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Funny, Peculiar, Interesting Times

The Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times, is much more malignant than it first appears.

By Kevin Somers
Published January 27, 2006

The Chinese, an efficient, ancient, patient society, have distilled wonderfully succinct phrases over the centuries. Their curse, May you live in interesting times, is much more malignant than it first appears. Interesting doesn't always mean good, of course; history books mostly feature war, regime change, and the wrath of nature.

Interestingly, periods of plenty, prosperity, and peace are rarely described as interesting. Arguably, all 6.5 billion of us have been afflicted by the curse lately because the entire planet is experiencing interesting times.

The ice caps are melting and the weather is changing around the world. Northern animals and people are ingesting toxins being carried on ocean currents and wind. Unnatural chemicals are building up in their bodies; polar bears are described as contaminated.

The frozen north has always been inhospitable, but it's quickly becoming soggy, toxic, and uninhabitable. The same is happening at the South Pole and the problems are making their way to the middle. It's funny, but nobody seems to be doing much about it.

Those of us who don't live near a pole have our own problems, of course, but environmental calamity is usually superseded from the day's top headline by war or corruption. It would be unwise to suppose some of the most powerful men (it's always men) on earth will come to her aid when they think they've got bigger problems.

George Bush's war is going poorly and the stink of corruption permeates his White House. Dick Cheney's best boy, ?Scooter,? has been indicted and House majority leader, Tom DeLay, resigned because of his dealings with disgraced lobbyist and former Republican dreamboat, Jack Abramoff.

Bush, too, has written refund checks for contributions he took from Abramoff. What values, precisely, are these guys exporting to the Middle East?

Politics in Canada, as well, seems irreparably corrupted. Canada has long billed itself as a beacon of virtue in a world mired by nefarious regimes, but, as either finance or prime minister, Paul Martin, a scion of Canadian politics, is inexorably linked to some of the biggest financial and corruption scandals in Canadian political history, yet is reported to be worth tens of millions of dollars, personally.

Somehow, Martin has always gotten an easy ride from the media. But then, Canadian prime ministers have appointed two consecutive Governor Generals (the world's greatest gig) from the CBC and there are other former media dudes resting comfortably in the upper chamber after being appointed by a PM.

The incestuous relationship between politicians and those who help us form opinions is usually funny to watch. Sheila Copps wanted to censor, silence, and sue the media while in office, but now she's writing for The Sun and hosting ? shocker - a talk show on CHML.

It's comical that Canadians hear little about the billions lost in Human Resource Development Canada, Air India, gun registry scandals (ad nauseam, ad infinitum), but have become focused on the petty thieving of underlings behind the $200,000,000 sponsorship scam.

Easy access to tax dollars is, unfortunately, easily corrupting. Every day, public servants at every level shamelessly put their hands in the till: suddenly, millions of them require cell phones, pagers, blackberries, PCs, vehicles, expense cards, and allowances.

Certainly, some of the expense is legitimate, but taxpayers are footing hefty bills for frivolity and abuse. (It happens in the private sector, too, but the costs get passed to the consumer, who, sometimes, has a choice, so it's more palatable.) Next time you're in a line-up, or paying taxes, think of all the cell phones and lunches you pay for.

Plants and animals have been genetically modified, cloned, and irrevocably altered. Children, too, are being corrupted: flashing, babbling, hyper ?education games and videos? are not good for developing brains. The touch, smell, sound, and feel of another person can never be substituted with a product.

Billions of products made in China can't be good for our economy, either. But then, our whole economic scheme is peculiar: Americans borrow trillions from China so they can buy Chinese products, thus keeping both economies afloat.

Along with increasing economic clout, China is no shrinking violet militarily. Every country has its share of rightwing nationalists with global domination aspirations and China, a country with 1.3 billion people, is no different.

Watching George W. Bush being humbled by corruption at home and a losing war in Iraq, which has a smaller population than Canada's, I can easily imagine the Chinese hawks salaciously rubbing their hands and saying, ?It would be easy.?

Interesting times, indeed.

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.

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