Sunday, 20 December 2015

Proud to be Non-Conformist

All my life, I've had trouble fitting in.  Being left out is no fun.  But you know what's worse than being left out?  Selling out - something that a lot of people have tried to make me do.  For example, I have been told more times than I can remember to be more physically active and eat healthier.  Yes, it's true, I don't live a healthy lifestyle.  I eat a lot of fatty foods and I seldom eat any fruits or vegetables, but I'm not going to apologize for that and I'm not going to change it just because other people want me to, no matter how close they are to me.  They can have my double cheeseburger when they pry it from my cold, dead hands!  

And as for not being physically active, I make no apologies for that either.  I don't care if you're a loved one or a medical professional.  Stop bugging me about my weight, stop telling me to work out and stop judging me for wanting to be sedentary.  I'm sorry, but the gym is not my friend, has never been my friend and never will be my friend.  Furthermore, I'm sick and tired of people bragging about their healthy lifestyles and how much they hit the gym.  If that's the way you choose to live, that's fine.  Just don't expect me to live that way.  Besides, I'm sure that many people who say they're happy about living a healthy lifestyle were once couch potatoes like myself.  Well congratulations, folks!  Way to sell out.  You're not living a healthy lifestyle because you wanted to.  You're doing it because you gave in to the pressure to do it.

The same goes for people who take an interest in something just because everyone else is doing it. I remember reading the short story of someone who was bullied and teased at school because he was one of those "nerdy" types who studied a lot.  Then he decided to do what the other kids were doing and he was finally accepted.  But to me, this isn't a happy ending.  This is a story of surrender.  Yes, it's true that if you don't think like everyone else and don't have the same interests that everyone else does, you'll probably have a very hard time fitting in.  But that doesn't mean that you should give up who you are.  And if you do want to change who you are or what your interests are, you should only do it on your terms and when you feel like it, not when someone else tells you to.  

I spent the better part of my life trying to adapt to the customs of my peers in order to fit in, without seeing any results.  So by the time I hit my 20's, I decided that I wouldn't try to fit in anymore.  I may be lonely, but at least I have my dignity in knowing that I have not surrendered who I am. Besides, history remembers those who didn't go with the flow and tried to change the world around them rather than conforming to it.  This is the way I would like to be remembered.    

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Go Uber Go!

Last week, a multitude of taxi cab drivers clogged up the streets of downtown Toronto to protest the continued proliferation of Uber X, to which they have been losing many of their customers.  But the honest truth is that the cabbies aren't losing customers to the popular ride-sharing app just because their costs are higher and they face more stringent regulations.  They're losing customers because Uber X provides much better customer service than they do.  Anyone who has ever taken a cab in Toronto knows what I'm talking about.  I don't know how many times I've heard people talk about how bad taxis in the city can be.  Oftentimes, people getting into cabs are greeted by a putrid stench and find themselves debating whether that stench comes from the cab itself or the person driving it. Then perhaps they'll ask themselves why the seat they're sitting in is so dirty and sticky. And as if riding in a dirty, stinky cab isn't bad enough, the driver of that cab is a rude and surly individual who chastises you if you don't pay him in cash.  Worse still, you might not even get the "privilege" of riding in a cab driver's dirty, smelly vehicle if he thinks driving you won't yield him a big enough fare.  Taxi drivers are just upset because for the first time in what feels like forever, they have competition that is offering better service than they do.  For the first time, they're not the only game in town. They can't keep taking customers for granted anymore, as they've been doing up until now.  I couldn't be happier about the rise of Uber and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way.

In fact, beginning this week commuters in Toronto have another reason to love Uber.  That reason is Uber Hop, a new service introduced by the ride-sharing company which allows people in certain Toronto neighbourhoods under-served by the TTC to be picked up by Uber drivers and taken to the downtown area.  The service began rolling out this past Tuesday and already the TTC union and other supporters of Toronto's public transit monopoly are crying foul.  They say that the intrusion of Uber onto the TTC's turf will compromise the safety of commuters.  LOLOLOLOL!  The real reason the they don't want Uber encroaching onto the TTC's territory is because just like the taxi drivers in Toronto, the TTC has taken riders for granted.  For decades, the TTC has been shortchanging Toronto commuters with overcrowded transit vehicles, surly staff and unreliable service.  Now that they've got a little competition all of a sudden, they're scared stiff.  And again, I couldn't be happier, especially since I have long called for abolishing the TTC's monopoly on public transit in Toronto (see, for example, Abolish the TTC Monopoly on Public Mass Transit in Toronto, Because Competition is "The Better Way").  Indeed, I think the more Uber keeps muscling onto the territory of traditional transit providers, the more Torontonians will benefit. Therefore, I say GO UBER GO! 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Is a Negotiated Peace Possible in Syria?

Recently, Syrian opposition groups met in Saudi Arabia to discuss prospects for a peaceful settlement of the country's four year old civil war.  These groups hardly present a united front, for although they all seek to depose dictator Bashar Al-Assad, they each have their own agenda and their own vision for the war-torn country, as do their external supporters throughout the international community.  Iran and Russia support President Assad, while the West, Saudi Arabia and most other Sunni Arab states as well as Turkey support the groups fighting to overthrow him.  With so many conflicting interests, it's hard to imagine a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  I believe, however, that a peace agreement may still be possible and I think I also have a good idea of what such an arrangement would look like.

A Two-State Solution for Syria?

The question of whether President Assad stays or goes is not the only impediment to peace in Syria, though I believe it is probably the biggest one.  My thinking is that a compromise arrangement is possible whereby Assad would be removed as Syria's president, but would be the leader of a newly independent Latakia.  Latakia is Syria's coastal region and the area in which the Alawite Muslim sect forms the overwhelming majority of the population.  Assad himself is an Alawite Muslim and the bulk of his support and power base comes from his co-religionists in Latakia.  The region is also home to the Russian naval base that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin wants to retain at all costs.  By allowing Latakia to break away from the rest of Syria, it may be possible to placate the demands and interests of Russia and Iran, because Russia would get to keep the naval base and Iran would maintain its foothold in the region.  At the same time, what remains of Syria would be free of Bashar Al-Assad and his Alawite-led regime.

Now of course, simply removing Assad and giving him a new state in Latakia to rule wouldn't resolve the Syrian conflict entirely.  As I've already said, the myriad of opposition groups in the country all have their own agendas and axes to grind.  There are so-called moderate opposition groups, like the Free Syrian Army and ethnically-based opposition groups, such as the Kurds in Syria's northeast.  Then there are the Islamist movements, the most prominent of which is of course the so-called Islamic State.  No one in the international community wants to hand power in Syria to the Islamic State or any other Islamist terrorist group, though just to be fair, leaders in the Sunni Arab states and Turkey are widely suspected of clandestinely supporting Islamists as part of their efforts to depose President Assad.  You know the old saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  I think, however, that once the issue of Assad is removed, the leaders of the Middle East region will concentrate on making Syria stable again by supporting the more moderate groups against the Islamists led by the Islamic State.  With international support, these moderate forces will be able to form a stable government in Damascus that can exercise control of the country.

Key to maintaining this control will be the Kurds in the country's northeast.  The Kurds have had the greatest success in holding back the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq.  Hence, if Syria minus Latakia wants to keep existing as a country, its new leaders will have to accept Kurdish autonomy in exchange for their help in keeping the Islamic State in check.

Now just to be clear, although I've written here about what I think a peaceful resolution to the Syrian civil war may look like, I don't believe that it is the ideal outcome.  Indeed, if it were up to me, Latakia would be a separate state, but not with Assad as its leader.  The only place that I believe Assad belongs is in the docket of the International Criminal Court.