14 February, 2016

It Bothers Me.

This is going to be a challenge to write, on several levels.

One, I find the subject matter repulsive in the extreme. As I hope I made clear in my last post, BDSM is so far out of my comfort zone that I actually recoil whenever it comes up. I can intellectually grasp the appeal of bondage, sort of, but anything involving pain or humiliation mystifies and horrifies me. In any other context, deliberately causing pain to another human being is inhuman and monstrous, and deliberately courting it is proof of extremely low self-esteem at the very least. But in the most intimate of contexts, it's "just another way to love".  I'm not sure I can express just how much this bothers me.

Two, and related, I have no idea what I'm talking about. There must be a lure to BDSM, and a powerful one: otherwise  Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn't be the top-selling book written for adults in all of history.  (Gag...literally.) What that appeal is, I can't even fathom, and I freely admit I don't want to fathom...but I simply have to accept that for every man who fantasizes about  hurting a woman, there seems to be a woman out there fantasizing about being hurt.

Three, it's controversial, and therefore no matter what I say, I'm going to unwittingly offend someone. It seems I can barely open my mouth or flex my fingers without pissing somebody off. I know I'm not supposed to care about that...but I do. Since the world has lost its sense of nuance at some point when my back was turned, and it took mine with it, writing about topics like this is like walking through a minefield on stilts while juggling swords and flamethrowers. I just did it up there myself: I'm sure women don't want to be hurt, exactly...nuance, nuance...pain in the service of sex seems to exist in some alternate universe where "hurt" ceases to have meaning.

Until it doesn't: that's when charges and courts ensue.

__________

Jian Ghomeshi. Guilty or not guilty?

We won't know until March 24...which hasn't stopped people from declaring either way.

I've watched this trial with a kind of creeping horror, not just because of the subject matter, but because the legal process has been so...cringeworthy in this case.  Three women, each utterly shredded by Ghomeshi's lawyer, in a viciously public way that had to be at least as traumatizing as any alleged assault. Marie Heinein, "the most sought-after trial lawyer in the city" according to Toronto Life, once had this to say about her profession:

"As criminal lawyers we represent people who have committed heinous acts. Acts of violence. Acts of depravity. Acts of cruelty. Or as Jian Ghomeshi likes to call it, foreplay."

--which just goes to show that lawyers believe what they're paid to believe.

Heinein has, as I said, completely destroyed both the reliability and the credibility of each of the three complainants--which doesn't mean Ghomeshi is innocent, but it sure does raise reasonable doubt in the eyes of many legal professionals.  And that makes me ill. Yes, you're supposed to judge these cases strictly on the evidence that's presented, but...

I mean, come on, it's a matter of public record that he cracked a woman's rib. He actually admitted as much by SHOWING A VIDEO OF THE INJURY to his bosses at the CBC, which led to his termination. There have been TWENTY THREE women who have come forward with allegations of assault. Twenty of them are irrelevant as far as this trial is concerned: again, strictly legally speaking, this is understandable, but  emotionally it makes me want to scream. Or weep.

(I was accused of making that cracked rib up. I didn't. People have crappy memories, it seems.)

A woman named Karen Logan (or what I can't help but think might have been a man using her account) posted this in response to my skepticism about Ghomeshi's innocence:

"Injuries are common and death is not unheard of in BDSM sex. That doesnt make him a criminal. I leave that up to the judge to decide. Also....out of all the women accusers...these ones were the best the prosecution could come up with. It was unfortunate they didnt tell the police and crown everything. It would have never made it to court. Not my opinion but expert opinion"

The fact each woman had repeated contact with Ghomeshi shortly after the alleged assaults is not in and of itself damning to their cases. Case law recognizes that this is irrelevant. The fact none of them chose to mention that contact to investigators, each claiming amnesia about it until it came up in court (how convenient)...that's quite likely fatal.

All the same: I can understand why you wouldn't choose to publicize the fact you wrote a letter extolling the virtues of the hands that just choked you, or saying this:

"You kicked my ass last night and that makes me want to fuck your brains out. Tonight.”

Flowers. Loving emails. All three women (and probably many more) exhibited this behaviour, to varying degrees, after saying they were assaulted. In DeCoutere's case, above,  the "love-bombing" went on for months.

 It looks bad. It looks very bad. I've been told by a woman that it isn't bad, it's common for victims of abuse to act this way. I can see it in the case of wives married to monsters: you're manipulated, over years, into believing you deserve nothing but abuse, in a sick way actually craving it: but these relationships weren't marriages. They barely qualified as dalliances.

Nevertheless, it happens. Apparently quite often.

Were his victims coerced into acting this way? Jesse Brown thinks so. An anonymous source provides him with a chilling account of Ghomeshi's M.O. before, during, and after dates, a scheme geared around manufacturing the illusion of consent. (Lost in this is that you cannot consent to physical injury in Canadian law).

None of this came up in court. If any of it is true, that fact puzzles me mightily. One thing the Crown got right in this case: it's about Ghomeshi, not the women he allegedly assaulted. But Heinein made the trial ALL about those women. I would fully expect at least one of them to blurt out "he made me do this". None of them did. What does that mean? That it's not legally true. Which may have little or nothing to do with its factual truthfulness.

Damnit, this is hard.

Let's for just a moment discard our preconceptions and assume Ghomeshi is exactly, and only, what he says he is: a man who likes to engage in rough sex with willing women.  Even if that's the case, he was doing it all wrong. Even I, as totally ignorant as I am, know there's an intricate dance of consent involved...and not consent by duress, either. A safe word needs to be established, or a safe gesture if a gag of any kind is involved. Aftercare is critical. There is no one so contrite as a top who has just upset a bottom in a dominance/submission scene: the sub actually has all the power. (That alone took me years to fully grasp.) Ghomeshi, according to those who knew him, faked some of this and ignored the rest. Add in decades of anecdotes about creepy-stalkery behaviour (none of which is admissible in court), and it's hard to understand why he could very well walk away from all this. If that happens, he might even sue. Imagine that.

If nothing else, I can certainly understand now why victims of sexual assault do not report. It's the one crime in which the victim is put on trial.

"If you're raped, don't charge the bastard with rape. Charge him with indecent exposure. It is much easier to get a conviction for that charge than for rape. The defence is not allowed to ask anything about your sexual history or how you were dressed at the time. Forensic evidence is unnecessary. The total public embarrassment to you is cut more than in half. What's the guy going to do, leap up in court and say, 'It's a filthy lie, Your Honour, I raped that bitch'? In many states, a man convicted of indecent exposure will actually draw more prison time than a rapist. And weenie-waggers do harder time than anybody but a short-eyes -- in fact, the scheme sort of incorporates the Law of Talion. An eye for an eye..." 
--Spider Robinson, "Lady Slings The Booze"

But there's yet another side to this. Ought we simply to, as the hashtag had it, #BelieveHer, no matter what she says about what happened? That would be at least as much a travesty of justice as a guilty man getting off scot-free. It makes consent impossible to obtain for certain. In the absence of physical evidence, how do I prove I never raped someone? I can't prove a negative. A mere allegation of rape or any other kind of sexual assault would ruin my life--which is why I don't hug people near as often as I'd like to. A hug from me is a very strong declaration of trust in you.

I want to be sensitive to victims of assault and rape, at the same time cognizant that sometimes women come up with false allegations. Determining the truth of the matter is much more difficult than it seems. In this case, I've made my mind up: I've heard too many stories about the disconnect between Ghomeshi's charming, liberal, feminism-espousing aura on the radio and his actual behaviour with women. But none of those stories are under consideration here.

It bothers me. It bothers me a LOT.



08 February, 2016

Love and Marriage (and Sex!)

NSFW post. Adult themes up the ying-yang, graphic language, probably a trigger or two, reader discretion is advised, etc.

"Hardon You"

I know my constant horniness gets hardon you
Sometimes it seems I'm always in the mood
If that is so, I truly beg your pardon, too
It wasn't my intention to be rude
My love is like my horniness, in that it never quits
But I'd love you if you didn't have those tits

Men have only got the one thing on their mind
It gets so repetitious it's a crime
Somebody said a hard man is good to find
As long as you don't find him every goddamn time
You are not only something that I lust for, that I hunt
I would love you if you didn't have a cunt

I'm neurotically erotic, with a taste for the exotic
And your body is hypnotic when it's next to me
I'm dementedly attentive, and in need of no incentive
But you know you represent much more than sex to me. . . 

You know that I was horny for you from the start
And that's the way it's always gonna be
But you ought to know your sexiness is just a part
of the value you will always have for me
It may have been what caught my eye, it ISN'T why I stick
I would love you if I didn't have a dick.

--words and music by Spider Robinson

Want to get a bunch of people you have never met and will never meet really pissed at you? Dare to tell them the obvious: there's more to love and marriage than sex.

To me, this is a statement so self-evident that it shouldn't require a word of explanation or clarification. But I have found over time that it's precisely those unquestioned axiomatic assertions that trip you up. Say online, for instance, that sexual attraction is NOT a prerequisite for love any more than the other way around and holy shit. I mean I had a hundred people downvote me in fifteen minutes and some freakishly nasty comments. Nothing I haven't seen before, nothing that even rattles me, but nasty, nonetheless.

I could just walk away from it. These are nobodies hiding behind screens. Give a hundred monkeys keyboards and in short order they'll be flinging shit around online, right?  But since shit washes off, I figure I may as well try to engage them. A little. If I get through to one monkey and elevate his consciousness a wee bit, I'll have done something productive with my day.

And so. I explained how love and sex work for me. And I hope to Christ there was one silent monkey in the crowd who got it, because the cacophony and renewed shit-flinging fair drowned me out. THAT was when I walked away, head held high...but having taken note of the distinctive flavour of shit.

I'm rambling, and I haven't even started yet. Great.

I have a low libido by male standards. It's by no means nonexistent: there are days when I could cheerfully fuck a beehive. But it is and always has been subject to wild swings. My antidepressant has made the lows even lower and the spikes less frequent (still there, but once a month instead of once a week). This is, I gather, supposed to bother me as a male, because my self-worth is supposed to be all tied up in the sex I'm having *coughbullshitcough*.

It doesn't bother me much. Oh, I'd be a liar if I said I was completely unfazed, but if I have any reservations about sex, they tend to revolve around my perceived inadequacies, the ones hard-wired into my personality.

I think it's because I never had a sibling.

Screaming left turn there. Hang on, folks. *smile*

Seriously, though. I watched my nieces frolic around the house yesterday. They bring such joy wherever they go, but they're typical sisters: even at not-quite four and one, you can see at a glance how much they love each other...and hate each other.

Because that's what siblings do, right? I love you so much, you are my PERSONAL punching bag. Anybody else punches you, I kill them. Punches from me are love taps.

I never got that love-hate thing. Still don't, at all. My twin died when he was two days old and I grew up an only child. Love is love and hate is hate and the two things can't be further apart on the emotional spectrum for me.

This has had profound implications on the kind of lover I am. My love is completely devoid of anything that might require a pinch of hate as an ingredient. I can't do power trips. I can't degrade--even if it's something I've convinced myself is degrading and my partner disagrees. I can't talk dirty, I feel like a fool if I do and nothing kills a boner faster than embarrassed laughter. My top speed is barely out of second gear: as soon as I hit third I leak transmission oil everywhere. Get me on one of those fuck-a-beehive days and I'll leak transmission oil if you pop me out of park. You people who can tear around the track for five hundred miles, redlining all the way...how do you do that? I'm in awe, man. Seriously.

Ven vee are havink ze sex, is to try to pretend vee are someone else, says the sex therapist who lives in my head.
Why would I do that? (I talk back to the voices in my head. Don't you?)
Because zen vee could experience all ze Hollywood sexy things. Vee could do angry passion. Vee could be rough. Vee could zay thinks like "fuck me, bitch". 
But none of zat...excuse me, none of THAT... is sexy, I say. And if I'm pretending to be someone else, I'm not me. If I'm not me, why not just let her go be with someone else who has that soupçon of hate that lets them be not so fucking boring? Or boring fucking, I mean?
No, no, vee can't do that! the therapist says. If vee do, then it means vee are not goot enuf--
Oh, go fuck yourself, Freud, and that's the end of that until the next time I see a movie where Mr. Alpha Sixpack Stamina is dominating the screen/wench beneath him and said wench is deep in Planet Orgasm. ASS always has the same look on his face, like sex is a matter of life and death, a test he must pass, and the woman is just the paper for him to spread his ink on.

These aren't porn movies, by the way. This is standard Hollywood fare. I can barely watch porn because of how utterly degrading it almost always is. Where's the porn where they cuddle and go slow and kiss everything that quivers, even a little? Show me porn where the woman is ravished and worshipped and lovingly sipped instead of jackhammered and whee! libido problem goes bye-bye. Does that porn exist?

I am good at what I do, or so I have been told, occasionally by people who are out of breath at the time. (Stroke that ego and watch it grow, but for god's sakes don't put it in third gear or there'll be a mess.)  It's just that what I do is not the full scope of Things That Are Done.

We happen to live a life that makes allowances for this. People assume that it's why we practice ethical nonmonogamy, because sometimes she just wants to ride shotgun in the Indy 500. Nice fringe benefit, to be sure, but not even close to why.

See, bring up polyamory in the context of sex and you must be a cuckold, a guy who gets off on the idea of his wife being with other men. I'm the furthest thing from that. That stuff is private. I couldn't tell you about it if I wanted to, because I don't know it, any of it, and don't care to know it any more than you do. Am I happy she's happy? Of course. Do I get some kind of sexual thrill out of it? Really, really, really not. The same thing will operate in reverse should I find another partner and become sexual: what happens in the bedroom stays there. Compersion--joy at another's joy that had nothing to do with you--does not have to have a sexual component.

In truth, neither does marriage. Ours does (and that's the sum total of information you're going to get about that)...but "I'd love her if I didn't have a dick". There are lots of married people on the asexual spectrum, as well as men who are "impotent" and women who are "frigid"--would you get a load of the heaping helping of judgment loading down both those words? As if whether or not a man can have sex has something to do with his potency. As if a woman who does not have sex can't possibly be warm and loving. As if.

There are lots of good reasons to get married. Passion is one of them: in a passionless marriage you are housemates and little more. It's not everything. It's not even most of the things.

 Sex may be very important to you, and that's fine. You may regard it as the glue that holds your relationship together, and if you both agree on that, who am I to say otherwise? But consider: even the horniest couple can only spend a tiny fraction of their lives fucking. I would think there's got to be something more, something stronger, that keeps you together other than ugly-bumping. Call it...call it love.

There are people who view sex as a pastime. They don't remember the names and faces of their partners, and don't care to. I accept this...but I find it sad. Sex as sport is all well and good (and I sure don't remember all the people I've played hockey with), but for me there's so much more there. It's about deep connections, for me.  I don't understand how you can connect to someone on such a fundamental level and then...just...move on.

It sometimes feels as if I am alone among men in that sex and love are inextricably linked for me. I've met more than a few women for whom sex need not involve any amount of love, too. It all goes back to that love-hate thing, the power dynamic in which I would much rather yield than wield the power. Sex without love feels much worse than, say, masturbation. (I mean, I love myself...at least a little!) It feels, again to me, as if "any hole will do" and the person attached to the hole is an afterthought, if she's a thought at all. I recognize there are probably nuances to this I don't get, but since I don't get them, I don't know how to overcome them.


I fall in love with people from the inside out: always have, always will. That hole? It happens last.

-------------

Next post is going to be a continuation of this one, on a topic I'm incredibly unqualified to pontificate about. It'll be about a man who does have that pinch (and slap, and choke) of hatred in him.

It'll be about Jian Ghomeshi.

01 February, 2016

The Need To Explain

A dear friend of Eva's--which makes her a dear friend of mine--sent this to me the other day:



I have to admit, I stared at it for a while, not entirely sure what to make of it. Many of those things are personal bugaboos of mine, little insecurity traps. I feel some pretty intense guilt over one of them, defiance over a couple of others, and I probably spend far too much time thinking about almost all of those things as a group.

Check that, all of them.

This is supposed to be a liberating poster, something to take to heart. I'm supposed to let go of the need to justify each of these things, because they're none of anybody's business.



And yet I still looked at that first poster and thought, she's telling me to shut up about all of this stuff.

Apparently I still care too much about what others think.

I don't have to explain any of this...except sometimes to myself. And in doing so, you, dear reader, get to ride shotgun. Ready?


1) One of the biggest regrets, if not the biggest regret of my entire life is my having taken the wrong degree. Not so much my dropping out--I don't think I would have dropped out at all had I taken something a little more...relevant than Honours English, Language and Literature (abbreviated as you'd expect). I took English because it seemed to be the path of least resistance, and because I loved stories. Or at least that's the story I tell myself.

What I should have done was mapped out a career goal and followed a path straight to it. What career? Given my proclivities and my idealism, three spring to mind: politics, law, or psychology. Those are three places where I'd have made a tangible difference. Probably not electoral politics--I doubt I could get myself elected to anything--but the elected people are just figureheads anyway. Law: I have a very strong interest in the interplay between justice and mercy, and it would be a source of unending joy to fight for both of those things.  Psychology is obvious, when it seems like every person with a crisis homes right in on me (and I love the feeling I get when that crisis is averted or overcome)...but I'm not as sold on it. I care too damned much. If (when) I lost a patient I'd go off the deep end myself.

I'm more than halfway through my working life: it's far too late to start from scratch now. So I make the best of what I do, and save my "making a difference" impulse for things outside my career, and hope like hell I do. Make a difference, I mean.

2) Where I live. Also, truth be told, not where I want to live. I feel very much, even now, like this is a "starter" house, not the kind of place you spend twelve, let alone twenty or thirty, years in. It doesn't help that we specifically picked this place out with children in mind, children who never materialized.
Again, we make the best of it. There are advantages. The house has more than doubled in value since we bought it and the carrying costs are more reasonable than rent. We deliberately bought less house than we could afford, reasoning that interest rates would go up again. Silly decision, in that light alone, but it's never stupid NOT to waste money.

3) My appearance--I couldn't explain this if I wanted to. You get enough people telling you how ugly you are and you believe it, even when one person comes along and says otherwise. I know that I look better in a suit and tie...and I defiantly choose not to wear suits and ties because I am who I am, not what I look like. I cling to that. I have to.

4) My political views. Nobody wants to talk politics--it's right up there with 5) and 7) as hot-button issues. This confuses me to no end. If you hold a political view--no matter what it is--by definition you think the world would be a better place if other people held it too. At the same time, it's always good to hear dissenting views: they may force you to re-evaluate your beliefs (grow, in other words). So respectfully talking politics is something I enjoy, and I wish more people enjoyed with me.

5) Religion is the politics of the afterlife. I do believe in an afterlife:
paraphrasing Jodie Foster in Contact,

I'll tell you one thing about Time, though. Time is a pretty long time. It's longer than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just this... seems like an awful waste of time. Right?

I most emphatically do not believe in God as He is commonly portrayed. Way, way too limiting: why only male (don't answer that, it's too obvious)? Why does He act so...human (the answer to that is just as obvious, as far as I'm concerned)? But again, as with politics, I'm more than willing to listen to dissenting views. Not so as to "convert" me, mind you. Evangelization is the mark of a superiority complex, and nothing turns me off faster than people feeling they're superior to other people. No: I'm just interested in what people believe, and why they believe it. Points if the answer to 'why' is something other than "because it says so in this book, here".  I like exploring the commonalities between religions (strip away dross and ritual and you'll find, as Stephen Gaskin once said,

Religions only look different if you get 'em from a retailer. If you go to a wholesaler, you'll find they all get it from the same distributor.

Atheism and a host of civil religions (such as the blind faith in the Great God Progress) are just as likely to invoke that superiority complex: indeed, there is nothing quite so annoying as a militant atheist who mocks everything he can't see or touch. Anybody using science to disprove a holy text, OR a holy text to disprove science, misunderstands the purpose of both.

You are special, every one of you...but you are no more special than anyone else.

6) My alone time -- I'm never alone. That's something I've learned, finally, in the last year or so, to my incalculable relief. Before that I felt alone in a crowded room: cut off, isolated, often completely invisible.
But what I've learned is that if I close my eyes
and  speak your name, you're right there beside me, ready to catch me when I fall. There are a lot of you out there (in here) and I love you all.

7) Life and relationship choices: actually, I do owe people an explanation for these. Not for myself: I'm far beyond caring what uncharitable thoughts you harbour about polyamory, because I know they're based on incorrect assumptions. I owe people an explanation for my polyamory because I'm not the only poly person out there. Until it has the legitimacy it deserves, I'm going to fight for unlimited love, because I believe it's something worth fighting for. Being as unlimited love is so counter to the way the world works (and hey, it starts with big ol' #5, Who loves you "unconditionally" but still somehow judges, condemns, and damns you)--there's often a lot of explanation that has to be done.

-------

That friend added this:

Feel free to opine, just don't expect agreement and you won't be disappointed...


I don't expect agreement. I don't expect ANYTHING from people if I can at all help it, because people have a habit of not living up to expectations (and I'm a people, too). What I hope for is understanding and acceptance, from myself and from others. You don't have to agree with me -- what a boring world it would be if we all agreed with each other, all the time! -- but I'm learning to accept myself and I hope you can, too.

31 January, 2016

The End Of Local

Not long after I got here in 1990, our local newspaper, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, ran a story on page A1, above the fold.

Its title was:

A) Councillor Retires After 33 Years Of Service
B) Potbellied Pigs Make Perfect Pets
C) Ethel Bloodthwaite Gets New Screen Door

Bear in mind that this city had a population, at the time, approaching 400,000 people. It wasn't quite a metropolis, but it was quite a long ways from being a one-horse town.

The correct answer is B, and no, I am not making this up: the most important story of the day, that day, was that potbellied pigs make perfect pets.

I very rarely read an edition of the local rag after that. Every once in a while I'd pick up a copy, confirming with one glance at the front page that if it didn't happen within city limits, it didn't happen. Ethel Bloodthwaite and her new screen door would come up every time I talked about the Record, to my wife's unending chagrin. Oh, look, she'd say when I brandished a copy of the Globe and Mail prominently featuring a piece of Toronto-centered fluff. It looks like Ethel done up and moved. 

Yes, but her pigs are still rooting around town, and damnit, they make perfect pets!

-------

Guelph, Ontario, population 175,779, just lost its local paper, the Mercury, in business since 1867. Very nearly a century and a half, vanished, leaving a thriving city without a local newspaper.

I'm sure many of my readers don't care: newspapers. How quaint. Next he'll be lamenting the loss of video stores and blacksmiths. 

Here's where I admit to a lifelong love of newspapers. I still have a weekend subscription to the dead-tree edition of the Globe and Mail, and it's something I look forward to every Saturday morning. There's something about an actual newspaper that bespeaks seriousness of purpose. This is the news, it says, in indelible ink. The pixels on your screen are peripatetic, winking in and out of existence, but the paper? Stored properly, it will outlast me.

I've read the Toronto Sun since fairly early childhood. Now, the Sun has its detractors, and I am often one of them. Let's see: sensationalistic, unabashed right wing trash, riddled with typos; and let's not forget the daily portrait that used to grace (?) the inside cover and now resides somewhere near the back: Sindee, 19, who loves dancing, shopping, and anal sex. Oh, and while the Sunday edition used to push 300 pages at times, 200 of them would consist of full-page ads.

Yes, the Sun was and is heavily flawed, and its reporting of the news is more biased than most papers. But it had two things going for it back in the day. One, it wore its bias proudly and didn't even pretend to be evenhanded. Two, and much more importantly, it allowed and encouraged its writers to express whatever opinions they had, regardless of whether or not they fell in line with editorial orthodoxy.

I can't begin to tell you how exhilarating that is for a reader like me, watching two writers feuding with each other in print. You could learn something. You could learn a lot. It was much better than the Toronto Star, a paper with whose politics I generally AGREE: there was and is no room for dissenting opinion in the Star, and it leans at least as far left as the Sun does right.

Then there's the National Post, also very unapologetically right-wing, but at least it has an excuse: it's marketed to millionaires. Their HOMES section ought to be called ESTATES or MANSIONS or some such, and rare is the car review of something plebeian like a humble Ford or Toyota.  What the Post does have going for it is a dearth of advertisements. In their place there is lots of long-form, meaty journalism.

The Post is on life support and has been for years. Because of so few ads? Possibly. More likely there was never room for a second national newspaper in a country with less population than metro Tokyo.

Finally, the Globe and Mail, which bills itself as Canada's paper of record. I find it strikes a pretty fair balance, and it employs a number of my favourite columnists, among them Tabatha Southey and Elizabeth Renzetti.   Its Arts section on Saturdays is a treasure trove.

Pardon me that digression. I just wanted to say I've been reading papers for a long time, and I don't read them online very much. Somehow they seem...I don't know...cheapened online, like virtually (ha-ha) everything else.

I'm an old curmudgeon that way, I guess. Because everything is migrating online. Information longs to be free and all that, but free doesn't put food on the table for those who gather it, edit it, or opine on it. And so the Canadian media has lost ten thousand jobs in the past decade, and the American media is shrinking at the rate of a thousand jobs a month. Newsrooms are consolidating in major centres: local papers, like the Mercury, are being crumpled up and thrown in the garbage bin of history.

It's not just newspapers. Canada may lose half of its local television stations by 2020. Again, the major reason is that people aren't watching local news any more, preferring to get all their content online.

Except if there' s a reliable source of local news online, I've yet to find it.  It's certainly not in any sort of convenient package.

We haven't had access to local television news for many years. For a long time we had Bell satellite, and it would show my dad's local news, and Eva's mom's local news, but not ours. Now we don't have the satellite any more (and what a trip through bureaucratic hell THAT was: I don't look forward to ditching our landline by the end of next month, let me tell you). We've got Netflix and Shomi and we'll almost certainly get rid of Shomi soon. Primewire and Putlocker have everything those two do and much, much more, and they're free with your unlimited Internet connection. Hard to beat that.

Local is disappearing, at least for now. (I don't believe forever: for one thing, I don't believe the Internet will exist in anything like its present form a century hence). But for now...

Local is boring. Who wants to stay close to home when there's a digital world, a galaxy, a universe, out there just beyond the next click?  Why talk to the person in the same room when you can text somebody halfway around the world (or in the next room?)

Progress isn't always progress, you know. It's the secular equivalent of Satanic to say this out loud: it's apt to brand you a heretic, a Luddite loser who wants to go live in a cave. (As if there's nothing in the whole of human existence between "cavemen"--very, very few of whom actually lived in caves--and the present day!)

But progress isn't always progress. Sometimes, maybe even often, it's regression instead. Compare the respective quality of a 1970s appliance with its modern counterpart. Today's has more bells and whistles, to be sure, but it will also be a brick in five or seven years. Rather than face this truth, we've created a world in which novelty is a virtue. Well, guess what? Novelty is often pointless. Why buy a new something when your old something does what you want it to do?

Pity about the collateral damage as we chase the newest gadget and the cheapest way to get news of the world. We're losing a very valuable sense of locality, a grounding in the here and now. Some of us are losing livelihoods. Adapt or perish. Survival of the fittest.

What's fit, again?

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get Ethel to close her screen door before the last pig gets out.

23 January, 2016

I'm hard on things

I'm really hard on things.

Shoes. I'm hard on shoes.
It would probably help if I owned more than three pairs of footwear. One pair of sandals for summer, one pair of slippers for winter in the house, one pair of steel-toed boots for...everywhere else. There'll be another pair coming in April, steel-toed shoes this time. Walmart sells its employees a pair a year at cost. Last April, trying to be thrifty, I got the cheapest pair of steel-toed shoes we carry. By October they were falling apart. We spent money we really didn't have getting these boots (also at Walmart, full price this time)...and they have to last another three months. They should. I hope.

The thing is, I have extremely expensive orthotics in my shoes. My arches are so high it caused bemused comment at the podiatrist: without those orthotics, walking becomes rather painful rather quickly. With them, all footwear feels the same: comfortable. But swapping them out is a royal pain in the butt, and so I have black steel-toed boots for winter and black steel-toed work shoes that triple as dress shoes (for the once in a purple moon occasion I need dress shoes) and casual shoes in the summer. Steel toes: absolute Walmart requirement, for some reason I can't fathom. I'm not and will never be power-trained (you think I'm hard on shoes? Watch how much I destroy if you hand me the keys to a powerjack or a stacker!) Sobeys and FreshCo didn't require steel toes. Walmart does. At least there's that pair at cost every year.

But before the steel toes, I'd been wearing Doc Martens, on the grounds they'd last me eight months instead of three or four. I'm hard on shoes.

Pens. I'm really hard on pens. Or maybe they're hard on me. I have had dozens, SCORES, of pens explode in my pockets, or in my hands. Probably averages out to one every two weeks that does that. It's annoying as all hell.
If they're not exploding, they're running dry on me. That's a constant: I can rarely keep a pen writing longer than two or three shifts. The only time I've kept a pen going for a remarkable period of time, it was a hero pen. I mean that quite literally: this pen was heroic. Here is its story, from the first year of the Breadbin.

And headphones. I am extremely hard on headphones. To wit: the pair we bought four days ago is already pooched.

I like headphones, not those in-ear scrapey metallic 'bud' things so common today. I hate the feeling of those things in my ear, and they hate being in my ear, because they're always falling out. Give me a good pair of wireless headphones--wireless because the wire is the thing that I'm really frigging hard on--and I'm golden.

I HAVE a good pair of wireless headphones. Not a luxury pair, but far from a bottom-of-the-barrel pair. Eva bought them for me back when money was, for my night shifts at Sobeys. Pop 'em on, fire up the tunes, and I'm a machine for the rest of the night: a machine that occasionally whistles and often breaks out into song (sometimes in French) and (sssh!) every once in a while, when nobody's looking, some high-steppin' dance moves. (You DON'T want to see that. Trust me. I look like a rusted-out C-3PO when I dance.)

Walmart's a little more strict on the headphones. At Sobeys it was just me and my skids of product, alone in my solitary aisle. There was absolutely zero danger of anyone intruding on me and my music, either in person or by page. Here, there are people ferrying pallets hither and yon, and a zamboni cruising around washing floors, not to mention pages every other minute (seriously, managers, we'd get more work done if we weren't always having to stop working and run to a phone to check in!) But, you know? They leave Joe and I alone. It took about six months, but I finally got them to stop pestering me. I did this by...just doing my work. By knowing that at five in the morning, it was time to "zone" (face) my aisles. By not having to be reminded to face a certain part of those aisles, because I face it all. I do it every night, you don't have to tell me...and now they don't.
So they're a bit lenient on the headphones with us, too. As long as it's quiet, it's okay.
Well, quiet isn't ideal. I want to crank up my tunes until my ears bleed. Classical, country, heavy metal: it doesn't matter what it is. What matters is that I have about fourteen full shifts worth of music before I have to hear the same song twice. Contrast that with the music provided: if I hear Adele crooning "Hello" again...I mean, it must have been a thousand times...arrrrggh....
But quiet is better than Adele, which I did like the first thousand times I heard it, and oh my god infinitely better than this, which I hated before I'd heard a full line of it. And it's on every night, too.

And then there's the walk home. It's too cold and icy to cycle right now. Call me a wuss, but my limit is about -15, windchill included, and the roads have to be bare and dry, which they aren't. So unless I can bum a ride, I'm on shank's mare. Music helps. Music helps everything.

Headphones. I have this nice pair of wireless headphones. They've been unusable for more than a year now...since just before our cruise, if I remember right. Reason: The charging cord has done gone and vanished.

At first I just tucked the headphones away and waited for the charging cord to reappear. Things lost usually do, in this house, sooner or later. I looked everywhere, of course (well, apparently not) and nada. There was a vacancy of charging cords. A void. As far as charging cords were concerned, there was nought. Zilch. Zero. Sweet Fanny Adams.

The one place I checked most obsessively was my computer desk drawer, because that was where it ought to have been. I must have checked a thousand times (oh, hello again, Adele).

Nothing.

So I've been subsisting on crap headphones: three pairs in the past fifteen months, one of which Eva superglued back together to extend its life. When it died, we got the super cheapies from work, nine bucks with my discount...and they lasted four days.

Amazon.com has a 15' charging cable for my model of headphones for ten bucks. Amazon.ca...doesn't. That ten bucks U.S. is likely to turn into thirty Canuckbucks once the exchange and tariffs are factored in. Sigh. Looks like I'm going to have to make buds with earbuds.
Eva searched the internet in vain for another place she could buy a charging cable for a Sony MDR-10RBT. Then she sauntered over to my desk--I was playing a pinball game on Steam--opened its drawer and plucked out the missing charging cord. I don't think she even looked in there, she just reached.

Well, fuck me pink, as an erstwhile colleague of mine used to say.

That cable wasn't in there until she reached for it.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I'm hard on stories, too.




Now I get it

Good grief, Ken, a hockey blog followed by a political blog? The two topics that both your wife and one of your closest friends have said bore the breasts off them? Back to back? What the hell are you thinking?

Sorry. In my defence:

A) It's been a while since I have done anything political;
B) This one is important;
C) I'll try to inject some personality into it.

I'm indebted, as I often am, to John Michael Greer for clarifying my thinking.

So.

How have things been for your family since your father was your age?

Your answer likely depends a great deal on something you might not consider: whether your grandfather earned a wage or a salary.

If Granddad earned a salary, there's a better-than-fair chance your dad is university educated and earns a salary himself. Which means you grew up reasonably privileged, and, while life may not be all sunshine and lollipops, you're probably fairly comfortable. If you married, you likely married someone with a similar background, since that often tends to be the case, and -- with or without kids -- you're doing at least okay.

If, however, Gramps earned a wage--all bets are off. Because over the past forty or so years, the "wage class" in North America has been nearly obliterated. Wage earners have seen their real income -- their purchasing power, in other words -- actually decline since 1970.

Before that date, it wasn't just common, it was NORMAL, for there to be one breadwinner per family. Usually the man, of course, but for the purposes of this discussion it really doesn't matter. Because that one breadwinner, who often was paid by the hour, could afford a mortgage, a car, and the expenses of raising two or three kids, with enough left over for a few luxuries here and there.

Try that today. On a wage. You can't: you and your family would be living out of your van. Assuming you could afford a van.

This is something I've brought up a few times in the history of this blog, and I get the feeling I'm talking into a stiff, stiff wind. It's a very uncomfortable truth, that what one person used to be able to do, two people often can't do together anymore. And the thing to do with uncomfortable truths is to overlook them, because maybe then they'll go away.

But they don't go away, not when your job is outsourced and you're thrown into crisis. And while this does happen to some salaried individuals, it overwhelmingly happens to those who earn a wage. My city, Canada's tech hotbed, has lost thousands upon thousands of well-paying -- wage-paying -- manufacturing jobs over the past two decades. Those jobs are gone, and they're not coming back.

Whose fault is this? We like to blame the uber-rich, the fabled 1%, and they are certainly complicit, but fault also lies in great part with that salaried class. As their lifestyle and position in society have been squeezed, they have simply moved the squeeze down on to the wage class, what's euphemistically called "the working class". There's overwhelming pressure to keep the toys cheap, to keep the clothes cheap, and above all, to keep the working class down.

I'm a member of that working class. I have never drawn a salary in my life. And I have seen firsthand how people in the salary class look down their noses at me and my friends, most of whom are like me. We don't have "real" jobs, they say, sneeringly ("real" meaning pushing numbers around computer screens and paper around desks instead of pallets around warehouses and forklifts around factories). Many of the (often unfounded) criticisms levelled at those on welfare also get thrown at us: we're stupid, lazy, and lack the ambition to better ourselves.  To which I say: stupid I may be, and I'm lazy as hell on my own time, but when I'm on a clock my work ethic is exemplary. I work my ass off most nights, and that's been the case for many years now. Moreover, most of the people I work with are the same way. As far as I'm concerned, I do more actual work than many of the (salaried) individuals who are putatively my bosses, and that holds true from job to job to job. There are, of course, exceptions: lazy workers and dynamo managers--but they're exceptions, not the rule, especially as the levels go up and the air gets rarer.

I still have no idea what a CEO actually does. As far as I'm concerned, whatever it is, it certainly isn't worth getting my annual income by lunchtime on the second of January (and it's only that late in the year because the first is a holiday).

Just look at the way society treats the working class, though. Really look at it. Here's a hot-button word to better focus your attention:

UNION

If you draw a salary, chances are you hate unions with a white hot passion. I'm not going to defend or indict unions in and of themselves here: I'd only ask you to notice the visceral reaction you may have had to that word, and remind you that whatever their faults -- they have many -- the purpose of unions was primarily to ensure wage earners could do what your wage-earning grandfather did. But they've been under attack for two generations now (and no, they haven't done themselves many favours)...with the end result that many formerly unionized factory jobs now pay minimum wage or as close to it as makes no matter.

You know what minimum wage is? Minimum wage is "we'd pay you less, you scum, but regrettably the fucking government says we can't."

And we're played off against each other, have you noticed that? The few unionized jobs left--the ones that pay a comfortable wage--are not held up as a shining example to those making less. No, it's ALWAYS "that asshole makes too much money". NEVER "I don't make enough".

The "American Dream" is often expressed as "any poor schmuck can become rich". This is demonstrably false, because being poor is self-limiting in a myriad of ways: if you have to spend most of your time and energy making sure you can eat and keep a roof over your head, there just isn't much time or energy left for bettering yourself. Not to mention money: tuition and ancillary education fees have increased by about 300% since 1990. You could get a loan...you could also tie a giant concrete block around your waist and hop into the nearest pool.

A better, more realistic expression of the "American Dream" is: any wage-earning schmuck can become a respectable, salaried individual". This is increasingly illusory, too: there just aren't that many salaried positions to go around, and they require that damned education that refuses to be affordable. The salaried people who run banks and universities are still out there hawking that dream for all it's worth, but let's face it: outside a very few tech fields for which the competition is insane, your chances of landing a job with even a Master's degree are...suboptimal. I'm not even going to mention a Bachelor's--they're glorified high school diplomas nowadays.

To recap: we have a large number of wage-earners and former wage earners now on welfare who are despairing, disillusioned, and justifiably pissed off.

Behold: three people whose appeal I never understood until just now: Rob Ford. Stephen Harper. And of course, Mr. Donald Trump.

These three individuals have a lot in common besides their odious politics. They are all moneyed (some of them more than others). They are all clever, clever people who thrive on being portrayed as stupid by the "smart" ones.

Oh, it's fashionable to say all three are stupid, the same way it was fashionable to say Dubya was stupid. Anybody you disagree with is stupid now, right?

Except they're not stupid at all, none of them. All three have, or had, a remarkable political instinct and an amazing ability to exploit their underdog status. Did anybody think Stephen Harper would be the sixth-longest serving PM in the history of Canada? Did anyone imagine Rob Ford could poll so high as the sideshow around him went supernova? And would you look at Trump down there in the States? Everything the man says is an outrage, and his polling numbers keep going up and up.

It's calculated, all of it. Look at the supporters of all three people and you'll notice they're almost all wage earners, or former wage earners now on welfare, often through no fault of their own.  Harper characterized himself as the Tim Horton's PM, always at war with the (salaried) intellectual elites who went to Starbucks. (I went to Starbucks for the first time in many years a couple of days ago. A small hot chocolate -- I refuse to drink the road tar they call 'coffee' -- cost almost FOUR BUCKS. How do you people afford that? Seriously!) I always wondered how a poor person could even think of voting Conservative, since that party is so transparently for the rich, but now I get it: identify with the wage earners, the people just trying to make a go of it, and you've won half the battle.

Rob Ford was also at war with "eggheads" and "leftist snobs", most of whom probably haven't been paid by the hour since high school. His very crassness seemed like something out of a factory or a dock. He was just so very...just so very...wage.

And Trump? Trump, uh, trumps 'em all for the way he's been able to tap into the wellspring of wage worker wrath. Notice his pet issue: immigration. I personally favour immigration by whatever means necessary -- our birthrate in Canada is below replacement and declining, so if you actually want to be taken care of in your old age, you best take up with me -- but let's be honest, immigration from Third World countries is another thing that has driven wages down. Offshore the jobs so there's fewer of them to go around, then boost the competition for them so people will take whatever scraps they can get.

In comes Trump promising to stop Muslim immigration completely. We've all, me included, focused on how incredibly RACIST AND BIGOTED that is, and how many of us noticed it's actually CLASSIST? Most Muslims--even the white-collar ones--end up blue-collar on this continent. The system is rigged that way. (Rigged by who? I leave that as an exercise for the student.)  What Trump is really saying -- and don't think his core constituency doesn't get it -- is that he's got your back against the guy competing for your job. The fact that guy is brown is irrelevant.

Now Trump is promising to address the other half, the offshoring of jobs. Is it any wonder the man is drawing support like crazy? He's cast himself as a the workingman's friend, the guy who tells it like it is and doesn't cave to the "smart" people. And he's not just hitting all the right buttons, he's hammering on them. Every single time the media gasps and says "he didn't just say that!", the people who plan on voting for him cheer "oh yes, he did!"

Now I get it.

Bernie Sanders is doing some of the same thing on the left, and for that I applaud him. I'm extremely glad to see that the anointing of Hillary Clinton has run off the rails. I have long wanted to see a woman president, but with all due respect I don't want to see Herself in the White House ever again. She has always struck me as insincere, and even more so as a preserver of the status quo. The same way Dubya was. The same way, for all of his talk about hope and change, Obama is.

The status quo is not an option, or it won't be for much longer. Because those wage earners...there are a lot of them, and their anger is only growing as time goes on. Trump and Sanders are game-changers. My politics being what they are, I'm siding with Sanders...but at least now I understand that he and Trump are actually two sides of the same coin. I can respect a Trump supporter who has thought his position out, even if I could never bring myself to vote for Trump.

Now I get it.

If their candidate is defeated, especially if it's done by deceit...well, there's no telling who the next candidate of the wage class--the trumpenproletariat, you might say--is going to be. Certain infamous dictators were first revered by the working class as heroes who restored dignity and prosperity. America is lacking both right now, whatever the salaried people on Wall Street might believe.

Hang on, folks, the next years and decades are going to prove mighty interesting. Even if...perhaps especially if...you detest politics.


19 January, 2016

This is a hockey blog. I'll try to make it interesting.

For a guy with the sense of humour I have (thanks, Dad)--I take things way too damn seriously.

Hockey, for instance.

There's this NHL player named John Scott. You are instantly forgiven if you've never heard the name in your life: a player more different from Wayne Gretzky would be kind of hard to find. He's 6'8", has played 285 NHL games, and has five goals and six assists for his career.  Five hundred forty two penalty minutes, though, which SHOULD tell you all you need to know about John Scott.

It should, but, inexplicably, it doesn't.

You see, John Scott was voted by the fans to be captain of an All-Star team this year. If you're wondering how that happened...so am I. Fans are permitted to vote up to ten times a day (also inexplicable--imagine that in federal elections!) and evidently some social-media fuelled prank went viral.

This kind of thing has happened before with the NHL All-Star Game, which hasn't been a real game since sometime in the late '70s. Fan voting was instituted in 1985 and every now and again the fans take it upon themselves to elect...unusual choices to the game. The NHL, wanting to restore at least some dignity to the event, restricted the fan vote to just the captains of the teams, and John Scott is what the fans think an All-Star captain looks like, I guess.

The NHL shares my idea of what an All-Star is and isn't, and they were anything but happy with the fans' choice. First they asked him to gracefully step aside so he wouldn't deprive an actual hockey player of a place in the game. Then they (sssshhhh!)...orchestrated a trade that sent Scott from Arizona to Montréal, where he was immediate dispatched to the minors and thus made ineligible to participate. (Montréal didn't want Scott included in the trade they made, and were told they had to take him. Hmmm.)

I have been flamed to a crisp online for suggesting that John Scott is not an All-Star. I get it: the NHL handled this poorly. They should have let him play (as of now, thanks to a public relations shitstorm, he may still be allowed to). They should let him play...and then scrap fan voting altogether, if this is the kind of thing that results from it.

I say this in spite of the fact the NHL All-Star Game is the only hockey my wife pays the slightest attention to, precisely because it's fun. I appreciate the fun in it myself: Carey Price, the Montréal Canadiens' goalie and perennial All-Star, and Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals' Russian dynamo, are both huge jokesters and make the game a real hoot and a half to watch.

Carey Price is arguably the best goalie in the world right now (when healthy) and Alex Ovechkin is one of the all-time great goal scorers. My point is both of them belong in an All-Star Game, no questions asked. If you let the John Scotts and Joe Blows of the game be All-Stars instead...why bother with the game at all?

This is not a popular opinion, but it's mine. I have nothing against John Scott the man, but I have quite a lot against John Scott the hockey player.

17 January, 2016

Baby steps

I didn't bother with a grand pronouncement of resolutions for 2016, for several reasons. One, I've never bothered with resolutions at all in the past, viewing them as a condemnation of what has been, up to now, a pretty damned fine life. Two, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans (or at least, I've always thought that way).  Three, even when I set out with the best of intentions, I lack staying power: stating my intentions is pointless when I don't follow through on them.

These three reasons are all linked.

Only one person has openly questioned me about my life goals, insofar as I have any, and she made me feel absolutely terrible. She didn't mean to...I really should phrase that "I chose to feel" rather than "she made me feel". But knowing the world knows your inadequacies and sees right through your self-rationalizations is...disconcerting. It shouldn't be: hell, I'm 44 in a couple of weeks and in a job meant for teenagers, that pays teenage wages. It's not like people don't notice that; likewise, they can't fail to notice I got a certificate in French from Conestoga College last year--the picture of the certificate itself was my most-liked photo on Facebook for 2015--and that I haven't exactly done anything with it. But hey, you tell people that you aren't your job and you really like what you're doing anyway -- which is true, mostly -- and that's the end of it.

Except in your head, where it festers.  You spent $2000 and a fair bit of skullsweat, got some of the highest marks in your class every class, and for what? If all you were going to do was moulder away in some grocery store freezer?

I don't have to look very hard to determine the roots of my mindset: it comes from childhood. I started a diary in 1988 (I was 16 that year) and one of the first things I complained about back then was feeling "like I was strapped to the nosecone of a guided missile whose guidance systems were seriously out of whack". I went to four schools from kindergarten to grade eight, one of them twice, and then three high schools. I won't kid myself and say I was ever comfortable at school, at least until the second high school, but I never really had the chance to get comfortable. My life would get uprooted after a year or at most two, and I rarely knew why. What did I want to do when I grew up? How the hell should I know? I never knew what the next year would bring, why would I bother making plans that far out?

I've carried that attitude with me throughout my adult life thus far. Once I stopped dwelling on the past, it has served me well in many respects. It has allowed me to accept (again, mostly) each moment as it comes, and find the little joys that keep me sustained and centered (with time out for a major depressive episode).

Yeah, that's not really all that convincing, is it?

There are four reasons people keep doing the same thing over and over. Habits, addictions, rituals and status quo bias. I have a habit of showering in the dark and shaving in the shower...that explains the little tufts of facial hair in odd places. I have a bona fide Internet addiction. I have a ritual when I go to sleep: I start out on my right side, flip to my left side after a bit, then flip back to my right side and spread out and zzzzzz.

Status quo bias is an insidious force. It's the irrational preference for what is over what could be...even when "what could be" is demonstrably better.

Many people are subject to it without admitting it. Me, I'll fully admit its power over me. If I don't risk anything, I won't lose anything. I won't gain anything, either, but that's irrelevant. Be content with what you have; don't get greedy.

It used to be much worse. Within this blog's lifetime, I used to read the same books over and over and over again. I knew what I was getting, and that what I was getting was good.  I don't do that very much anymore. But I do feel very strongly about risk and rejection and it's easier to just reject myself in advance than let other people do it for me.

There are many excuses for why I'm still in retail, despite shouting from the rooftops a year ago that I'd never be in retail again. I let my job search experience convince me retail was all I was good for (two interviews for office jobs out of dozens of resumes sent out, and I evidently bombed both). That French certification isn't enough to brand me fluent (that's not me talking, that's a pure-d fact) and further education is out of my financial reach right now. I need the benefits I have right now for Eva's sake. Looking for a job is a full time job and I don't have the energy for it when I already have one. I have ZERO experience in other fields and so much to learn before I can be considered employable (hell, I've barely even OPENED Excel). My God, the effort--it's daunting to even think about. It's easier to do what I'm doing. Much easier.  

Sometimes I think people think me less of a person, not because I work retail (well, okay, that too) but because I could, presumably, be doing so much more with my life. I would like to be in a position to make a real difference. You don't get that in retail; you don't get that in run-of-the-mill office jobs either.  I don't know what you get that in, much less how to get from where I am to wherever that is. THAT makes ME think I'm less of a person.

If this sounds like I need a change in medication: no. I don't. Just routine self-doubt that hits me every January like clockwork. It occurs to me that this is because I have been thinking wrong all these years.

People don't make resolutions because they hate their lives. Not generally, anyway. It's entirely possible to love your life while still thinking it can be better. It's also possible, and probably well advised, to actually take "life is what you make it" seriously and stop thinking that life is what happens when you make other plans...if they were real plans, you'd make THEM happen instead, wouldn't you?

As to intention. I think I poison my chances of success at anything before I even start. I've made it into a joke: I think positively! Instead of saying "I won't succeed, I say, "I WILL fail!" I'm going to make a serious effort this year at learning how not to do that.

Baby steps.