Category

2010

The rise of the temp agency and the fall of the lower class

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I read in last month’s edition of the Economist that the European progress toward creating better conditions for workers has recently been brought into question. This doubt which the author wrote about has to do with the sovereign debt crisis and other deficit problems underway in Europe. The sovereign debt crisis unfolded in Greece where the country neared bankruptcy earlier this summer. A different debt issue in France is also to blame for their pension reforms which, in a reversal of historical trends, forced the raising of the retirement age. The progress toward better working conditions which the magazine refers to is the mandatory five weeks of paid vacation, the mandatory thirty-five hour work week, and a retirement age of sixty, all of which are associated with lenient European labour policies. The magazine said that the recent crisis in Greece and the reform in France are both sharp wake-up calls for their dream of progress. He further states that this “progress” in labour is an illusion and that these lenient policies are in fact suffocating industry and innovation in European business. It appears that his overall conclusion is that wherever such “progress” exists, economies will always run towards an unsustainable point.
The author of that article certainly may have been expressing an underlying ideological bias against socialism or forms of it. I do see his point, however, that lenient policy towards workers can be stretched too far with predictable negative consequences. I cannot accept all his rhetoric against worker’s rights/benefits though. Perhaps this has to do with my witnessing of an issue related to this discussion in North American business which I think is morally unacceptable.
This issue I refer to involves companies all across industrial heartlands of this continent using temporary agencies to reduce their labour costs and improve their flexibility. The people who are the subjects of these cost-cutting methods are usually immigrants, the working poor, high school drop-outs, addicts, alcoholics, and other lower class individuals for whom there is no other suitable option for full-time employment. When I see these people working minimum wage for years (literally) and never getting “hired-on” with the company, and having a third of their potential wage garnished by some idle temp agency somewhere, it infuriates me. There has to be solutions that incorporate what Europe has sought in worker’s rights and benefits, albeit founded on conditions which make current business ventures viable and new business attractive.

Europe Full Circle

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Returning to the normalcy of home life, and being once again immersed in familiar routines and in the mundane, it is strange to imagine that I was once in the most majestic of places, such as Florence, Italy. It wasn’t long ago that I was in Salzburg, standing inside Adolf Hitler’s hidden bunker. It was only a month ago that I was in Bruges, Belgium, gazing up at the wondrous St. Salvator Cathedral. There are parts of this trip for which the memory of them now seems almost surreal, like a dream, because of its great contrasts to the Canadian living experience. There is already a longing within me to return to what I had encountered in Europe, with the constant exposure to history, its ancient beauty, and its cultural magnitudes.

I DARED to share this feeling with a group: if there is anything that I have grasped from the Europe trip, it is that the world is so much bigger than myself. Think about this. Not only are you but one human being amongst billions who dwell the earth, each with their own story and unique cultural heritage, but you also live on a tiny planet amongst an entire universe that is indescribably more immense. The thought of being like a speck of sand on a grand, cosmic beach is something that scares me at times, but it also leaves me in awe. And I am left in awe from being on the Europe trip, because I am now fully aware that the earth is a grand and intricate place; there is much to learn about it, and so much to experience. I can no longer imagine keeping any part of myself boxed in, when everything within me now acknowledges that there is so much more. Looking at the view from the top of of Montserrat, Spain, is one of many experiences that confirmed this understanding.

Unable to Avoid

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Now that I’ve returned to Canadian soil and answered the repeated question of what my favorite moment and place was, life is ‘normal’ again. This feels strange and I find myself bringing up anecdotes and quotes whenever I can slip them into conversations. Aside from the obvious great experiences gained from a trip like this, this trip taught me to process my experiences. I have always been one to avoid sharing my thoughts or writing them down in a journal, I would simply brush it aside and move on. The problem, I now realize, with this method is that I lose opportunities to grow. Through the mandatory journaling and debrief sessions througout the trip I was no longer able to avoid processing what I was experiencing.  I am far from being natural at this, I have yet to be a nightly journaler, but now I can at least tell you reasons that make my favorite moments so significant to me.

experiential learning, material culture, myth

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Three things that stick in my memory from this trip are experiential learning, the importance of material culture and how myth has been used and is still being used to this day. There are many other things that I learned on this trip which are also significant but these three stick out particularly to me.

I learned how important experiential learning was and how enjoyable it can be. When I had thought of experiential learning prior to this trip I always thought of learning from one’s mistakes, something that I think I am a pro at now. But on this trip I learned how one can learn from all experiences, especially the good ones; one doesn’t always need a negative situation to learn something valuable.

Also learning about material culture, and how almost anything that you see can be perceived or thought of as material culture. I have never thought about architecture, statues, art, etc. being able to tell a viewer about the culture of the people and time in which it was made and even where it is kept. Often we look to understand what we are told about objects but when thinking about an object as material culture one must learn to think about it out of context, for example why certain materials were used in the piece or work and maybe why the object was made in this particular way?

Finally learning about myth and its use has been very interesting. I have noticed the use of myth in many paintings, sculpture and literature on this trip. Paintings such as Two followers of Cadmus Devoured by a Dragon is a fantastic example, for it tells the story of the founding of Thebes. I realized myth is often used to make a place or person seem more majestic or powerful than they are or it actually is. If the story of the founding of Thebes was to be about some regular guy founding a town it would not receive as much attention or fame. Myth increases the value of a place or person by adding in unlikely information which makes it seem grander. Over all I really enjoyed the trip and wish I could experience it again.

Matt

So how was your trip?!

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Oh, what a horrible question that is!  That inevitable question when you first get back, and see someone who cares about you and you know it’s coming; you almost hold your breath for it a little…and I hardly resent my friends and family for the interest they show in my life! On the contrary, I love them the more for it! But can I say it?  Can I really answer with just “It was great!” ?  How can I possibly infuse that inevitable five-letter response with an appropriate amount of joy, excitement, sweat, stress, claustrophobia, thoughtfulness, deliciousness, grumpiness, humour, laughter, tears, yawns and shivers, thrills and fears, discussion and adrenaline to express two months of travel on a continent I’ve only ever dreamed of?!  I can only respond with “It was GREAT!” and hope that each of those five pathetic letters can stand strong and shine with all the enthusiasm I can otherwise never express!

Europe was so great!

It was more than a vacation, but also beyond the scope of a school term.  Maybe a Scavation? A self-andthethirtyeightotherpeople-help get-away that stretches?  And it was the sights, and the smallest moments, those pinpricks of delight that are just impossible to convey to anyone else, that made it so great. I don’t even have any stories! Just anecdotes that make me sound like a complete braggart!  (When I was in Rome…… There was this shopkeeper in Paris…. Oh, the rain in London was…. See what I mean?!)

I cried a little when I stood outside this cathedral in Orvietto, watching a bunch of people kneeling of one accord.  I could have sprouted wings walking through Florence at sunset.  I’ve never felt so graciously humbled before as in this chapel, in front of this old wooden crucifix in Assissi.  That little poem “They came for the trade unionists…” spoke something deeply into me. I beamed all the way through that town of Farnham. I went through the depths of despair in this city;  I was on top of a mountain in this one.  It’s all in the context, in the moment, that never-to-be-again moment, that not even I can recreate for myself just how my trip was!  Suffice it to be said, then, that I learned a lot, I saw a lot, I felt a lot, and it was GREAT!!

Wondering about David. (Jacques-Louis, that is)

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What Angela says is true: it’s hard to believe that we just experienced all of that. The Europe trip was incredible. Right now, we’re all in the midst of our post-trip studies. For me, this has meant that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the French Revolution. Would I have ever thought that I would find the French Revolution interesting? No. But to my surprise, it is.

I remember being in the Louvre in Paris and seeing one of the rooms filled with paintings by Jacques-Louis David. Museum visitors crowded around his works. Great as they are, I look at them through a new lens now that I have learned a bit more about their historical context.

Earlier in his career, David painted in the neo-Classical style for the Royal Academy under King Louis XVI. Feeling jilted about his inability to achieve higher positions in the Academy, he joined the revolutionaries, voted for the king’s execution, and became something of a propaganda minister for the Revolution. In addition to painting at least four great works during those years, he put on festivals involving the torching of symbolic statues, the releasing of doves, and emotional speeches. In the midst of all of the chaos, backstabbing, and guillotining, David was using his incredible artistic ability to twist facts and sway the masses.

I say this because I know how easy it is to walk into someplace like the Louvre and put these artists on pedestals because of their great talent and skill. But based on my research so far, I have found his career to have striking similarities to that of Joseph Goebbels’, the Nazi propaganda minister that we learned about at the WWII bunkers we visited.

All of this is an excellent reminder of the importance of context. It also reminds me to be careful to use my giftings in ways that are founded on goodness, love, and truth. Finally, it’s a good reminder of the need for us to think critically about contemporary events.

Now just as a final note, I’ll say that there may have been some degree of necessity to the idea of revolution at that time in history, and there are ways in which contemporary Western citizens benefit from the events that occurred then, but its legacy is still rather mixed.

In all its Colours and Shapes…

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I have been home for nearly two weeks now and I still have not figured out how to answer the ever constant question of “How was Europe?”  I have been on a journey this summer; a journey to grow in knowledge and a journey to collect experiences. On it I have been surrounded by over thirty friends who have, with or without knowing it, aided in my journey. I have been presented with new thoughts, seen new sights, conversed with individuals far from the comfort of my home. Each of my senses has been involved in the process of experiencing these new places to their fullest extent. And after two months of travelling I am suffering from information overload. I have learned so much that I don’t know where to start when reflecting on the trip.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I have learned was how to have an appreciation for art. I recently wrote in a paper for Walter in which I said, “I’ve always had a 2-D appreciation of art. I would judge things based on the ‘would I hang this on my wall’ factor. It was very limited to say the least”. Through out this trip I have explored art in all its colours and shapes. I have questioned and re-questioned the many definitions of art and have wondered if it can be defined. What I’m saying is, I am no connoisseur of art, I’m just surprised that it is standing out so strongly in my mind.

Seeing Europe

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Well, it has now been three weeks since we returned from Europe, and I guess its time to say what all I learned from the trip. Well, in just a little more than 2 months I traveled through some of the most famous, and beloved places on earth. Saw the medieval streets of Carcassonne, the 16th century cityscape of Florence, the ancient history of Rome, the beer gardens of Germany, the Art Galleries of Paris, and rain of England.

Throughout all of these experiences I feel like I have seen every little aspect of Europe possible. I have seen the heritage and artistic moments like the art museums or the history museums. I have witnessed the famous European buffoonery that overcomes cities when beer and soccer matches come together. I have hung out at the local pubs or coffee shops where Europeans are known for just relaxing. I have driven through the smallest towns and have seen what people are actually like outside of the tourism industry. I have experienced everything from the stifling heat of Spain, to the dampness of Austria; from the poor in Bratislava to the very rich in Switzerland.

I feel like the trip really has covered everything. I honestly cannot think of one aspect of European culture, history, or identity that we did not cover. I mean we saw everything from Eastern European culture to British culture. The only thing I can think of that I wish I had seen a bit of was Scandinavian culture, but really I have nothing to complain about.  I am happy to be home, but I am thankful for the adventures I have had this summer.

The Best of Europe?

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That’s the one question that people keep asking me: what was the best part of the trip? What was your favourite city?

Then I look like an idiot because I have no answer. How do you condense eight weeks into three or four sentences? Simple. You don’t. We learned so much I’m pretty sure it’s still oozing out my ears. The academic side of things was broadening, while the intrapersonal aspect deepened my perspective, pushing my limits and asking me to move past my comfort zone. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not so great with that whole expand-your-horizons gig. I also know that I have to continually try to change that in order to keep growing as a person. SSU in general is pretty good about pushing the comfort zone, but Europe intensified that so that when I came home the atmosphere was almost cramped: Wyoming is not exactly ethnically diverse (You’re either Dutch or not-Dutch).

Additionally, I almost forgot that the Europe trip doesn’t end when you come home. You’re processing the trip through an academic filter as you write paper after paper about this great big messy experience. Honestly, it’s a good thing that I have skoodles of work to do. It solidifies this whole process in my head and as I write these essays, I have to think critically about the things I’ve seen, which isn’t exactly easy to do in Florence when you have a nice lemon and chocolate gelato calling your name.

Still, I do all this thinking, sorting through this whole trip. You’d think I’d have a favourite part of the trip. Yeah, I thought so too. All I can say is that Florence was fabulous, Rome was awesome (but hoooot), Venice was interesting, Paris was PARIS, London…I could go on and on forever. It’s a real problem when someone wants a ten-second answer.

So. What’s your favourite part of Europe? 😀