20 July, 2014

Gazing into Gaza

Sorry, this is going to be one of those political entries.

I'm generally pretty pacifist. Not as hard-core pacifist as some of my friends: there are causes and people I'd fight for, even die for if it came to that (and my friends are firmly in that category). If a war broke out--and if I would somehow be found fit to fight (wouldn't happen)--I'd have to think long and hard about whether I'd choose to enlist; or, in the case of conscription, if I'd willingly be drafted or choose to dodge it. Give me clear-cut evil on the enemy side, like a Hitler, and truth be told I still might not throw myself into a meat grinder. Because while Hitler and his cadre were undeniably evil, the vast majority of German soldiers fighting under him were no different than you or I. And if you can kill people just like me, especially after reading this...well, then, you're not just like me.

(And people forget that Hitler thought he was doing good. That in no way excuses his actions, of course, or their motivation. It's absolutely critical, though, that we recognize no villain is a villain in his own mind. The purpose of the Holocaust was to get the world to stand as one and condemn it in the harshest terms; the real horror of it was that it took so long to achieve that purpose).

If "my" side is committing atrocities as well, that just muddies the waters further. I would not choose to associate myself with evil being perpetrated in "my" name if I could possibly help it. I would fight to defend those I love, and don't corner me, I'll surprise you--but otherwise I'm most likely to sit out.

Which brings me to the hell that is Gaza.

Look, this is complicated. Which is partly my lazy-ass way of saying I DON'T WANNA RESEARCH THIS but mostly the truth. It's what militaries refer to as a Charlie Foxtrot situation, and I immediately distrust anyone who dismisses one side of this conflict out of hand.

Which means, alas, I must dismiss pretty much everything the mainstream media  and  the alternative media is pumping out.
Most of the press I read is absolutely, unequivocally on Israel's side: if Israel does something bad, it's because Palestinians did something worse...and if you try to advance an argument that is even slightly balanced, you're accused of the rankest sort of anti-Semitism and told you reject Israel's right to exist.

Online, where things skew young and left, it's different. Told that Hamas uses human shields, the rapid response is that no, it doesn't: so many Palestinians have been crowded into such a small area that they have no choice but to hide missiles in schools and hospitals and what have you. Told that Israel drops leaflets and broadcasts warnings about imminent strikes while Hamas tells Palestinians to ignore those warnings--well, they don't have anything to say to that.

Here is a fairly evenhanded primer for people who don't know the whys and wherefores. And even it comes down rather unfairly pro-Palestine when it comes to the body count, noting that many, many more Palestinians have died over the years than have Israelis. That's certainly true, as far as it goes. But only because Israel has much, much better weaponry, both offensive and defensive. If Israel chose to, it could turn Gaza and the West Bank both into glass in about three minutes. However, Israel is far, far, FAR from blameless and lilly-white.

PEELING AN ONION


Propaganda is so thick on the ground for both sides that you have to dig for the truth as if were buried under rubble from a rocket or a bomb. Consider the Gaza greenhouses. If you listen to Charles Krauthammer, Israel handed the Gaza Strip over to Palestinian control, even giving them three thousand greenhouses as a gesture of goodwill, and the Palestinians promptly destroyed them. That's despicable, isn't it? Not least because those greenhouses could be helping to feed an impoverished populace.
Except that's not quite what happened. Yes, Israel did cede control of that territory and those greenhouses...and more than half of them were destroyed by departing settlers. Indeed some were looted by Palestinians, afterwards. Looting tends to happen in poor populations where authority is lacking; this looting was not a collective action. In fact, the Palestinian Authority sent soldiers to protect the remaining greenhouses...just not enough soldiers.

When you're talking about Palestine, you have to acknowledge Hamas. It's a terrorist organization, plain and simple: there's probably nothing more clear in this quagmire we call the Middle East. Here's their charter; parts of it read chillingly like Final Solution redux. Their entire purpose for existing is the elimination of the state of Israel and the murder of all Jews. And this organization was democratically elected to represent Palestinians in 2006, which means Palestinians are simply the next generation of Obersturmführers, right?

Not so fast.

The current round of violence was supposedly precipitated by the Palestinian kidnapping of three Israelis. This happened in an area under Israeli control. It therefore should have been a routine police matter, of the sort that sadly happens all the time in the West. Instead, Israel launched dozens of airstrikes and then a full-scale ground invasion. Does that seem proportional to you? Especially since those three kidnappings were preceded by this?

And this is what happens if you express any support for Palestine in Israel. A free society? You tell me.

(Doesn't this sound like a couple of five-year-olds squabbling over who started what? Isn't it disgusting that this is what statecraft is, today?)

(Isn't it disgusting that Palestine's version of Mickey Mouse, aimed at five-year-olds, taught them terror and hatred of Jews until the world took note, at which point they simply had him eliminated by Israeli agents?)

While it can certainly be argued that Israel is showing restraint--with the firepower it has, it could incinerate the Gaza strip in short order if it really wanted to--the fact is that Israel is playing into Hamas's hands. Each airstrike tilts world opinion just a little bit more against Israel, which is, of course, why Hamas has no qualms about leaving women and children in the line of fire: it makes for really good PR.  Israel should know better. It's true that no country would put up with thousands of rockets being launched willy-nilly into its territory...how are so many rockets, or so much materiel, getting through to a supposedly blockaded population? Why would Zeev Maoz, the former head of a prestigious graduate school in Tel Aviv,  write this on page 35 of his book Defending The Holy Land:

Most of the wars in which Israel was involved were the result of deliberate Israeli aggressive design . None of these wars – with the possible exception of the 1948 War of independence – was what Israel refers to as Milhemet Ein Berah (war of necessity).They were all wars of choice . ”


Here are some quotes from Palestinians living under Israeli control. Here's a Jewish voice for peace. Here is a Q&A from an IDF soldier, the very existence of which is highly illegal, and the views expressed in it are probably considered treasonous. Here's one from the other side: same deal.

Whatever their politics, whatever their religion, whatever their nationality or ethnicity, we are all human beings. It's a pity this is so often forgotten. There are atrocities on both sides and this seems never-ending...often it seems almost as if both sides like it that way.

The primer above suggests three possible outcomes for this conflict. One is the total elimination of one side--given the huge imbalance of firepower, barring the catastrophic intervention of a third actor, that would be the Palestinians. The second is a one state solution that would never work because of demographics: Palestinians would very shortly outnumber Jews. The third, most difficult but also most preferable, is a two-state solution that I believe quite frankly is just as doomed: endless quibbling over borders, especially since one party in Palestine doesn't believe in an entity called Israel at all, would kill that before it got off the ground.

Behold Ken's way out, because Ken's solution to the Gordian knot is to just hack the damned thing apart.

No-state solution: put the entire area under world control. No Israel, no Palestine, not until both sides learn to play nice. Jerusalem is the center of three major religions. Give all three equal access. And then commit to fighting terrorism with OVERWHELMING FORCE, far beyond anything the region has yet seen...wherever it comes from.

Too naïve? Too idealistic? Probably. Also probably impossible until we actually have a world government with some teeth. and that won't happen because for some reason, one-world government is seen as a threat by a large number of people.

But this conflict will continue until something like this intervenes. I weep. I weep for the world.






18 July, 2014

About Masturbation

If that title didn't make it clear enough, this entry is NSFW.

It shouldn't be, but it is.

I just found out about Matthew Burdette, the 14-year-old who committed suicide last November after he was secretly videotaped masturbating in a bathroom stall at his public school. The video went viral, of course, and Matthew was relentlessly bullied, of course, and he killed himself because he "had no friends".

 Of course.

The kid who took that video (who incidentally needs to be charged with something that carries enough of a sentence that he'll know what he did was wrong)? I guarantee he masturbates. The kids who watched that video, and shared it, and taunted Matthew until he took his own life? I guarantee every last one of them masturbates. I'll further guarantee that at least one of them has locked himself in a bathroom stall somewhere and masturbated. I'm sure people are uncomfortable with that thought: at school? Seriously? They've forgotten (or maybe never knew) what it was to be a 14-year-old boy, replete with hormones, suffering unwanted, unreasonable, often painful erections that demand to be dealt with. Matthew did so, and he did it responsibly, in a bathroom stall where he had every expectation of privacy.

I was pretty lucky growing up: I didn't get the full-on "this is going to rot your soul and send you to Hell" sermon that still gets laid on little boys (and girls) when they're discovering their bodies. But I did pick up, by cultural osmosis, that masturbation is wrong, sinful, and that it would have dire (if unexplained) consequences. You could go blind. (As some comedian notes, no problem, I can still find it.) You could grow hair on your palms. (Wouldn't that just make it feel better?) That was almost forty years ago. Not much has changed. Perform the standard zeitgeist test and type "masturbation" into Google to see what it autocompletes. You get one result, and only one result: "...is a sin".

Really? Playing with the body God gave you is a sin? The Catholic Church considers masturbation to be a "grave moral disorder", an "intrinsically and seriously disordered act"--although there is nothing in the Christian Bible on masturbation. Not a word. (The sin of Onan, which is commonly taken to be 'self-abuse', was actually coitus interruptus and the refusal to fulfil his Levirate obligation.) St. Thomas Aquinas actually put masturbation on a par with things like bestiality and pederasty. It's ludicrous, when you think about it: only one seed is needed for fertilization, which means every single ejaculation contains a "wastage" of nearly four hundred million potential lives. And they picket abortion clinics? Go figure.
(I won't even consider how many lives get snuffed out by menstruation--which is a natural and therefore supposedly God-given process that is considered unclean in the Bible. comically so.)

The (mostly unspoken, sometimes very much spoken)  masturbation taboo convinces most kids that their bodies are dirty, bad, even evil. Don't think for a second this doesn't translate into adulthood and manifest in various sexual hangups, causing untold misery. Though to be fair, most of that misery gets visited upon women, not men.  To this day the way most sex education is taught is profoundly misogynist: there is rarely any mention of sexual pleasure for women at all, almost as if women aren't supposed to feel good. So you get women in their thirties and forties who have never even tried to have an orgasm. I find that heartbreaking.

 Then there are women who actually believe male masturbation is akin to cheating. I'll let you in on a secret: often times, for men, masturbation isn't the slightest bit sexual. It's a release valve for pressure that builds up; the release just happens to feel good. Ever have to sneeze for about half an hour, and for some reason you just can't, and then you do? Same principle, only more so. How is that cheating? It's a bodily function.

Am I suggesting that people should just whip it out and play with it any ol' time? Of course not, don't be absurd. There's nothing shameful about masturbation, but that doesn't mean it should be for public consumption. Is going to the bathroom shameful? Do you do that in public? I rest my case. Matthew Burdette masturbated in what he thought was private. He did nothing wrong. The person who recorded it, and everyone who shared it and laughed at it, each one of them has his blood on their hands.

In a sane society, nobody would have laughed at that video, much less shared it. Our society is not sane. That's something I've been harping on for ten years now. It's getting better, yes, but there is still such a long way to go.

While repeating that the sin of Onan was not, in fact, masturbation, I will close with the following poem

Amour Propre by "Solomon Solomon"

Mrs. Dorothy Parker, whom I recommend you read,
Called her budgie Onan,  for he always spilled his seed.
And ever since his namesake in the Bible soiled the ground,
Finger-wagging strictures in the scriptures have been found
Counselling against such spillage in the noonday sun.
Pay them not the slightest mind, lads! Masturbation's fun!

Now, there are folks with outlooks that are puritan and bleak,
Folks who call it self-abuse and say it makes you weak,
Folks who say the practice is a ticking, potent bomb,
Sure to make you addled and grow hair upon your palms,
Folks who say your hand should never venture near your lap,
Say you must conserve each drop of nature's precious sap.

Lend an ear to Solomon and he will set you right,
Put to rest the bleatings of the clinically uptight.
If you look me over, I can guarantee you'll find
My palms are smooth and blameless and I haven't yet gone blind.
The proof is in the pudding, and I'm very pleased to say
I practise what I'm preaching, and I practise every day.

Listen not, good fellows, to that tight-lipped, touch-not spiel!
Have they ever tried it? Don't they know how good it feels?
Would God up in His heaven have installed within our loins
All those tickly sensors if he meant us to enjoin
Against their stimulation? Sure as weasels root for grubs,
I feel quite sure he wouldn't! Aye, and therein lies the rub!

So if the spirit moves you -- and I rather think it might --
If you want, at noontime, or when you're at bed at night,
Or first thing in the morning, or when you get home from school,
Or when you're back from swimming in the teeming public pool,
Do not stop or hesitate! Go on, strike up the band!
And strum your ukelele with a warm and open hand!
--Bill Richardson, Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast Pillow Book


16 July, 2014

Candy Crushed

I'm not a snob. Really, I'm not. In fact, most of the time I'm the exact opposite of a snob: happy in dirt and clutter; unfailingly choosing comfort food over frou-frou nouvelle cuisine; insisting to all the world that while I may be special, I'm no more special than anyone else, and certainly no more special than you are...

*points nose in the air*

"oh, you listen to/watch/play that? Really? How...interestingly boring of you."

I don't necessarily shun popular stuff outright, but the really massive cultural phenomena, like Harry Potter and most of what's on TV and today's blog topic, I'd rather ignore it for a while...I don't like to be seen doing something just because the rest of the world is doing it too. The "stand out/fit in" battle I've been waging all my life shows no signs of abating any time soon.
And so Harry Potter wasn't embarked upon until the third or fourth book came out, at which point Eva brought home the first instalment (I couldn't see it, my nose was too high in the air) and started reading it, remarking after every chapter about how good a read it was. Eventually I consented to dip my toe into Potter's waters, ready to jump back if the twin stains of stain of popularity and ugh, kids' book took hold.
Both did, of course. There's a reason that series was so popular.

This happens over and over again in various media. I ignore the popular thing in hopes it will go away and leave me alone; eventually somebody breaks down my resistance; I love the popular thing to pieces; the rest of the world has moved on and I'm yesterday's man.  Sigh.

TV: with one Iron-Throne shaped exception, I don't watch it. I like my entertainment more interactive, more interesting, more...internetty.  Now, I recognize that TV has improved beyond measure in the last few years, and I'm certainly not suggesting I'm any better than a common couch spud just because I'm using my iThing to access Faceplace instead of gluing my eyeballs to a boob-tube. It's just a preference: I've never watched much television, not even when I was a child. It's gotta be something pretty special to demand all of my attention for a whole hour, you know?
(Yes, I watch Game of Thrones, the most popular show in HBO's history. In my defence: I read the books first. Also, Eva loves the show too--that our television tastes should overlap anywhere is something of a miracle.)

 People are always and forever bringing up TV series I Simply Have To Watch and I'm sorry folks, even watching Thrones, much as I enjoy it, feels like dead time to me: I'm not learning anything. I really don't want more dead time in my life.

And videogames? There's a whole world--or rather, a galaxy stuffed to the brim and overflowing with worlds--of games I've never played. I hear about them from gaming friends and I occasionally see a commercial for one that I invariably mistake for a movie trailer. Those games amaze me and I'd like to keep them well beyond arm's length in case one of them sucks me in. I've read far too many accounts of people losing their lives to video games: if not literally, then at least the part of their lives that matter. No thanks: the Internet is addictive enough as it is.

There are a quartet of other reasons I don't play those games besides the admittedly unlikely scenario of one taking my life completely over. First of all, I'm not good at them. I don't mind being not good at things in private, or in the company of my wife and a select few others who won't laugh themselves into a hemorrhage, but I'm not into public humiliation, even if the public is virtual. Second, these games seem purposefully designed to make it impossible for me to get good at them. From the controllers, which require more eye-hand co-ordination than I'm ever going to have, to the intricate gameplay ferreted out from 400+ page manuals...ugh. Too much like work. Third: competition. I used to be a very sore loser when I was a kid. I'm no longer sore about it, because usually, nowadays, I choose not to compete. There. You win. Be happy.
And fourth: violence. Can't stand it in real life, can't stand depictions of it, don't understand why people have this deep-seated urge to kill things.  I don't share that urge; I hope to Christ I never do.

Along came Candy Crush Saga.

If you haven't played it, your resistance to Things Popular is admirable and I wish I were able to match it.  I held out for a while--really, I did!--but eventually the sheer number of Facebook friends I had playing the game overwhelmed me. Many of them were completely sensible and rational people who had lives. Until they didn't, and they had to ask me for one.

Fine, I'll check it out. But only for a bit.

Well over a year and 319 levels later (barely halfway, for now: they keep adding more)...

In case you're completely removed from the world of Candy Crush the way I am from, say, World of Warcraft: it's a simple match 3 game like Bejewelled or any one of a dozen older variants. You match candies, fulfill game objectives, score points, and that's it. But unlike Bejewelled and most older games in this genre, every level is different. Between the wildly varying board layouts and the different obstacles the game throws in your path, the levels sometimes seem infinite.

I don't play this game as obsessively as some. One good friend has completed the game, and keeps completing the new levels they add, as well as completing a bunch of knockoff match-three games as well just for shits and giggles. Usually he uses his iPod rather than a reasonable sized screen. I downloaded Candy Crush for my iPod, played one attempt at one level, and have never played it since. Honestly, people, how you can prefer pin pads to keyboards and itsy bitsy three inch screens to a monitor....it baffles me.

But I play a fair bit. I usually burn through five lives a day. That may or may not win me a level, at this point: some of the levels I've been stuck on have taken fifty or even a hundred attempts to beat I'm told there's one level up in the 400s somewhere that will make every bitch-level I've been stuck on so far look like...candy.

That's the fresh hell of this game: the levels DON'T get progressively more difficult. The overall trend is certainly towards the more challenging, but level 317 is not necessarily any more difficult than 316: it might be considerably easier. You'll whip off three or four levels without losing a life only to come up against some real bastard level that saps your will to live. You try and you try and you try and every once in a while the game mocks with you a "Fun-O-Meter" for you to report back as to how much fun you're not having. I've tried everything with this. I've slid the dial to "this sucks hairy rotting moose balls" thinking the game might give me some mercy (nope) and I've slid the dial all the way over to "this game is fulfilling fantasies I never knew I had"  in the hopes that blatant kiss-assing might work (nope).

Back when I was more heavily addicted, I used to dream the sound of chocolate forming. It's a kind of squishy schlapuck noise that puts you in mind of popping zits (or popping your monitor one, if the chocolate just ate up something important). The game gets under your skin if you let it.

Several times I've almost given up. Once I left the game for a week (and came back and knocked off ten levels in half an hour). Now I've dialled it back to those five lives a day--if I go up a level or two, great, if not, great.

Why do I love this game so much? Because by the standards of videogames today it's an anti-game. It's supposedly competitive in that your friends' scores are shown for each level, but I don't pay attention to scores in this game unless I need a certain score to beat a level. I'm not competing against anything except the machine (and myself if I choose to replay a level, though why I'd do that I have no clue. The nasty levels, once they're gone, I never want to see them again as long as I live.)
There's no violence, beyond, well, crushing candies. The gameplay itself is as easy-to-learn as it gets: no need to go take a university-level course in what button does what and that's a Class IIIG goober, you can't move him that way.
I'm still not very good at it, though.  Ultimately it doesn't matter: Candy Crush requires just as much luck as skill: some levels are 176% pure shit luck.

I have not spent a penny on "in-app" purchases to speed my progression through the levels: the day I start spending money on virtual world things is the day they wind me in my shroud. Given how much money King is raking in off this game ($633,000 a day from one platform alone as of December 2013), I'm something of a rarity.

 But I have spent a great many hours of time I should have spent doing something, anything else. All for the price of an Internet connection, which I was paying anyway, so...free. Pretty good value, I'd say.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a brand new sequel called Candy Crush SODA Saga...





15 July, 2014

CAN-fessions

That last post may have seemed a little negative.  Here are some things I *can* do.

I can play piano.  I'm not the best at reading music, though with guitar tabs supplied I can fake pretty well. Until last month I hadn't played an actual piano for years beyond counting. (Thank you so much, Nicole!)  There's a huge difference between the keyboards I have had (including the very good one I have) and a piano. The biggest thing is the range. Most synthesizers don't have a full 88 keys and you'd be surprised how often you need an extra octave or two, particularly on the bass end. The "feel" is completely different, too: a piano requires more strength to play. I still have the strength in my hands gained from years of pounding keys...my grip is impressive, if I do say so myself. I've been the go-to guy for every jammed jam jar and fickle pickle bottle for most of my life.

I've determined I can still play by ear--useful skill, that--and I'm writing original compositions for the first time since 9/11. I hope to get a piano of my own within the next year or so. When that happens this Breadbin will go stagnant again for a while, but...well, I'd like to put a few songs up on YouTube, if I can figure out how to do it.

I can write a little. Actually, lately I can write a lot. My output over the past month or so has matched that of the two years previous (by no means has all of it been posted to the Breadbin).  I've done some fictional stuff, a whole other journal, some very long letters, even a little poetry. Writing's a nice habit to get back into. If anything's going to get me noticed, either now or after I'm dust, it'll be the stuff I've written. I'm told my best writing is personal and I've taken that to heart (you'll note the political posts that once comprised more than half this Breadbin's content have become few and far between). I like writing about myself because "the unexamined life is not worth living".

I can read. In the last two weeks I've read three novels and three works of nonfiction. It's been a long time since I've read that much, too. I used to be good for two or three books a week, once. Screen time, not to mention adult responsibilities, dramatically cut into that, Yet another nice habit to take up again.

I can think. I'm not a Great Thinker: my wife would probably class me a Great Stinker instead. But I like to think. I like to find out I'm wrong about things: I like to change my mind after receiving new evidence. There is very little I have faith in (I'm just starting to learn to have faith in myself, at this late date) and the faith I do have is not blind.  But thoughts are fun. Thought experiments are fun. I like to think around corners, to whiten blacks and blacken whites and always, always try treat people as if they've put as much thought into their thoughts as I have into mine.

I can laugh, and I can make others laugh. Again, I'm no comedian, and like most of my skills, I'm better at making merry if I'm not trying. When I try, I tend to elicit groans instead of guffaws. Always going for the pun. It's like those two guys who showed up at my door the other day. One of them  did all the talking, and explained they were looking for a room to let. He pointed at his companion, who hadn't said a word the whole time, and asked, "Buddy, can you lair a mime?"
I said, "as long as he's not a German mime. You know, a Hun is the lowest form of roomer."

Groan, groan, I'll shut up now.

And I can love. That, above all.

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

Lesser talents: For years, I couldn't whistle. Then one day I suddenly could, and for about three years year thereafter, you couldn't shut me up. I can do a pretty good Elizabethan Serenade and at least a passable Mexican Whistler (if you haven't heard Roger Whittaker whistle that last, do yourself a favour. Limber up your jaw, first, because it's a-gonna drop.)

I used to have pretty good breath control. With a brass instrument to play again, I'd get that back, I'm sure. As mentioned in the last post, I have a very high tolerance for heat (my showers are kind of scary)--and yet given the choice I'd much rather be cold. My pain tolerance is likewise high...but only for certain kinds of pain. Pinch me and I will shriek; punch me and I'll shrug; puncture me and chances are I won't even notice.

I can sleep. I'm about to do that now.


Confessions:

A. STUFF I HAVE DONE

When I went to Wilfrid Laurier University twenty years ago, there was a fairly extensive network of underground tunnels connecting campus buildings. Much of that network has since been closed off. But back then, there was this one light switch. It controlled the lights for a vast section of tunnel, spanning probably fifty or sixty meters, including around a 90-degree angle. You could flick that switch and cause people you couldn't even see or hear to be plunged into pitch blackness. I used to derive great glee in pulling this prank until my roommate/best friend explained to me (a lot more politely than I deserved, but that was Jason for you) that this behaviour was really assholish. It never occurred to me that I might be putting people in actual danger with that stunt (naïve doesn't even begin to describe my teenage self).

I was never a thief--stealing my mother's Valentine's Day chocolates when I was 8, and punishment for same, permanently cured me of that sin--but I certainly wasn't above...exploiting systemic vulnerabilities. Laurier was full of 'em. There was a phone in the basement of my residence, outside the campus Housing Department....an honest-to-goodness rotary-dial phone. It was supposed to be used by students looking for LOCAL housing...except I discovered one night that you could make long distance calls on it. My phone bill was running me $300+ a month at the time...I never realized how many friends I had until they scattered to the four winds, and calling the four winds with the phone in my dorm room  was seriously expensive. So I started using that 'free' phone. Not often, but often enough. One friend of mine was attending school in Winnipeg, which was ideal: that city being an hour behind meant I could call an hour later, when the area was most likely to be deserted...
Surprisingly, that glitch wasn't fixed for three or four months.
There used to be a per-page charge to use the computer lab's printer. I thought this was ridiculous--I was already paying seventeen hundred bucks a year for professors to read textbooks to me, and I had to buy the textbooks, at hideously inflated prices--so I devoted myself to finding a way around it. Found it, too: a little hack in whatever ancient version of WordPerfect I was using that told the printer to let my document pass unnoticed. I probably saved myself close to a hundred dollars with that bit of detective work.
Long after I dropped out (which has a confessional post all to itself), I successfully posed as a student to get at the one thing I actually still valued out of that place: a high-speed Internet connection. I spent many hours learning enough Unix Korn shell programming to graft a second, mostly hidden layer onto my girlfriend's account. The program I wrote topped out at over six thousand lines of code, was activated by pressing K at startup, and was only detectable if you went looking for it. (Cathy knew about it, of course). In hindsight I probably should have taken computer science instead of that silly English degree. I mean, sure, I can say "would you like fries with that?" twenty-seven different ways, but I can't honestly tell you I dropped out of university with any skill I didn't have going in. I'd read a little more widely, is all. A huge waste of money and time and...myself.

I once dumped a girl I cared about a few nights before prom. Not because she wouldn't "put out"...because I was afraid she might.

I've hurt other people, too, in ways too personal to write and too humiliating to recall. I was not a good person in my teens and twenties. Life was all about me. I may have swung a little too far the other way nowadays--it's all about you, now--but I consider that a just penance. Especially since making other people happy is the best, most lasting way I have found to make myself happy. Selfish altruism, it's a gas.

B. STUFF I CAN NOT DO

Well, let's get the big one out of the way first: I can't drive. This is probably the only thing on this cherry-picked list of Ken-deficiencies that I have absolutely no intention of ever correcting. Never mind the phobia, I could maybe overcome that. There seems little point to, though, what with Google driverless cars already on the streets. I've come this far without a license. It impacts my life in countless ways, not all of them bad--for one thing, life in the bike lane is considerably less stressing than life in a traffic jam seems to be.

There is a nearly endless list of machinery I have no experience with--I won't bother with that, it's too embarrassing.

I can't blow bubbles. It doesn't matter how many times people try to show me what to do with my tongue. I can do lots of things with my tongue...but I can't blow bubbles.

I can't dance. I'm the male version of Kate Miller Heidke, here:



My problem here is stiffness: I have no flexibility, and that's an unavoidable consequence of my having been born very premature in 1972. Musically, I'm fine...I've been composing stuff since I was four years old and I have a very good sense of rhythm. I can break down any beat into whatever grouping you want. I can, if I don't think about it, drum out polyrhythms. But if I try to translate that into whole-body movements, I become a slave to that beat, and I look like a rusty robot.
Alcohol cleans that right up. Unfortunately, alcohol has other side effects like removing every inhibition I have, including ones I really kinda need.

I recently discovered I CAN bake simple stuff. This makes me very happy, because I had convinced myself I couldn't.
 There are so many things I can't do simply because I haven't tried. I'm working through some of them lately, at a slow pace because every little accomplishment is really a big one for me. I take it easy because I don't like making it hard. But with each accomplishment my life gets a little richer.

C THINGS I HAVE THOUGHT

I'm told that most people have imagined killing another human being at some point. Not me. Not once. Not ever. There have been people I've viscerally disliked, don't get me wrong. My preferred solution for those people is to avoid them, and if that's not possible, to erect mental walls around myself and avoid them that way.

I have thought about killing myself...but then, I think everybody has had that thought flit through their head  at some point.  It's been about sixteen years since I had that particular thought. When I was a teenager it was a much more powerful thought. I never attempted suicide, though: in my worst depression, I was convinced nobody would notice or care, so there was no point.

(I feel the polar opposite of that now. I have more to live for than I've ever had, and each day brings me such joy...even the bad days have plenty of redeeming qualities to them).

I used to be racist. I still am, at little, but I think everyone's a little bit racist. It was once a pretty pervasive mindset: if you didn't look at least a little like me and didn't talk at least a little like me, then your thoughts were probably different from my thoughts, and that made me uneasy, as if aliens were all around  me. I still feel irrational distaste when people speak in languages I'm not fluent in while looking at me. Is that racist? Maybe a little.

I was once a homophobe, and that's been completely eradicated, so much so that I can't even remember why I felt that way. I can't justify it, I can't even get in the head of someone who is homophobic anymore. It doesn't compute.

I have thought, and often still think, that charities exist mostly to bilk money out of people and there is no real intent to cure cancer, for instance. There's no money in it. I think Big Pharma would be ever so much happier if they could find a way to manage cancer, to keep it just in check but only if you take this here very expensive pill three times a day. Sometimes I'm pretty sure that's what they're really trying to do, that there might even be a cure for cancer already found and what they're doing now is finding a way to make it work only a little bit...
I don't generally believe in conspiracy theories, but I've seen far too many examples of people's basic humanity being shot out the window when vast sums of money show up to discount that one.











12 July, 2014

My Ears Are Ringing

Eva thinks I should get an earring.

She's mentioned this casually several times over the years, and every time she does, I recoil with a mix of horror and utter bewilderment.

Tattoos are one thing. I used to be dead-set against them too, before Eva opened my mind on them. Tats, I thought, were restricted to two classes of people: criminals, and dumb-as-a-stump teens. Meeting Eva and discovering the meaning behind her tattoos, and actually getting to suggest and help design the ones she's had inked since, I've realized that tattoos have a very personal, very pertinent message, sometimes aimed at the world and sometimes aimed at the self. Every single one of Eva's tattoos--she has more than ten, at this point--is important.

When my mom and stepdad both got inked, I decided I would too.

But what? I struggled to find something meaningful enough. The more I thought about it, the more nothing seemed to suffice.  I toyed with some combination of a book, a Canadian flag, and a paw print (symbolizing our shared love of animals)--it just didn't gel.

Then Eva suggested a blue spruce. Perfect. Something like this

would be just right. Backstory buried in here. TL;DR: I had a phobia of blue spruce from the age of three until about fifteen (and if that doesn't get you reading, I give up). I now consider blue spruces to be the most beautiful trees in existence. The blue spruce represents fears met and conquered...something that continues to define my life.
I've actually since found another tattoo idea that speaks just as strongly to me: more on that when it happens. I expect I'll stop at two, one on each shoulder...but you never know. That spruce is going on sometime between now and September, and I'm excited about it.

But an earring, now...

My first real exposure to the thought came from George Carlin:



This is from the '84 album, Playin' With Your Head, and I still have it memorized. There's an awful lot of dwelling on the pain of drilling holes through your flesh, and that really stuck with me. I mean, I get that five year olds get their ears pierced...still, something about drilling a hole RIGHT! THROUGH! MY! EAR! gives me the screaming meemies.

And for what? What meaning do earrings have? You can't very well be having a beer when you look in a mirror and you notice your ear and it's suddenly clear what your life's purpose is.

('No', says Eva, 'they're just sexy'.)

Say what?

The only time I even notice earrings is when they're those giant hoops that clank off your shoulder, look ugly as hell, and make me think how if I had one of those I'd forever be getting it caught on things. Now, granted, I seem to be very good at not noticing things. I can miss giant things standing right in front of me. So I'll stipulate that other people obviously notice. them. (Why? What on earth is so fascinating about somebody's ear? Oh, hell, I never notice shoes for the same reason and study after study proves that they're the first things actual humans notice on other humans. I get it, I'm strange, okay?)

I admit a giant blind spot here, so I'm going to turn it over to my readership. Two questions, One, what's sexy about an earring on a guy? And two, should I be a guy with an earring?



11 July, 2014

The Nice, Nice Niece


This is Alexa, age 2. My niece. Chatterbox. Tank. Budding musical prodigy. And a whole lot more besides.

I haven't had a great deal of exposure to children in my life. It's supposedly the only reason Family and Children's Services decided we weren't fit to adopt them. And while it's true that babies befuddle the hell out of me, from about Alexa's age on kids and I get on just fine. It helps that for some reason they all love me
Alexa does, too. I can't see how a kid her age could possibly remember me:  before this past weekend, I last saw her over a quarter of her life ago. (Then again, if any kid could, it'd be her: the stuff this girl knew how to do before she turned two had me slack-jawed with amazement. She was speaking actual words. Quite a few of them, and she knew exactly what they meant. More: she knew several ASL signs, and the English equivalents. At her age I was--

My mom compiled scrapbooks covering my life from birth to age 6 or so. They are exhaustive: the first rock I ever picked up is taped to one page; a lock of hair from my first haircut is taped to another; my first straw is in there, every birthday and Christmas card I got in those years is in there...it's all in there. Such a treasure, and I only bring it up to assure you I have a primary source to back up what I'm about to tell you. 

At 21 months I had next to no vocabulary. "See Teddy"--except that almost always came out without the 'Ted' syllable, my first teddy bear was "E". I counted to five...we lived in a backsplit semi and there were five steps between the main floor and the second, and I'd only recently managed to get up and down those steps on my own. (I actually remember counting them when I was three. It was a ritual.) My big achievement in locution was "nice, nice", accompanied by a vigorous hand-rub of whatever was "nice, nice". A rug. E. Mommy's face....

Assorted other words, very few of them in real English, Hell, I was barely beginning to understand concepts like bedtime and car ride. Tux is quite possibly smarter than I was at that age. Alexa's a freakin' genius in comparison.

She's also indestructible...just like her dad. She got her first black eye yesterday when a playground swing nailed her. Her dad, Eva's brother, beat that by about nine months. I bet beyond the first blat, neither of them noticed or cared overmuch. Actually, her mom tells me that despite being told to stop playing, little Alexa decided one black eye was nothing, and it wasn't until she'd bopped herself on the other cheek with a teeter-totter swing that she'd had enough. For one day. The teeter-totter apparently bopped her a pretty good one...and barely scratched her. That whole family is made out of Timex watches (link for my younger readers, who, it just occurred to me, might not know the Timex slogan).  If the rest of her clan is any indication, she's going to grow up into someone you won't want to pick a fight with.

But she's also loving. Very much so. As I say, there's probably no way she could have known "uncle Ken" from a hole in the ground last weekend, but after my presence was declared,  she announced to the house at large, "Come see Uncle Ken!" The heart just melts. And I got to play with all her toys. I drew on her little etch-a-sketchy type thing (probably no better than anything she could have produced) and she actually pretended to study it for a while before erasing it and handing it to me to try again. Utterly adorable.

And musical. Her mom put a video up on Facebook of her playing her toy piano. She's a regular Jerry Lee Lewis: at first she's playing with her feet. Then she settles down and starts pounding out power chords with both hands. I can't wait to get her on a real piano and teach her to play. Something tells me she'll be like a sponge. 

She's got a sister on the way, named Lilly-Anne Elizabeth. Alexa knows who that is and where she is: "in belly", pointing at her Mommy. Incredible. Jim, Ally, just wait until her and Lilly-Anne start playing off each other. Your life will be a laugh riot. Or sometimes just a riot. You've got quite the little girl there. I'm looking forward to being part of her life.


Name That Emotion!

The English language has quite a few gaps, strange spaces where words should exist, but don't. There are lists of these words: here's one, and here's another with only a little overlap. Here's a third arranged in a nice infographic..  Some of these words have made the better class of English dictionary-- schadenfreude, of course, and l'esprit de l'escalier (the perfect rebuttal that comes to mind too late to be of any use); also schlemiel. (As distinguished from schlimazel: the schlemiel is the schmuck who dumps his drink onto someone's lap and the schlimazel owns the lap into which drinks are forever getting dumped. Ain't Yiddish grand?)

 Many of those missing words are emotional...which probably says something about English speakers not being as in touch with their emotions as speakers of other languages are. It certainly seems that way, surveying other cultures. Shameful admission: Arabic and Filipino (among other) grief seems so over-the-top to me that I find it almost impossible not to laugh at its expression. I hear that ululation and I can't help it. I just try to keep the snicker pointed inward and hope I'm wrong about the existence of Hell. Likewise, Italians, in general, seem overexcitable to me, while  (most) natives of Eastern European countries I've met strike me as dour, sullen and depressed. Then, of course, there's the Japanese: they have words for emotions English hasn't even thought of...but you'd never know it, because their public face keeps every emotion well hidden.

Even with these much-needed words, there are some gaps, and they, too, say something about our society. There is no real word for the opposite of envy. Check that link: none of the offered antonyms quite fit. When we say we "don't envy someone", we mean we pity them. But envy is wanting something someone else has. There's no word between wanting that thing and feeling pity they've got it. Does that point to a societal disinclination to be contented with what you've got? (Yes, "contentment" is listed as an antonym...I don't know about you, but I feel content, or not, in the absence of "stuff". My stuff, let alone other people's stuff, is...what's that thing that's not a pachyderm? Oh, yeah, irrelephant. Am I weird?

 I leave that as an exercise for the reader: I'll only note that a full HALF of the Christian ten commandments have something to do with envy or jealousy, either God's  (If you need any more proof that man created God rather than the other way around, look no further than the dozen-plus references to God as "jealous" and ask yourself: how can anything described as jealous love you unconditionally?)
Be that as it may, clearly envy is a common emotion...you'd think it'd have a well-defined opposite state.

Jealousy, too: no antonym, at least not one that's widely accepted and which covers every meaning of the word. (My two definitions, again: "wanting something that someone else has, such that they can't/don't have it any more"; or, more succinctly put, "pain at another's happiness".) The Kerista commune coined the term "compersion", but it only covers the opposite of sexual or romantic jealousy: it's "happiness at your partner's happiness with another". That's only one kind of jealousy, albeit a shockingly pervasive one. You can be jealous of success in matters other than love, and it's just as damaging. There's no word for the lack of that feeling, and there should be. Happiness at another's happiness is a sign of empathy...I just think there needs to be a better word for a state that should be the human default.

Also, I do wish people would differentiate between envy and jealousy: when I hear that someone is envious of me, I feel flattered, but if someone is jealous of me, I feel guilty and I want to give them whatever it was that made them feel that way.

Here are five brand-new emotions in search of a word to encapsulate them.  I must confess I have felt every one of these emotions before, That 'train wreck' mix of revulsion and compulsion definitely needs a name. Incidentally, so does the ridiculous (and again, ridiculously common) urge to actually slow down and stare at ACTUAL train or car wrecks. No revulsion there:, instead a sick kind of hunger: SHOW ME THE GORE! This emotion, which I grok as being in the same family as schadenfreude, is another one that convinces me I'm not really human.

I am also guilty of that gradual onset of online lassitude that sees Facebook statuses, forum comments, and occasional Breadbin entries get deleted because you know what? Even though I started out great gangbusters eight paragraphs ago, it has come to my attention that I simply don't care anym









10 July, 2014

Along for a Walk

I went for a walk today.

Just a little one, only three kilometers. I used to walk almost that far, one way, to school, once. And yes, I checked the distance with Google Maps. I meant to take the bus to the dentist; I walked to the store to get tickets,  then realized I was already halfway. What the hell, the weather was gorgeous, virtually perfect. The sunsear was tempered by fast-moving fair-weather clouds, the temperature was bang on 20, winds were light: an ideal day for a walk.

I was all alone. I didn't see a single other person on foot over the nearly 40 minute stroll. I passed quite close to one playground and within sight of another: they were both deserted. Car after car after car zoomed by, and a couple of cyclists nearly clipped me on the sidewalk (once again, it's not called a "sideride", you dumbasses!)....but nobody, but nobody was on shank's mare.

Walking is even better than cycling for seeing the world as it is. You can actually smell the flowers without stopping: as I always do, I admired a flowery bower of a front yard a block from my house, on which there isn't a single weed or purposeless blade of grass. Lovely fragrances battled for nasal superiority...and then, as I always do, I thought about the sheer amount of backbreaking labour it must take to maintain that yard, and moved along. Yes, anything worth doing takes effort. Some things, like lawns, take twice as much effort: I've got to exert effort to earn the money to pay the person who puts in the effort. My "lawns", such as they are, will entail a great deal of effort and expense. Lawn: rhymes with "yawn".

There just aren't many summer days like today around here. On this date last year it was 30 degrees, probably with seventy-drip percent humidity: too hot to walk, let alone work, naked, in other words. If it's not dripping with humidity, it's dripping for real: on my last little walk, two days ago, random wind shots rendered my umbrella useless and turned me into a wet weasel.  

But today: beautiful walk. Nobody to share it with. I was most concerned walking past those playgrounds. This was far from the first time I've found them empty.  I was a sheltered, indoor kid and I played on the playground often enough, a whole lot more often than most kids today do. I suppose there aren't enough screens. I wonder if the pendulum will ever come back, if today's children will
eventually realize they should maybe exercise a little. For the sake of the human race, I sure hope so.

After the other half of my mouth was cleaned and polished, I continued with my walk, over to the mall.  I ran into a former colleague on her way to get some sushi...she and her friend were the only two people I saw on foot today. I meandered through the mall--Target actually had stock on many of its shelves!--and then decided to bus home, more for lack of company than lack of motivation to walk.

I'd like to walk through a forest. An honest-to-goodness forest, far from any city. I'd like to walk along the shore of a lake, along a riverbank, through a mountain valley, up hill and down dale, all the live-long day. I'd pack a picnic lunch  and maybe pause for a nap in the shade of a weeping willow. At that point, some bylaw officer will probably make an appearance to shoo me along as if I were a hobo. Sad world we live in, isn't it?

.

Poly. Wanna Whack Her.

Note to readers--I said, and I meant, that I will not be discussing our personal lives in this forum or any other, nor the personal lives of those whose lives we touch. But I am going to be writing some pieces on polyamory in general as time goes by, because (a) it's an important part of my identity and it (b) misunderstood, greatly, by quite a few people...as the article below will show.  You will not be able to infer anything about us from the general cases I present: don't bother trying. And I promise not to overwhelm you with this shiny new (old) toy, okay?
--------------

How does bullshit like this get published? Let alone in one of the world's newspapers of record?

Julie Bindel does, to her credit, distinguish polyamory from polygamy fairly early in this incoherent pile of rubble. But she hastens to tell us that polyamory is merely a "co-opting and rebranding" of polygamy.

Which is utter tripe, wrong on so many levels it hurts the eyes. First and most critically, "poly" people are at least as often women who maintain multiple male relationships. There's no mention of this at all in here: it's taken as read that all polyamorous relationships consist of one alpha male maintaining a harem. If not against their will, at least against their better interests.

Unless, of course, it's a group of lesbians in a triad or a quad relationship. This, we're told, predated the patriarchal kind of 'polyamory' (no actual source backs this assertion up, probably because Bindel couldn't find one). That kind of 'poly' is okay: it's free of male taint. No mention of gay poly men at all--and yes, there are plenty of them.

Then I came to this:

..."despite the pronounced importance of gender equality to polyamorists", it is not unusual for men to be drawn to it because they believe that it will lead to sex with lots of women.

...and I grabbed my monitor and tried to ball it up like waste paper. You know what? It may not be unusual for men to be drawn to polyamory because they believe it will lead to sex with lots of women. But if they draw too close, they'll be thrown out so hard they'll bounce.

If you want sex with lots of women, you want the swinger community. Be warned: as a single male, you'll have a hell of a time breaking down that door. Even no-strings-attached sex carries with a certain code of conduct. Actually, swingers tend overwhelmingly to be conservative, middle or upper-middle class couples. For good reason: because single males in that environment are (rightfully)looked on with suspicion.

As they are in the poly community. Polyamory, real polyamory and not this fake construct Bindel's trying to build, is not about men--or women--looking for lots of sex.

Here's some proof.

Here's better proof.. You will note: of the seventy or so responses  to the question "why are you poly" as of this writing, NOT ONE of them says "because sexsexsexsexsex!" The top voted comment here (again as of this writing)--

I don't own my partners and they don't own me. What right do I have to put restrictions on who they can care for or have relationships with? What right do I have to impede their freedoms and autonomy? And what right do they have to impede mine? I want my partners to live their lives as fully and happily as possible. I don't want them to miss out on connections or experiences because of me. If they have an opportunity for growth or happiness - I want them to seize it. And they want the same for me.

--pretty much sums up the general mindset. No mention of sex in there at all. You can read it in, sure: it's not as if poly precludes sex. But it's certainly not the focus. Emotional intimacy is the key ingredient here. And if sex *is* included, it is *completely* consensual. Between all parties involved, not just the ones who may be having sex.

Which leads us to the conclusion of Bindel's screed, wherein she says, apropos of nothing at all, "let's not pretend it (polyamory) will bring on the revolution any time soon." "The revolution" is, she says, when "there is consent and equaity in every sexual encounter."  As if the existence of a poly community (or any other community) could somehow eliminate rape. As far as I can tell, most people aren't poly for the politics, whatever they are. Most people seem to have deceptively simple and extremely personal reasons to choose polyamory. As Bindel would well know if she'd have bothered to interview any actual poly people.


Words

"You can not be responsible for how clearly your message is received, only for how clearly it is sent."--Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations With God

"I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I think is important. They're my work, they're my play, they're my passion. Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid...then we assign a word to a thought and we're stuck with that word for that thought. So be careful with words. I like to think that the same words that hurt can heal, it's a matter of how you pick them."--George Carlin, "The Seven Words You Can't Say On Television"






Words.

I play with words. I wallow in words. I'll hear a word, and if the situation calls for it (and often if it doesn't), I'm off and running with it. A rhyming dictionary stands forever at the ready: can a pun be formulated out of this word? Can I alliterate it, literarily? Is there a longer, more esoteric word that better fits the occasion? A shorter, pithier one? I want to hear more. Tell me more words. Every other word I hear conjures up a seemingly endless pile of mental associations, from songs to fragments of verse to snapshots of the last time I heard that word. I can't turn the word-spigot off, even if I'd want to: it's every bit as ingrained in me as music and love.

I've learned over time not to say every word I'm thinking, or even most of them. (At the age of two, my father bestowed upon me the nickname 'Macaw', because, he said, "all I ever did was squawk and shit".) The shit I can't help, but the squawking I've toned down to a dull roar. It's not that my words are dirty (much): it's that they're often deep, and most people don't want deep words, especially if they pertain to deep feelings, which I have in abundance. Most people would rather the words be kept shallow, perfunctory, and easy to digest and even easier to ignore if necessary. That said, you can tell how comfortable I am in any given social situation by how much you hear from me. I'm the opposite of most people: if I'm uncomfortable I'll seek to fill every silence, not always appropriately: if I'm truly at home in your presence (there are about five people alive for whom this applies), I can stay completely silent for an hour. Very much present, but silent. Sipping your soul, savouring it. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes words get in the way.

 I'd rather listen to other people's words, now. After about four decades of hearing words, I just want to hear more. Thankfully, I'm not the teenager I once was: there was a time when I overanalyzed every word I heard, looking for meaning that was never there. (I'm still, occasionally, stung by a chilly silence, virtual or real, in the wake of words I have offered...but almost always now I feel stung because I miscommunicated. If someone has misread or misheard my words, that is never their fault but always mine. And while every problem I get into with words can be solved with more words, choosing exactly what words to employ becomes a nontrivial exercise at that point.)

I do choose my words very carefully. I make a serious effort not to employ filler, meaningless words that add nothing to the conversation. My words have weight behind them.  If, as a for-instance,  you hear "I love you" from me, it means everything you think it does and probably a whole hell of a lot more besides. There's a lot of love in this here being. But--try to maintain the dichotomy here, it's critical--what matters above all is the weight you assign to it. You need never return the sentiment (which is, trust me, more than a sentiment): I'd be happy hearing "thanks, I love me, too!"

I never hear that. Why do I never hear that?

I've asked that question before, in one of my better-received Breadbin entries, and I will continue to ask it as long as I keep running across loveable people who see themselves as anything but. It takes a whole bunch of extra words to explain to these people why they are so loveable. I could easily spend an hour enumerating the reasons...except they tend to wither and wilt after thirty seconds. It's so sad, to have that much invested in a delusional self-image that you'll hotly deny any evidence presented to the contrary. It can make you cry. It has made me cry. Because if you really believe you're unloveable--and some of the most beautiful people I have ever met have really believed they were--you're missing out on so much love.

This falls into the "you teach what you have to learn" category for me. I. too, suffer from bouts of low self-esteem. I was in a bad one about three weeks ago until a couple of people combined to shoot me out if it as if I was propelled from a love cannon. Gosh, that sounds filthy. You know what, though? When I'm feeling that low about myself, I act unloveable. I'm whiny and trod-upon and jealous (yes, sometimes I actually feel that awful emotion) and just totally unattractive. Surely the corollary is true, that someone with self-esteem can much more easily win the esteem of others?

Doubtless I'll spill more words on this topic in the weeks and months and years to come. In the meantime, exchanging words with me is the best way to touch me. I don't need things. I have enough things, and enough money to get things. Words, though...there can never be enough words.