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Snow is gently falling here in White Rock. Our Vancouver weather systems usually deliver more rain than white stuff and it is welcome backdrop to the Christmas lights that bring warm respite from the darkness.

I’ve done bad things to my peace of mind through December. I’ve deviated from the sugarcoated path of forced happiness and added sterner stuff to my reading list, perhaps to keep me in check. The first was Dr. Samantha Nutt’s Damned Nations: Greed Guns Armies & Aid, which is an insider’s view to international aid. It is full of heartbreak and tragedy and is stark confirmation that we aren’t going to make the world’s problems go away by throwing money blindly into a bottomless hole. The book was a challenge to Canadian donors. Asking us to think about how we give—doing research, choosing our causes carefully and significantly not undermining the very people and communities we seek to help by flooding them with our second hand clothes or even our labour. Nott also called us for our investment practices—it turns out that many of our mutual funds and pension plans benefit from selling arms and munitions that contributes to the continued to destabilization of developing countries. Nor did I know that Canada was the top arms exporters in the world. It forces us to reconsider ourselves as a peacekeeping nation and understand ourselves as a country, which benefits from the misery of others.

The next book was Empire of Illusion: the end of literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges. While a bit of a convoluted romp covering such disparate issues as reality tv, pornography, the corruption of academic institutions by corporate and military interests and of all things the pseudo-psychology of positive thinking, it confirmed what I already know from my efforts to get another documentary project of the ground: I have no interest in creating what the large media conglomerates would buy and what they say people want to watch.

On a more serious note, if you are on the fence about the issue of pornography and intellectually believe that it is an issue between consenting adults, you may need to do a bit of research about how pornography has changed in the last 10 to 15 years. These are not the Playboy magazines we grew up with. First because of a glut of free generic pornographic material available on the internet, producers of porn have develop content that is extreme and dehumanizing. The chapter dedicated to this in Empire of Illusion was fundamentally disturbing but a must read for anyone who might think of the porn industry as victimless.

Also very important is brain research that demonstrates that internet porn actually serves to rewire our brains. Because of the focused attention we place on the computer and the excitement generated by sexually explicit images, brains (especially teenage ones) are particularly responsive to the imagery. This combined with the pervasiveness and availability online, the brain of the consumer becomes gradually immune and continues to search out new and exciting images. This is well described in The Brain that Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge. Anyone who dismisses porn, because “it didn’t do me any harm” needs to understand how this industry has changed both in content and delivery.

Now that I have brought you into my end of year circle of doom and gloom, I apologize and do wish all the best for the New Year. Let’s keep in touch.