28 January, 2015

Let's Talk. About me, for starters.

If you've been online today, or if you've turned a TV on over the past month, you know it's Bell Let's Talk Day. The idea behind Let's Talk is to end the stigma around mental illness.



Last year I publicly wished a company I actually respected was behind this initiative. For my American readers, Bell and its competitor Rogers are the Verizon and Comcast of Canadian companies: monolithic entities with less than zero customer service and an employee culture that could best be described as "hellishly toxic".  My own experiences with Bell have been largely positive, but many friends of mine have had all manner or horrors perpetrated upon them--in some cases, horrors that actually seemed purposely designed to inflict mental illness on people. And so I am tremendously conflicted about this initiative of theirs. Remember when Barack Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize while serving as Commander-in-Chief of a country at war (he's since bombed seven nations, and those are just the ones we know about)? Yeah, we're talking that level of hypocrisy.

However.

There's the matter of the message, and the message is not just important but critical. The stigma around mental illness has to end. And I'll wholeheartedly support any message this imperative no matter who's putting it out there. Putting the "Bell" in "#BellLet'sTalkDay" sticks in my craw...but let's talk anyway.

Let's also listen, because listening is even more important than talking. I can talk all I want about mental illness, the horrors of living within it and the horrors needlessly and thoughtlessly inflicted from without on those already just trying to cope...and if you don't listen, I've wasted my words.

So listen for a moment while I talk.

In a sane world, I would be able to tell you about the people I know who either suffer currently or have suffered in the past from mental illness. Nobody raises an eyebrow if you say you've got the flu, or you had whooping cough as a kid, or that you're blind, or deaf, or...or...or...but talk about depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or any number of other disorders and you can very easily ruin lives. Lives of people I know and love, respect and admire, lives of people who contribute a great deal to the world. And so I will not tell you about these people. Suffice it to say there are a lot of them.

But I can talk about myself.

I'm afraid to go and get diagnosed, I'll say that first.

I know the words they're apt to use. Depression, without a doubt. Bipolar disorder, quite possibly. Social anxiety, yes, that's a given. Other, even more exotic and flavourful words: maybe. I've written before about the disgusting way perfectly normal emotions and behaviours are diagnosable now. I stand by everything I wrote there, but I'll tell you right now that you don't have to go searching very hard to find diagnoses for Ken Breadner. But I don't want to hear them. Because when I do, then it will be official. I'll be mentally ill.
That so many are mentally ill along with me doesn't lessen the stigma. It should, but it doesn't.

I can only speak to the illnesses I know. Depression, for instance, is not feeling down in the dumps, being blue, or having an off day. Depression is deadening. You no longer care for much of anything or anyone, even the people who care for you (because nobody really does; if they did, you wouldn't feel this way, and that's how it reinforces itself).  Getting out of bed requires much more effort than it's worth. The only way your mind works is to process your surroundings and sense impressions and turn every last one of them into a good reason to be depressed.  Actually, no, that's not even close to what depression is. You know what depression is? Depression has two possible outcomes once it gets severe enough:

1) killing yourself, because you can't muster the energy to go on living and nobody would notice or care if you died; or
2) not killing yourself because you can't muster the energy to try it and  nobody would notice or care if you died.

Bipolar disorder incorporates that depression with a kind of euphoric, irrational (and ultimately utterly fake) happiness which grates on everyone. There's no reason for it, but it's so welcome after the depths of depression that you grab on to it anyway and ride it wherever it goes. And where it always goes is right back down into the abyss...which seems even deeper from having been so recently shrugged off (sometimes for mere minutes). Bipolar disorder leaves every day completely unpredictable...the same thing that sent you sky-high yesterday is apt to crush you this morning.

Social anxiety, in its worst form, will leave you housebound, terrified to interact with the world in any way at all lest you be judged, criticized, and humiliated. Often you know this fear is unreasonable, that in reality there's nothing to be afraid of at all...but try telling your hindbrain that. It knows differently. It knows, for instance, that everyone is thinking how worthless you are and how stupid you look and that everybody who looks polite is only trying very hard not to laugh at you. Any second now they'll no longer be able to contain the snickers.

All three of these disorders, which are linked, exist on a spectrum the same way physical illness does. Also,  you can have the flu that gets complicated by pneumonia which aggravates your pre-existing asthma and it's very roughly similar to the way mental disorders play off each other. I can't speak to the myriad of other disorders that are out there -- those are for others to talk about, and for us to listen. I can say that one of the best ways to treat any mental disorder is with care and compassion.

It takes a lot of both to know how best to engage with people who are suffering. Sometimes it's impossible. In cases like that, what people need is a doctor and medication. If you ran across somebody with a broken leg laying in a gutter, you wouldn't leave her there, you would take her to a hospital. The same holds true with broken brains. Depending on the disorder, therapy, medication, or a combination of both may effect a cure or at least allow the person (and never forget it's a person, not a patient) to manage his disease more comfortably for himself and others.

I assure you that several people you know are suffering from some sort of mental illness. Maybe you are yourself. Let's talk about it. Let's talk...and let's listen.



25 January, 2015

Poly--But Problematic

There's another huge wave of polyamory news and views making the rounds, and yes, I'm going to weigh in on it, and no, I'm not going to land where you think I will.

I'm going to cover just two of the many poly articles. The first one isn't even in that list.

This is the first one. It seems Toronto Raptor Lou Williams celebrated the birthday of one of his girlfriends with...both of his girlfriends. The women, we are told, consider themselves "sister wives" and Lou is "living every bro's dream".

Ugh.

Yes, this is poly. By definition. Both women know all about each other: everything's out in the open. But the tone of this article is very off-putting. I can't help wondering if it would be reported the same way if (a) the man wasn't richer than Croesus or (b) it was a woman, famous or not, with two boyfriends. Which is, among the half million or so polyamorous relationships in the United States today, the most common arrangement by a hair.

This is how poly is going to go mainstream, I think: famous people out in pubic in trios and quads. As such I have to celebrate the little victories, at the same time lamenting in this case that this reinforces the "one man, one harem" stereotype that many have of polyamory. And I could really do without the "Williams deserves a full bro salute for figuring out how to make the two girlfriends thing to work." Anybody in a relationship like that knows it takes all three of them to make it work.

--------------
The next article is a lot more in-depth: Five Reasons Everyone Should Try Polyamory.

No. No, no, and no twice more. A title like that instantly sends my rebut-o-meter into a tizzy. You know what? Nobody "should" try polyamory. People should be *free* to try whatever consensual relationship configuration might work for them: one man, one woman; two men; two women; any number of men and/or women. But announcing to the world that everybody *should* try polyamory is both evangelical and antagonistic and I simply can't support it.

Let's look at these reasons, though. We might learn something, all of us, mono and poly both.


1. EXPECTING ONE PERSON TO FULFIL ALL OF YOUR NEEDS AND TO NEVER CHANGE OR GROW IS UNFAIR.

I've written this a few times myself, and it occurs to me that reading the reasoning given here, I probably should clarify my own.

If you’ve got a friend you really like to play basketball with and a friend who absolutely loves quirky German cinema, why force one of them to do both? The same goes with relationships – whether you’ve differing needs in sex, in hobbies or in emotional support. You can share these with different people. This does not mean that each person is any less to you. It wouldn’t if you had several best friends; so what’s the difference? 

I think most people will let all of this pass unblinking, even nodding their heads in agreement, except for those two words smack dab in the middle: "in sex".

Our rules for relationships focus on sexual exclusivity. It's held as a universal virtue to the point where alternatives to it mostly don't exist; the only one that does is cheating, which is (justifiably) always punished harshly.
Think of every fairy tale you've ever read. "One true love" is a remarkably common trope. It manifests as the prince, the knight in shining armour, *and* the fair maiden or princess or what have you. Take it further: every love triangle you run across in film and literature must resolve into one happy couple and one person left wanting.  Fairy tales, movies and books are not real life, at least not for many people: having "only" one love per life is pretty rare. But people are forced to make a choice, feeling love where it "shouldn't be": either drop your first love for your second, or forget your second love. Many would say you can't feel a second love anyway, not if your first relationship is as it should be. For some people, hardwired for monogamy, that's true. For many, it is not. Those many people are left with the choice above, which many of them will try and forestall by means of cheating, deceiving their partners, leading to at least one broken heart. There is, of course, another way.

I've noted in the past that polyamory isn't primarily about sex, and that's true. The kind of non-monogamy concerned with sex is called "swinging", and while some poly people consider themselves swingers and some swingers consider themselves poly, the two communities tend to be at odds on emotions. They're all but verboten in most swinging groups. For the most part, it's lust, not love, that motivates swingers. Polyamory has the Latin for "love" right in the name.
But sex is of course a valid, and common, expression of love, and so yes, sex is part of most polyamorous relationships. The question, for the staunch monogamist, is why.

There are two very common reasons and one universal reason.

COMMON REASON A: MISMATCHED SEX DRIVES. Where one partner is ravenous about sex and one partner just doesn't have the energy, both partners can wind up feeling resentful, one because he's always being pressured for sex, one because he never is. (I mixmaster genders in my writing because they really don't matter.) Many relationship columnists will tell you such a relationship is doomed. Buttocks (or lack thereof). There is more to a relationship than a bedroom; and if the bedroom really is that important...there are other bedrooms.

COMMON REASON B: MISMATCHED SEXUAL EXPECTATIONS
Related to A, but more comprehensive and personal. It's rare to find two people with exactly the same sexual taste. There are no-go zones in most relationships and that's perfectly fine...nobody should EVER be coerced into doing something sexual or otherwise against their will. And some fantasies, undoubtedly should stay fantasies. But polyamory does allow for a more wide-ranging palette of sexual experiences, where that's desired, without hurting the existing relationship.

And it doesn't hurt the existing relationship because of the universal reason, which boils down to
WHY NOT?

That question offends many, and that's fine. Poly people, by and large, have examined the answers given to that question and discarded them. That's their choice and their own personal moral code. It doesn't make poly any better or worse than monogamy, only different.  Neither polyamorists nor monogamists have the morality market cornered, okay? Love and let love.

2. ENDING A RELATIONSHIP YOU WERE ENJOYING BECAUSE OF SOCIETY’S EXPECTATIONS IS RIDICULOUS

"The idea that if you love someone enough you'll never look at another person with lust (love) again is preposterous." 


I, personally, couldn't agree more. And I do blame Hollywood and fairy tales for this almost ubiquitous belief. The example I usually give is multiple children. You don't love the second child any more or less than the first. Somebody the other day chided me and said this smacked of pedophilia, because hello? we're talking about a different kind of love between adult partners and why bring kids into this? I was repulsed myself that this would be the track his mind took, but okay. The point was was that yes, of course the kind of love you share with your darling is different--but why does one of the differences have to do with exclusivity?

Fine, let's change it to "friends". Can you have more than one? Does one get jealous if you spend time with another? Probably not, because she has other friends of her own. In a poly mindset, romance, with or without sex, works just that way. Is it for everyone? Hell, no. The most common reaction I got when I came out was "I could never do that." I suspect some of the people who said that actually could, if they wanted to, but nobody should have to try it.

It is frightening. Of course it is. Not only are you upending a sacred cow, you're introducing potential chaos into a stable relationship. My attitude is that life does that itself every day. One partner could die tonight, and the end result would be the same as if he left his partner for another. But you learn pretty quick in healthy polyamory that there's no earthly reason why you or your partner should leave anyone when you have, perhaps, a whole circle of someones. Why leave A for B (or B for A) when you can have A and B (and maybe C through Z-prime as well, although I pity the Google Calendar in that arrangement!)

3. IF YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH MORE THAN ONE PERSON, YOU ARE NOT A FREAK, AND YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE TO CHOOSE


You will find that I agree with the general gist of these points. Emphatically. Or I wouldn't be poly, now, would I?  Caveat: you might not have to choose. At this point, at least, you almost certainly will: the pool of people open to poly is not deep and not wide. I've run across some people who have zero problems being with someone who happens to be cheating in a monogamous relationship--the attitude there is it's their choice--and I want to slap these people silly. It's like driving the getaway car in a bank robbery...well, no, you didn't actually rob the bank, but without you the bank wouldn't have been robbed.

4. COMPERSION IS AWESOME, AND JEALOUSY IS ONE OF THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS -POLYAMOROUS OR NOT

Com-what? Compersion  is a nice hippy-dippy word coined by the Kerista Commune (co-inventors of the word 'polyamory' to describe a lovestyle that has existed roughly forever). It's the opposite of jealousy. It's feeling happy at a loved one's happiness, even if that happiness wasn't your doing. There's an ancient word, mudita, that means essentially the same thing: joy unadulterated by self-interest. It's a quintessentially "poly" feeling...and we work at it.

 Contrary to popular belief, poly people do feel jealousy. I disagree that it's a relationship problem, though it certainly can signal one and it will always lead to one if it's not addressed. Jealousy is rooted in insecurity. Sometimes the jealous pangs are wholly justified, when you're being treated like a doormat, but usually they are simply masking some sort of fear that you have to work through, ideally with another person.  If you don't work though your jealousy, yes, your relationship is at risk.

The way to work through jealousy and turn it into compersion is practice, practice, practice. Recognize he's not leaving you just because he's with another; share in her joy and you'll increase it, because shared joy is always increased (and shared pain is always lessened).
Compersion, or mudita, or whatever you call it, *is* awesome. But monogamous people can feel it too, when their partner succeeds at something they had no hand in and truthfully no interest in either. You don't have to be poly to share this particular poly feeling, and I know committed monogamous relationships in which jealousy does not exist. The couple are sexually exclusive to each other by choice, but either party is trusted in the sole company of a member of the "threatening" sex. I'm getting the feeling from this article, over and over, that polyamorous people are more highly evolved.

I keep running into these people online: poly types  who are fanatical about it--seeking to free everybody from the bounds of holy monogamy, and all that. These people piss me off. Much of what is available to polyamorous people is actually available to monogamous people as well--compersion, close friendships, plural, and so on. Polyamory is...deeper. That's not a judgment, it's a fact; how you interpret it is up to you. Deeper means more, but there are shadows in the deeps as well.

5. BEING OPEN, COMMUNICATIVE, AND ALLOWING YOURSELF AND OTHERS TO BE INDIVIDUALS IN WHOM THEY IDENTIFY AS, WHOM THEY DESIRE, AND HOW THEY NAVIGATE THIS DESIRE, IS IMPORTANT.

True. First, that includes monogamous people, and second, THIS INCLUDES MONOGAMOUS PEOPLE. The open, communicative, allowing ones, which is most of them.

Again, and again, and again: mine is not a better way. Mine is only another way.

15 January, 2015

I'm Offended!

The Charlie Hebdo attack sure backfired, didn't it?
Before last week, few people bought the magazine in France and fewer outside the country (including me) had even heard of it. The jihadis who murdered ten of Charlie's staff and two others (including a Muslim police officer) were heard to shout as they fled, "We have avenged the prophet Muhammed. We have killed Charlie Hebdo."

Uh, not so much.

In fact, Charlie Hebdo was on life support for mere minutes when French media outlets pledged to lend their staff to keep it going. The first issue since the murders had an initial print run of three million copies: that's since been raised to five million, and the issue has been bid up as high as C$300 on ebay. This for a magazine whose usual sales were around thirty to forty thousand a week. Unless Muhammed was on the cover...then the sales might be goosed as high as 100,000. Hey, you draw what sells, right?

Meanwhile, 'Je Suis Charlie" took hold in the virtual world, including in this blog and on my Facebook page for a full week (the longest I've kept a political statement as my profile picture since I joined Facebook).

Oh, wow, goody for me. Goody for all of us.

How many of us, pre-Charlie, really believed in freedom of speech and expression?  Believed in it enough to risk our lives on it? How many of do now?
Not many, I'd wager, "Je Suis Charlie" notwithstanding. Certainly not me. Though I'm trying.

I have written about free speech before,  twice in fact, and my views on it have vacillated wildly over the years. But if I'm honest with myself, I come to a point where I'm mentally yanking on a rope that will bring a limit to free speech within reach. 

I actually offend far too easily. It's something I have had to guard and gird against over years, because the world is so highly offensive to people like me. It offends me when violence is committed upon an human being, an animal, or even, often, an inanimate object. Pain offends me. Loneliness offends me. So does injustice. Poverty, be it material or especially emotional--offends me to my core.

That other stuff? Racist caricatures,  filthy jokes, and all the rest of it? I admit it: often I laugh. Not always, but often. I've developed a very keen sense over the years of when the joke isn't really a joke. I'm not talking satire, I'm talking actual malice. Be bullied for years and you'll get this sense too.

And when it's not a joke...when you would expect me to become angry....it's rare that I do. At most I will get this disgusted expression on my face, like I have just stepped in shit, barefoot, and I'll walk away, seething internally.

I have a dear friend who will stand up for anything he believes in and anyone who is being picked on in his vicinity, and he'll do it regardless of who he has to confront. I admire this man more than most men alive and wish to hell I had the balls to emulate him. But that's another thing being bullied for years will do: instil a strong sense of cowardice that you learn to call "prudence".  I'm exhilarated every time I hear another story about the bully Craig faced down (you're damned right I'm going to name you, Craig, you're far too modest about this stuff)...exhilarated and scared. I worry that one of these days he might bite off more than he can chew.

In the meantime, though: being offended is a choice. You can say something offensive directed right at me and only me and unless you're somebody I care about you'll be roundly ignored. Consider the source, and all that. I have had so many awful things had to me in the distant past that barring the odd old echo, I've been thoroughly inoculated. You're better off getting to me, at this point, through someone I love--and be warned if you do that, I don't fight fair.

Insult an entire class of people to whom I belong? Whatever. Seriously. Whatever. I'm confident enough in whatever group I choose to affiliate myself with that your insults mean diddly-doo.

We live in a world that seems to run on offence. It's almost as if people have claimed the right to be offended. I first noticed it with movies: people around me, most notably my parents, seemed to be offended by certain words or images (especially images of naked flesh such as I saw every day in the bathroom), while next to nobody seemed to care about images of gratuitous violence and gore in those same movies.

Along came the Internet, and the avenues to possible offence multiplied beyond all imagining. Now there are whole flocks of people who spend their days in a state of high piss-off, trolling from site to site to site, offending and being offended in turn. It's self-perpetuating, nauseating, and...dare I say offensive?

I always say to people who are lashing out at me, "I'm sorry somebody hurt you so badly that you feel the need to hurt me." It stops people dead in their tracks more often than not. I've become convinced over time that it forces people to recognize a fellow human being. So rare that people do that, I find.

At any rate, being offended is  not a choice one should make lightly. To my way of thinking, we should be much more offended at the state of the world than we are about somebody's scribblings. But that might be just me.






11 January, 2015

French Song of the Month: L'architecte (The Architect), Lynda Lemay

I brought this one in for my French II teacher. It was a little ahead of where the class was at the time, but the teacher loved it, and without my asking, she made copies of the lyrics for everyone and presented it.
Lynda Lemay's voice is very good here if you're learning: she enunciates well. It's a sad, sad song.

Tell your children that you love them. Praise them for their talents, whatever they may be. And please, if you're an architect, don't force your son to grow up to be an architect too.




English translation:

He had a talent for dancing
He became an architect
He had a knack for arts and languages
He talked to his plants
He made miracles in the kitchen
Mixed divine spices
But his father, on Sundays, busy drinking his aperitif
Never said, it seemed, that his son was good.

He was bitten by music
He became an architect
He was, in his time, a poet and a pianist
He surrounded himself with artists
He always ended up in the kitchen
Juggling clementines
But his father, on Sundays at supper reading the latest edition
Never said, it seemed, that his son was good.

He could have lived the life of the theater
He became an architect
He quoted from memory everything from Camus to Socrates
Which he had read in secret
He threw off his suit jackets, his ties
Bare-chested, he played the acrobat
But his father, on Sundays, ignored the skills of his son
And never talked of anything but the next building.

He remained an architect
He drew up marvels
Juggling compasses and rulers,
A pencil on his ear.
His suit jacket and tie were well in place
Waiting on his whiskey on the rocks
Like his father, on Sunday, when it was time for his aperitif

He had a talent for dancing
He became a bit stiff
But sometimes still he gets up and throws himself
And his steps fall into place
Here he is, whirling on the ice
He sees again the little gymnast
That his father, on Sundays, it seems, never found beautiful!
And his father, one Sunday, fled to his final rest
Without ever having seen, it seemed, that his son was good.



10 January, 2015

How to Fall In Love With Anyone*

*or at least 90% of anyone...


What if falling in love is a choice? What if it isn't something that happens to you, but rather something you do?

I've always felt this way, of course. I fall in love easily -- many probably feel too easily...but the truth is that any two people, given considerably less initial attraction than you'd think, can fall in love in ninety minutes. (Add one hug of longer than twenty seconds duration--probably after that ninety minutes, there are few people willing to give hugs like that up front) and your fates are sealed.

Here's an account of how to make it happen. And here (pdf) is the actual study.
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Basically, you need to be attracted enough to somebody that the thought of falling in love with him or her doesn't scare you silly. My personal threshold for that is very, very low; yours may not be, and that's fine. But by no means do you need to look at him or her and see fireworks. In fact, the study shows that you stand a ninety percent change of achieving significant results even if you go into it with no expectation of liking the other person. 

How do you do it? You ask each other questions and listen carefully to each other's answers. Here's the set of questions:

Set I: 
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? 
Would you like to be famous? In what way?
 Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why? 
What would constitute a "perfect" day for you? 
When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else? 
If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want? 
Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common. 
For what in your life do you feel most grateful? 
If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? 
Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? 

Set II 
If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
Is there something that you've dreamed of doing for a long time? 
Why haven't you done it? 
What is the greatest accomplishment of your life? 
What do you value most in a friendship? 
What is your most treasured memory? What is your most terrible memory? 
If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why? 
What does friendship mean to you? What roles do love and affection play in your life?
Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of 5 items.
How close and warm is your family? 
Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people's? 
How do you feel about your relationship with your mother? 

Set lll
Make 3 true "we" statements each. For instance 'We are both in this room feeling ... "
Complete this sentence: "I wish I had someone with whom I could share ... " 
If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things that you might not say to someone you've just met. 
Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life. 
When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself? 
Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about? 
If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven't you told them yet? 
Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why? 
Share a personal problem and ask your partner's advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

These are, of course, excellent questions to ask your partner no matter how long you've been together.  They get progressively, but almost imperceptibly, more intimate; many of the questions in the third set are things you may have never told anyone...in fact one of them is guaranteed to be. It doesn't matter how little you have in common, because these questions are designed to unite rather than divide.

Do they generate love? No. They're actually called "closeness-generating" questions. But closeness and trust are two necessary qualities for love...probably the two most necessary. It won't even matter if you disagree on important values, which the authors themselves found surprising...you'll still stand a 90% chance of having significant feelings for your partner.

I have not done this study, but I intuitively understand the underlying principles. It's really not rocket surgery: if you ask interesting questions of each other and genuinely listen to each others' answers, good things will happen. I submit it doesn't even have to be these questions (although these are damned good ones). The mutual willingness to go through with an exercise like this, formally or informally, is a hell of a powerful indicator of incipient liking, at the very least.

Go out and be loving. Give generously of yourself. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Above all, choose love, and love will choose you.



08 January, 2015

"Je Suis Charlie"

I have come to believe over the years that religion, by its very nature, is extremist.
 
There are, of course, degrees of extremism, and one particular religion tends to out-extreme others just lately.  But religion, based as it is on faith in defiance of reason, is extremist by definition. Fundamentally so, you might say.

The Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is a weekly exercise in secular extremism, to wit: it relentlessly mocks and criticizes whatever target is in its sights, be that a celebrity, a politician, or, yes, a religion. It's extremism because it goes out of its way to offend.  Satire doesn't work very well when it's gentle. But most of us, even ardent defenders of free speech, don't spend our working lives trying to piss off the world to make a point.

In the wake of the horrific attack in Paris that killed ten members of the Charlie Hebdo staff and two police officers, it once again becomes vitally important to pick a side. Yet again, three jihadis have attempted to rock our civilizational boat. Now when someone tips your boat, you only have two choices. You can tip with it, and perhaps wash overboard...or you can scurry to the other side of the boat -- only as far over as necessary -- and counterbalance.

Staying in the center -- doing nothing -- isn't good enough. You'll eventually be pulled in the direction you're being tipped, and be lost.

Now, three people with murderous intent aren't going to sink our ship, which has been building since the Enlightenment. There are forces at work in our society who apparently believe otherwise, and are urging all of us to run as fast as we can to the other side of the boat...and fight murder with murder. This is not a wise course of action: it will only rock the boat the other way, provoke a like response, and the wild rocking will eventually tear the boat apart.

But standing in the center will not do. And so I stand with Charlie Hebdo.

I think a god who can't take care of his own prophet, a god who is mortally offended by drawings, is a very weak god indeed, worthy of nothing but ridicule. A god who commands his followers to kill in his name is a devil. And anyone believing in such a god is a fool.

I don't like to pick fights. But given a choice between fighting on the side of reason and fighting on the side of illogical faith, I'm going to pick reason every time. And I will stand up and do it proudly, knowing that if I'm ever killed for my actions it will only prove their inherent rightness.



06 January, 2015

"You think it's my fault?!"

HOCKEY POST UPCOMING, sorry, non-hockey fans, but you had to expect this...

The Toronto Maple Leafs have relieved coach Randy Carlyle of his duties. Not a moment too soon, and a season and a half too late, says this Leafs fan.
Carlyle is not a good coach. Yes, he did win a Stanley Cup, albeit with a stacked roster that a trained monkey could have coached to that outcome. That notwithstanding, here is a good breakdown of why he was fired. The tl;dr: is that he is a piss-poor possession coach. He was in Anaheim, he is in Toronto, and he will be should any NHL team be foolish enough to hire him in the future.

Like Ron Wilson before him, Carlyle is an old-school coach who was unwilling to change his ways. "His ways" involved running three lines of players in a four-line league, with a corresponding over-reliance on his top line of Bozak flanked by Kessel and van Reimsdyk. He consistently put players in positions to fail, then blamed the players when they failed. He made inexplicable lineup decisions such as putting David Clarkson on the powerplay unit and, for far too long, pairing the two defencemen with the least defensive acumen (and to be brutally frank, none of the Leafs D-man has much defensive acumen).

Many people, including me, thought that when Brendan Shanahan assumed the reins as chief honcho of the Maple Leafs, GM Nonis and coach Carlyle would be given walking papers. Usually that's what happens: an incoming big kahuna gets to handpick his subordinates. Instead Carlyle's assistants were fired while he was kept on...his contract was actually extended.

It took me a while to grasp what Shanahan was up to. He said he was going to spend an indefinite period of time evaluating the team from top to bottom before acting rashly. Translation: he removed Carlyle's crutches and handed him some rope, with which Randy proceeded to hang himself; now he's removed the players' crutch in Carlyle and will pay out half a season's rope to see who among his players hangs himself too.

My suspicion: many will.  Because, as my favourite Leafs columnist has written, the Leafs' core is fatally flawed. NONE of them have committed to playing hockey the way it's supposed to be played. Pond hockey is so much more fun...and there's enough raw skill to ensure the illusion of progress, such as when the Leafs went 10-1-1 a month and a distant dream ago. Carlyle was unable to get his core to play defence, so he had to go; his core now must accept playing defence, or they'll be gone too.

There were some good moves made this past off-season: positive possession players Winnik and Santorelli were brought in on very friendly contracts. Both players'  advanced stats have turned negative, despite solid contributions from each. Meanwhile, Leafs cast-offs like Grabovski and Kulemin have positive possession numbers on their new teams, and that's another nail in Carlyle's coaching coffin.

But.

Carlyle was definitely a problem. He was far from the only one plaguing this lineup.

Let's talk about Phil Kessel.

Phil Kessel is a supremely gifted hockey player who was brought to the Leafs to score goals. He has outperformed absolutely every expectation anyone could ever have had of him because (a) he has led the team in scoring every year and (b) he's responsible for even more goals for the opposition.

Phil has a lethal snap shot he can unleash without effort. He is also a very underrated passer and he has very good speed. What he doesn't have, however, is drive and desire to play a team game. He hangs around in the neutral zone waiting for Hail Mary passes from the D that look pretty when they work, but are more often than not picked off. There is no willingness to backcheck, let alone go into the corner and hit someone to retrieve a puck. This, you get the feeling, is beneath Mr. Kessel, a job properly left to the less talented.

Real stars don't act like that.

This flaw of Phil's has been pointed out several times in the media, and, you'd have to think, even more often behind closed doors. The new assistant coaches asked Kessel to make an adjustment to his game and he refused. In all honesty, he should have been traded the next day.

The Toronto media is finally starting to ask the tough questions they should have been asking all along.  Asked if he was difficult to coach--an epithet former coach Wilson had affixed to Kessel--Phil responded this way.

Not the response of a leader. The way to answer a pointed question like that is to acknowledge it and say that you're always trying to improve your game. That yes, you're aware of the allegations and you are doing all you can to change them. You could even bristle a little, and *then* acknowledge the question. Answer pretty much anything that doesn't involve calling your questioner an idiot. People generally ask questions like that because they believe the answer is "yes".

Is it Phil's fault? He definitely shares the blame, at the very least. The blame, in the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs, lies in an awful lot of places. Phaneuf has not played like a leader most nights. So blame him, and blame the man (Dave Nonis) who signed him to that ridiculous contract. Blame Nonis, and exclusively Nonis, for the asinine contract handed to David Clarkson. (That was such a huge overpayment that I can't bring myself to blame Clarkson at all; he must have felt like he won a lottery.) Blame Gardiner for lackadaisical defensive play just like Phaneuf's. Franson, too, although he at least makes up for it at the other end with that seeing-eye shot of his.
There are very few blameless individuals on this team. The aforementioned Winnik and Santorelli are two; both have played well beyond expectations. So has Richard Panik, in a bit role. And Komarov, well, I can't fault him because he'll come crush me.

Those are all role players, although Santorelli is playing way above his pay grade right now. Among the core, only Kadri is not rotten. That kind of hurts to say, because I've disliked Kadri since he first arrived: he had this unearned swagger I just wanted to slap off him. Give him credit for becoming a more complete player this year--the only core Leaf skater who has.

The goalies have been...not bad. Not great--both of them have let in some real softies--but given the number of friggin SHOTS they face...  let's just say that given an actual defensive system employed by an actual NHL-level coach, they might be considerably better.

The Leafs are an unending soap opera. I think that this point that's most of why us fans stay fans. It's hard to believe the team ISN'T cursed.

As the world turns...