28 November, 2007

Oh, bother

We've entered the silly season.
Our store's going franchise again this Sunday, meaning another inventory. Eva's in the middle of, last I looked, entirely too many projects to count, working twelve hour days. Life is, in short, once again interesting.
And the blog has suffered a tad, for which I apologize.
Peter over at Dodosville recently compiled a list of things that irk him. Being in something of an irksome mood lately, I thought I'd do the same.

Before I get to that list, I'd better qualify it a little...because chances are just about the entire human race fits into this thing someplace. Including me. Sometimes especially me. So just because you recognize yourself in a point or two doesn't mean I think you're evil--or an idiot. (I do stupid things sometimes, but I don't believe that makes me stupid.)

Without further ado:

Telemarketers. Look, I know it's a job, but can you please find another one? Easily ninety percent of the calls that come to this house are unsolicited. Thank God for Call Display: it saves me from picking up the phone nine or ten times a day and swearing into it.
Forget just during supper. The phone starts ringing here at eight in the morning and doesn't stop until 9:30 or even 10:00 at night, long after we've retired. Saturdays and Sundays no exception.
The same firm will call eleventy-dozen times: gee, buddy, after the first hundred calls, don't you think for a second that maybe nobody here is buying what you're selling?
If I'm already your customer, a sure way not to keep me is to call me and ask how you're doing, because my answer will be "just fine, up until you decided to invade my home and interrupt what, for all you know, might have been extremely important."
A couple of subvarieties deserve special mention. One is the company that pretends to be doing market research (a legitimate activity, as far as I'm concerned--I worked in it for a time myself) but that is really trying to sell you something. That's called "sugging", for "selling under the guise", and it's against the law.
Another is charities. Now I'm sure many charities do a fine job (though let's be honest here: how many are really in the business of perpetuating themselves?) But do they need to call you every week looking for cast-off clothes? I can see one call to let me know that the Society for the Prevention of Brain Farts is looking for my used lacy underthings. Maybe even two, to remind me they're there--because let's face it, most people don't associate used lacy underthings with the prevention of brain farts. But every week? I just don't have that many lacy underthings to give away, you know?
As far as I'm concerned...never mind the "no-call list" that's been promised for years. I want telemarketing made illegal.

Door-to-door salespeople. See above, although this is even worse. I can answer the telephone without having to restrain two moderate-sized dogs. If I'm home alone, the door doesn't open. Period. And it is my firm belief that unless you've been personally invited to my home, you're trespassing. (Friends and family: you have a standing invitation. You knew that, right?)
The subscum here that really gets me are the Direct Energy people and their ilk. We've had three doorknockers on the same day, two from the same company, trying to get me a great rate on natural gas I don't use. (We have electric heat.) We've had people from "Universal Power" who claim they're actually from Waterloo North Hydro and ask to see our bill. The next one who tries that will get to see the cops instead.
Oh, and memo to Jehovah's Witnesses: according to your own beliefs, only 144,000 people will get into heaven. There are several million of you already. Don't bother diluting your heavenly chances any further by trying to recruit me. Okay?

Whiners. Yeah, we all do it sometimes. On some level it's even kind of necessary: shared suffering is lessened, says Spider Robinson, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. What I mean here are the sort of people who employ what James Redfield called a 'Poor Me control drama'. This is your basic victim/martyr stance, characterized by a predominantly negative attitude towards just about everything, including the self. (Especially the self: criticize these people at all and they'll assume they're worthless and that nobody cares. Poor, poor pitiful them.)
Like any control drama, the poor me has its uses, or people wouldn't employ it. But even a year of "how dead is my garden"--especially when they prove they'd rather complain than water the garden (or water the garden and then bitch about all those damned green plants)--that gets old.

Know-it-alls. Special exemption given to those people who really do know it all. But most of you know-it-alls actually know very little. The way to tell the difference: "know-it-alls" broadcast far and wide about how competent they are, whereas the really smart people stay quiet and let their actions speak for themselves.

Fundamentalists. One naturally would assume I mean religious fundamentalists here. And I do. But I also mean those people who believe strongly that any aspect of their lives is the one, sole, right and proper way to live. There are atheist fundamentalists who chafe against the mildest expression of religion or spirituality, and they bother me just as much as the holy-rollers. Ardent vegetarians who shun me because of my burger...people who say George W. Bush is the living antichrist...People who say Michael Moore is the living antichrist...
In fact, most fundamentalists these days are political, not religious. Sure sign you're one of them: if you only see two sides to a given issue, yours and the wrong side. Another: you consider it your sacred duty to show the world how wrong they are. I like how Neale Donald Walsch describes his Conversations with God books and the philosophies therein: "Mine is not a better way: mine is only another way."

Snobs. My life has no less (and no more) value than yours simply because I work in a grocery store. I'm an eyewitness to this sort of snobbery almost daily. A woman who worked in our deli was driven to tears by the actions of one mother, who pulled her daughter aside within earshot and said in an overly pointed tone, "See, dear? This is why you should stay in school. You don't want to end up like her." Carrie (not her real name) was so stunned she couldn't articulate her thought, which was lady? I have two degrees and a diploma, and I work here because I like it.
You see the same thing routinely directed towards fat people, and that galls me even more. I may be fat, but you're ugly...and I can diet.
Often the snobs are also

Monarchs. Not the real ones, the people who act as if they are. The ones who roar past you at twice the speed limit because their time is so much more valuable than yours. The ones who demand servitude from every least peon they meet, or simply ignore them. (I once had five customers in a row enter the store, buy their items, and depart, all without saying so much as one word in response to my greeting, suggestive selling, thank-you and farewell. After the fifth one, Mental Sarcastic Bastard busted loose and said that's funny, I didn't know there was a convention of deafmutes in town. I got a couple of dirty looks and one guy invited me, under his breath, to perform an anatomically impossible act.)

Various and sundry other species of ignorance, for which I'm too lazy to coin a one-word name:

--those who treat the assorted utterances of a Hollywood celebrity or sports figure as if they had a degree of importance. I blame the media for bothering to report these things.

--those who believe government is the solution to anything that ails this country. Reagan had it right: government is not the solution. Government is the problem. But this disease of government dependance is endemic here in Canada. From insisting government should raise our kids to calls for more and more laws to ban any and all behaviour somebody finds questionable, many Canadians are very sick, to the point they rely on a government crutch to tell them what and how to think.

--Anti-Semites. I take back what I said above: if you think Jews are running the world/primarily responsible for the mess in the Middle East/planned 9/11/ exaggerated the Holocaust/drink the blood of Palestinian babies...well, then, you are both evil and an idiot.

--those people who think homosexuality is a sin
...because it's not "natural" (when dozens of species from birds to dolphins engage in homosexual behaviour)
...because it's in the Bible (right next to that passage prohibiting shaving)
...because they're "recruiting" (go ahead and try and "recruit" them right back and see how far you get)
...because they are "anti-life" or "anti-human". (Yes, I've actually heard that said aloud, the reasoning being that they can't procreate. Neither can many "straights"...are they "anti-life" too?)

--those who think that because I wrote the above, I must be a closeted queer. Hey, I'm not arguing for homosexuality, either. One's sexual orientation is not open to positive or negative moral interpretation. It simply is. One's sexual behaviour can certainly be moral or immoral, according to however you define "morality"...adultery within a committed relationship is generally seen as immoral, for example. That you cheated on your wife with a man instead of another woman is no less (and no more) reprehensible.

--People who abuse animals. Spiritually, I know "all attack is a cry for help", that those who hurt animals do so because it's the only way they can feel powerful. Rationally, I don't give a shit. I favour the Code of Hammurabi ("an eye for an eye") for those who abuse or neglect animals.

21 November, 2007

"First, you give a guy oral sex..."

So I'm reading an article in the National Post the other day--for which there does not seem to be an online link, so you're going to have to trust me on this--detailing youth culture today, specifically the widespread practice of "hooking up". This article scared the bejesus out of me and made me so very glad I'm not a parent, especially of a young woman.
The quote that stayed with me, as much as I tried to will it away, was from a girl in grade six. She was interviewed in the presence of her mother (I need to stress that, her mother was in the room) and asked about how girls at her school meet boys. "First you give a guy oral sex," she answered breezily, "and then you decide if you like him or not."
Her mom then offered to serve cookies.

I like to think I'm somewhat hard to shock. I also like to think I'm nobody's prude. But in the name of the nothing that's holy any more, that revelation shook me up a great deal.

The New York Times published a rather ambiguous article a couple of years ago regarding "rainbow parties". These are supposedly oral sex parties where each girl attending wears a different shade of lipstick. Both the Times and Wikipedia seem to assert these "parties" are not exactly common, while acknowledging that yes, they do occur. The research I've done into the matter has suggested that while there has undoubtedly been some media hype at work, oral sex is increasingly part and parcel of being a teenager...and the concept of "dating" is either unknown or seen as hopelessly antiquated.
One of the sad ironies (to my adult mind, at least) of this pervasive "hook-up" culture is that it seems to be perfectly fine, indeed expected, to engage in all manner of intercourse...but holding hands in public is seen as taboo.

How did feminism lead women to this, I wonder? Is this simply women imitating the worst behaviours of men, having sex without commitment? Do young women relish or even recognize the undoubtable power they do have over young men, even from what appears to be a subservient position? I'd suggest most of them don't. Most of them, I'd imagine--if they're not drunk--are trying to deal with a maelstrom of emotions..."do I like this guy? does he like me? what will my friends say in the morning? what will his friends say in the morning?"
And I'd also suggest something similar is probably going through the minds of most of the guys, thought you'd never get any of them to admit it. Contrary to popular belief, us men have feelings too. We're taught to suppress them, disown them, but you can't eliminate them.

You'd think there's entirely too much sexual education going on, for this sort of thing to become normal. Renowned feminist Naomi Wolf suggests here that, in fact, there is too little. Or rather, the wrong kind: "

Women learn almost nothing about female arousal and orgasm," while the male side of pleasure is covered...If you're a woman, did you learn about pregnancy, chlymydia, AIDS, gonorrhea, herpes, separating sores and leprosy? (laughter) So you learned about all the disgusting and scary things that could happen to you if you had sex, right? But did learn anything about pleasure?

From here she makes the leap that women end up feeling ashamed of the sexual feelings they have:

What makes it possible to find some sort of release is to get drunk and have sex with someone you don't know, because if you are conscious and not drunk then you have to be thinking things like -- Do I like this guy?, Is this the right guy?" Wolf added, "If you're conscious and taught to feel so ashamed about your sexuality, all of this anxiety will kick in when you're in a sexual situation, which is so overwhelming that it's easier to get sex with alcohol, is pretty much what it comes down to for a lot of women.

While I can follow the logic chain here, I suspect most parents--if they accept sexual education at all--would rather it didn't mention much about pleasure, female or male. I tend to think women had a great deal more power even a decade ago, when sex was withheld until the guy met several preliminary standards.

Wolf also links the "hookup to my personal bugaboo, everyone's supposed lack of time. You're too busy, she says, for romance, for cuddling under a blanket and looking up at the stars, for reading and writing love poetry...but you're not too busy to go out and get drunk Saturday night and see what happens.

Ask any group of teenagers about dating, and you're bound to get a host of derogatory comments in return. "Dating's for geeks." "If he gets all couply, I'm outta here." "I'm not looking for needy chicks". So you've got your hookups, your friends "with benefits", and maybe a relationship as your parents would have recognized the term--but that's unlikely, and probably a long way off. Dating's so restrictive. Increasingly you hear teens and tweens talking about dating the way single comedians dismiss marriage. (Russell Peters: "I love women too much... If you love women, and then you get married, you just love woman.")

Hell, I used to think like that myself...until I got married.

Believe it or not, this kind of pseudo-dating behaviour is nothing new. The sexual component has been ramped up considerably--not a surprise in a culture as sex-saturated as ours--but social promiscuity was all the rage in the 1930s and 40s, when dancing with the same boy all evening marked you as a loser. Today, of course, each member of the Facebook generation has literally hundreds of "friends" and is in constant connection with any number of people at any given time. Couple that with the dramatic loosening of sexual constraints and "hooking up" is the inevitable result.

When you talk about teens and sex, morals come into play. Social conservatives reject outright the idea that each individual charts his or her own moral course, that Britney's views on what's acceptable might differ from her mother's. I don't question hookup culture on moral grounds--I try never to do that sort of thing. I merely observe that, from the girls' point of view, this doesn't resemble in any way the ideal that women have worked so hard to achieve. And I question whether it's possible for teenagers and young adults to move seamlessly into monogamous marriage--which is still seen as the goal to which many aspire--after years of no-strings-attached sex.
What of the future? The implications of hookup culture suggest term marriages, a rampant divorce rate, and further fragmentation of society...but we could just as easily see the girdle snap back, if it's collectively decided the present culture is ill. In the meantime, parents of young girls, you might want to sit your offspring down and have a heart-to-heart about hooking up. I wouldn't mention the health aspect if I were you (that never sinks in with teenagers, who can't seem to think past Friday night). Better to dwell on the emotional hurt that is almost certain to result from hooking up with a guy, wanting more...and not getting it.

16 November, 2007

Shocked and Appalled

In any controversy involving police officers, I almost always side with the cops.

Not this time.

I won't show the video here. Chances are you've seen it by now, and if you haven't, it's easily enough found: just Google "Vancouver taser". Fair warning: it's profoundly disturbing.

In fact, it disgusted me.

I read that the family of the late Robert Dziekanski has retained the services of a lawyer. Good. I hope the relevant parties in this fiasco are sued to within an inch of their solvencies.

Put yourself in the place of those cops, who had to have been briefed before they went in and within twenty five seconds tasered the man. You're told a Polish man, who speaks no English, has been in a secure area of Vancouver International Airport for ten hours. He's scared, frustrated, and increasingly angry. I for one can't blame him. He has no idea why he's being detained, or why he can't see his mother, who is just meters away. At one point, he picks up a computer and tosses it to the ground...not at anyone, mind you. A few passersby try to help, but nobody has made the slightest effort to find someone, anyone, fluent in Polish who can calm the man down...such as his mother, just meters away.

Welcome to Canada. Now, die.

Spare me the argument the police didn't mean to kill the guy, since a taser isn't normally classed a lethal weapon. By now we all know tasers can be lethal, and it is my firm belief that any force at all was totally unnecessary. Yes, the man was frustrated, and potentially violent. A few words in Polish would have worked wonders.

I've tried and tried to put myself in the officers' place, and I just can't do it. They were told Robert Dziekanski spoke no English--that's clearly heard on the video--and they swagger in like members of the LAPD, taser him twice, and while he's keening in pain, kneel on his neck.

This has become an international incident, and rightfully so. It should go without saying, but the actions of these police officers do not represent a Canadian attitude towards immigrants from anywhere. I for one would really like to hear the officers' side of the story...not that I can think of one.

11 November, 2007

Why just one day?

We Shall Keep the Faith

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew! We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died. We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields. And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Moina Michael

If you don't stand behind our troops...stand in front of them.
--bumper sticker making the rounds of late

I've written a couple of entries on prior Remembrance Days and don't really know what else need be said. All we owe those who have served is everything. Those who continue to serve our country in far-flung places do so out of duty, pride, commitment and purpose, and we who live safe and carefree, subsisting on Hollywood pap and ignorant of the harsher realities would do well to keep that in mind.

But not just for one day.

Wearing a poppy is a start, I suppose. Though I wonder how many poppies are there more as fashion accessories than anything else. But how many will dispose of their poppies tomorrow and spare them and the sacrifice they represent nary a thought until sometime around next Hallowe'en?

I've written before that Remembrance Day is the secular Easter. It's an analogy I rather like. Our soldiers fought and in too many cases died that we might live in freedom. It really is no accident that John McCrae wrote

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Just like I wonder about the motivations of each poppy-wearer I see, I often find myself considering the nature of that faith, and how best to keep it. To me, wearing a poppy is its merest token, the equivalent of a Christmas-and-Easter Christian proclaiming his piety to all and sundry. I believe that many, if not most, Canadians long ago "broke faith" with those who died; that far too few have any faith in those who live and serve today.

It is still too often assumed that the first article of that faith is the glorification of war. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody who has ever lived through war's least skirmish would think to glorify it; we have volumes of war poetry to dispel any notion of war's glory.

Yet war is occasionally required to obtain a just peace. There are many who would look at that statement and dismiss it out of hand, equating it with such statements as "it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it". But I stand by the dichotomy: war is abhorrent...and sometimes imperative.

War is collective definition at its most elemental: for this we will not stand. We who love peace, who love life, choose to kill and die in defense of peace and life.

People's definitions of a "just war" differ, and therein lies the chasm between dove and hawk. Today is not the day to delve into the politics of any given conflict. I suspect most veterans would agree with me that a peaceful solution is always preferable...but not always possible. It takes a special breed of person to step into the breech when the preferable option isn't there.

I would suggest that honouring that special breed of person goes well beyond one poppy, one ceremony, one day of the year. I despair at what we have done with the freedom so many have earned for us. Those politicians who play petty games for power; those voters who notice little and care less; those celebrities whose only concerns are their fame and their bank accounts; all these and many more besides have broken faith, each in their own way. All those living life unconsciously, sleepwalking through existence, might wish to spare a thought for those who came before, who consciously chose peril, and perished.

In short, we honour those who gave, and continue to give, their lives and livelihoods best through our lives and livelihoods.

Lest we forget.

03 November, 2007

When in Rome, don't off the Romans.

In August, 1982, a Canadian citizen named Ronald Smith abducted and murdered two Aboriginal men in Montana. He wanted their car, see, and I guess the only way to get it was to march Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man into the woods and shoot both of them in the back of the head.
He was sentenced to death for his crimes. Some people view the death penalty as a mockery of justice. As far as I'm concerned, in this man's case the real mockery is that he's still alive today, and his case is making headlines here in Canada.

It has long been the policy of the Canadian government to request clemency on behalf of Canadian citizens on death row in foreign countries. This policy has recently been firmly reversed. In the case of Smith, and other Canadians sentenced to death after due process in democratic countries, our government will no longer intervene.

I will repeat that. Canadians sentenced to death after due process, in democratic countries, can no longer expect our government to go to bat for them.

Before I consider capital punishment itself, I'd like to make a point. This is yet another example of Canadian over-reliance on government. No wonder so few people vote any more, when it's expected the government work miracles on an hourly basis. How many times have you heard, in the aftermath of any "tragedy" at all, some variant of "the government should..."? Gunplay in the streets of Toronto..."the government should outlaw guns". Somebody killed on the roads..."they should lower the speed limit". Some people aren't as fortunate as others..."in Canada, we are all equal". A Canadian citizen has murdered two people on foreign soil..."our government must demand the commutation of his death sentence and/or his extradition to Canada."
Guess what, folks? What a democratic country does with its convicted murderers--again, provided due process has been served--is no business of ours, no matter where said murderers were born.
When you deplane at Changi International Airport in Singapore, you are given a card to sign. The back of the card states, in bold red letters, "The penalty for drug smuggling is death." And they mean it: even if you're just passing through, if you're caught with drugs on you, you'll be hanged.
And so, if you've got the intelligence Nature gave a gnat, you don't smuggle drugs through Singapore. If you've got some drugs you just gotta smuggle someplace, you pick a different route. You may think drug smuggling's not too serious...just supplyin' a need, dude...but what you think is irrelevant. The Singaporean government thinks otherwise.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that if you commit a crime (a) in a foreign country and you (b) are convicted (c) after a fair trial...well, then you (d)eserve to be punished by whatever form that country's justice takes. If that's death, so be it. Shoulda thought of that before you committed the crime.

There has been something of an uproar in the editorial pages over the last few days. The general consensus seems to be that our government is trying to bring capital punishment back, "through the back door", as it were. These are accompanied by lamentations: oh, the poor murderer.

I recognize that capital punishment is a contentious issue. Those who are against it call it state-sanctioned murder. And it is, albeit considerably more humane than most of the murders committed by its victims. Ronald Smith, for example, can expect not a shot in the head but rather a painless, quick-acting injection.

The argument that capital punishment is abhorrent on humanitarian grounds--that it violates the first fundamental right of personhood, the right to life--cuts zero ice with me. As far as I am concerned, the thought of murdering a human being in cold blood is dehumanizing. To actually do it is to abdicate any claim on being human yourself. To deprive another of their right to life, and then insist on your own, is barbarity and hypocrisy writ large.

The irony in this particular case is that Ronald Smith would almost certainly be a free man today if he had only murdered a couple of aboriginals in Canada instead of Montana. In this country, we sentence people to "life" in prison..."with no chance of parole for 25 years". In practice, this usually means a maximum 25 year sentence. Parole hearings start after 15 years, regardless of the sentence. Even "dangerous offenders" (e.g. Paul Bernardo) have parole hearings every seven years, with no legislated guarantee some parole judge won't take pity on them.

I feel for Ronald Smith. Truly, I do. Nobody should have to be punished twice for the same crime. This guy's served a Canadian life sentence, and now he'll be executed?
It is said that capital punishment doesn't deter crime. Little wonder, since most criminals don't think a quarter-century ahead. If a death sentence meant a trial, one quick appeal, and then immediate execution in a chamber just off the courtroom...well, I bet you'd see people thinking twice. And as I have said before, of course capital punishment deters crime. I challenge you to name one person who's committed a crime after they're dead.
What I don't understand is the need to keep them alive indefinately, either by design (as in Canada) or by delay (as in the U.S.) In Canada, the average cost per diem for incarcerating a federal prisoner is $189, and that's in 2001 dollars. Doing a little quick math, we find a 25-year sentence, without even adjusting for inflation, costs an average of $1,724,625.00. Your tax dollars at work, people. Subsidizing the lives of murderers. How many of them are gloating behind bars, probably masturbating to endless reruns of their crimes?

We now have the technology to establish once and for all a person's guilt or innocence in matters of murder. The chances of another Guy Paul Morin or David Milgaard being wrongfully convicted grow smaller by the day. Provided correct forensic procedure is followed, there's no reason we should ever sentence an innocent person to death. This removes one crutch those against the death penalty lean on. I'd start with cases where the accused has admitted to commiting the crime--as Ronald Smith did. Or cases where the crime is videotaped, a la Bernardo. Tell me again why we're keeping that pond scum alive.

In the meantime, our government has enough on its plate with our own so-called justice system to even think about sticking its nose into another country's. And that's all I have to say about that.

01 November, 2007

Go to this site:

Free Rice

This is one of the better ideas I've run across lately. It's a vocabulary test, is all it is...but for every word you get right, ten grains of rice are donated to the Third World. Since the site came into existence on October 7 of this year, they've donated 547 million grains.

Improve your vocabulary...and help alleviate world hunger. Awesome.