Tuesday 01 September 2009

Our Obsession With Celebrity Deaths

Much of the public’s attention in recent weeks had been captured by the tragic news of a string of “celebrity” deaths. These deaths included famed actors, artists, musicians, journalists, and even political leaders. Many of us expressed grief about their losses, though our personal connections to these individuals were often tenuous at best. We took interest in their lives because they were role models, because they offered us inspirations, or simply because they made good topics for mindless gossips. Some drew our heartfelt praises by the positive contributions they had made to societies; others were mocked relentlessly by us because of the irresponsible antics they chose to portray in public.

As the world becomes more interconnected, both technologically and spiritually, all of our lives are also becoming more intertwined. Our obsession with these “celebrity” deaths is thus a reflection of our preoccupation with our own mortality—knowing that someday our own deaths may also be judged by others, rightly or wrongly.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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Wednesday 01 July 2009

5-Cent Plastic Bag Levy: Eco-Friendly Practice Or Profit Grab?

Beginning in June, all retailers in the city of Toronto (where I live) began charging shoppers 5 cents for each new plastic bag used in a purchase. This was in compliance to the controversial city bylaw passed late last year mandating the levy, following a last-minute compromise deal struck between the city and major supermarkets. One goal of this bylaw is to reduce the city’s plastic wastes by 70% from its landfills by 2010. Though environmentally sound, the initiative has evoked heated debate among its supporters and detractors, including many consumers who see this levy as just another “backdoor tax” imposed by the city and profit grabbing scheme conspired by the retailers.

As an avid recycler myself, I too find the effort by some retailers to deliberately profit from the newly invoked bylaw revolting, in effect passing the “buck” onto their customers who must bear the entire financial burden of this green initiative which the retailers themselves have also agreed to participate. This is because it was the retailers who originally lobbied against the city’s earlier (and more palatable) proposal to apply a 10-cent rebate, rather than a 5-cent levy, to encourage consumers to reduce plastic bag usage. Moreover, the current bylaw supported by the same lobbyists makes no mandate to collect this fee from the retailers for the city to offset its recycling and waste management cost, thus allowing the retailers to freely pocket the fee as added profits for themselves. A number of retailers even choose to up-sell their customers at a premium (thus making even more profits) reusable shopping bags that are plastered with obnoxious advertisements, turning all of their customers into walking billboards for the retailers’ brands. Indeed, this is shameful to see that the unsound business practice by a few unscrupulous retailers makes yet another mockery of an otherwise noble environmental cause put forth by a great city.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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Friday 01 May 2009

Swine Flu: A Pandemic And Cautionary Tale In The Making

In March 2009, an outbreak of a newly discovered A/H1N1 influenza, or so-called swine flu, was first detected in Mexico. Since then, confirmed cases have been reported in many other countries, including Canada, eventually prompting the World Health Organization to elevate its pandemic alert phase to declare that widespread human infection of this influenza is now present and that a pandemic is imminent. In Canada (where I live), the news has triggered intense public worry that this outbreak may mirror the SARS outbreak which caused a public health crisis across the country in 2002-3. Haste comparison to the 1918 flu pandemic has even been made, though based often on inaccurate or incomplete scientific data (such as on the true case fatality rate) on the epidemiology of this disease. Moreover, news reports of rapid human-to-human transmission and disease susceptibility among otherwise healthy young individuals have contributed to the added panic about the flu by the public. Undoubtedly, a concerted national and international effort must be made swiftly to properly survey and implement measures to control and mitigate the spread of this flu in Canada and in other countries. In the meantime, the public must be vigilant to practice good hygiene and to reduce their risk of exposure but not be led by misinformation and unfounded fear about the disease.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under Travel • Under Work • Under World
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Sunday 01 March 2009

From Segregation To Inauguration: Race In Politics

In January 2009, the world witnessed the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African American to become the President of the United States of America. The event attracted unprecedented international (including Canada’s) attention and renewed the political interest among the nation’s citizens. The transition in power signaled a new era in American politics that had long been divided by race since the time of slavery started during early colonial periods. Yet, it was not until 1954 that the United States fully abolished the practice of de jure racial segregation between whites and blacks (as well as other ethnic minorities). Despite the historical significance, Obama was not the first political world leader to rise to power in an ethnically diverse nation. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa and effectively ended the longstanding apartheid system dividing whites and blacks living in the country. As a Canadian and a Chinese myself, I am proud of the multicultural representation that currently exists among our political leaders, though this representation is admittedly far from perfect. Indeed, I long to see the day when race will no longer matter in how a country’s citizens choose their political leaders, so that the government they elect will truly serve for the betterment of all of its people, regardless of the colors of their skins.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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Thursday 01 January 2009

The True Spirit Behind Making New Year’s Resolution

However arbitrary it may be, New Year represents a convenient time for us to reflect on what we have accomplished over the past year and look forward to what we can achieve in the incoming year. It is at this time that we lay out our New Year’s resolution—a set of commitments which we promise to ourselves or others to fulfill over the ensuring year. These goals are often lofty, but they are always made with the best of intention. Sadly, few of us will succeed in meeting our aspiration each year, though we are quick to strive to try again with renewed vigor the following year. Perhaps this is the true spirit behind making New Year’s resolution: even when it is in our pride to face up to our challenges, it is in our struggle to meet these challenges that we actually learn to better ourselves.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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Monday 01 December 2008

Bullying In The Digital Age

Just like a local school playground, the online digital playground is sadly populated by bullies preying on vulnerable victims with intent to cause harm (both physical and emotional), humiliation, or intimidation. Unlike the local school bullies, however, these online digital bullies often cowardly hide behind the veil of anonymity offered by the internet, in attempts to escape the consequences of their immoral actions. Teenagers and young adults, who form a large part of today’s online community, are particularly susceptible targets of cyberbulling because of their age, at a time when their social circles may be predominantly driven by their online personae. In recent years, the dangers of cyberbulling have received increasing attention from the mainstream media, after incidents of suicides have allegedly been attributed to relentless cyberbulling, often by adults. Unfortunately, current legislation in many countries, including Canada, is inept to deal with cyberbulling and to hold these bullies who make such infarction accountable. As an avid online user myself, I am intolerant of anyone who makes willful gestures that can be seen as acts of cyberbulling, regardless of their motivations and justifications. Cyberbulling is a societal crime, and our society and its citizens must be protected from it.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under Tech • Under World
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Saturday 01 November 2008

Déjà Vu Of A Canadian Election

On October 14, 2008, Canada held its 40th General Election to elect the new Canadian Parliament. The hastily called election by the incumbent Conservatives was heavily criticized by many in the media, and the low-key pre-election campaigns across the country were largely overshadowed by the political dramas of the concurrent election in the United States. As a Canadian citizen myself, I was disappointed by the general disinterest shown by many Canadians of this election. Best dubbed as a déjà vu of the election of 2006, the Conservatives were able to secure only a minority government (yet again) and not the majority that the party had wanted. Moreover, the small victory by the Conservatives, mostly at the expense of the Liberals, was of little comfort to Canadians (including me) who were seeking a stronger mandate and governance from the current leaders. At a time when a strong and unified leadership is most needed, the heavily divided political landscape resulted from this election will undoubtedly make it difficult for Canada to face its many challenges for years to come.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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Wednesday 01 October 2008

Canadian National Do Not Call List: Telemarketers-Consumers Faceoff

Much like junk mails or spam emails, unsolicited calls from telemarketers have become both a pesky nuisance and an unwanted disruption for many Canadians. Last month, the long-awaited National Do Not Call List (DNCL) finally came into effect in Canada, nearly four years after the legislation (Bill C-37) that would enact the DNCL was first introduced. To many Canadians, the DNCL represents an unprecedented urgency to protect the rights and privacy of consumers. In practice, however, the DNCL is a much needed effort to introduce new responsibilities to Canada’s telemarketers, so that legitimate businesses may still be conducted over the phone with potential customers. The establishment of the DNCL is not without controversy, and many consumers (including I) feel that exemptions to the DNCL are still too board and vague to avert circumvention. Still, I applaud the effort of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on enforcing this legislation for the benefits of Canadian consumers and businesses alike, even when the legislation itself is a few years too late in the making!

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under World
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Monday 01 September 2008

2008 Olympic Games: Showcasing China To The World And The World To China

Last month, the People’s Republic of China served as the host country for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, better known as the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. As a Chinese myself, I am proud of the opportunity and recognition that China was given by the world to host this important international event. In turn, China responded to the attention by delivering a grand spectacle at the opening and closing ceremonies for the world to see. The opening ceremony, in particular, showcased not only the technological prowess of a progressive country but also the enormous manpower of a united nation. In addition, it introduced the world to the artistic philosophy and the scientific advancement of China’s ancient past. Most importantly, however, this event has opened a doorway for the world’s nations to better understand China beyond its challenging politics and religions. Likewise, China must strive to take advantage of this opportunity to enrich its relationship with the world’s nations, so to realize someday the true human spirit of the Olympiad beyond its athletic competition.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under World
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Friday 01 August 2008

Failing Etiquette Of Online Anonymity

A great strength of the internet is the online anonymity it offers to its users. This anonymity, when used in proper context, protects us from political or religious prosecution, ensures our freedom of speech, maintains transparency in the democratic process, and guarantees our rights to privacy. Yet, on the internet, anonymity is frequently misused, both intentionally and unintentionally, so to make it difficult for proponents to defend its use. At a minimum, the etiquette of online behaviors has fallen to a new low—bashing, trashing, trolling, and other antisocial misbehaviors that exist solely to confront without just cause—being mean for the sake of being mean. It underlines a fundamental flaw in human social behavior: when we no longer need to answer to our own actions, we naturally choose to be selfish, self-centered, immature, and vindictive. It is not simply a matter of a need to state an opinion honestly and anonymously, but a matter of a need to state one’s own opinion rudely with the sole intent to deflate the legitimacy of others. It may be true that proper online etiquette has never existed, but this must not stop us from pursuing it and holding ourselves to a more civil standard.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under Tech • Under World
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