saint Laurent cigarettes, Johnnie Walker whiskey, and Eric Clapton’s music, the Mercedes-Benz-driving, twenty-something has been described by former classmates as being, “obsessed with basketball and computer games.” Recent reports testify to a rise in luxury goods creeping into North Korea, which reveal an expensive taste in French couture.  Of course, it is no secret that Kim Jong-un favors a luxurious lifestyle of heavy drinking and partying, attested by former personal chef, Kenji Fujimoto.  Having disclosed certain details about their relationship, Fujimoto has been quoted saying, “he has superb physical gifts, is a big drinker and never admits defeat.”

Now you may think Johnnie Walker, Eric Clapton and Michael Jordan have little to do with nuclear threat, but in fact, they tell us a lot about the kind of person the world might be dealing with.  The excessive dualistic depiction of Kim Jong-un evokes a cruel irony. Much like a nymphomaniac sworn to celibacy, Kim Jong-un appears to be of two minds – a split personality, riven by his commitment to North Korea’s internal juche ideology and his love for external superfluities.  This hypocrisy sheds light on North Korea’s latest provocations.  They appear as Kim Jong-un – without substance, without mindfulness and without truth.  So the world should take care.  While Washington and Beijing attempt to engage Pyongyang in diplomatic talks, (engaging in critical thinking to get to the root of the problem), critics argue that it may not be enough.  The tricky thing about an eye for an eye is that both parties end up losing their eye and when it comes to nuclear power, that’s one big eye.

Despite the downplay of North Korea’s military grandiloquence in recent weeks, the country continues to stand strong on preconditions for resuming talks with the West, and has publicly refused to abandon its nuclear program.  Indeed if any diplomatic resolution is to be met, it appears it will have a great deal to do with the resolve of one such fiery and albeit unpredictable youth.  North Korea’s internal state structure allows for little upward flow when it comes to information and options, making a myopic gamut of Kim Jong-un’s decision-making process.  So while hope lingers for a nuclear-free world, it may very well be the Kim’s of today, concealed in all their western finery, who will determine what future we share tomorrow.  Whiskey, World of War Craft and a whole lot of Basketball.  Doesn’t sound too bad… Oh yeah and did we mention nuclear power?  Long range missiles?   We shouldn’t get too cozy while youth has its finger on the trigger.  After all, superior physical gifts, heavy drinking and an unwillingness to ever admit defeat might just the perfect formula for a global nuclear meltdown.


Is It Wise To Bring Back Extinct Species?

Last month, National Geographic sponsored a TEDx conference in Washington DC centered on the possibility and implications of reviving extinct species.  The platform transcended principle and theory, submerging its panel into the murky waters of morality.  Capable of resurrecting something that no longer exists back into existence seems like a charlatan parlor trick, and yet it is far from quackery.  Plucked straight from realm of the incredible, new age technologies now make it possible to pursue ideas of “de-extinction.”  In light of this recent development in genetic science, appositions and contradictions emerge.  Rethinking the covenants between God and man, the relevance of nature and evolution, and the rights, responsibilities and considerations of humanity, a worthy idiom comes to mind – if you play with fire, you get burned.

Of course, human hubris has been the principle cause for many species extinctions since the Neolithic conception of civilization.  Some such species include the Carolina parakeet, the moa, the quagga, the dodo, the thylacine, the passenger pigeon, the Pyrenean ibex, the baiji river dolphin and the huia.  Annihilated by over hunting and disruption of natural habitats, with the latest extinction on the list, (the baiji river dolphin) having occurred as recently as 2006.  However, some of the other species on the hot seat, up for de-extinction consideration are the wooly mammoth, the wooly rhinoceros, the saber-toothed cat, the ground sloth and the Irish elk.  Unlike their short-term extinct counterparts, these prehistoric animals vanished 4 -11,000 years ago during the Quaternary extinction event of the Mesolithic epoch.  It was at this time, that the eradication of many ice age megafauna across Eurasia and North America took place.

Naturally, the practical criteria for “de-extinction” directly depends on access to tissue with good quality DNA samples and/or germ cells in order to reproduce the species.  However, other deliberations over species reintegration focus on speculation over successful therapy and rehabilitation programs, as well as considerations over ecological function.  From this, certain fundamental questions arise.  What are the ramifications of reviving an extinct species?  Are we testing fate by playing God’s hand with the state of nature?  Is it our responsibility to revive and restore a certain species regardless if we had a hand in their demise?  Proponents argue that while extinct species and those endangered are both a part of the same continuum, studying them will therefore help preservation efforts in biodiversity, restoring diminished ecosystems and advancing the science of preventing further extinctions.  Moreover, by reintroducing the wooly mammoth and rhinoceros, the European auroch, and the passenger pigeon for example, carbon-fixing grass, as well as reducing greenhouse-gas-releasing tundra and bio-diverse meadows may be reintroduced.  Others argue that reviving extinct species has the potential to create a less complacent and more compassionate outlook on the global ecosystem, inspiring the protection of whole regions.
However, as noble as these intentions may appear, intuitively something just doesn’t feel right.  Maybe it’s the uncanny images conjured by Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, or the provocative Jurassic Park franchise, or the metaphorical understandings of Mary Shelly’s, Frankenstein that evoke a visceral apprehension.  After all, they connote a common principal: actions have consequences.   Firstly, one must consider the long list of endangered species that are currently occupying our rapidly disappearing natural habitats – habitats that are in desperate need of vast monetary contribution and support for conservation and sustainability.  Why bring back the wooly mammoth when we can’t even support the dwindling demographic of our African elephants?  Furthermore, it may very well be that de-extinction serves to create more complacency rather compassion for the critical state of our global ecosystem by trivializing the impact of extinction.  Why should we care if the polar bear goes extinct when we can simply revive the species in the future?  While resurrecting those species that have only recently become extinct may, in some ways, prove to be beneficial to our current global ecosystem, bringing back prehistoric extinctions however would not be so practical or advantageous.  The cyclic nature of our planet has bore whiteness to the rise and fall of millions of species throughout the ages as the world has shifted, shuddered and shed its skin again and again and again.  Reviving a species that no longer has a place or meaning in the world today would only create confusion, distortion and misplacement, disrupting that natural cycle upon which all things depend.

Apart from the fact that reviving extinct species will be a costly, difficult enterprise that will take decades to complete, questions of ethics and morality dominate the think tank.  An extension of our expedient culture, de-extinction should, in all realness, be perceived as a manifestation of our social conscience.  As we play the Modern Prometheus, de-extinction sees humankind flexing the muscles of our relentless curiosity in an audacious display of, look-what-I-can-do-simply-because-I-can.  In this sense, we, the human, assume autocracy and god-like superiority over all things, living and dead, without a care for the inevitable consequences. Considering humankind’s nature, it seems likely some of these extinct species might soon be seeing the glowing effervescence of a stark, impassive 21st century medical laboratory.  However there is some sense to be found amidst all this senselessness.  At the end of the day, human beings are simply animals ourselves – the homo sapien sapien, struggling within our own orbit of existence that is apart of a greater whole.  Regardless of how disruptive and albeit, unnatural our thoughts and actions may appear at times, the truth holds: collectively, everything that defines us is an expression of naturalism itself.  Paper or plastic. Buildings or mountains.  Mammoth or elephant.  So we ask ourselves, why?  And the answer may very well be, why the heck not?  Does it really truly matter, when in the course of time, we all end up in the same place anyway.

-Elizabeth Cucnik





Reality Through A Different Lens

As we make our morning coffee, pay our bills, greet our co-workers, send emails and texts, pick our kids up from school, and catch the tail end of a late night movie, it’s easy to forget such humdrum is not the totality of existence nor the sum of reality.  Just beyond our blue borders, an ostensible infinite of planets, galaxies, stars, matter and energy disturbs and distorts, prompting our own insignificance.  At the edge of the abyss our beloved earth, home and heart, remains nothing more but a spectrum of trifling consciousness, entertaining a momentary outburst of cosmic expression… In truth, reality here on earth and in the infinite space beyond, exists by immeasurable forms.  Successions of interpretive information, reality is therefore incumbent upon perception – that is, how its intelligence is received and processed.  And while there are a vast number of receptors able to receive reality beyond our own consciousness, (be it a virus, a simple or complex biotic organism, or matter and energy) totality of existence by way of reality is therefore extremely volatile, subjective and indefinite.  There is no better way of deconstructing reality than the study of astronomy, astrophysics and quantum mechanics.  Journeys into the universe via science and technology have revealed time and space to be relative and superfluous, reality, indistinguishable, and the tangible, mere abstractions.   So what do we make of this overwhelming infinite impossibility?

For millennia, fascination of the starlit unknown has driven the appetite of humanity.  Studying the cosmos by analyzing light emitted from stars, gas clouds and galaxies, human beings have thrived for thousands of years within budding interpretations, contradicting philosophies and juxtaposing realities that have since propelled our own social and technological evolutions.  However, the most prominent developments in our understanding of the universe have only truly been realized within the last two decades.  New complex and advanced technologies now deliver the kind of support needed to interpret forms of electromagnetic radiation. These radio waves, X-rays, infrared radiation and gamma rays, provide information on imperceptible areas of the universe, thus shedding light on what was once darkness.   One of the most prominent places for studying such marvels is the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory at White Lake.  Just a short distance from Penticton, British Columbia, the observatory was first established in 1959 to advance the field of astrophysics in Canada by exploring the universe using radio techniques. The radio astronomy observatory, under the National Research Council of Canada’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, is Canada’s largest and most prominent, situated within a carefully secluded and federally protected area, free from interference of man-made radio signals.  To date, much of the research conducted at the observatory has corresponded to the study of hydrogen, the most abundant chemical element found in the universe.  By studying the distribution of this cosmic building block in the Milky Way, astronomers have since been able to partly reveal the structure of our galaxy and universe.  Other studies conducted at the observatory have also observed solar activity and charted other radio sources, (such as quasars and distant galaxies) as well as a large portion of the Milky Way itself.  However the most remarkable innovation to take place at DRAO is essentially, a time-travel machine.  Of course it won’t be humans travelling through time and space, rather a cutting-edge, highly advanced radio telescope, which will receive information emitted billions of years ago from our early universe in order to better understand its history and future.

The $11-million Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Experiment, (CHIME) will be the first telescope built in the country in over 30 years, and will be Canada’s largest radio telescope to date.  Funded in part by a $4.6 million investment from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, renowned astrophysicists from University of British Columbia, McGill University, the University of Toronto as well as the DRAO will all be collaborating on the project.  Dr. Mark Halpern, UBC astrophysicist and projected leader said, “Canada has been very, very effective in astronomical research but this is a standalone, entirely important Canadian experiment and we’re proud of that.”  While a mystified scientific community continues to grapple with the fact that our universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, accosting preconceived notions of gravity and cosmic composition, newfound hopes have been placed on the success of this innovative telescope in order to provide greater insight and answers into the why’s, what’s, where’s and how’s.  The radio telescope will listen for cosmic sound waves and analyze electromagnetic radiation, using components from the cellphone industry to digitally collect and interpret signals nearly one billion times per second in order to map the distribution of hydrogen and synthesize a three-dimensional image of one quarter of the observable universe.  Radiation coming from the most far-off galaxies will allow researchers to observe billions of years into the past to deduce how the universe first expanded.  While scientists believe the thrust of this expansion is derived from an energy density known as ‘dark energy’, (that is, an unperceivable object that does not give off light), information from the new telescope will potentially reveal more about its composition, (which is said to make up nearly 70 per cent of the known universe).  “It’s almost like time travel,” said Kris Sigurdson, an astrophysicist from UBC and co-investigator on the project. “It’s looking back into the past and how the universe was at that time and it’s just amazing.”

The CHIME telescope is set to be the most sensitive instrument in the world for this kind of research.  With no moving parts, the full size telescope will feature a 100 meter by 100 meter mesh that will entertain 10,000 square meters of ‘collecting area’, (larger than six NHL hockey rinks) filled with 2,560 low-noise receivers.  Collectively, these receivers will scan half of the sky every day, gathering the electromagnetic radiation in the form of radio waves.  The data will then be submitted and analyzed in partner labs at UBC, McGill University and the University of Toronto.  However, as a measure of trial and error, work is only now underway to build a smaller “pathfinder” test telescope, about one tenth of the size of the real-deal, scheduled to be operational in April.  This smaller version will enable scientists to confirm the success of all components in the environment before the equipment for the larger telescope is ordered.  If the smaller version works as planned, construction on the full-scale model will proceed in late 2014.

So as we make our way about this little planet, day in and day out, to perceive reality and light and time and space in our own way, it is important to remind ourselves of the greater picture: the superior home and heart to which we belong and the infinite totality of existence in which we are an expression.  Innovations such as CHIME are beacons in that darkness, a chance for us to reach out and grasp at our beginnings and our ends, to make sense of a senseless place that might only be understood by a fleeting illumination born in the innermost seed of being – the fundamental of existence and non-existence.  So what do we make of the universe knocking at our door?  We embrace it with arms wide open.  We surrender and bloom.  We thrive in our own unknowing, and we love all that is and all that is not.   This is only the beginning.

-Elizabeth Cucnik



The Inconvenient Truth About Cats

When we think about our pets, the majority of us think companionship, friendship and domestication.  Cats, much like their canine counterparts, have co-existed alongside humanity throughout millennia, and have entertained various roles in human civilization for nearly 10,000 years.  The subject of legend and deities, sacred symbolism and the occult, cats have enjoyed a predominate manifestation of worldwide culture.  The most widely accepted theory for the domestication of cats dictates that over time, cats diverged from their wild African ancestors through natural selection, and while tolerated by humans, easily adapted to hunting vermin in and around human settlements.  It wasn’t until the late 15th century however, that migrants from Europe introduced the common house cat to North America.  The domestic feline has since retained a presence in the Western Hemisphere, effecting not only society, but also the delicate coexistence between man and nature.

The issue of cat control is not a simple one.  Deriving from the complex of animal management, the argument over owned ‘outdoor’ cats, as well as the crusade to save or discourage feral populations, not only polarizes, but also transcends public opinion.  Having become something of an institutional belief, the debate over cat control has paved the way for a grassroots advocacy.  The debate over feral populations and household cats, involves a multilateral approach that includes meta-analysis study and cross-disciplinary methodology. Considerations over the history and nature of the domestic cat, as well as the environmental impacts and risk factors associated with ‘free-roaming’ felines, are measured against an anthropogenic effect on the entire global ecosystem.  These types of studies provide us with a thorough illustration demonstrating the cause and effects of pet-ownership as well as outline possible solutions to the damages that follow pet owner negligence.

A recent breakthrough study conducted by the University of Georgia and National Geographic offers a stunning in-depth look into the lives and behaviors of domestic cats.  Researchers attached individual micro video cameras to sixty outdoor house cats in Athens, Georgia, whereby scientists were able to visually examine the lives of these study cats throughout the four seasons.  Staggeringly, the report revealed these cats averaged roughly one kill for every 17 hours spent outside, which translates into 2.1 kills per week.  Of these kills, only 25 percent made it back to the home.  This astonishing discovery challenges previous mortality rates of birds and animals by outdoor house cats that were formerly estimated at around one billion per year.  Now experts agree that outdoor cats kill up to 4 billion animals a year, (that includes birds, lizards, mice, voles, chipmunks, shrews, frogs and snakes, all of which are key components to a balanced ecosystem).  The study however, did not incorporate the impact of the estimated 60 million feral or stray cats that roam the United States alone, which, as previous research suggests, contributes equally, (if not more) to the mortality rates of North American wildlife.  If we take into consideration these wayward populations, we are thus looking at a dramatic increase in such numbers, whereby we face an astounding ecological disorder.  The findings of a recently published peer-reviewed study, lead by a team of research scientists from the Smithsonian Conservations Biology Institute of Migratory Birds, estimates that 2.4 billion birds and between 6.9 billion to 20.7 billion mammals are killed annually in the United States by both feral and house cats that are allowed to roam free.  However, the environmental impact of outdoor cats may not be the only thing that will have cat owners second-guessing their free-roaming felines.  The University of Georgia and National Geographic study also revealed that those study cats engaged in risky activity, whereby 45 percent crossed roads, 20 percent entered storm drains and crawlspaces, and 25 percent interacted with unfamiliar cats, increasing the potential for fights or disease transmission.

In Dennis Turner’s book, The Domestic Cat, Turner defines the house cat as a creature of interdependence, which, unlike dogs, predisposes them to wander and hunt at will.  In other words, our furry little friends lead a sort of double life – half familial, half wild, a little bit of nature, and a little bit of culture.  John Bradshaw, author of, The Behaviour of the Domestic Cat, concurs, stating that, “in behavioural terms, domestication has probably had less effect on the cat than on any other domestic animal. Association with man has little altered the cat’s wild behavior patterns.” According to Bradshaw, domestic cats have therefore preserved a gamut of fully functional predatory behaviors that are practiced from an early age by kittens and used to a substantial degree by adults.  This understanding of the domestic cat heralds the visceral notion that our feline friends are not meant to be kept indoors because they are inherently wild.   However there are several problems with this theory.  As both Turner and Bradshaw illustrate, household cats are not in fact wild animals, rather they are domesticated creatures that display certain dominant, instinctual behaviors.  Nevertheless having incorporated cats into our human way of life for the past several thousand years, we cannot realistically assume that cats can thus be left to their own devices.  Moreover, while cats are not native predators to the Western Hemisphere, nesting North American birds like the quail, have no natural defenses to offset any attack from such agile predators.  It is an inconvenient truth for cat lovers everywhere – that cats disturb wildlife, and if left unchecked, wildlife may not continue to persist in the manner that it does today.   Of course, cats alone are not wholly to blame for the deteriorating state of our present ecosystem; while pollution, habit destruction, climate change and anthropogenic threat all contribute to species decline.  However, cats are nevertheless a catalytic factor that society at large can no longer ignore.
Many cities and countries worldwide are revisiting the complex issue of cat predation, domestic control and feral populations.  In Duluth, Minnesota, for example, the city reinforces a leash law, making it illegal for any cat to roam freely, (even in one’s own yard), without proper supervision.  As of January 1rst 2011, Oakville, Ontario, has joined neighboring communities of Milton, Burlington and Hamilton in the prohibition of free roaming cats, while a countrywide ban on all outdoor cats has recently been proposed in New Zealand by renowned environmentalist, Gareth Morgan.  Morgan, who has gained worldwide notoriety for the said proposal, advocates that cats should be kept indoors, and that cat owners should be forced to invest in outdoor cat-proof enclosures.  For many pet owners, Morgan’s proposal may seem exceedingly far-fetched, unethical or even unconstitutional, however, in reality, the prohibition of outdoor house cats, actually favors the cat lover.  Based on the University of Georgia and National Geographic study, we now know that life for an outdoor cat is anything but ideal.  Death and injury from vehicles, dogs, coyotes, and other wildlife, as well as the potential to contract fatal diseases such as rabies, feline distemper, and the feline immunodeficiency virus, as well as the number of lost, stolen or poisoned cats, makes an outdoor lifestyle for this domestic pet, inherently dangerous.  It is a known fact that outdoor cats on average, lead significantly shorter lives than their indoor counterparts, not to mention the health threat free-roaming and feral cats pose to humans populations through the spread of diseases like rabies and toxoplasmosis.  Hence the push to remove outdoor cats from our culture supports both cat lovers and bird and animal conservationists alike.   The solution should therefore appear straightforward.  Cat owners must keep their cats indoors, whereby organizations, coalitions and conservation groups should lobby local government to pass animal bylaws prohibiting free-roaming cats, (just as they do dogs and other domesticated pets).  Secondly, the public, alongside pet-owners and policy makers, should be educated by veterinarians, the SPCA and local animal groups on how to provide the ideal indoor lifestyle/environment for their cats, which includes at least one litter box per cat (cleaned daily), something to scratch, resting areas, perches, toys and places for refuge.  Additionally, properly enclosed and supervised outdoor areas for cats should be considered, as well as training leashes and bell collars.

The solution for the feral cat populations on the other hand, is slightly less definitive.  While some argue that a Trap Neuter Release program may help to reduce the number of feral cats, opponents argue that the practice is far too difficult to administer, time consuming, costly and ultimately ineffective, (especially while those cats released back into the communities still continue the carnage of destroying wildlife).  Many conservationists, researchers and scientists propose that these cats be kept either in supervised enclosures, trapped and adopted out to loving homes or euthanized.  Maureen Palmer, producer of the documentary, Cat Crazed, spoke out about her experiences during filming, where she witnessed the sterilization of feral cats at a volunteer spay-neuter clinic in Los Angeles.  Palmer describes the incident as “heart-breaking,” while most of the feral cats observed had infections that would never heal, broken bones, and large abscesses around their teeth and mange.  Palmer’s horrific detail supports the SPCA’s proposal of euthanizing those cats that are sick and present a health hazard to the general public.  So while the jury is still out on how communities and local governments should deal with feral populations, one thing remains absolutely clear – the real antagonist is not the outdoor house cat or the feral cat; it is rather the irresponsible pet owner who is part and parcel of a culture of cat autonomy.   Any initiative to stop the support of feral cat populations by banning public feeding and cracking down on pet negligence, as well as decreasing the amount of outdoor house cats through public awareness and the implementation of animal bylaws, will help to support the recovery of our native bird and animal species.  In doing so, we would also be investing in our future by providing some restorative measures to help sustain the delicate balance of our ecosystem.  In order to reduce the impact of cats, scientifically sound protection; public awareness and policy intervention is needed.   The cat control debate is therefore not a call to fight, but rather a call to action, one that everyone worldwide must answer.

– Elizabeth Cucnik


Taking The Family Out Of Family Day: Rethinking B.C.’s Newest Stat Holiday

The initiation of B.C. Family Day as a statutory holiday represents, for many, a personal and historical triumph.  For others however, it is simply more weight added to an already cumbersome load. If politics can guarantee us anything, it might be that policymaking never fails to polarize public opinion.  Between divided schools of thought, legislation has a tendency to fall into a, “he-said-she-said” table tennis of political forum, making something as seemingly innocuous as Family Day, become the main thrust of incendiary debate.

Part and parcel of premier Christy Clark’s, “Families First” agenda, (a political platform focused on creating policies to ease the burden of B.C. families), the new stat holiday pays homage to the prior two decades of multiple failed legislation attempts, aimed at establishing a statutory holiday for B.C. families.  Following Clark’s successful election however, on October 3, 2011, it was announced that as a primary measure, a new stat holiday would be introduced to celebrate families across the province.  After a 31,000 strong public poll, the date was adopted for the second Monday of the second month of the New Year, and on February 11th, British Columbia observed its first ever, inaugural B.C. Family Day.

As the general public moves to adopt the new bill with little apparent trepidation, political charades continue to line the coat pockets of public opinion.  In reality, Family Day is more pomp and circumstance than political idealism, and (notwithstanding the nature of politics) it might be reasonable to assume that a strategically concocted pre-election initiative, (like Family Day) may very well prove beneficial for the Liberals when it comes to the voting ballot in May.  Of course let us not forget that Family Day arrives late to British Columbia, having already been well established as a provincial statutory holiday in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, P.E.I. and Saskatchewan.

Proponents of the new bill proclaim that Family Day is not only fiscally advantageous for the province but also essential to the well being of our society.  Balance might well be the operative word here.  If we type into Google the reasons for why people take holidays, several common factors emerge.  Fitness, mind and body, relaxation, inspiration, reconnection, discovery, sleep, family, health, productivity and kindness… These are what contribute to a life well balanced and well lived.  With this in mind, many concede that compensations like Family Day, are representative of our government’s newfound commitment to general well being.  Marianne Drew-Pennington from BC Council for Families concurs, stating, “setting aside an annual holiday in B.C. that values parenting and the role of families in raising children and building communities demonstrates appreciation for these unsung heroes.”  But before we blow our own horn, let us not forget the many other presiding issues on the docket that plague political morality, such as, lower childcare costs, affordable daycare, (at present childcare costs in BC are anywhere from between $9,000 to $14,000 per year per child), demand for more licensed childcare facilities, and pediatric care.  Therefore, another stat holiday linking New Years and Easter seems to falls short of other, more pressing political issues.

Christy Clark, alongside Margaret MacDiarmid, Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government, have proudly advocated that the statutory holiday is intended not only to celebrate B.C. families, but also to support local economies by encouraging its citizens to utilize their communities’ resources, programs and special events.  Clark claims that B.C. Family Day will therefore see a subsequent (albeit 2-3 day spike) in public spending during the off-season, when economies and businesses tend to flounder.  Both Chris Dadson, president of Kootenay Rockies, and Tourism Minister Pat Bell, have defended Clark’s sentiment, arguing that the holiday will provide a significant boost to the B.C. tourism sector.   Working hand-in-hand with a variety of partners (including B.C. Parks, municipalities, regional tourism associations, the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, the Canada West Ski Areas Association and the private sector) the province has labored to create affordable opportunities for families to enjoy the special day together.  In Vancouver for example, there were concerts featuring local Juno award winners, as well as street entertainment, face painting, a hockey shoot out, local artists and more.  Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association concurs, saying, “B.C. Restaurant Week February 11 to 17 coincides with Family Day and showcases the incredible innovation and value of our industry…We encourage everyone to get together with their loved ones on Family Day and support the many people who own and operate restaurant and food establishments in B.C. and continue that celebration throughout the week.”  This statement was echoed by David Lynn, president and CEO of Canada’s West Ski Areas Association, who said, “We are very pleased with the outcome and we are confident that this decision will drive significant benefits for the tourism industry, the provincial economy and the people of British Columbia.”

Apart from all the praising proclamations made by our politicians and chairmen, criticism of the bill continues to plague its advocates.  Many small business owners reject the onus of Family Day, which places unnecessary financial strain by forcing them to pay staff for an extra day.  In response to the censure, Christy Clark stated, “a lot of other economies across Canada have gotten used to Family Day, including Saskatchewan, which is one of the fastest growing now.”  While this is true, we must take into account B.C.’s modest economic growth forecasted for the coming years.  Comparing our economy to Saskatchewan’s is not necessary representative.  It is a well-known fact that our prairie brethren lead the nation not by political idealism, but by potash, oil and gas. B.C. might well reap the benefits of its own liquefied natural gas project in the coming months, (if the premier gets her way) however the bulk of our GDP still relies heavily on foresting and mining, which cannot altogether realistically compete with the economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan.  And while B.C. continues to reel from the grips of a harrowing recession, we begin to emerge within a shrewder consciousness that echoes the sentiment nothing in life is free.  So without the stars in our eyes, we start to wonder… who is footing the bill?

British Columbians already enjoy nine statutory holidays per year, with a minimum two-week vacation entitlement (presaged in B.C.’s Employment Standards Act) as well as an additional one-week vacation extension after five years of employment, and five days of entitled unpaid family leave.  Critics of Family Day argue that adding another statutory holiday is therefore not only unnecessary, but also costly.  Businesses that close for the holiday lose an entire production day, while their wage costs remains the same, (since workers must be paid an average day’s pay). With no offsetting reduction costs and lower revenues, owners, employees and consumers therefore end up footing the bill.  Although higher prices may conceivably compensate for the loss, increasingly competitive markets for most goods and services make this option ultimately unviable.  Notwithstanding the recession and our slow growing economy, the HST/PST debacle, and the minimum wage increase, (recently imposed by the Clark government) the Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that BC Family Day will cost small and medium businesses roughly $42 million.  This of course, does not take into account the added cost of any larger businesses.  And let us not us forget about the average B.C. family, for whom this particular stat holiday is supposedly intended.  As an illustration, Canadian taxpayers will subsidize tens of millions of dollars to provide the additional (paid) day off for the 359,000 provincial and municipal public sector workers, (or the two and a half times standard pay if they work the stat).  And while Clark and those in her camp, claim that the holiday will rather improve the economy, (as families are expected to spend money on entertainment and recreational activities) any increase in demand for goods and services will be offset by the increased wage costs businesses will have to bear.  However additional concerns over the nexus effects of the bill, have many British Columbians worried.  Increased spending by families on their day off may potentially contribute to less spending at other times throughout the year, while the obligatory onus on local businesses to provide free services or reduced rates to promote Family Day will not only see a loss of revenue, but will also increase total annual expenditure, as they will have to sustain the increased wage costs.  Lastly, there is no guarantee that a day off for British Columbians will provide B.C. with the kind of economic stimulus that has been projected.  Many use long weekends to travel southward or east to Alberta, (such is evident with Alberta’s Family Day which conversely sees a modest commercial boost to B.C.’s economy during the third week of February).

Family Day may seem like a noble gesture by the Clark government to provide support for B.C. Families and stimulate local economies, however, we as the taxpayer, must call a spade a spade.  The bottom line is, statutory holidays are not free. Taxpayers, workers, and business end up paying, which is why it is important that we understand fully the implications of such policies.  There are indeed many benefits that coincide with the implementation of Family Day, primarily the opportunity to disengage from the rigorous (albeit sometimes tedious) routine of daily life, and we can all agree that balance in order to promote general well being should never be undervalued.  However, like all things political, policy presents polarization, and in the end, divides society along diverging beliefs and interests.  Therefore, to form a holistic opinion on any political policy, it is imperative that we, the people and taxpayers, educate ourselves on the full intention, implication, cause and effect of each government policy, so we too can make decisions based on our own welfare and understanding.

– Elizabeth Cucnik




Bill C-45: Redefining Canada’s Idea of Democracy

Canada’s Conservative government has made many promises over the years, some of which have simply slid into the slipstream of political darkness, while others have conveniently been cut up into bite-size, chewable pieces that our politicians can easily swallow.  Of course, when it comes to the world of the shrewd, we shouldn’t expect anything less.  If we were completely honest with ourselves, we would assume that the realization of any political promise (especially those sprinkled lavishly along the campaign trail) does not reality make.  This year however, the Conservative government seems to be tackling some of its pre-election campaign pledges to strengthen the Canadian economy by reassessing the federal budget.  Even if, (surprise surprise) the effectiveness goes hand-in-hand with other, less favorable legislations… (But hey, we’ll take whatever we can get, right?)  While Canada struggles to wriggle free from the clasp of a worldwide recession, all things fiscal continue to dominate the political arena and, albeit, public discernment.  At the forefront of Canadian concern, we see the economy affecting all aspects of society.  The reality of budget balancing, fiscal management, federal spending and taxes, is therefore not only imperative but also fundamental, (as it speaks directly to our democratic consciousness).  However, while the dream of Canadian equality appears to be dwindling in the face of our increasingly stratified culture, redemption by the Conservatives seems like a tall order to fill.

Wrapped up lavishly in a 443-page federal budget omnibus bill, 64 pieces of legislation, (touching on everything from environmental rules, to business tax breaks, to judge’s salaries and employees’ take-home pay) reveals the more demure, democratic side of parliament (perhaps a consequence of public pressure from media, nonprofits and other government-regulating groups).  Pension reform has been the thrust of that impetus, which, if carried out successfully, will consequently save our government over $2.6 billion.  So just how does it do it?  Well, firstly by removing some of the financial onus off of the crestfallen taxpayer’s shoulders. This means making those platinum-plated retirement plans for federal employees far less generous.

The move to self-regulate, disperse, change and equalize comes at a ripe hour.  Many Canadians have no pensions whatsoever, while the rest of us can only dream of receiving such hefty sums upon retirement, (which, by the way, the Conservatives have increased by two years). The Canadian Taxpayers Federation was recently quoted saying that Canada’s MPs have the best pension fund “on the planet,” the bulk of which is contributed by the taxpayer, albeit padded lavishly by kush legislation that ensures maximum growth and protection.  Currently, our government subsidizes the majority of government pensions, dishing out six times the amount paid by MPs into the plan.  However statistics released last June by the CTF tallied an even greater cost disparity between the taxpayer and the MP, tipping the scales at a staggering 24:1 ratio.

If we were to break it all down into laymen’s terms, the reality of government expenditure on things like federal employee pension plans would come as a dreadful surprise.  Presently each MP makes just under $158,000 a year and, following the current legislation, after only six years of sitting in the House, at 55 years of age, each MP qualifies for a pension based on the average of his or her best five years of salary.  This means Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be eligible to collect a pension of at least $223,500 per year by 2015, while Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, (if he continues as party leader) can collect a pension of at least $71,400 per annum.   NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault on the other hand, who was elected last year at the age of 19, can collect a pension of $40,000 per year if he retires at the age of 27, while twenty more MPs will be able to collect over $100,000 a year if they retire or lose after the following election.  This of course, is not taking into account the guaranteed 10.4 per cent interest rate, which, (by the way) outperforms the Canada Pension Plan by 60 per cent over the last 10 years.  Based on the interest rate return, taxpayers are therefore paying an additional $248,668 into the fund, per MP.  If we combine dollar contribution and the guaranteed interest rate, we see that our input into these funds, amounts to a staggering $102 million a year.  Yes, we may not know it, but we are indeed making those deep politician pockets, even deeper.  Without a doubt, this sham is an exploitation of magnanimously epic proportions, highlighting a severely misplaced trust in our hallowed conviction of all things “democratic.”  So while our government doth protests that it is attempting to make the necessary changes, one has to wonder, what other undemocratic elements plague this administration?

Looking at the upside of Bill C-45, Canadians can be somewhat pleased that parliamentarians will soon share the cost of their pension contributions on a 50-50 basis with taxpayers, (which means that Harper himself would be giving up at least $70,000 a year in eventual pension payments). However, despite the progressions, there is an undercurrent of dubiousness that seems to mock Bill-C45, calling into question the very democratic nature of our own government.  For example, it is uncertain how much MP’s and senator’s salaries might increase to compensate for the proposed pension contribution requirements, while those already serving will not have to worry about any pension eligibility change.  Yet critics argue that some of the other major changes presented in the bill are also inherently inequitable, such as the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the elimination of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, the removal of the federal board for Employment Insurance premium rates, and the Merchant Seamen Compensation Board.  And while the word, “undemocratic” seems almost offensive to Canadians, it may very well be because we live, for the most part, under a veil of political ignorance and apathy.  The truth is, governments are like businesses, predominately ruled by personal gain, self-interest and profit and ours is no different.  This is why it is more important than ever for Canadians to speak out and have a voice in local and federal government.  We must understand and appreciate the power of collective knowledge, activity, awareness and engagement that can ultimately affect  the very landscape of our own political future.

-Elizabeth Cucnik



Is Gun Control Necessary or Not?

Throughout the world, firearm ownership and gun control remains a point of contention among politicians, activists and civilians alike.   A manifold complex of various interconnected issues, the debate over the role of guns in society, works to polarize and divide based on fundamental values and belief systems that are, for the most part, carved in stone.

The penultimate need for survival and dominance (through belief systems and social and political structures) has always reigned supreme, shaping the landscapes of social evolution throughout millennia.  A manifestation of our most basic thoughts and needs, the history of firearms and the role of guns in modern society therefore reflect the constituents of our nature, (and by default, the less elevated aspects of our cognizance).  Inevitably changing the projection of human development, the conception and use of firearms, (beginning in 12th century China and rapidly spreading Westward) witnessed the rise of “gunpowder empires.”  These great powers, which saw the vast takeover of large territories and people across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East from the 15th to the 18th centuries, (the most well known and successful being the Turks) created highly developed, centralized governments that could carry out the procurement, maintenance and instruction of firearms.  Guns and gunpowder were therefore reserved for the all-mighty and powerful, conceived and used for one purpose and one purpose only: warfare.   Although war is an integral part to understanding our historical social consciousness, and continues to be emblematic in the 21rst century, warfare has never been and never will be a desirable proponent of human nature.   Our blood lust, stemming from our most basic, animalistic instinct, is the primal need to facilitate control and ensure our own survival at all costs. The methods of human warfare therefore, by way of firearms and firearm technology, cannot be separated from our primal nature.  In this respect, all sense of elevated consciousness, empirical thought and humanity disappears with the pull of a trigger.  So where does that leave us?

Unfortunately when it comes to the debate over guns in modern day society, the bounty of biased statistical evidence, which labors to support either side of the argument, makes gun ownership and gun control a moot point.  Definitively, the real issue is not necessarily gun control but gun ownership.  Where there is fire, one is sure to get burned.  But eliminating all guns from the world is not a reality.  So what do we do?  Governments become the negotiating parent.  Placing conditions to restrict and control, they do as much or as little as they can to convince them of their own authority.  But despite federal action, the arms race, like a tyrannical teenager, persists in its own way, forging sovereignty that is independent of Big Brother.  Yes, we are damned if do and damned if we don’t.  However, giving up entirely to leave society to its own devices may prove to be just as disastrous.

While media, multinationals, lobbyists and lawmakers alike, have, to a greater degree, collectively enabled a dependent, unthinking society, the individual is no longer independent of popular culture and its welfare state.  We must be told what we think, what we do and how we feel.  In this sense, most of us are incapable of understanding the boundaries of self-control and self-regulation and without comprehensive thought; our ability to judge people and situations correctly, is next to nil.  As a result, we see a rise in worldwide obesity and addictions rates, domestic and street violence, drug trafficking and arms dealing, persistent civil unrest and crime, substance and behavioral abuse, international warfare, and a plethora of psychological and psychiatric illnesses.  So how can we realistically embrace a laissez-faire mentality when it comes to firearm ownership, when the culture itself doesn’t even know how to eat and sleep without being prescribed something?  (Talk about a loaded gun!)

A large roadblock for pro-gun control groups in America is the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which serves to protect “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”  Right wing lobbyist groups like, the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America are quick to quote it in defense of their anti-gun control program, which supports the removal of all bans on semiautomatic weapons, armor piercing ammunition and handguns.  However the question remains: is there a difference between the right to bear arms and the right to control the conditions of that right?  In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting last month, (which saw twenty children and seven adults murdered), the echoes of thirteen other mass shootings of 2012 in the United States alone call for a mass mobilization against the gun lobby.  In a statement last Wednesday, President Barack Obama said, “What’s more important, doing whatever it takes to get an A grade from the gun lobby that funds our campaigns or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade?” However notable Republicans such as Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, are quick to challenge Obama’s proposals to ban assault weapons and impose a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines, while many Democrats concur that gun control programs remain a difficult sell to lawmakers.  Yet of all industrialized nations, America continues to be the nation with the weakest gun laws and the highest gun-related deaths, (killing around 10,000 Americans a year), the backwash of which inevitably permeates our northern borders.  Canada is therefore not immune to the system, and the system itself is evidently off-kilter.  While there is no single solution to the complex issue of gun violence, the notion that governments are not responsible for universal background checks, and should not ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is, without a doubt, deeply counterintuitive and asinine.

Looking to our European counterparts, we see a very different picture. In Britain for instance, handguns and automatic weapons have effectively been banned, and while it is still possible to own shotguns, and rifles, (if you can prove to the police that you have a good reason to own one) the firearms-ownership rules are arduous, involving hours of bureaucracy, in which extensive background checks, interviews and surveys are conducted.  According to British police and British parliament, many gang-related shootings in Britain are no longer fatal, due to the simple inaccessibility of ammunition.  In this respect, gangs are resorting to making their own bullets, the likes of which are not as effective as the real-deal, and even those hardboiled criminals willing to pay for a handgun are often acquiring only an illegally modified starter’s pistol turned into a single-shot weapon.  If statistics are anything to go by, than one might be crude enough to say that fewer guns mean fewer gun-related crimes, (a belief that is greatly supported by both the Handgun Control Inc. and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence groups of America).  In 2008-2009, there were 39 fatal injuries from crimes involving firearms in England and Wales, with a population about one sixth the size of America’s, compared to 12,000 gun-related homicides in America during that same year.  Based on the models of Japan and Britain, it seems that strict gun laws involve having no guns at all.

Surveys show that twenty-nine per cent of Canadian homes possess an estimated total of nine million firearms. The UN has ranked Canada third in the civilian ownership of firearms among developed western countries, (right behind the United States and Norway).  As the arms race goes, once other people have guns, it becomes reasonable for you to want one too and while significant number of guns in circulation seems to make any specific controls on things like automatic weapons or large magazines superfluous, there are therefore, no definitive solutions to the gun debate.  The choice lies solely within the people: whether popular culture supports gun mentality or not and whether we, as a society, choose to forge a community based on weapon supremacy or intellectual sovereignty.   So, while the power ultimately rests with the individual, society at large can only pray that the individual appeals to rational thought and self-control and not the full metal jacket of 21st century anarchy.

– Elizabeth Cucnik

Are We Simply Spinning The Human Hamster Wheel of Time?


The all-too-familiar idiom, “time flies,” or its less common Latin counterpart, Tempus Fugit, is not just a fanciful way of describing the passing of time, whereby one can envisage time as a sort of number or clock that seemingly floats around on a pair of cartoonish, cherub wings.  The reality is far less provincial.  “Time flies,” is more a euphemism for FUBAR – the final hooray of man’s inability to comprehend the mystery that is life.   Of course we all love to imagine our existence as some sweeping romantic caricature, with oversimplified gestures of meaning and purpose.  This makes our heads hurt a little less.  But unfortunately, life does not afford us such simplicities.   So we go back to drawing board.  What do we make of something we can’t reasonably understand?  Maybe there’s something to be said for Osho’s laughter for prayer – why be so serious when the confounding thrust of life comes straight out of the realm of the laughable?  Time, being the principle component of life’s basic conundrum, eludes even the most astute and aware, stockpiling our need to shrink wrap and stamp it with a cliché we can all artificially accept, (at least for the time being).  As we shuffle awkwardly into a new calendric year, beleaguered by those unavoidable backward glances to past dates and decades that have all but disappeared into obscurity, we are confronted once again with a basic proponent of being: time.  So what do we do with it?  What is our relationship with time?  What is our philosophy of time?  How does time fit into our lives and how do we use it?

The idea that time is relative, stems from the experience of time itself: how one ideally interprets the time one spends.   Some seek life experience at all cost – pushing the boundaries and challenging the senses, while others opt for a more classical education, making all the necessary stops along the way by fulfilling their cultural rites of passage.  Then there are those mavericks of society, who enjoy the anything in everything: silence of contemplation, din of human tenacity, complex of nature, reckless abandon, unquenchable quest of knowledge, and so forth.  Despite how, why or what propels certain peoples to seek certain ways of living, the premise is simple: whichever life portfolio one chooses, dictates the way time is experienced and reflected.  The question of New Year’s resolutions therefore inherently lies in the question of diversification.  If we choose to diversify our lives by seeking new experiences, new wisdoms, new networks, new adventures and new schools of thought, the rejuvenation of a new calendric year will simply hallmark that invigorating process.  If, however, we choose not to diversify, enjoying the sedation of regular routine and the shelter of repetitive action, we are, in a way, creating a slipstream of time, in which all memories merge into one continuous torrent of consciousness, whereby time is felt as “flying” or fleeting rather than fulfilling.  Of course this is all easier said than done, while most of us have, what is known as, “responsibilities” – the giants of our lives that tower in the face of self-realization, (remember healthcare? Care insurance?  Mortgage payments?)

Unfortunately responsibility has gained a rather notorious reputation in the Western hemisphere, particularly in North America, where an emphasis on materialism and capital gain, have made us inherently weak, feeble-minded and perpetually broke.  As a result, we self-medicate through reality TV, talk shows, social media, online gambling, YouTube and so forth, all of which we collectively mistake as real-time or real-life.  In this sense, the Internet has made us false gods and pseudo rock stars – an illusion that may very well be the greatest crime of the modern age.  In all actuality, responsibility has never been a burden to mankind; it has, rather continuously served as a sail for reason, a bridge for spiritual gain, a gift of consciousness, a boundary of hope, and a home for personal meaning.  Rather than a debt we must pay, responsibility is respect for life itself, for the processes we choose and for the time we spend.  Equally as gratifying and diversifying as an encyclopedia of all-things new, it seems responsibility is the bloodline of humanity.   So where did we go wrong?  How did we become so lost in our responsibilities, that we in turn, lost sight of its true significance, of its deeds and indeed, of our own diversification?

While it may seem impossible to have a diverse life profile amidst all that responsibility, there is, in fact, another way around it.  Firstly, by accepting that work, money, payments, bills, and so forth are all part of life’s journey, (which essentially leads us to greater wisdoms and causes), our anxieties will evidently ebb away.  Secondly, it is important to consider the multifaceted nature of diversification.  If we want to spend time in real-time, in present-time, where time moves as time should – with equal measure and substance, then we must seek conscious expansion through all levels of being, (that is, spiritual, physical, mental, emotional).  Like the spark of a kindling flame, we create friction for energy.  This means: proceeding with passion and re-establishing equilibrium of benevolence, honesty and empathy; engaging in activities not just for the sake of being active, but to motivate and inspire; removing ourselves from the mundane routines by travel and experience; and forging new alliances and pathways that can lead us to different schools of thought.  In this sense, deeper meaning comes from the present consciousness of one’s time, rather than the idea of something else, past or future.

So why not embrace the diversification of life’s portfolio this New Year?  If we diversify the way we meet new people, the way we think, the way we creatively construct and the way we conduct our day-to-day, we will no longer need New Year’s resolutions, because we will ultimately be resolved.  If we continue to change the landscapes of our lives, time itself will slow to a steady rhythm that we can dance to, sing to, make love to, and rejoice within.  If… we might finally be able to leave the idioms of time behind, the past and the future, to revel in a newfound prolonging of the joyful and resounding present.

– Elizabeth Cucnik

The Better Gift To Give This Holiday Season…

Tis the season!  In light of the Christmas spirit, we thought we’d share in a few gift-giving alternatives that you can mull over while you sit fireside with your cup of hot coco in hand.  Of course, these are not in any way, new ideas or trends.  Here’s the catchphrase: Christmas is not about the gifts.  Yes, we have all heard this little jingle time and time again – in the Christmas hymns and carols we sing, in the films we watch and the books we read.  Yet many of us continue to imbibe the obligations of gift giving rather than rejoice in the delight of its true significance.

The real heart of the season is driven by the generous spirit, a need to assist, to empathize, and to find compassion and care, even for those whom may not deserve it or even appreciate it.  These principles of charitable essence can be found in the small and few, rather than the big and plentiful, and they are what the spirit of Christmas is all about.  Chronicling your family history by collecting and showcasing old photographs, letters and documents is a great way to involve your family in the homespun efforts of the past that make our present.  You can frame meaningful photographs, give away a basket of home-baked goodies, donate to a charity in the name of a loved one, or create a unique experience through a joint family activity or trip.  Then of course there are those kinds of gifts that are slightly more incorporeal.  These gifts are the kind that make us human, the stuff of legend and the fibre of divinity.  Potted flowers or herbs left anonymously on a friend or neighbour’s doorstep…cleaning up the house or bedroom without having been asked to do so; calling an estranged friend or relative or writing a letter to someone you haven’t seen in years, (or just simply writing a real old-fashion, pen-to-paper-to-post letter without texting, emailing or Facebook!)   Why not give away the last great book you enjoyed to someone with like interest, or shovel snow for an elderly neighbour?  Every small yet significant gift of love is the butterfly effect for a greater, universal peace that reverberates and transcends.

As we sit in custody by the giant of Western consumerism, our hands need not be tied behind our backs.  Gift giving does not have to feel like a duty or onus, rather it is a genuine opportunity to love somebody else.   Of course, while most of us are spellbound by commercial capitalism, it’s far too easy to lose sight of the giving over the getting.  So instead of asking our children what they want for Christmas this year, why not start by asking them what they want to give?  By giving our children the opportunity to experience the fundamentals of the season, we are in turn, teaching them the essence of giving as a language of love.  So in your quest to find that perfect gift, lest you not forget that the greatest gifts one can give might well be those that do not adorn fancy price-tags or name-tags or shiny red and green gift-wrap.  After all, aren’t those the better gifts to give?  For they are the ones that come directly from us.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

December 21st 2012: The End Of The World?


Based on the ancient Mayan calendar, the world is going to end on December 21, of this year.  At least that is what many cyber-circulating headlines tell us.  Despite prevailing logic, one cannot help but feel a twinge of horror and a flicker of doubt that eclipses the mind’s eye for a brief nanosecond of delirium.  Could it be true?  Is there any possibility…?  That is, until we return to our good sense and then it’s all poppycock and witty humor.  But if there’s one thing that doomsday predictions tells us about ourselves, it is that human beings are unrelentingly naïve in our quest for magic and mystery.  We need transcendence as much as we need air to breath.  A cynic would say that society is simply blinded by this obsession with the unknown, continually compromising reason and logic for a foolhardy notion of sublime possibilities.  A cautious optimistic rather, might consider these foolhardy notions to be a collective expression of faith in a higher existence, or in a well-endowed consciousness of the universe.  Regardless of which spectrum you fall under – the cynic or the optimist – there is no denying that magic and mystery remain the two foremost elemental components of the human experience.

Apocalyptic prophecies are not a new phenomenon.  In fact, failed predictions of doomsday have circulated throughout the ages, casting shadow and doubt amongst the rise and fall of civilizations and their societies.  The Romans, for example, believed that the mystical number revealed to Romulus, (mythical co-founder of Rome) represented the number of days in a year, therefore they had expected Rome to be destroyed around 365 AUC, (389 BCE).  Similarly, Gregory of Tours, (a Gallo-Roman historian) had calculated the End occurring between 799 and 806 AD.   John of Toledo on the other hand, (an English Dean of the College of Cardinals) predicted the end of the world based on the alignment of planets during 1186.  Likewise, many interpreted the black plague, which swept across Europe in the 14th century, as a sign of the end of days.  Predictions like these continue almost every year from the Roman period through to present day.  Deductive logic therefore tells us that modernity has, in no way, any bearing on the mystical tendencies of human nature, which are as perennial and prevailing as the stars and moon and revolutions of our planet around the sun.  Our pursuit of the enigmatic is our true distinction – much like the universe examining its hands and feet – we live for wonderment of the world, without which, we might as well be as boring and predictable as a B-rated romance flick.  However, the question is: how far do we allow ourselves to take it?
Believing in something, or entertaining the idea of something that goes against our intuitive knowledge and experience simply because it is dramatically enthralling, is what psychologists like to call, “cognitive dissonance”; that is, the feeling of discomfort whilst simultaneously holding two or more conflicting beliefs, ideas, values or emotional reactions.  Most of us know that the mechanism of our mass extinction will not be from a collision with a rogue planet called Nibiru, or a super black hole at the centre of the universe, or a sudden world-wide flash flood, yet we allow ourselves from time to time, to be drawn into the drama of it all, excited by the conspiracy of the unknown.  So before you go ahead with the building plans of your prospective arks, take note of a few, tiny, minute considerations.  Many believe that our year is not in fact 2012, but, due to miscalculation, is rather a different date entirely.  Similarly, according to the phantom time hypothesis, (a theory developed by Heribert Illig in 1991), periods of history, precisely that of Europe during the Early Middle Ages, may not have actually existed, which would make our current date grossly outdated.  On the other hand, Wakatel Utiw, leader of the National Council of Elders Mayas, has been quoted saying that the end of the Maya calendar has nothing to do with the end of the world; rather it is the beginning of a new cycle and the ushering in of a fresh calendric era that supposes certain changes in human consciousness.

Of course Western commercialism has done little in the way of kyboshing apocalyptic conspiracy theories.  Consider the 2009 disaster film, 2012 for example, or the more recent movie, Take Shelter.  Not to mention foreboding TV documentaries and alarmist websites that have gone “viral,” sparking worldwide activity by way of doomsday kits, exoduses, and government action.  Regardless, the end of days seems synonymous with man’s eternal quest for mortal meaning and purpose, which is the reason prophecies like those of Nostradamus are still widely circulated, having rarely been out of print since initial publication some 550 years ago.  Prophecy is like a beacon in the abyss of which we exist, a light that orientates and familiarizes.  So for the same reasons we tell our children that Santa Clause is the real deal, so too do we indulge in the irrational, quixotic aspect of our nature, drawing conclusions for anchorage amidst an endless thrashing sea of unknowns.  Rather than reacting negatively to the hoopla of this current doomsday prediction, let us rejoice that we, as human beings, continue to be inspired by the mysticism of life, and that we have not yet grown dull and weary of its exploits.

-Elizabeth Cucnik