21 May, 2015

"Oh, It's Sad To Belong To Someone Else..."

I subscribe to a number of newsfeeds on Facebook that send me interesting quotes and observations. You never know where the next blog is going to come from, after all. My favourite is probably Collective Evolution: whenever they're not on about ancient alien conspiracy theories or just how awful it is for carnivorous humans to eat meat, they put out some thoughts that stop me in my tracks. Besides them, there's Spirit Science and The Mind Unleashed--the latter is pretty heavy on woo, but still a fun read).

And then there's Word Porn.

Word Porn is apt to expand my mental universe with one post and then make me shake my head at the next. This blog entry concerns a post(er) of the shake my head variety. to wit:

It's rare to find a twelve-word sentence that is fundamentally wrong four different ways.

1) There are no perfect people;

2) Assuming 'perfect person' is shorthand for 'the perfect person for you at this moment', if you're meeting the person, by definition he or she is the perfect person for you right now;

3) Knowing from context that 'the perfect person' is ACTUALLY shorthand for "The One"...the thought these twelve words send forth has deeply infiltrated our culture and caused a great deal of headache and heartache, dating back to the dawn of courtly love in the Middle Ages; 

4) Even assuming all the other points were correct, there are things much worse--or maybe "worse" is a judgement call that is completely unnecessary.

Yes, it's time for another peek INSIDE KEN'S HEAD.

The musical version of the above sentiment--because music is where my mind goes to first-- is here: "It's Sad To Belong To Someone Else (When The Right One Comes Along), an old adult contemporary hit from my childhood that--I'm not kidding--bothered me as soon as I was old enough to truly understand what was being sung. Both halves just struck me odd. "Belong" to someone else? In my world, things "belonged" to me, people didn't (and don't). And if "the right one" comes along, what does that make the person you "belong" to? Chopped liver? (I hated liver.)

(Yes, I had the same reaction to other songs for and against the theme I would grow up to define myself by. You should have seen me bopping around the house to Stephen Stills.)

Ahem. Four different ways.


This ought to be self-evident, right? We all have flaws. In that first stage of love you're likely to discount the ones that might drive you insane later on: the snoring is "purring" and the neat and organized nature that keeps your living space so clean JESUS CHRIST COULD YOU BE ANY MORE ANAL.
Dan Savage's relationship advice, while quite often earthy and NSFW, puts the advice of the late Ann Landers (whose desk he bought at auction) to shame. In this clip he talks about "the price of admission":

There is no settling down without some settling for; there is no long term relationship without not just putting up with your partner's flaws, but accepting them...and then pretending they aren't there.

And Dan talks here about how every long-term relationship is built on a solid foundation of lies and deceit. By this he means that the version we present of ourselves upon first meeting is not our true selves, but an idealized picture that fades over time. It is our obligation, he says, both to live up to that idealized picture of ourselves that we once presented...and to fail to see when our partner does not. In that way the lie becomes the truth.

Beauty works that way for me. I don't love someone because they are beautiful: they are beautiful because I love them. The more love I invest, the more beautiful they become.

Now, I kept the courtly preening to a minimum in each long term relationship, on the sensible (to me) grounds that I could not possibly sustain a picture of me that did not match me in all but the most trifling of ways. Once I actually went so far as to write a letter detailing my biggest flaws, thinking "if she can read this without flinching, she's probably a keeper." (She read it without flinching. I didn't keep her.  So much for that theory.)

But Dan is right about the obligation incumbent upon each person in a relationship to put the best foot forward...and the attendant obligation to pick up your partner when he or she stumbles or starts sliding backwards.


I firmly believe this. I try to let it inform my every thought and action. I fail marginally less often as time goes on.

But if you think about it, every religious tradition has been telling us this since the time before time. Virtually every faith I can think of takes great pains to talk about our connection to each other, through whatever term for the Divine it uses. Virtually every faith has its version of the Golden Rule. There's a reason for that: we are all one.

This is a hard teaching to take to heart when some individuated part of yourself is trying to cause you pain. But of course that's a perception -- that someone is trying to cause you pain -- and it can be altered. Most often, a jerk is only thinking of themselves, and you happen to be collateral damage. This is true even if what the jerk is saying or doing is intensely personal. Regardless, "pain is inevitable and suffering is optional." And the people trying to hurt you are only addressing pain in themselves the way they've been taught to. It's up to you to teach them to raise themselves up without lowering others.

You may think this philosophical crap is all well and good for ivory towers, but in the real world things are more brutal. That's fine: that's your experience and I respect it. I would ask you--just for a giggle--to act as if this is true. For one day, pretend each and every person you meet is in fact the perfect person for you right now. I guarantee you'll have a halfway decent day.


I've covered this before. I'm going to try and expand on it here a little.

Once you start looking for it, it's nothing short of incredible how often you find this trope. It's in practically every fairy tale going: every heroine must find her hero: he must be male and there must be only one of him. It's driven home further by the fact that the princess is almost invariably gorgeous and attracts a myriad of suitors (based on looks and bloodline alone, and how does that make your average plain and common girl feel about her own prospects?)

The idea that a woman must either choose or be chosen by a single opposite-sex partner is deeply ingrained in our culture, so deeply that to question it brands you a heretic.

One out of ten people weren't fathered by the man they believe is Dad. This single fact makes a mockery of genealogy (as does the idea that one's descendants somehow elevate a person over other people, as far as I'm concerned). It also suggests to me that no matter what lip service we pay to monogamy, it's not quite as common or accepted when push comes to shove.)

I submit that's because the notion of "The One" is unrealistic and damaging to a relationship. If someone is "The One", it follows that they can't be a disappointment; if they are a disappointment, they obviously aren't "The One".

I have chosen my own path, believing that I don't just have one soulmate, but that I exist in a soul forest with many soul trees and soul branches. Eva is at the center of my forest, but she is not the only tree in it, nor am I the only tree in hers. A forest is an ecosystem: each part feeds all the others, often unknowingly.

You need not be polyamorous to appreciate the damaging effect of "The One". I've always said--paraphrasing Neale Donald Walsch--and will say again, that "mine is not a better way, mine is only another way." I would suggest to committed monogamous couples that your partner does not "complete" you: both of you are complete human beings in your own right. Nor should your partner be invested with unrealistic expectations that will eventually go unmet and doom your relationship. Yes. on some level you have to settle, and recognize you are being settled for yourself. That verb, "to settle,  has a negative connotation in relationships. It shouldn't. Watch a dog settle in for the night: the grunt of pure contentment that escapes his throat every time warms the heart.


Such as not realizing you *are* the right person yourself. Such as not recognizing and cherishing all the love you have in your life, whether it be with one person, two people, or ten people.  Such as not being the best person you can be for whomever you share your life with.

Such as admitting the word "worse" into your vocabulary of love at all.


20 May, 2015

Check Your Privilege

Pompous blowhards come in all flavours.

They're usually male, for some reason, and the chief characteristic of a pompous blowhard is that he knows what he knows, which is more than you know, and he wants you to know it.

He will craft what appears to be a very strong argument, buttressed with as many big words as he knows (more than you do), and he might even sound convincing until you notice the great big gaping hole in his worldview. 

Rex Murphy is a pompous blowhard. Not quite Conrad Black level, but getting on up there.

Case in point: here. According to Mr. Murphy, "white privilege" does not exist. His argument for this stunning piece of revelation boils down to: "there are poor white people, ergo the colour of your skin doesn't matter."


Cape Bretoners mining for coal were white, says Rex, and so were the Irish immigrants fleeing the famines. ("How many potatoes does it take to kill an Irishman? None.") They lived poor, wretched lives, and so do many poor people today from Appalachia to Russia, and would you look at that? They're all white!

Saith the Rex, and do recall that's Latin for "king",

To even set up white privilege as a category is prima facie racist. It is to reduce the sum of a person, his dignity, his drive, his worth and his soul to the colour of his skin; it is to posit skin colour as the point of departure for all interactions with that person, to found judgments on that skin colour, to draw feverish and deliberately negative conclusions from it.

 No, indeed, Lord Murphy, it is only you who is doing that. The only privileges you bother to pinpoint in this vacuous piece--having "flesh-coloured" Band-Aids that actually match your flesh  and shampoo that's made for your hair texture--are indeed not matters of huge import. They are telling, though. There is this automatic assumption that flesh-coloured = pale, and there's a little reminder every time you step into a shower that THIS PRODUCT WAS NOT MADE WITH YOU IN MIND. That's not something you've ever experienced, Rex, let alone on a daily basis, and so it must not exist. QED.

Let's talk about actual privileges. Such as, for instance, the only one that matters to your masters at the National Post: money. Magnificent mountains of money, stinking scads of specie. (Ever read the National Post? Its "HOMES" section really oughta be titled "MANSIONS" or 'ESTATES" or some such, and its DRIVE section is full of such pedestrian middle-of-the-road vehicles as Lexuses and Mercedes and Porsches...)

So yes, let's talk about money, and the median net worth of white people versus, say, Hispanics and Blacks in the United States. Per the Pew Research Center:


WHITE FAMILIES        $141.900
BLACK FAMILIES:      $11,000

Those numbers are absolutely staggering, in my opinion. And they're as good a confirmation of "white privilege" as you're likely to ever find. Now, Rex, dear heart, do you have any idea why these numbers reflect the reality they do? Is it because blacks and Hispanics are lazy and unmotivated? No, Rex, it's not that, although your white friends probably think it is that.

It's because black people and Hispanic people have by and large lacked one rather critical advantage, one "privilege", if you will, and that is the means to acquire and pass on property that appreciates in value.

Think it through, Rex. A young white family scrapes together enough money to buy a house. Depending on where they are, that house might increase tenfold in value over a generation, and it's a sure bet it will at least triple. Property ownership is the primary means by which the middle class can enrich itself.

Now let's make that a black family instead. They're descended from slaves who couldn't own anything, let alone pass it down. But let's say they pinch and scrape and manage to buy a small home in a nice little area. They paint their little picket fence white to match their white neighbours.

Except the white neighbours move away, because ewwwww! black people!, and the neighbourhoods are then primarily black, and the white people who are in charge of such things (I think they call that a 'privilege')  collectively decide that black neighbourhoods just aren't worth as much. Like, really, not worth much at all. Basically, those black people who bought their homes may as well have set their money on fire for all the good it did them.

Yes, there are rare exceptions...there are some very rich black and Hispanic folks. But they are rather thin on the ground, compared to the number of rich white folks, and property values are the biggest reason why.

You're going to remind me of Appalachia, Rex, and how it's white and its property values suck. Indeed it is and indeed they do. It's also rural, Rex. True rural areas, outside of suburban enclaves and certain designated areas where the white folks erect their second homes, are invariably worth less, and often worthless. Compare the cities, where most people actually live, and you'll find that for the most part the populations gets paler and more moneyed the further out from the center you get.

By the way, Rex? If there were black people to man the fields of Ireland and the mines of Cape Breton, they'd overwhelmingly be the ones doing, and dying in, both jobs. THAT's the biggest privilege of all, and you utterly ignored it.

You pompous white blowhard.

14 May, 2015

Winners and Losers

"One of the silliest preoccupations of man is that it makes some kind of sense to divide whole categories of people up into one winner and a whole bunch of losers or also-rans. What poor sick compulsive first infected us all with that virus? And how?"
--Spider Robinson, whose Callahan's Place novels should be required reading for human beings

Like so many grand experiments aimed at equality, the notion of not keeping score comes out of good, even beautiful intentions. People have an innate need to have their specialness recognized, and all too often, for both children and adults, it isn't. We see this. And we try to fix it.

But of course in doing so we create other problems that are so much worse. People so full of artificial self-esteem that there's no room for thoughts of others. People who, confronted with failure for the first time in their lives, fall completely to pieces. Children not allowed to engage their imaginations for fear they might be (gasp) hurt.

Adults are hypocrites: every child knows it. Case in point: abolishing scores in children's games and awarding medals for just showing up, all the while living in and perpetuating a culture that values success above all else--and furthermore, insists on a very narrow and rigid definition of "success". 

Kids are not stupid. Institute a rule that either everyone gets Valentine's cards or no one does, and they'll know anyway which ones are real and which ones are forced. Adults may not be keeping score, but you can bet the kids are. They have to: they take their cues not from what grown ups say, but rather from what they do.

The American Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal". This is true, in a sense, and patently ridiculous in another. One woman can build a house from the ground up; one man is a piano virtuoso, and so on and so forth.  Not equal at all. Which isn't to say all don't deserve equality of opportunity.

That's what's lacking, and tiny measures like not keeping score in a kid's soccer game aren't going to change that. Maybe if we stopped keeping score in adult games...

Is that even possible? Not without a whole lot of paradigm shifts. We'd have to get rid of money, first off...and then, even more critically, make sure that whatever replaces it doesn't just assume what we assume are money's most important functions: to divide the rich from the poor, first off, and then...to keep the poor impoverished by any means necessary.

I visualize a system by which people would earn credit for good deeds, and lose credit for bad ones. Everyone would receive a guaranteed annual income,  enough to maintain a roof over your head and keep your belly from your backbone; further enrichment would come from enriching others.  The level of enrichment would be up to those others. 

I see in Reddit's karma system and things like Kickstarter and Indiegogo the seeds of this idea starting to take root. Assuming we can keep society patched together for a few more generations -- by no means a safe assumption to make -- we may eventually arrive at a place where the contributions of all are valued. 

There are, of course, serious problems with such a system, the chief one being the hivemind that tends to value conformity and punish dissent. THAT, to me, is a critical, perhaps fatal flaw in our nature. It's not so much that we empower the strong and impoverish the weak: it's that we act as a kind of unthinking mob far too often, enforcing whatever values we deem acceptable. Right now we, as a society, grant those who are monetarily wealthy all the power. There are other kinds of power, though, as the richest tend to discover hanging from their lamp posts shortly after they push inequality too far.

There are other, less violent, sources of immense power. Love is a huge one, and it's the one I've dedicated my life to embodying as best I can. Which isn't very well, yet. I'm working on it. My polyamory springs from the ironclad belief that limits on love are artificial and unnecessary. Every now and again I'm richly rewarded when I see someone recognize in my love for them that they are loveable. There is nothing so gratifying as seeing others succeed because I've shown them what a success they already are. 

Without spending too much time on this, it's imperative that people understand that my love for others does not lessen my love for them one bit. So far, at least, people seem to get that...which does me a world of good.

I said many years ago
that "we're all special, but none of us are any more special than anyone else." Both parts of that statement are highly offensive to a great many people, because they contradict this world's highest guiding principle: that I am special and you are not. We've created Gods in our own image...Gods of "love" whose "love" is all too human, riddled with judgement, expectation, and  (yes) damnation. The chief function of our Gods is to separate, not unite: to divide us into eternally chosen and eternally hellbound. This religious mindset turns up in anything substituting for a religion: political and philosophical thought, and even things as mindless as music and sports preferences. This is why it's important not to reject the thought of an "enemy" out of hand simply because it comes from an "enemy".  We are all one: in that respect, our enemies are us. 

I'm working towards a world where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Who's with me?

Insomnia is Hell

If this blog is incoherent, blame lack of sleep.

I haven't been this sleepless since first year university, when somebody bet me I couldn't drink 24 cans of Jolt Cola in 24 hours. I won that bet...and wish I hadn't. Advice: don't do this. I was dizzy and lightheaded and puking, my heart was doing things it shouldn't, I got to thinking I was going to die, then got to hoping I would....and I didn't really sleep for pretty much five days.
This bout has had much the same set of symptoms now, minus the ticker trouble, and caffeine has nothing to do with it. My problem is sleeping pills, or more specifically the lack of them.

When it first became clear I'd be going on steady nights, I went to my family doctor and begged him for something a little stronger than Nytol. A methodical cuss is Dr. Scott Wright: he diagnoses and treats in stages, starting from the least ugly and moving up the scale. "Okay, this is probably a disease called Nothing To Worry About, but it might be Mildly Concerning, too, and there's an outside chance it could be an early case of Onrushing Nasty Death. I know you're really perturbed about this, so we're going to start with a course of a new Russian drug called Placebo. Yes, that's something like "thank you" in Russian, and you'll thank me for it later. If that doesn't work, we'll try you on horse tranks, and if that doesn't work, we'll have to go full Zombify on your ass."

Okay. he doesn't really talk like that. But the three choices of disease and treatment are a Scott Wright, M.D. trademark.

He gave me three options, of course. The first one was something I forget the name of...Ineffectua? Pointlicillin? He said it didn't work on many people, but it was not in the slightest addictive. The second thing was Imovane, the brand name of Zopliclone, which he called "midly addictive and reasonably effective." The other choice was Valium, which he said would put me out like the trash and turn me into a junkie. Okay..."highly addictive," he said.

Me being the middle of the road person that I am, I opted for the second choice.

Worked like a charm. Imovane dropped me in my tracks within half an hour of swallowing it and better yet it KEPT me asleep for at least seven hours. I'd wake up groggier than a mead hall, but hey! small price to pay for blessed sleep.

One problem: "Not to be taken for more than seven consecutive days." I had thirty pills, and I bloody well needed more than seven of them...it takes me a minimum of two weeks, and usually three, before I can cope with nights. I'd take the seven pills, skip a night (in which I'd get next to no sleep at all), rinse and repeat. I was smart enough to cut my last five pills in half and try and wean myself off. Hypnos only knows what would have become of me had I not halved my dose.

Actually, I should have just foregone the sleeping pills and suffered for a fortnight. Because I'm suffering now, damn it. I've lost track of exactly how much sleep I'm not getting, but I got two hours Monday, four hours Tuesday morning, and then nothing until last night at eight o'clock, when I was supposed to be in class.

I left the house okay, fortified with a very hefty dose of instant coffee. But city busses and I don't get along at the best of times, not since the mid-nineties when they inexplicably sealed all the windows and started pumping synthetic "air" on board. Even without rampant roaring insomnia, I stagger off the bus at Conestoga College--nearly a two hour commute, one way--looking punch drunk.
Yesterday: much worse. Cold, clammy, dizzy, weak as a kitten, absolutely certain I was going to puke, pass out or both. I made it to Fairview Park Mall--two thirds of the way--and could go no further.
After sitting for a few minutes and willing the ground to stop waving hello at me quite so friendlily, I got on the bus to come home. It was standing room only, which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise: the driver had cranked the emergency exit in the roof open a little bit and a weak but steady stream of actual Earth atmosphere caressed my face like a long-lost love. I stood in the middle of the aisle and drank the offering greedily. But by the time we got to downtown Kitchener, a mere nine minutes later, it became apparent that light kisses of air weren't going to be enough.
I have very little memory of what transpired next. I do know several people helped me up, steadied me, and pointed me in the direction of a drinking fountain. On the way to that I found a bathroom with a convenient toilet I felt a sudden pressing need to un-eat over. In short, I made a spectacle of myself.
After my bout of visual burping, I felt marginally better. Still weaker than exactly seven days, but at least my head had stopped Linda Blairing.  I made it the rest of the way home without incident, although I'm pretty sure I saw a turtle vrooming by me and giggling somewhere between McCormick arena and my house. By eight o'clock--break time, in the class I was missing--I was out cold.

Eva woke me up at midnight. I cursed bitterly at her--I could easily have slept the whole night through--but she was right to get me up. I work tonight, you see.

I think I'm can sleep now. There was a point yesterday morning when I was quite simply beyond tired: my body was yelling at me but my mind had tuned it out. I'm past even that.

You're wondering why I don't take melatonin. I tried that for nearly a month a couple of years back and so far as I could tell, it had absolutely no effect on me. Maybe I didn't take enough, or maybe I didn't take it right. This time I took what I had until it was gone...and then I just took it.

G'night, everyone. I going to go play in the coma for a while.


13 May, 2015


For those of you who are news-averse, FHRITP is an obscenity, and also -- inexplicably -- an obscene trend that started out as a hoax that has since gone viral...and become a real thing.

It stands, pardon me, for "F--k Her Right In The P--y".

I feel dirty even abbreviating that. It's not that I'm a prude (although doubtless some would argue that point); it's that there's a time and a place among consenting adults for that kind of talk, and the time and place it's been happening lately (in public, directed at a total stranger on live television) is as far from appropriate as it's possible to get.

The most recent outburst came from a man I'm not going to bother naming, directed at Shauna Hunt, a reporter for CITY-TV in Toronto. She was covering a professional soccer game when two males taunted her sexually, one of them shouting the phrase.  The other man defended his friend's actions, saying "you're lucky we don't have a vibrator" and "you'll find it funny eventually."

Does anybody find this funny? Can anyone imagine finding it funny in the future? If so, please stop reading this now, slink off to whatever dark corner of the Internet you prefer, and please ensure that the door absolutely wallops your ass on the way out.

The man who actually yelled "FHRITP" is an assistant network management engineer (!) with Hydro One and Wilfrid Laurier University alumnus. I'm not in the least surprised by that last bit. Laurier has come out with a statement disavowing any approval whatsoever of the man's actions, but judging by the behaviour I have all too often been witness to both on and off campus by Laurier students, the words are hollow.

Anyway, he has since been fired. In addition, he faces a year's ban on attending any Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment event. MLSEL is trying to identify some of the people in the crowd who found the mens' actions hilarious: I'm not sure what they'll do if they're successful.

"It happens every day," said Shauna Hunt, the woman who was sexually harassed. "Sometimes multiple times a day." One reporter noted she'd heard sexually offensive remarks from a nine-year-old boy.


I'll tell you where they are. They're the ones pulling their kids out of school over
Ontario's sexual education curriculum, which is very explicit in its teaching respect for the individual, including the absolute requirement of consent for any sexual behaviour. They're the ones who want to "preserve their child's innocence".  They're also probably the same parents who did things like this when they were young themselves, without a second thought.


I had second thoughts. Plenty of them.

I'll tell you something: I was once nearly fired from a job because of sexual harassment.

Yes, me.

Adult Ken has a cherished and hard-won reputation as a walking safe space. I have to be exceedingly comfortable with you to even let my mind -- which is dirtier than most, believe me -- out of its confines at all, and I take great pains to ensure all boundaries are known and respected. That's not because I crossed a line once, and almost got burned for it. It's because it's the right way to be.

There are times I wish I wasn't so damned honourable, trust me. But whenever one of those times hits, I think -- hard -- about the possible consequences of dishonourable behaviour. Not so much the possible loss of job. No, I think about loss of  friends, face and faith -- all three of which have that other f-word beaten seven ways to Sunday.

Child Ken--and I was a child into my late twenties, up until I met the woman I would marry--didn't recognize or respect boundaries very well. That's why, more than twenty years ago, I said something to a female co-worker, something mildly crude which was nevertheless gently phrased (certainly much more gentle than "FHRITP")--which she misinterpreted as a sexual come-on.

I didn't intend any such thing at all, and was utterly horrified when I was told how what I had said was perceived. So horrified, so completely shocked and embarrassed, that I was let off with a warning instead of being fired, as I probably should have been. I was able to convince the woman in question that I had never meant any least offense.

It took some convincing.

I can't deny a feeling of righteous indignation when the accusation was levelled: I had been told much cruder things, many times, by the woman who was so mortally offended by my slightly off-colour observation. That feeling dissipated rather quickly as I realized my words had been misinterpreted as me hitting on her...that regardless of anything that had gone before, I had no business saying anything that could be interpreted as suggestive. Not in that setting, not to a co-worker, not ever.

Since then, whenever it came time to actually hit on someone in my life, I've been almost paralyzed by fear. I never make the first move, and rarely the second or third. I met my wife at a job interview--she hired me--and I quit before we started dating not six months later. Ask her if you don't believe me: I was the face of professionalism on the clock. So much so that only the most perceptive people even suspected anything. None of my co-workers, but rather Eva's...two of whom were also friends. "Date him already," they said.

I think you can chalk that up under "lessons learned".

Does the "gentleman" who yelled "FHRITP"--which, to my mind even still, is ever so much worse than what I once said in ignorance--feel any corresponding remorse, any sense that his actions were wrong?

He doesn't seem to. And there are a whole bunch of people defending him in various online forums. "Boys will be boys" (and so, apparently, will be a lot of middle-aged men). "Lighten up, it's all a big joke". (No, it isn't. Rare indeed is the woman who would find this behaviour even remotely amusing.) "Where's freedom of speech?" (Hey,  nobody stopped these idiots from saying what they said. Freedom of speech has never protected and will never protect people from socially-inflicted consequences of that speech.)

For those who think the man shouldn't have been fired from his job over something he did on his own time, I ask you this: once it became known who employed him, what should his employer have done instead? Leave him in place, and leave the rest of the world wondering why they would ever have hired such an asshole? Condemn the behaviour, but otherwise do nothing, and thereby say to the world that your condemnations mean nothing, that you actually support such rudeness?

I don't really have a problem with people's lives being utterly destroyed when they act in such a patently stupid manner. I'm on the fence over whether or not mine should have been, and my offence really was comparatively trivial, not even directed at anyone in particular, in a small group of friends.  (Which again, doesn''t excuse it one bit: it happened on work time and was not appropriate for that setting. I really can't imagine--couldn't even at my most immature--running up to a camera and yelling that at a reporter. I have a real problem even saying "pussy" to refer to anything other than a kitten, because I happen to think women are more than their genitals. Much, much more.

07 May, 2015

Quick Political Wow...

My apologies to those of you who hate my political posts. I'll try to keep this short.  But I can't NOT blog about the two huge shocks that just hit Canadian politics on successive days.

First of all...the NDP won Alberta.

That's some kind of joke headline, the kind of thing that wouldn't even go over on April 1st because it's so utterly ludicrous. The American periodical THE WEEK is saying it's as if the Democrats swept Texas. That's actually a fairly good comparison. And yet it happened. It happened for a myriad of reasons that all came together to produce a perfect political storm for Jim Prentice and his governing Progressive Conservatives...a party with an uninterrupted 44 YEARS in power.

Take a recession, with a forecast of more of the same...add a leader who called an early election nobody wanted on a budget nobody wanted either,  multiply the right-wing parties so as to split the vote, divide the governing party bitterly, and watch as a new bright light in the form of Rachel Notley runs a pitch-perfect campaign from the center...and voilà, electoral doom for a dynasty and something unprecedented in its place.

The federal Conservatives are worried. They have every right to be. This is their homeland, the place they've been able to take for granted for decades. If Notley's governance comes even close to matching her campaign, the letters N-D-P will gain huge currency that will only redound to the good for the party elsewhere in Canada.

You know who else should be worried? Justin Trudeau. Which makes the passage of Bill C-51 yesterday all the more puzzling.

It was going to pass anyway. The Conservatives have a majority...they can hike through whatever they want (at least until the Supreme Court of Canada gets a look at it). I guess I was holding out hope that Trudeau and his Liberals would change their minds and oppose the damned thing. I held out in vain: the bill had full Liberal support.

I don't think Canadians realize what this bill does. You know how terrorists are supposed to hate us for our freedom? Well, now we don't have any. It seems an odd way to solve the problem, but I'd expect no different from a government that claims it's tough on crime while supporting a plethora of policies proven to do nothing but create more and harder criminals. This is the party that gave government censorship power over the Internet, without judicial oversight. It's the party that gutted Statistics Canada, crippling its ability to collect meaningful data, because who needs data when you already know what's right?

So yeah, I'm not exaggerating about the complete and total loss of our freedom. It's all provisional now. If any of seventeen different government agencies decides I am a threat, you may never hear from me again. And why might they decide I'm a threat? If I so much as attend a peaceful protest...if I voice support for a regime the government doesn't approve of...if I do anything that could be construed to be negatively affecting the economy...any of these things and who knows how many more will put me in a world of hurt.

I'm not saying this will happen to me. I'm white. And I hope I've been clear enough with my position concerning ISIS and its ilk as to remove me from any suspicion.  I'm not saying it will happen to just anybody, either: the Natives will eventually blockade another highway or railroad track, or cut power to a town, and the government will ignore it magnificently just as it has in the past.

But the fact it can happen is very frightening. It will get challenged on half a hundred Constitutional grounds, and hopefully the SCC will neuter it...but any government passing a bill like this has earned my enmity. As has any government supporting it. I'm talking to you, Trudeau, you dolt.

If Mulcair plays his cards right--he's just been dealt an almost unbeatable hand--he can hammer Trudeau into political splinters and wrest power from Harper. I don't support everything in the NDP platform--I don't support everything in anybody's platform...but they have their heart in the right place. If Rachel Notley can show she can manage Canada's sputtering economic engine...who knows what might happen come November?

Memo to Notley: Hey, Rachel...don't screw it up, okay?

04 May, 2015

My First Steps Into the World You Take For Granted

I've owned a cellphone for three weeks. It feels longer.

Actually, I should say first off that this is not my first cell phone. I had a slider five years ago that I used maybe six times. Those times were widely spaced, because I was always losing either the phone itself for its charger. At one point, incidentally inside the Wal-Mart I now find myself working in,  I spent several minutes trying to find a pay phone, having forgotten that I had a phone in my pocket.

Somewhen around our Disney trip the phone went missing for months, plural...except in order for something to be "missing" you have to miss it, and I barely noticed the absence. (If I couldn't remember I had a cellphone when I was carrying the bloody thing, why would anyone expect me to notice it gone?)  It eventually turned up, but its charger had vanished in the interim and never was found. I said then (and maintain now) that our landline cordless phone had never once disappeared, and its charger happened to be the place you habitually hung it up.

"But Ken", everybody entreated, "you can only use a landline at home, and only to talk to people. With vocal cords, how so last century."

And I said, my life alone consists of being at home, at work, or in transit between the two. If I'm at home, my number is ___-____; if I'm at work (emergencies only, since I'm not paid to talk on phones), my number is ___-____; if I'm between places I'm probably on my bike and can't talk anyway. This isn't rocket surgery, folks. And we won't revisit the whole depersonalization of text versus voice thing. Oh, wait, we just did."

And so I lived quite happily and contentedly without that electronic appendage the rest of the world has sprouted. Per Wikipedia, there are almost as many cellphones as there are people alive right now, which is something my mind simply can not credit. Call it Canadian Syndrome: it costs so damned much to own a cellphone in this country that I tend to forget it's radically cheaper everywhere else, especially in the Third World.)

In light of Eva's unfortunate setback discussed a couple of posts ago, among other things, it became necessary for me to be reachable on a moment's notice. It also became necessary for me to put away childish things, in this case my strenuous objections to owning a cellphone, and go buy what I'd always considered a childish thing...a cellphone.

It's a simple iPhone 5C, 8 gigs, which translates to a little more than four gigs of useable space. That's plenty. I have a 64GB iPod for my music, and...honestly! This phone is for communication and nothing else. My plan simply won't allow it: if I try and surf YouTube or God forbid something even more data-intensive outside of a WiFi zone, I'll bankrupt myself in short order. And since the only WiFi zone I happen to find myself in with any regularity is my own home, well, I'm sorry, if I have a choice I'm going to apt for a 24" screen and real keys over that tiny touch-screen, every time. You people who use your phone in place of your laptop or desktop...I don't understand you.

I had several people tell me I should have got an Android. Several people: you may be right, but (a) the iPhone was what was cheapest (believe me, that's a virtue at the moment); and I (b) a Mac/iPod person already, so the learning curve wasn't too steep.

Oh, hell, who am I kidding, the learning curve is like Lombard St. in San Francisco:

Spider Robinson, one of my favourite authors, once wrote a story about a time traveller.  Not your standard time traveller: this missionary had been unjustly imprisoned in a Third World country for ten years. Freed, he made his way back to his home town...and a culture shock that drove him to the edge of suicide. He'd been a minister, see, and after a mere ten years of technological change he couldn't recognize the world, had no idea of the spiritual trials and torments it now entailed, and after his ordeal he really wasn't sure he could believe in God anyway.

"We are all time travellers", Robinson says through his character, "moving into the future at the rate of one second per second."  As fast as technology changes, and it's an ever-increasing pace...it's still a day by day process. People travelling at the normal rate have plenty of time to adapt, even now.
For those who....skip...by choice or otherwise, the adjustment is something of a struggle.  By no means is it anywhere near as dramatic...but it is still surprisingly difficult.

Trying to text while navigating my way through the world is just one of the issues. I don't want to be one of those people who goes arse over tip into a fountain (or into traffic) while buried in his phone...and I WOULD be one of those people, given half a chance. So far I've managed to transfer between busses while carrying on two separate conversations via text (albeit at half the speed of smell). A small victory, but mine own.

I've discarded some of my old bugaboos about texting, now having texted something like five hundred messages amongst nine people. Others have been reinforced. It's not quite as hard as I had made it out to be, and my friends and family are courteous enough to move at my slow speed in a conversation, which really helps. The predictive text helps, too, although I do think it should have picked up on my habitual writing patterns by now.
While texting is a great way to keep in touch, it is spectacularly unsuited to a serious conversation. In some ways it's even worse than Twitter. At least on Twitter, you can use punctuation without having to access secondary and tertiary keyboards. Even though texting has no practical length limit, people act as if 140 characters is far, far too many, which leads to ambiguity and misinterpretation.

And autocorrect pisses me off.  It hasn't attacked me very often, but when it does it invariably changes something I had right into something that's anything but. And I flatly refuse to send the message and let it make even more of an ass out of me than I am already. Back up, re-type, all the while imagining my conversation partner twiddling her thumbs...

The biggest surprise has been the number of strangers texting me. I get at least one a day..."sup u in town"..."hey weeby what u doin"...they seem to be addressing a whole bunch of different people. I'm waiting for a stray sext to find its way on to my screen...that will be a hoot and a half.

I do, I confess, feel that almost overwhelming urge to check the phone when I hear an alert. It bothers me that I can be so easily conditioned. Of course, until very recently I hardly ever did hear alerts--the default swooping tone that signifies an incoming text is very quiet and both the noise and the vibration are muffled by my Otterbox, my capacious pockets, and my attentiveness to whatever it is I am doing. I was called on my cell for the first time ever just this morning, and I had to figure out how to answer the damned thing. I know--that sounds insane. But when landlines ring, we've had almost a century and a half's conditioning to  know that all we have to do is lift the receiver. If you have never answered a cell call before--and for all I know that applies to people who have owned a cellphone for years--you may not know you have to touch and drag a slider on the screen. First I held it up to my ear like an idiot...then I thought hey, I probably have to do something to open the line and I hit the single button at the bottom of the iPhone and that dd nothing and it was only then, with the phone jingle-jangling and vibrating merrily, that I thought I'd better look at the screen. My eyes zeroed in on the name of the caller (yes, I want this call) and frantically slid down the screen (the screen looked awfully funny with my eyes sliding down it) slide to answer SWIPE "Hello?"
"Hi, Ken, are you okay?"
"Yeah, why?"
"You're out of breath."
"Just"--don't say you got winded from trying to figure out how to answer your phone don't say just got winded from trying to figure out how to answer your phone--"ˆgot phoned trying to answer...the wind."

How I love the people in my life that hear things that inane and without missing a beat just skip right over them like I wish I had in the first place.

I know that there is a whole world of things I could be doing with this phone. I am hoping, quite sincerely, that it takes me several years at least before I crack and start exploring it. I like the world around me and I love many of the people in it. I already get far too much "online" in my life through this desktop. I really don't need more of it...

30 April, 2015

"Women...What About Men Baffles You the Most?"

Oh, the irony of a guy who has often wondered if he was a human being, let alone a male one, empathizing and relating so deeply to the questions and answers in this thread.

The top voted comment: "That you really can be sitting there thinking about nothing."

That yielded a torrent of anecdotes about men who were in fact thinking of *something*...it was just something utterly inconsequential, highly embarrassing or incriminating, or (most often) both. It wasn't until well on down that subthread I found someone who said he didn't just think about nothing, he could tune his surroundings out for the most part.   I won't belabour the point that this is my default state. I will simply say how comforting it is to know I'm not alone.

But absent a pressing need to think about something, I am in a state of no-thought.

"How can you be so oblivious to subtle (and sometimes not-to-subtle) hints?"

Said "hints" usually have something to do with a woman being attracted to us, and let me tell you, despite all appearances, we're not oblivious to those sorts of hints. We are, rather, completely and utterly terrified of acting upon one of them, just in case we turn out to be wrong. The price of inaction is. at worst, a lifetime's regret. That pales in comparison to the price of action, which could range from being publicly humiliated to, in certain contexts, jail time.  It's Pascal's Wager in miniature....some men would suggest that a woman being attracted to them is in fact proof of the existence of God, but I digress. Like somebody said, "I could have pained "date me" on his forehead"...and somebody else noted "well, then he wouldn't see it there on his forehead, would he?" A third said "until he got home, looked in a mirror, and realized what he missed."

"The way you are just as moody as women, but still complain about women and their emotions."

Because, of course, men are taught to stifle and suppress theirs. Crying is a sign of weakness, right? Actually, it's more likely a sign you've been too strong for too long, but we'll let that go.
This one still trips me up: that women don't want their problems solved, just listened to and empathized with. I'm pretty good at both those things, if I do say so myself, but I still have to stomp on the urge to say something like "but this would all go away if you'd just..."
...but then it would be gone, Ken, and she'd be confronted with the quintessentially male state of thinking about nothing. Can't have that! 
One thing I don't do is complain about emotions. They are the touchstones of the soul and they lubricate most social interactions. Without them we would not be human. But yeah: I often think my feeling this is not the problem, the thing causing me to feel this way is the problem.

"Why do you guys play with yourselves so much?"

Because it feels good. Next question.

No, wait a second. This is one of those things that actually causes no end of friction in many relationships, friction that expresses itself with some variant of he's jerking off and he could be having sex with me.  I'd like to address this, as, ahem, touchy as it is, because it contains a couple of assumptions about men that are just plain wrong.

For sin-stance: We are explicitly rejecting you by masturbating.

Believe it or not, men will often masturbate to orgasm out of sheer boredom. Or because pressure has built up and has to be relieved. Bothering you to do it--which puts performance obligations on us--is not necessarily something we want to do. Not always for selfish reasons, either. We understand that you're tired/Aunt Flo from Red River has come for a week's stay/you have a headache (sex is actually a pretty good analgesic for menstrual cramps and mild to moderate headaches both, but sssshhhh). We can take care of the situation in two minutes flat without making a big production out of it. Doesn't mean we don't want you.
And edging into more controversial territory: ask any man about the visuals he may be using as a prop and if he's articulate enough, he will tell you quite sincerely that he's not fantasizing about the porn star. He's probably fantasizing about you doing  the things the porn star is doing, which may or may not be part of your repertoire, but he's not thinking about being with the woman or women on screen. Many men, faced with the actual opportunity to be with a porn star, would be intensely conflicted. Great sex, to be sure, but she had to practice to get that good. With other men. Umm...

(There's men being silly for you: what's the appeal of a virgin, anyway? Give me somebody who knows what they're doing, she might teach me a thing or six.)

He might be thinking of somebody else while he's ruining his eyesight and growing hair on his palms. He will never admit this, of course, but thinking about sex with somebody is miles away from having sex with somebody. I thought about sex with damn near everybody from the age of eleven on and didn't actually have sex with somebody until I was nineteen: I rest my case. If he's thinking about your sister or your best friend or a co-worker while he's actually there with you, well, that's a real issue. If he always thinks, obsessively, about that sister/friend/co-worker, that's a real issue. Otherwise: it isn't.

Here's the one that really hit me where I live, and I'm going to quote "stitchedlamb" at length:

Why they don't get how sexy they are. Not in the way they usually think (muscles!) but the way they work their hair when they think no one is looking, little half smiles, shirt riding up to show their skin, stuff like that. Dudes doing little things can get a lady wet as hell and it seems like that part of male sexuality is glossed over in our culture. I know you straight guys don't get it, but we love looking at you like you like looking at us. Whenever I explain this to male friends, they look at me like I'm nuts. Why is it so hard to believe?

Loaded question, that last. It's like a hanging curve floating right into my low self-esteem wheelhouse: there's been one woman in the world who ever called me sexy versus probably a dozen who have explicitly called me ugly and countless others who refrained from doing so out of good breeding.  I never once believed the girl who said I was sexy. Didn't stop me from marrying her, though.

It's not just me, though. Guys, even sexy guys, don't generally get called sexy. Or handsome. Or anything.

I've seen it time and time again on Facebook. There's a former colleague of mine at Sobeys who is quite simply stunning. Every two months or so she'll put up a new profile pic, either a selfie or what appear to be professionally done portraits, and they will cause the heart of any functional straight man and probably most of the lesbian hearts to beat just that little bit faster. Nothing remotely sexual about any of these pictures: she is "just" a beautiful, beautiful woman. I'll contribute to the torrent of praise she gets: "wow, ######, you look incredible", all the while thinking boy, I hope she doesn't misinterpret that, especially given I'm old enough to be her dad. Ken, did you just twitch a little bit? You dirty old man, you.

I'm far from alone, although the female compliments outnumber the male ones ten to one.

Men don't put up selfies on Facebook, as a rule. When they do. they'll get a smattering of likes and a few comments--invariably from women, and (in my experience) either tepid or so overblown there's no chance in hell I could misinterpret them. Nothing to what women get.

I find this sad on both sides. For the women, of course, their self-worth seems to be tied entirely to their physical appearance. This, incidentally, is completely untrue, and not just because Ken says it is. I wish I could find the link, I've spent twenty minutes of intensive Googling and nada, but trust me: somebody once ran an experiment where they photoshopped various ugly and misshapen bits into a thoroughly off-putting photograph, paired it up with an entirely fictitious and really scary personality description, and set the creation loose on some dating site. Result: hundreds of replies.

Men very rarely get any responses on dating sites. Just like they rarely get complimented on Facebook selfies. In this case it's a little more nuanced: dress in a suit and tie and it's not that you're handsome, exactly, it's that the suit and tie signify a man of action and accomplishment.  That's sexy. Men doing things. It's another of those fantasy tropes, the one Shrek turned on its head: the woman is there to be rescued. Preferably the slaying of dragons is involved, but the knight in shining armour-slash-prince is of course a fine specimen of manhood: he had to be. Ugly fat guys don't kill dragons.

So, to summarize: men can't compliment women because rapist pervert and women can't compliment men because he'll think I want him. Sad state of affairs.

Even sadder: Men never compliment other men because eww, that's gay, dude!

Actually, not quite true. I have one male friend, straight as an arrow, who is secure enough in every way to say "I love you" to me every once in a while. I'll say the same, because it's true. I do love the guy. Men, you love your best friends, don't you? Of course you do. Wouldn't it be a better world if we could just say it?

It would be nice if we lived in a world where compliments could be freely given without fear or shame. Both genders are afraid to say anything just plain nice to strangers or acquaintances of the other gender lest they be mistaken for sexual advances. How awful is that, really? It's even more of a minefield because women, in particular, are conditioned to crave sexual attention, on account of it being -- supposedly -- the sole measure of a woman's worth. And men are "supposed" to want and desire sex above all else (sigh)...you can perhaps see the conundrum.

As a man, I reiterate: what does make it hard, pun definitely intended, is when you field a compliment from somebody to whom you may actually be intensely attracted. Even an innocent one. We don't get compliments much: we cherish the ones we do get...but at the time, we almost have to ignore it, or at best shrug it off: she probably didn't mean that the way I heard it.

I'd like to live in a world where compliments might lead to hugs, and hugs might lead to cuddles, but none of those things automatically had to lead to sex. I think it would be a better world.

In the meantime, it is perhaps a little bit of a relief to see that men are every bit the puzzle we say women are.