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Tuesday, February 26, 2008


FREE EBOOK DOWNLOAD COMING SOON!

The Unearthing will soon be available to you as a free-to-download ebook!

Watch this space...

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Culture of Debt: An Essay on the Perverse Society


Friends, this essay is a long time in coming and I apologize for the delay.

As I have previously stated, we are all slaves. We are slaves to the corporations for whom we work, in order to buy the products and services that those same corporations provide.

But everyone born into bondage is bound to their masters, somehow. From ancient times, slaves were branded on the skin, tied up with rope, chains, leashed…slaves would be beaten or whipped…there are even provisions in the Torah, the Bible and the Quran on how to treat slaves.

Today’s slavery holds us in line with invisible chains, and our punishment for disobeying our masters may not carry with it direct physical injury, but it injures us, nonetheless, emotionally, socially and economically.

Today, we are enslaved by mass consumerism and its most insidious tool of branding and bonding: debt.

It wasn’t that long ago that borrowing money for anything other than the purchase of a house or to start a business was seen as shameful. But now, it’s so easy to borrow money: banks, retailers, pharmacies, airlines, even grocery stores offer credit cards, now. Even if you don’t qualify for a loan or a mortgage, there are companies out there willing to give you a gold-level or even a platinum card, and all you have to do is pay their annual fees and interest rates.

We are encouraged to go into debt by the consumerist nature of our society. Television, radio, newspapers and even the Internet are all used to do one thing: provide a delivery system for you to be exposed to advertisements. Advertisements promote products and services, and if the studies are to be believed, they work.

Take for example newspapers: Between 30 and 50% of all the print will be advertising.

You can figure it out for yourself: Count the number of columns on a page, from right to left. Usually, its between four and six columns across. Find a page in the paper where the column goes to the bottom of the page and measure it. Multiply the column height in inches or centimetres by the number of columns to get the space per page
.

Now, measure the advertisements on those pages: number of columns wide by how long they are in inches or centimetres. Then compare the text-to-ad ratio. The news you get in the paper is filler, built around the spaces the ads take up in the paper. The number of pages in a newspaper is a function of the amount of ad space sold for that particular edition.

Same thing with broadcast television: every seven to ten minutes you will get a commercial break. The average length of a television episode is 22 minutes of broadcast per half hour. That’s 16 minutes of time devoted strictly for commercials. In some cases, the ratio 20 minutes of commercial time per hour, to 40 minutes of programming. Generally, television commercials are between ten and twenty seconds in length. That means that in an hour of programming, you will be exposed to between 64 and 120 different advertisements during one hour of television viewing.

If you read magazines, check out the number of ads versus the number of articles. Certain genre of magazines have very high ad ratios: fashion magazines, for example, have far more advertising than a news magazine, therefore far more pages. Yet, the both cost about the same.

Your mail box is crammed with junk mail on a weekly basis: delivery menus, sale fliers, miniature store catalogues…every media outlet is designed to expose you to advertising, and every piece of advertising is designed to entice you to buy product.

Obviously, the advertising is working: On average, consumers have between $14 500 and $25 000 of personal debt.

As I said earlier, it is very easy to go into debt: Most stores will give you a personal credit card, the banks will give you credit cards…and the interest they charge runs between 18 and 20% per month. And do we ever use them!


Roughly 25 % of all our transactions are done by credit card, $1000 of credit card debt will take most people approximately 22 years to pay off in full, assuming they only meet the minimum monthly payments.


A lot of economists and credit card users will tell you to simply use your cards responsibly, buy something on credit and pay it off as quickly as possible, et cetera. But the truth is, between the cardholder annual fees, the interest payments and the ease with which cardholders use the damn things because they either believe they really need something or just really want something and can’t wait until they have the money to buy it, it’s no wonder that the credit card companies are making billions in profit every year.


While the “Just say no” policy has proven useless for sex and drugs, it remains the only sane policy when it comes to incurring credit card debt: the best way to avoid credit card debt is to not get a fucking credit card to begin with!


We go into debt because we are conditioned to buy, buy, buy! We are so conditioned because most of us fear being in debt, and fear the consequences of being in debt, namely the destruction of our credit rating—and our future ability to acquire credit.


As to mortgages and automobile loans, personal loans, business startup loans, these are, in some cases, necessary expenditures. It is inevitable that many people will need at least one car.

But is it necessary to buy the most expensive car? The flashiest looking car? If all you need is something safe and relatively fuel efficient to get you from A to B, then that’s all you should be looking to buy. Yet SUV sales, luxury car sales, sports car sales are all quite significant.


Likewise, people who buy small cars, efficient cars, etc. are often looked down upon and mocked, from their peers to pop culture. Why? Because once again the goal of consumerism is to get you to spend as much money as possible. If enough pressure can convince you to go deeper into debt to buy a bigger car, then you can be sure that that pressure will be applied to you, at all levels of society.

Mortgages can take between five and twenty-five years to pay off. In many cases, by the time you pay off the mortgage, you need to take out another to conduct necessary repairs to the house. Or, you’re so old that you can no longer afford to live there, so you must sell the house. When you consider also property taxes, maintenance costs and utilities, it can work out to be less expensive in many cases just to rent instead of buying. But again the stigma is there, take for example the old adage “A man isn’t a man if he doesn’t own the land beneath his feet.”

Taking out a loan to go into business for one’s self is perhaps the only time it makes even some small amount of sense to go into debt, although one must be wary, indeed, because you can still end up spending all your time working for someone else’s profit.


Debt culture is insidious. We are all slaves to consumerism, and debt is the chains and the brands that bind us. Anyone with access to any of the countless pieces of information that we surrender willingly throughout the day can look up and see who has branded us, who owns a little piece of us: Visa, Mastercard, the local Ford dealer, the Phone Company, Sears…how many creditors have their hooks in your skin?

Do the math, with your next paycheque: Look at how much you earn after deductions and taxes, then subtract whatever bills you have to pay. Whatever is left over is what belongs to you.

Now ask yourself this: What good is earning 45 000 a year, if you're left with less than 10 000 a year to your name?


That’s how you’re kept enslaved: you can never get your head above water, because either the interest rates are too high, or there’s One More Thing you have to buy, you want to buy or you are buying.


We have all been sold into bondage. And the people who sold us are ourselves.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Mars Volta - Coming Soon to CONFRONT Magazine, And Other Ramblings

I've been busy of late, writing up the transcript of my interview with Cedric Bixler-Zavala, of The Mars Volta. I interviewed him back in January, and next month, the article that was born out of that interview will be published as the "Exhibit A" on Confront Magazine.

I don't want to give too much away, but suffice to say that I was impressed by Cedric's uncompromising artistic integrity and passion for his work. The interview was done to coincide with the release of The Mars Volta's latest CD, The Bedlam In Goliath, but we touched on many other subjects during the course of our talk. Those of you who click on links will notice I'm not linking to the sale page above; that's because although I encourage you to go out and buy the CD, I also encourage you to read the background info on this album; it's truly fascinating stuff!

We did discuss the paranormal aspects of The Bedlam In Goliath, but moreso as they relate to the creative process behind the CD than anything else, though Cedric and I did discuss some weighty philosophical issues. Out of all the interviews I've done for Confront, I have to say he has been my favourite. I hope you check out the magazine's next update in a week's time; that's when the article will be going up, I believe.

So much of my writing revolves around journalism, now. As prolific as the writing is, given weekly and monthly deadlines and such, I have to say I am saddened by the fact that I don't write as much fiction as I used to. It does seem, in a very real sense, that the well ran dry when I published The Unearthing.

However, in an effort to perhaps get the creative juices flowing, I've started in earnest the rewrite of Crossroads, and will soon be looking for volunteer test subjects to inflict it upon. Likewise, I'm researching how to create and market e-books, because I would like to sell (or distribute) The Unearthing and its yet-unpublished follow-up The Darkness and the Stars, as well as Crossroads and another one-off, Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind, as e-books. I'm toying with a pay-as-you-please type of deal through PayPal or just an out-and-out giveaway of the electronic format.

I'm hoping that involving myself with the novels I've already written might spur me to start writing fiction again. It's not that I gave it up, per se, as much as it gave me up; I've still not been able to get over my writer's block, and when I do have time to write (or rewrite) of late, I find myself singularly unmotivated.

While my career as a journalist is ramping up, it seems that my career as an author is winding down. I sincerely wish I knew what to do to inspire the writing again, because I do miss it; it's been a cosntant companion for nearly twenty-five years, and it's not something I want to lose. But, I've never gone this long without being to write anything [fiction]. That troubles me.

Not much of a place to leave off a post, but...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hard work begins to pay off...


Many thanks to the Sid Leavitt at the Readers and Writers' Blog, who has now begun hosting the first four chapters of The Unearthing, opening up the story to a much wider audience than I have been able to acquire on my own.

Sid gave it a pretty glowing write-up, which I'm not going to reproduce here because you really should click on the link to his site and read it yourself.

Thanks, Sid!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Perverse Society Marches Forward...


Monday, February 11, 2008

An Essay on the Anglophone Community in Montreal

Welcome, friends.

Time is against us. The recent Liberal caucus recommended tightening of the French language charter. The PQ government, which is now threatening to derail the Liberal minority government here in Quebec, has stated they would force non-Francophones to send their children to French-only daycares. The Separatist and anti-Anglo lobbies (Including the vile and racist Jeunes Patriotes du Quebec) want to curtail the use of English within the walls of English-language institutions, like our hospitals.

What we are seeing is the beginning of an all out assault against our language, our heritage and our rights. If the Liberal government survives the threat of looming elections, it will only do so by appeasing French nationalist and so-called soft-Separatist voters by making the French language charter even more strict.

If the PQ gets into power, excluding the inevitable, divisive and unwarranted referendum on the separation of Quebec from Canada (The PQ's raison d'etre, as it were), they will undoubtedly restrict English-language access.

Basically, no matter who wins, unless we stand up to be counted, we're screwed.

How will they do that?

There's three fronts they can attack us on: the schools, the workplace and the hospitals.

First, the schools: There are already very strict conditions in place, deciding who can and cannot send their children to English-language primary or secondary public schools. Private schools and higher education (CEGEP and University) are different matters.

If either the Liberals or the PQ decide to curtail access to English language education, it could mean further restrictions against English in private primary or secondary schools, and restrictions against your right to be educated in CEGEP or University in French.

There are already minimum French course requirements for English CEGEP students, and they already make it very hard for many of us to complete CEGEP, let alone get into University. This forces many English speaking people to leave the province for higher education. Oftentimes, the students that leave the province don't return.

This is nothing short of ethnic cleansing by attrition.

Second, restriction of English in the hospitals. In Quebec, workplaces with more than a certain number of employees must automatically by law be French-only work environments. The only reason we have English speaking hospitals is that a mere 25 years ago, Montreal hospitals affiliated with McGill University successfully lobbied for the right to hire non-French speaking staff—with the unreasonable caveat that the hospital made French services available.

Recently the Societe Saint Jean Baptiste, a Francocentric separatist organization (who ironically also gave Canada its national anthem in 1880) set its sites on English language hospitals, when one of its lobbyists chose to go to an English hospital for treatment, where he was “humiliated” when a doctor merely asked if he spoke English. The activist didn’t make any concerted attempt to request French service, but feels outraged and humiliated that he was treated in English.

It is obvious to anyone that the elimination of English hospitals is the goal, here. Since 1991, a record number of English-language hospitals, clinics and health-care service providers have been shut down in Quebec. Last year, the McGill University Health Centre - which oversees five hospitals, including the Montreal General - recorded six complaints of a lack of service in French out of one million patient visits. That's 0.0006 per cent. Is there any doubt that this attack against English hospitals is aimed not at protecting French but in driving out English?

Lastly, they can attack us in our workplaces. How? Currently, small businesses are not required to be French-only. That can change with the flick of a pen. Likewise, many of us have had the experience of a French boss reprimanding English employees for speaking amongst themselves in English. Starbucks at Parc and Laurier comes to mind, personally, from the time I worked there under one Melanie Parisien.

Consider that in the Anglophone community here in Montreal, unemployment rates are 24 per cent higher than in the Francophone community. How many of you have been told your French wasn’t good enough to get hired? How many of you have been told, as I was, that it was your family name or accent while speaking French that kept you from getting a job?

The Francophone majority in Quebec continues to claim to be threatened, when all evidence points to exactly the opposite: the Anglophone community is in decline, has a higher jobless rate, less access to services in their own language, have a lower proportion of income, must have government permission to send their children to English schools and is denied proportionate representation in government.

My question is this: what are we going to do about it? Our so-called leaders in Alliance Quebec lack the will to effectively lobby the government or to organize the people. We live in an era that proudly proclaims human rights being accorded to members of visible minorities and the Gay, Lesbian and Trans-gendered communities. We live in an era that screams in outrage over religious persecution, ghettoization and intolerance. Why, then are our basic human rights being denied? Why then is there no outrage over what has happened and what continues to happen to what was once a thriving community, a distinct society with an historical and cultural heritage that was known by more than just historians at McGill University.

We need to recruit more people to our cause, we need to start organizing and we need, ultimately, to take our demands to Quebec City and claim our birthright, our rights not only as Canadian citizens but as citizens of the Province of Quebec!

Are we not taxpayers? Are we not eligible to vote? Are we not citizens of this city, this province, this country? Then why do we continue to allow them to trample our most basic and fundamental right TO PRESERVE OUR CULTURE?

WHY ARE YOU LETTING THIS HAPPEN? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

It is time for all of us to work for the good of our community, our language, our heritage!

Do something!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

FEED ME!

As part of my ongoing effort to increase my brand presence online, I have now added an RSS subscription button to my blog, featured in the column to the left of this post, up at the top, there...

Maybe eventually I'll actually be able to get back to doing some writing!

Now, in case some of you don't know what an RSS feed is, I've taken the liberty of coughing up the following information, from the Source of All Knowledge (Other Than WTL), Wikipedia:

RSS

(Really Simple Syndication) is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines or podcasts. An RSS document, which is called a "feed," "web feed," or "channel," contains either a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text. RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with their favorite web sites in an automated manner that's easier than checking them manually.

RSS content can be read using software called an "RSS reader", "feed reader" or an "aggregator". The user subscribes to a feed by entering the feed's link into the reader or by clicking an RSS icon in a browser that initiates the subscription process. The reader checks the user's subscribed feeds regularly for new content, downloading any updates that it finds.