21 December 2005

And now for something completely different

Some of you may have found my blog a little on the negative side lately, what with all the posting about HIV/AIDS. I guess I've been feeling a little "activistic" lately, and what with supreme lack of funds, I feel the need to evangelize since I can't just dump $50 toward Amnesty International or UNICEF, MPH or CanAIDS as has been my habit in the past few years -- especially around Christmas.

Instead, I thought it would be fun to focus on something a little more light-hearted, on this first day of the long, dark season.

How about a story? And not just any story, a story about Santa!!

Santa Claus is one of many names for Saint Nicholas. In the Catholic tradition, St. Nick is the patron saint of children, sailors, pharmacists, thieves, girls who want to get married, and prostitutes, among other things.

One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup.

Another story tells of three theological students, traveling on their way to study in Athens. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, hiding their chopped-up remains in a large pickling tub. It so happened that Bishop Nicholas, traveling along the same route, stopped at this very inn. In the night he dreamed of the crime, got up, and summoned the innkeeper. As Nicholas prayed earnestly to God the three boys were restored to life and wholeness. In France the story is told of three small children, wandering in their play until lost, lured, and captured by an evil butcher. St. Nicholas appears and appeals to God to return them to life and to their families.

Isn't he great?

But the supposed origins of Santa-N's gift-giving tendencies begins with the story of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of valueƂ?a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Nicholas wanted to help the man, but knew he was proud and would never accept money, so one night, he threw three bags of gold in through an open window -- in one version it is said that the one bag landed in each of the girls' stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.

And that's why we give gifts at Christmas. Sort of. The original idea was to give anonymously to those in need. Apparently, some people believe that their child is in need of an iPod or an X-Box 360. Personally, I'll be happy with a new dryer or dehumidifier. :)

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good weekend!

PS; Obviously I didn't just have all this knowledge in my head. I plagiarized much of it from other internet sites. Check them out:

St. Nicholas Center
Wikipedia: Saint Nicholas
Patron Saints Index

20 December 2005

I hate you, too

Lately, I've heard a lot about how much people hate commercials. They are certainly widely vilified for many reasons, most of which I comprehend, but don't quite understand. Yeah, I know those are synonyms, but I can't find a better way to explain.

You see, my entire life is built on commercials. I can't say that my life would be bad without them, but there's no way to prove it would have been better either. My father works in advertising. He's been doing it for 29.5 years. That's longer than I've been alive, and only slightly shorter than my brother's life-span.

Without advertising, I wouldn't have most of the material things I have ever owned. I wouldn't have family vacations as I remember them. I wouldn't have my car or my condo -- my father is a guarantor on my loans, you see. I would owe a lot more in student loans. I might still live in Newfoundland (not necessarily bad, I'm just demonstrating the reach of this particular issue).

But see, it's more than that. Advertising is art. Some of it is good, some of it has a social conscience, some of it is brain candy, and some of it is trash.

When I see a commercial, I don't just see its crass attempt to sell, sell, SELL. I see the nuances, the technique, the imagery. What's the message? What is the central point of interest? Does it make sense? Is it subliminal? Is it overt? There are so many ways to look at commercials (and I guess I'm really focusing on TV adverts) that I often miss the point.

I don't look at a Burger King ad and start drooling because the meat looks juicy; I wonder how many layers of shellac were used to create that effect. Food ads don't make me want food; clothing ads don't make me want clothes.

There are two types of commercials that work quite effectively on me: ads for international travel and ads for theme parks. I could hedge that by saying, well I always want to travel and go to theme parks, so it really only reminds me of what's already there....

Homework: What's your favourite commercial? What's your least favourite commercial? Why?

One of my favourites is for the Canadian Mental Health Association. It's a guy in a public washroom and another guy comes up behind him and startles him. "I'm depression." Talk, talk, talk. "Why don't you wear a cape?" "So people can see me coming?" Pause. It's great.

New Brunswick Tourism commercials top my list of least favourites. They're annoying, they show me nothing of what a real New Brunswick "vacation" would be like and I can't tell who they're supposed to be aimed at. They're too "busy" to be aimed at older folks, and too lame to be aimed at the young. Poor planning, poor imagery, poor job. I'd fire their communications firm with a SNAP!

17 December 2005

"If you love yourself, protect yourself"

A quickie:

That's a line from a song by an African (Malian?) singer with AIDS. He uses his songs to get the message out, as do many musical artists on the African continent these days. Governments hide from the spread of HIV/AIDS so as to avoid the wrath of conservative Western nations who preach abstinence to the exclusion of condom use. And you what? Some guy (oh, so articulate today) said it best (and I paraphrase); "Abstinence is their culture, and they can't solve our problems by imposing their culture."

Absolutely.

How is this so-called "aid" from the West helping? It's not. It's drives the problem underground and renders on-the-ground agencies ineffective and unable to do anything. If they hand out condoms, they lose funding; but they see that "Don't have sex and you'll be safe" is not a message that young people (carrying the largest rate of infection) are listening to. And in their case, it's not a matter of Hollywood tearing apart traditional values in the name of titilating and grabbing the audience's attention to sell, sell, sell! I'm going to bet that, in this "500 channel universe, Africa is grossly under-represented. Mauritias was the highest African ranking I could find at # 91 on a global ranking with 209.586 TVs per 1,000 people. This, versus the USA with 740.53 TVs per 1,000 people, ranking them at #3 (Canada is #6 with 655.388 per 1,000 people and the #1 ranked country is Bermuda with 1,009.71 per 1,000 people, accoring to NationMaster.com).

The AIDS crisis in Africa is not going to be solved by the G. W. Bushes and Popes of the world (to use two of the higher profile figures) parachuting in with a stop-gap that will turn the tide any more than Ozzy Osbourne is going to cause millions of youngsters to try to bite the heads off bats by doing it at a concert. It just doesn't work that way. I think groups (NGOs, etc.) and countries that want to have a real impact on stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa have to work within the culture first educating them about all kind of prevention; first the extra-corporal kind such as condoms so that those who see extra-marital and promiscuous (both a mode of activity and a moral judgement) sex as part of their cultural heritage will have the tools to protect themselves and others; then we can teach the individual choices that are fool-proof and 100% effective, such as abstinence and faithfulness to marital partners (another Western judgement).

So, disagree. Or continue to feel helpless. But there are two effective things you can do.
  1. Protect yourself.
  2. Start talking: to politicians, friends, the media, and anyone you can get your hands on. Ask them to start funding the HIV/AIDS fight in Africa -- all parts, not just the moral bits.

If you're interested in other ways to get involved, check out the website of Stephen Lewis. He's Canadian, and the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. You can also read more about the man here.

And with those sobering thoughts, I must hie me to a Christmas party. Yes, it's Christmas here in Canada. But do they know it's Christmas in Africa?

Wait. Wrong cause....