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September 2018

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Jordan Peterson: Irritatingly impressive

 

When I first encountered Dr. Jordan Peterson, I was put off by him almost immediately—he appeared a cold, cynical, even angry figure. I thought he misunderstood many of the concepts that, while I was critical of them myself, I was fascinated by. And I felt, in a way, like he was attacking my own stance; therefore, (in my arrogance) I reckoned his research must have missed something!

But the more I listened, the more I was convinced that he knew what he was talking about. He spoke about issues from various perspectives, and with a nuanced understanding. There remains a number of significant topics that I disagree with him on; however, his influence on today’s zeitgeist is significant enough that I believe he is worth talking about.

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Peterson’s rise to fame/infamy began in September 2016, when he posted a series of YouTube videos criticising Bill C-16—a law passed which added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Code. He claimed that the bill was an infringement of free speech, and that it would become a cause of compelled speech.

His upsurge has received mixed reviews. While he has amassed an enormous online following, and sold millions of copies of his new book, 12 Rules For Life, there remains a substantial number of people who disagree with his views on Marxist philosophies, postmodernism, religion, and (of course) who don’t share his opinions on gender. Instead of embracing the ‘progressive’ notions, which promote gender fluidity and non-binary gender, Peterson argues that gender is limited by biological truths, which Bill C-16 ignores. During a presentation on ‘The Rising Tide of Compelled Speech in Canada‘ at Queen’s University, Ontario, he criticised the bill’s use of the term ‘gender spectrum’: “I don’t know what that means, and I don’t believe the people who wrote it know what that means either.” At one point during the event, two protestors—quite perfectly summarising the opposition to Peterson’s alleged defence of free speech—came on stage holding a sign that read: “Freedom to smash bigotry.”

Peterson has attracted the acclaim of many people, as evidenced by his book sales. His audience, however, is observed as being mostly young men, and there is an accusation of Peterson that his stance encourages alt-right, Neo-Nazi thought. In a scathing article on Macleans.ca, Peterson was described as being “The Stupid Man’s Smart Person.”

Personally, though, I feel like there is a misunderstanding between Peterson and his critics. This was well demonstrated in an interview he had on Channel 4 with Cathy Newman, which now has more than 10 million views on YouTube. There was a theme in this interview where Peterson’s words were twisted to paint a picture of him that was quite inaccurate.

Moreover, the article I referenced on Macleans.ca seems to misrepresent his message, while bringing attention to factors that are out of his control (such as the people who listen to him).

Peterson’s message is a very basic, almost cliché encouragement. His 12 Rules could be summarised, in my reading, by one simple expression: “Buck up, bucko!”

It’s hardly a radical or original message. But his book does dress that message up in an impressively academic way; thereby it acts as a kind of self-help book for intellectuals. There are many other factors (less noble factors, too) that the book is celebrating success—Peterson is by no means a messiah! Criticism of him, though, has so far lacked genuine substance, or reference to his actual words. I think that is a shame.

One thing that is worth praising Peterson for is his success in attracting people with polarized views, and from different ends of the political spectrum, into the same discussion. His presence is known, one way or another, by both radical Feminists and Neo-Nazis (as well as everywhere in between). I think it’s rare that people from these two opposite poles meet, and I believe that a civilized dialogue between them (as unlikely as that seems) would be enormously beneficial to human consciousness.

In the name of progress, it is important to remember that humanity will not progress without the so-called alt-right, nor will it progress without the so-called ‘Social Justice Warriors’. Humanity can only progress in unity with itself. In such a crucial time, evolutionarily speaking, it is more important than ever that people talk openly, honestly, and reach some sort of understanding. The reluctance to accept each other’s differences—even those that are misled – and to work towards a logical compromise could have devastating results.

I would love to see Peterson debate thinkers along the lines of Peter Joseph or Roxanne Meadows, whose futuristic and technological points of view he seems not to have considered so deeply. Perhaps a meeting with leftists such as Abby Martin, or even an academic behemoth such as Noam Chomsky, would yield interesting results—maybe these debates would challenge Peterson in such a way that hasn’t really happened yet.

But what is true of Peterson, in my opinion, is that he has built a platform on which people can express their thoughts honestly and unashamedly. Whatever your view of Peterson may be, you can’t deny that there’s something impressive—even decent about what he has achieved.

Oman: Travel off the path

 

I had the opportunity to enjoy some leisure time this afternoon and all I could think of was surf through the photos on my computer. Halfway through the clutter, I found some amazing photos taken during my time in Oman a couple of years ago. So, here I have some photos to share and a story to tell.

To tell the truth, I had never really thought of Oman as a travel destination until my visit. Even with the golden sand, and rocky mountains, the place looked immensely beautiful. The capital city, Muscat, was full to the brim with palatial malls, tiny shops, souks (marketplace), and glorious mosques with a faint smell of frankincense lingering in the air.

My first stop was at the Muttrah Corniche, which was sandwiched between a vast stretch of azure sea and the Muttrah Souk. Muttrah Souk was a place that truly left me gaping due to its portrayal of a typically chaotic Arab market despite being put together under modern timber roofing. The place sells almost every Omani and Indian artifact from traditional jewellery and clothing, to antiques.

I found the traditional coffeehouse at the entrance to be the meeting point of local elderly men who sat sipping on a glass of qahwa (Arabic coffee). Getting lost in the souk was something that I found to be funny and equally thrilling. After finding my way out of the souk, I headed over to see dhows (traditional sailing vessels) being built by hand at Sur—a town nestled along the Gulf of Oman. Dhow building wasn’t just a job here, rather a way of life, culture, and tradition.

When in Oman, I had the privilege to meet and greet some Omanis whom I found to be friendly. The evenings were spent in one of my Omani friend’s house where they served qahwa, dates, and various other sweet confections.

Every city in Oman has a fort for visitors to explore, but the one that I found most interesting  is the Bahla Fort, which is also the oldest fort. Oman’s regional dishes are less spicy and equally delicious. Being a picky eater, I found kabsa (rice dish), Omani halwa (sweet confections), and kebabs to be worthy enough to enter my list of favourite dishes.

My last stop in the country was at Salalah, the southernmost city. Exploring Salalah was a completely different experience as it looked nothing like the other cities in Oman. The landscape transformed from brown deserts into emerald green valleys and fields. There is plenty of vegetation here even during the peak of summer. The long narrow ranges of streets and bazaars are home to shops that sell spices, traditional garments, and incense. Bargaining was my favourite activity here.

The eastern part of the city took half my day as I sauntered through the Taqah Castle, Khor Rori archaeological site, and the beautiful blue lagoon named Mughsayl with a pile of birds including flamingos scattered on its banks. I boarded my flight back to India the next day with a camera full of memories by my side.

Woman of the Week: Sarah Landstreet

 

From working a radio telescope on the summit of a Hawaiian volcano, to opening the first cupcake bakery in Northern Ireland, and now, mastering the art of packaging right here in Canada, Sarah Landstreet is the human equivalent of a Swiss army knife—equipped with the tools for success and ready for whatever the world throws her way.

Sarah is the founder and CEO of Georgette Packaging, a homegrown Canadian company that helps businesses navigate the design, manufacturing and marketing of customized packaging. Their goal is to keep customers educated and environmentally conscious, while also encouraging them to have fun and, quite literally, think outside of the box.

Fuelled by a curious mind, Sarah’s journey to the printing press is decorated with her explorations in a variety of industries. By training, she’s a mechanical engineer and has worked with the California Institute of Technology, as well as with two environmental consulting companies in the UK, where she was responsible for lessening the carbon footprint of new and refurbished building projects. But, despite her success, Sarah’s career was lacking the on-site experience and face-to-face interactions that she so often craved. So, noticing the booming trend of American cupcake bakeries in the UK at the time, she quit her job and, on a whim, opened a bakery of her own in 2008.

“I was really interested in the business side and the marketing aspects of it … baking was the one small thing I had to figure out how to do in order to run this bakery business,” she says with a laugh.

Baking, believe it or not, was the easy part. The hard part was an unexpected hurdle and a growing frustration for bakery owners everywhere: packaging.

“It was really easy to get things like branded business cards, a website, a logo, branded stickers, but packaging was still this aspect of the food business that, although clearly so incredibly vital, people would ask, ‘Where do I go? Do I have to call China? Do I need to get one million units?’” she says. “No one seemed to have a clear idea. So there was a ton of very similar, unbranded packaging, and as the market became more and more competitive, it was impossible to differentiate.”

Cue the inception of Georgette Packaging, which was Sarah’s way, as she says, to connect the old-school, opaque packaging industry with the hoards of rapidly growing food businesses.

Although now a team of seven people, Georgette was a solo endeavour for the first year and a half of operation. Sarah split her time between sales and manufacturing, learning all facets of the biz, from negotiating with suppliers to (wo)manning the print machines.

“About 70 percent of disposable packaging is made for the food industry,” Sarah says, so that is who she initially targeted—bakeries, cafes and specialty shops that were keen on distinguishing themselves from the pack. Now, she’s expanded to work with hotels, athletic brands, and cannabis companies, among others. Regardless of their background, however, the first step is educating her customers on their options, with the primary goal of staying as environmentally friendly as possible.

“Disposable packaging is a huge problem, we know that,” Sarah says. “It has positives because it helps businesses grow, but on the flipside, it is disposable, so there’s a lot of energy being used for something that’s just being thrown away. We feel, as a player within the industry, that we have a much bigger responsibility to try to help people make more thoughtful choices.”

In terms of choices, there really are only a few when it comes to material—two of them being the standard white or kraft (brown) cardboard boxes. “What you might not know is that, while the two of them may seem like regular cardboard boxes—white versus kraft—the white box actually takes seven times more energy to manufacture than an equivalent kraft box,” she says. “Another thing you might not know is that if the boxes come from China, they often have this very thin plastic lamination that goes on the outside of the box … You can’t really tell it’s there, but it makes the box non-recyclable.”

As there is no current regulation for how these materials are labelled, many people mistakenly throw plastic-lined boxes into their blue bins, essentially contaminating the recycling system. So, educating her customers is a task that reaches even beyond choosing materials to ensuring that businesses are also considering their package labels and their on-site waste facilities. Georgette is also in the process of launching new initiatives for greener options, such as a carbon neutral program and garden-compostable bagasse packaging.

In a way, Georgette Packaging has pulled together Sarah’s diverse set of interests in engineering, entrepreneurship, food, and most importantly, sustainability. Now a master of many trades, her success is a testament to taking risks and exploring the unfamiliar.

“When an industry is set up in such a traditional way that they’ve always had the same types of people running it and they’ve always run it in the same type of way, there are a lot of opportunities there for fresh eyes, questions, and new ideas,” she concludes. “Show up, own it and always be yourself.”

#MeToo must broaden to include males too

 

Since actor Jimmy Bennett accused Italian actress Asia Argento of sexually assaulting him when he was 17, the discussion over sexual harassment has shifted and broadened. It is very clear that men can be victims too. To complicate matters further, men may not come forward with their stories because of the shame associated with being a male and uncomfortable admitting to being vulnerable to women with perceived power and privilege.

Bennett spoke to the New York Times last month stating that he decided to speak out after Argento claimed she had been raped by Harvey Weinstein. Bennet said that when his story first came out, he felt ashamed and afraid especially because, as a man, he feared his narrative would be received with “stigma”. Bennet and Argento first met in 2004 when he played Argento’s son in the film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.

Argento, who has been one of the leaders of the #MeToo movement, paid Bennett $380,000 after he accused her of assaulting him. She admitted that the payment was made by her late partner Anthony Bourdain in October 2017 after she publicly accused Weinstein. In an Instagram post Bennet wrote, “My trauma resurfaced as she came out as a victim herself.”

Argento has denied any sexual misconduct stating being “deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false”. She said the two were just friends and that their friendship ended when Bennett “unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me”. She has claimed that celebrity chef and TV personality, Anthony Bourdain, who died last June, made the payment to avoid any bad publicity, and out of compassion for Bennett who seemed to be in a difficult financial situation.

Since the allegations against Argento broke, the actress has suffered a number of setbacks. Rose MacGowan has spoken against her stating feeling “betrayed” by her fellow #MeToo movement leader. CNN has yanked episodes of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” that featured and were directed by her. X Factor Italy fired her as a judge in the program. An attorney for Weinstein criticized Argento’s “stunning level of hypocrisy”. Just recently, McGowan’s partner, model Rain Dove, leaked text messages from Argento to the media. The texts reveal that she slept with Bennet and that he in turn sent her unsolicited nude photos since he was 12.

To those who used the Argento’s story to discredit the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, who launched the movement in 2006, in a tweet stated “I’ve said repeatedly that the #metooMVMT is for all of us, including these brave young men who are now coming forward.” Burke stated that the discussion needs to shift from the individuals to power and privilege.  She continues that in order for the male-female dynamics to really change, it is imperative that everyone becomes “comfortable with the uncomfortable reality that there is no one way to be a perpetrator … and there is no model survivor”.

Turning over a new leaf: Cannabis lights up the comedy scene

 

With the legalization of recreational cannabis coming up on October 17, the Cannabis Comedy Festival is a timely event to prepare the community for what it may well be the most anticipated and yet the most feared piece of legislation in Canadian politics. The Cannabis Comedy Festival took place in August at the Regent Theatre in Toronto. The choice of a mainstream and a smoking-free venue reflects the intention to open the event to everyone, stoners and not.

The impending legalization is surely generating a well of discussions within the cannabis users’ community as well as outside. The implications for  the day-to-day life of Canadians are so numerous that, whether consumers or not, it is giving everyone some food for thought as to the pros and cons of legal recreational marijuana.

As I explore the topic, I learn that Toronto is full of cannabis comedy lounges where people can enjoy a joint as well as a comedy show. Ronen Geisler, Producer of the festival says, “Toronto has a large cannabis comedy community. There are cannabis lounges all over the city that host cannabis comedy shows on a nightly basis. We believe that both cannabis and laughter are the best medicine one can have.” Ronen hopes that the festival will grow and spread to other cities and provinces throughout Canada. In the meantime, a major cannabis comedy show is in the planning for October 17.

Since these clubs have been operating mostly underground, their status is currently in a grey area. Their future is also uncertain as the by-laws that regulate cannabis might change in the future. However, it’s not hard to predict that they will likely multiply in this day and age when they are no longer ruled by prohibition.

Cannabis lounges have been very popular in Toronto for the past ten years offering a platform to comedians to practice their art and a positive and non-judgmental space for cannabis users. These weed lounges have played a big part in the stand-up community in Toronto. There are many long running shows, among these, Jeff Paul’s “Dopen Mic”, Puff Mama’s Underground Comedy Club, Amanda Day’s, “Stoned up comedy” at Kensington Market’s Hot Box, and Brian O’Gorman’s and Mike Rita’s show at Vapour Central. Regardless of whether comedians are 420 friendly or not, these venues are inclusive, supportive, playing a key part in the development of many stand-up comedians.

I was in the audience that night, pushed by the curiosity to attend a show that constitutes a genre of its own, the cannabis comedy festival was a lot of fun. I am not a cannabis user, but I believe that it’s time to remove the outdated stigma that weed carries, especially given the science-based benefits of medical marijuana. I laughed at some of the jokes and didn’t at others, but that is normal with comedy; after all, making people laugh is a tough trade. One of the performers, Lianne Mauladin, a stand-up comedian for ten years, comments “It’s an exciting time to be in comedy! Comedy shows and festivals, targeting different groups of people, are popping up everywhere.”

Lianne runs her own show Merry Jane of Comedy which features the best in female stand-up comics. She continues, “The show has become a rite of passage for women in the community and a fantastic way to network with comedians.” Lianne does not define herself a “cannabis comedian”. “I have like one joke about an anti-drug ad. I think it’s my hippie vibe and my Canadian with a hint of ‘surfer’ accent that gets me booked on these things.”

Certainly, a discussion around cannabis and its implications in the life of users and the people around them is underway. The Cannabis Comedy Festival was an original way to introduce weed-inspired humour to a wider audience. What’s more, cannabis and comedy as a subgenre is likely to leave the fringe and enter the mainstream as of October 17.