Religion's Problem Starts Young

I went to my brother's high school graduation today and was in attendance for the first three speeches. One of them managed to piss me off. He attends a Catholic school so I expected some religious overtones in the words spoken. But there is a point where Christianity starts to exclude and negate other people and the second speech exemplified this very clearly.
The speaker pointed out that only in a Catholic school, where everyone is bound by the holy spirit can there be a good community. She cliamed that other ordinary public institutions with no focus on religion makes it difficult to reach out to peers. She shone a spotlight on religion that would make any zealot proud. Many in attendance nodded their heads and whispered in agreement. Do her words have any truth to them? No. There is no conclusive proof that a focus on God is somehow going to bring people closer together. I get an image of a cult, with people undeniably following a path that invloves excluding homosexuals and, largely, women. Of course a focus on a single idea will bring people together. That's why soccer teams are often close knit on and off the field. Fashion editors spend time amongst other stylish individuals. The Christian God is not the only thing that brings people together to form a strong community. If anything, it condemns some of its members, allowing entry only to those that fit the mold.
From my own experience, I have found that private Catholic schools breed a deeper sense of community, but this had everything to do with the limited amount of students in my class (50) and nothing to do with the spiritual. Because many of the students in these schools hail from middle-class to wealthy parents, there is already a segregation in play. A community that does not even open its doors to would-be-members is already an unsuccesful one.
With this closeness also comes many hardships, however, such as cliqueness, and a tendency towards drugs and alcohol. The cramming of religious views down our throats left many needing an escape. This often came on the form of anything illegal. Our parties were some of the most dangerous. Hard drugs were often present and experimented with by many. Alcohol flowed until people passed out. Many people I knew turned to sex, violence, and occasional shoplifting. For some reason, students at my high school craved an escape from our strict monotonous days at a religious private high school.
Now as an agnostic and a skeptic, I view the Christian church as more of a social institution than as representing something to be believed in. It is something that keeps hope alive in members of a society. It is needed in hard times to keep up morale. The ancient Greeks and Romans had their gods and deities to pray to during the worst possible time: war. This reliance on the supernatural echoes today, with people flocking to churches after the 9/11 disaster. Everyone thought the world was going to end and they wanted some assurance that they would atleast live on in a next life.
Religion, to me, is not the "guiding path to righteousness" or a guarantee for harmony within any given community. If the holy wars or suicide bombers are anything to go by, religion can be seen to cause more harm than good. In the end, however, it is up to an individual to decide what they wish to believe- or not to believe.


Long lost friends

I met a young man in high school named Diego de la Puente. He was a bit troubled, but nonetheless he drew me into his aura of friendship over the period of Grade 11. He was shy to most people but opened up to me about his past troubles. I was able to relax around him- one of the only people who had this power over me, since my early years were full of wearing masks. Together, it felt like it didn't matter what other people said or thought. And if you were ever painfully self-conscious then you understand what a blessing this would be. What I am trying to say is that we were best friends. That is, of course, until my move to another province.
On Canada Day 2004, I boarded a one-way flight from Victoria, BC to Toronto with my family. I recalled the night before. I was holding a going-away party at the beach and had invited all who were dear to me. As I was getting ready, Diego called my cell phone. He informed me that he wouldn't be coming that night and in a rushed voice wished me a safe trip and a happy new life in T.O. I heard the dial tone. When I tried to call back, the same female voice informed me over and over again that the number was no longer in service. I shrugged and hopped into the shower, expecting the number to work the next day.
But it didn't, and never would. Even 2 months later, as I sat in my new house in Newmarket utterly alone I still couldn't get through to him. He had simply vanished.
It's hard to describe exactly how I felt. At first I was shocked; a year-long friendship down the drain! He had discarded me like a piece of scrap metal, not guarded like the gold I thought I was worth in his eyes. After putting so much trust into him, he had abandoned me, and at a pivotal point in my life. I needed him during my difficult move and he wasn't there.
But after the anger dawned a slow understanding. Why else would he have left me in such a hurry if he hadn't felt upset about something himself. Maybe something that he blamed me for. All of the rumours about him liking me as much more than a friend flooded back from my memories. Those times I had caught him staring at me grew significant, and physical contact was always remembered as charged. God- how could I not have seen before what was so obvious in retrospect?
My now ex-boyfriend was a constant bother to him, spreading rumours and thereby hurting me, aswell. I was labelled a slut and a flirt, just because I had a close male friend. I never cheated on my ex with this guy but that didn't stop my ex from spining stories fuelled by jealousy. He could never be half the man that Diego was. I didn't leave my former boyfriend because I thought I loved him, which I see now as need and comfort. I know that I had a chance at real happiness in high school with Diego and only regret allowing my ex to control me.
Later, I found out that Diego moved to Alaska as a result of a certain legal situation. I still keep his secrets. I know that he would never distribute mine. I hope that he is well and his life has finally regained a sense of normality. I only wish him happiness. If he ever reads this, I hope he wished the same for me.



The eco-craze has reached its height. Ad campaigns urge the average citizen to ban SU.V. s, utilize the 3 R's (reduce, reuse, recycle), and "FLICK OFF". The message has found its way into your friendly neighbourhood grocery store.
The new eco-friendly canvas grocery bags at Loblaw's seem like a good buy. They're made from 100% recycleable materials and ensure that less plastic is spewed into our environment. What's not to appreciate? But noone notices the fine print- it reads a familiar line; made in China. So keen on being green, it seems we have over-looked other important global issues. Not to push aside global warming and environmental concerns, but there are situations in the world that are not being focused on. They should be. This duty for inquisition doesn't lie with only citizens, but moreso the governments. We can strive towards energy efficient perfection but the earth would still be a mess.
You know what they are- the American war in the Middle East, the genocide in Darfur, workforce abuses in Asia. And what about problems closer to home: child prostitution, poverty, street violence? The number of people living with AIDS is only growing. It would seem unfair to push all of these important issues aside to focus our sole attention on global warming. I know what you're thinking, " If we don't stop poisoning the earth now, we'll all die and all of the above things become irrelevent".
To disregard the threat of our extinction is ludicrous. It is possible, however, to devote attention and demand change on more than one critical topic at a time.
Statistics say that even if all individuals pitched in to lower gas emissions, reduce energy use and conserve water, it would hardly make a dent in reaching the goal amount of reduced pollution. The main reason for this is that our main source of energy is from burning fossil fuels. This accounts for more of the carbon dioxide in the air than any other human act- exactly 80% of the contaminents that cause air pollution. And if that wasn't scary enough, it contributes to more than 88% of the greenhouse gas emmisions that cause global warming.
Factories and oil rigs account for too much of the gunk that's driving temperatures up. Who is in charge of these monster corporations? The governments of the world. Whether it's Stephen Harper allowing the earth destroying oil drilling in Calgary or Hu Jintao opening doors for even more fur farms in China (which ooze harmful chemicals into land, air, and water), people are responsible for becoming informed and involved if they want to make a difference.
You've heard it before- do all that you can locally, but think globally. If we want to make progress on anything, the decision makers need to hear the concerns loud and clear. The last time I checked, Canada was a democracy.


Working in Kensington Market has made me feel different. Maybe it's the laid- back nature of the 'hood, the funky imports scented with inscence or the interesting people that come your way. I would think it's alot to do with the latter. People make a community, plain and simple. If you think that's obvious, I have to agree, but this fact is often misunderstood. Many begin to label certain countries as "war instigators" or "human rights abusers" when it isn't the citizens we should be concerned about, but the government or ruler. Racism, prejudice and the hate that follow can all be traced back to a mistaken belief about a certain race, belief, etc. What you read in most papers is true (despite frequent exagerations and wrong information), but you can't take eveything you read as a new life mission. Yes, many Hutus killed thousands of Tutsis in the Rwanda genocide, but this does not mean that it is now "right" to discriminate against a Hutu individual. Justice is not being served by you in any way. Although many members of this group were involved in the mass murder, not all were. Don't think of every group as a large collective brain, with no discrepencies between individuals. They all form a distinct community, whether based on ethnicity, age, gender or something entirely different. Every single member owns an original perspective. Kensington market has had its fair share of criticism when it comes to the types of people the area usually attracts. From addicts to illegal immigrants, this sliver of Tdot life is known for something, and it aint suger-coated. But this place feels like home to many and the environment breeds a strong sense of togetherness. The individuals that work, live and play here further that feeling daily. When you have a place that feels like an escape from daily grinds, you go there. And in a place where individuality is as rampant as the good eats, one has to think twice before judging an entire group based on limited perspective.


FLICK OFF for the Birds

I was putting up posters East on Eglinton when something extraordinary caught my eye. In retrospect, it really shouldn't have been so shocking and yet as I taped up yet another advertisement, I couldn't avert my eyes from it. I kept thinking that if I looked away, it would clamber up and fly away. But it didn't.

Yes, it was a bird. A pidgeon, actually. The most common sight on the dingy Toronto streets, besides garbage. Some people view them as vermin and disease carriers, but did you know that they are a strain of the highly regarded dove? Talk about living in someone else's shadow.

And yet people don't even blink an eye at the sight of a crippled wing or a puddle of dried carnage on the road. It's just the reality of city life. I admit that I have tried to harden myself to these "realities", but I am only human.

It was even harder that day. The pidgeon was fully formed- it had obviously not been run- over. It lay still on its back, vertical to the curb. Alright, you're thinking, a dead bird- get over it! But it did get mt thinking...

How did it die? Now this is important because it brings up a slew of problems inherent in our city. I recalled FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program). This association addresses the issue of countless birds slamming into the windows of high-rises and either dying of shock or broken bones. Lights are needlessly kept on over night in many buildings for aesthetic purposes. Birds can't see their own reflection and can not distinguish the glass from the sky. They fly head-on into the glass.


Am I a Celebrity Yet?

I was in front of H&M at Dundas checking out the new line designed by the Queen of pop herself when a CBC reporter asked me if I would be willing to answer a few questions about Madonna's clothing line. The final question she asked was "why do you think there is such an appeal for celeb-endorsed clothing?" It got me thinking.
What is the key difference between the majority of clothing in H&M and the new line that Madonna is fronting? The quality is the same, it's still made in China/Malaysia/ (insert exploited third-world country here). The material is the same, since a drastic switch of cloth would raise the price to a level of unattainability for the average mall shopper. And finally, the style is the same- no arguments here, please. I know her designs may look more "urban" or "clean-cut" or whatever other fashion adjective, but if they weren't branded with her name, a shopper wouldn't be able to tell the difference. So, finally, what makes people go ga-ga for guys and gals from the hollywood set?
When Stella McCartney came out with her line for H&M, I admit I was one of the first people in line. I wanted those silk and wool sweaters! They were cute, affordable, and I knew they were designed by someone I admire. But here's the main difference- whereas Stella McCartney is a designer endorsing this retail giant's line, Madonna is just a celebrity doing the same thing. She simply doesn't have the knowledge, skills, or experience to make a "good" line of clothing. So if we aren't buying for quality when it comes to celeb-endorsed stuff, what are we buying for?
The key issue is more psychological than rational or tangible. It has to do with advertising and our media-driven culture. I don't deny that I have fallen prey to a few agonizing trends simply because Hollywood's flavour of the week was wearing them. Our society's image that celebs are the epitome of beauty, style, and everything else valued by the human race is what makes their lines of goods so attractive. If we wear their clothing and douse on their perfume, we are that much closer to attaining their "perfection". If you are getting the image of millions of moths zipping around a lamp, you aren't too far off. It has been ingrained in our minds that purchasing and collecting more of the latest and greatest goods will make us happier and more attractive. Clothing is something worn everyday and it's the best medium to show people what you've got. That's why those ugly brown Louis Vuitton bags exist- so that chick on the subway can tell the world how much money she has.
In short, by purchasing her clothing, we are purchasing a part of Madonna and the style, popularity- maybe even the botox-injected looks- that come with it. Because, admit it, when your friend asks you where you got that cute bodysuit, you say "Madonna, by H&M", why not add in that star-spangled name? I guess you have to ask yourself whether you're buying something for what it is or for what it's advertised as.

Don't Call Me a Pretty Face

After reading an article recently about Saphia Khambalia, a Ryerson student who is in the running for Miss World Canada, I was dissapointed. While I don't abhor the idea of beauty pageants, I disagree with trying to intellectualize them, as the runner-up tried to do. Claiming that she is a feminist, Saphia blasts common stereotypes, including the patriarchal, objectifying and looks- focused nature of pagaents. What you get from reading the article is an unconvincing attempt at arguing these opinions with faulty reasoning. Several things are true about beauty pageants. They are not musings but undisputable facts. Saphia claims that they are only myths.
Stereotype A: Beauty pageants are not about beauty. That's like saying Fish sticks aren't about fish, so I'm going to avoid mentioning the irony in that stereotype. Saphia points out that she has become a more media-savvy woman and that the experience was "career-enforcing", that it's not just about being a model in a ball gown. Ok, so contestants have to attend conferences, dinners and interviews. One small thing- the first and foremost requirement is that you have to be good looking. Is that a parallel in any way to the feminist way of thinking? She admits "all of my time is consumed by the aesthetic of the business...we are judged primarily on how we look...before we are judged on our abilities", only affirming the role of these pageants. Stereotype B: Beauty pageants objectify women. Rather than refute this claim, Saphia only offers her own experience. "It's true, parading around in a bikini and heels is objectifying..." Her argument implies that "the risque Victoria's Secret Models" do it, so why is it so bad that I'm doing it? It's not necessarily bad. But in doing so, you forfeit any argument that a beauty pageant is anything but what it's name implies. Also, you send the wrong mesage out to impressionable youth watching the program. This perpetuating image could be the cause for 12-year-old girls watching their calorie intake so they can look like the woman on T.V.
Stereotype C: Beauty Pageants are Patriarchal. Saphia flexes her feminist muscles by alleging that, through the competition's system, she has become more empowered and capable. It's interesting that there are beauty competitions for women but not for men. Think about it. Isn't the scenario of women strutting in front of a panel of judges objectifying enough, regardless of whether men are even in the picture? If it was empowering to women, there should be other ways of determing which lady would be the best ambassador and role model. Testing smarts, beliefs, values, and personlity is more important than how attractive you look in a bikini. If it wasn't patriarchal, the entire event would never have started in the first place. Why would women fathom a show where the contestants strut in bikinis?
She argues that her rhetorical skills in front of an audience are comparable, and often better than, those of a prime minister's. However, the prime minister has much more pressing and delicate issues to discuss than what his chances are in a beauty competition.
What angered me about this article was not so much the flaw in argument or the irrefutable nature of the topic. Here are the words that Saphia concluded with: "...the pageant system is a very realistic reflection of the paragon for today's woman...[and] is far less at fault for training women to fit this standard than the public in the outside world is..." The media is influential in building women's perceptions of themselves. It just so happens that the Miss Universe pageant last week had over 1 billion viewers tuned in. If not beauty, these events focus on building media attention.
By no means am I blaming solely the pageant or it's contenders for the lame standard of beauty or the objectification of women in our society. It is, however, adding to the problem. And to claim that it is at fault merely for reflecting an image of "woman" as already existent in culture is a futile argument. Would this romanticized vision exist if not for programs like "Miss Universe"?
Show me a healthy-sized contender, or one with braces. You can't because they don't exist. Does that mean that these women aren't as beautiful or capable as their "Miss. Whatever" counterparts? I'll leave that for you to decide.

Oscar Night- What are you Wearing?!

Pre- Oscar shows are usually riddled with the raspy "Who are you wearing" of a certain plastic-surgery loving interviewer. But the question at the 2007 Academy Awards should have been "What are you wearing?!" In other words, the dresses, although daring, often left one confused.
This year, Ryan Seacrest takes up the role as host of the pre-Oscars, and succeeds as a less entertaining replacement to our previously mentioned host. On to the fashion...
New mommy Maggie Gyllenhaal is as cute as a pumpkin- so what sucked her into an unflattering satin blue feather-duster? She is the first A-list celebrity to arrive on the red carpet, and demonstrates that not all dresses tonight will be as "safe" as at the Golden Globes.
Cameron Diaz is a trooper for coming out to the Oscars sans-date, this being a major appearance since her unfortunate breakup with Justin. I have to say something nice, so I will comment on her gorgeous hair, a yummy chocolate hue. The colour contrasts perfectly with the white of her dress and her beach-tan skin. As for the dress, the collar reminds me of an over-sized "Quaker Oats" man collar. The dress' short front and longer back is reminiscent of a 90's Las Vegas wedding dress. What was Jay Manual thinking when he said this was a "come back from the Golden Globes"? Do you smell something burning? I think someone's pants are on fire.
Jennifer Hudson glows in an earth-tone number. A wise choice, as the material and cut of the dress flowed right over any troublesome areas. Which is why it saddens me that she covered the top of this success with an intergalactic silver cut-off jacket. The eye is automatically directed to the sharp edges and tin-foil coating of the mini- top, rather than down the clean lines of her dress.
One person stands out for me so far; Jada Pinkett Smith out-shines her Oscar-nominated husband in a mustard-gold dazzler. The corset top gives her that enviable hourglass shape. The classic satin falls to the floor and adds a regal look to this red carpet arrival. The yellow of the dress works wonders with her skin-tone.
You've got to hand it to J.Lo, her red carpet choices are extremes year-after-year. This time around, her dress misses the mark. The collar is over-the-top, in a bad way. Looking at first glance like a senior out for a night on the town, La Lopez must have 5 pounds of hair spray to hold that bob in place. The bejewelled heavy stones on the collar weigh down her breezy Grecian inspired dress. This just goes to show that, even with millions in the bank, style just can't be bought.
Speaking of old ladies, Gwyneth Paltrow looks the part with her bland terracotta costume and bright red lipstick. She is naturally gorgeous and doesn't need to smudge on such a garrish shade. Her body, even after popping out a child, is enviably slim. But the dress washes her look out and the lipstick only cheapens it.
Kiki Dunst continues this ghastly trend with her feathered and glittered-out blue dress. It has a mesh collar up to her neck. Need I say more?
And the award for cutest dress on the red carpet has to go to Anne Hathaway. That bow on her strapless gown is, well, adorable. But that's possibly the most positive thing to be said about her look tonight. The fabric looks like a satin curtain and the cut was less than tasteful. She looked sexy and fresh in Devil Wears Prada. Did the devil miss her soul and suck out her style instead?
Rachel Weitz looks like a shining Greek goddess. She doesn't need the necklace, though, as the detail on the strapless top dazzles enough. But her lipstick is too dark! It looks goth, not classic- something she should have gone for. Weisz poses easily in front of photographers. How could you not when you're a yummy mummy dressed in eye-catching silver?
Nicole Kidman. So sad. The shade of red is a classic with her porcelain skin and the hair and makeup is flawless, as usual. The puffed out bow crouching on the shoulder? Not a fan.
The most beautiful woman in all of Hollywood, at least in my opinion, is Penelope Cruz. She looks the part tonight with natural make-up, a body-hugging blush-shade dress, and that dark chocolate hair. Per-fec-tion.
Another hot carpet-walker tonight is Reese Witherspoon. This newly single gal amazes in a long and lean deep purple dress and a sassy new haircut. I am obsessed with her dress; the cut, the layers, the surprising colour choice. Don't even get me started on the make-up. A true red-carpet pro.
We can't leave the guys out of this one just because the ladies are the focus. That's discrimination.
There isn't much choice in outfits for the red-carpet walking man, but two caught my eye. Djimon Honsou was a stunner. And not just because the man is insanely attractive. Donning a dark suit (not exactly black, but a close cousin), he towered over Ryan Seacrest as he was badgered with embarrassing schmooze. His jacket was lined with slim satin, but not too much of the glossy fabric which would tackify (sure, it's a word) his sharp and sleep look. I didn't even mind the orange hued sun-glasses, they only added to his interesting appeal.
Al Gore was pure class in a suit by Calvin Klein. Proof that it's not emissions causing global warming, but Al Gore himself.