29 April, 2007

War. What's It Good For?

My attitude on Afghanistan is changing. It's starting to mirror my attitude on Iraq.
We all remember the justification for the Iraq war, right? Those mythical 'weapons of mass destruction'? To this day, many Americans will tell you that not only did Saddam actually possess these things, he was also behind 9/11. Of course, none of that is true, but truth is such a subjective thing these days. If enough people believe the Kyoto Protocol will save the planet, it follows that those who object, even mildly, are eco-terrorists bent on Earth's destruction...

Sorry, there. Damn hobby horse.

Anyway, I was originally solidly behind both Iraq and Afghanistan. Afghanistan first, of course, since that was the first theatre of operation post 9/11 and where, we were told, the man behind it lurked, planning further atrocities.

Like a good sheep, I shifted gears smoothly, believing what I was told to believe, as the focus (in hindsight, inexplicably) shifted from Kabul to Baghdad. And I still remember what many have forgotten, the images of people dancing in the streets and toppling the giant Saddam statue. Weapons of mass distraction aside, Hussein and Company needed killing.
But the subsequent American actions once they had "won" Gulf War II changed my mind in a hurry. That's odd, I thought, they don't seem to understand the meaning of 'liberation'. After deposing the tyrant and ensuring his evil sons couldn't succeed him....having earned the lifelong respect of every Iraqi (of Shiite belief, at any rate), they....stuck around. And around, and around. This is tactically nonsensical on so very many levels. You know the old saw about houseguests and fish? That goes triple for liberators. It was only a matter of time, and a very short time, before the American occupation began to smell. Sooner or later it dawned on me that yes, 9/11 was merely a starting point for al-Qaeda, and yes, further attacks are probably planned...but bin Laden's real goal was not so much the senseless murder of American civilians, but the governmental response it would provoke. It is, in fact, bin Laden's earnest desire to goad the U.S. government into a lasting war in the Middle East, the better to galvanize public opinion against America and eventually re-establish a caliphate.

If you're Osama bin Laden, things are going pretty much according to plan.

There are, of course, a myriad conspiracy theories out there concerning 9/11. A few of them could well be true: if, as claimed, the U.S. government had no foreknowledge of the attacks, it certainly wasn't due to a lack of (increasingly frantic) attempts to alert them...right up until the night before. There is also the matter of the vaunted 9/11 commission, most of which took place behind closed doors over a year after the attacks. (By comparison, the hearings into the Titanic disaster--95 years ago--began just four days after the ship sank; the Nuremberg trials took place two months after the cessation of the hostilities of the Second World War. Both these events, I might add, happened long before the instant communication of today.

At first, of course, my national pride was spiked in 2003 with the news we'd be heading in to mop up America's mess. Shades of Vimy Ridge: we would succeed where other forces had failed. It didn't hurt that we were expressly dedicated to the rebuilding of the country, and I always understood that we had to subdue before we could rebuild. Our peacekeepers needed a peace to keep.
But as time has gone on, I've begun to accept that they don't want us there any more than Iraqis want the U.S. in their homeland. It's taken time to come to this conclusion. Why? Because my Canadian patriotism is every bit as developed (and, looking at it objectively, silly) as that of the most ardent Yank. We would prevail, I had thought, when they come to the inevitable realization that our way of life, the democracy we're gifting them with, is inherently superior to what they had before.

Slap a cross on me and call me a missionary. Then shoot me, because I vowed long ago never to shove my religion down somebody's throat.

Sure, many of them would like democracy. The women in particular. It's worse than criminal when women can't attend school, or attend anywhere without being on the arm of a male relative, for that matter.
But how is fighting going to fix things? Kill off some Taliban and more rise up to replace them. We're fighting fundamentalists over there who view our presence as a threat even when we're not carrying arms. Perhaps especially then. We're fighting people who do represent a tangible threat to their own land, but not to ours. By that criterion, we ought probably to deploy ourselves to Darfur posthaste. And where does it end? How thin must we spread ourselves? We've already spread our culture pretty damned thin, by virtue of inviting the whole world to come join us ("and bring your hatreds along! We welcome them here!") Must we then go off and fight other people's wars for them?

I don't think so.

To be sure, we are doing real good in Afghanistan. The problem, as I see it, is that soon after we leave, most if not all the good we've done will be undone. I used to criticize the U.S. for its lack of an exit strategy for Iraq. Now I'm beginning to understand why they never bothered with one of those. We might think we're in control, that we're "winning", but the odds are overwhelming that we're "winning" a war that ultimately can never be won.

27 April, 2007

The Internet: Boon or Bane?

The easy answer is 'both', of course. Like every tool we've invented, the Net can be used for good or ill. The extent to which it is ill-used is not its fault, any more than it's a car's fault when someone is run over.
So many people--overwhelmingly older people, say, 45 and up--believe the Internet is a vast shadowy jungle, where monstrous things lurk, ready to tear out your soul and eat it raw. They are right...in part. The "World" part of "World Wide Web" is literally true: the 'Net is much like our Earth, civilized and urbane in many areas, wild and insane in many others.
People young enough to hear the word "mouse" and not think of a rodent have a different view. They're intimately familiar with their own little hamlet on what used to be called the "Information Superhighway"....and familiarity only breeds contentment in their elders. They're bored; they want to explore, and the dark places have an undeniable allure. So they poke and prod, and the more reckless of them are claimed, in one way or another, by the spiders that do lurk in the web.
When the Net was birthing, optimism ran high: here was a tool that could be used to connect people, to facilitate truly global perspectives...ultimately to save humanity from itself. Before this thought had been fully articulated, pornography and worse had taken root--and the soil of the Net is fertile indeed. We all know the majority of Net traffic is connected with smut.


Of course, it's an even bet anything "we all know" is wrong. Lo and behold, according to The Straight Dope, while sex is indeed popular, it ranks well behind music and (surprisingly, to me, at least) travel as a search item.
It's true that hardcore porn is trivially easy to discover online. Before my spam filters evolved into things that actually worked as advertised (I haven't received a single spam email in I can't recall how long), I often used to get such gems as "Suzie And Her Horse" and "Watch Jenna Take It All" delivered unsolicited into my Inbox on a near daily basis.
But then, it's trivially easy to find just about anything online: old friends, new friends, job opportunities...if you're inclined towards skullsweat, you can mine the minds of millions and come away with the equivalent of a Master's degree in nearly any field you can imagine, all for the cheap-and-ever-falling price of a high-speed connection.

It's often asserted that, as teen culture continues to migrate online, attention spans are rapidly shrinking. An article in today's Globe and Mail notes that although teenage television time is decreasing (like that's a bad thing?), the few dramas still watched include Lost and 24, both of which feature long and complex story arcs, proving that youth are willing to pay close attention under certain circumstances. Teenagers I know think nothing of carrying on six or more online conversations simultaneously, a juggling act I, frankly, envy, even as I find myself questioning the point of it all.

For every child predator emboldened by anonymity and easy access, there are many nice, natural, normal people who met online and are now in nice, natural, normal relationships. Much is made of the possibility of deception, especially concerning one's physical appearance: but as technology evolves into permitting online video and audio conversation in real time, this is rapidly becoming a moot point...in the process arguably eliminating the appeal of an online relationship for people like my younger self, who lacked self-confidence and had to win people with words alone.

For every al-Qaeda cell recruiting online, there are organizations like Humanity's Teamdoing the same, trying to foment peace and understanding. You say you can go online and get a step-by-step tutorial on how to make a pipe bomb? You can do the same in any library--and more to the point, you'll only find out how to make a pipe bomb if that's something you were interested in doing in the first place.

Culture, and the Internet so integral to it, is simply evolving. It's natural for many people to regard evolution as frightening, since it forces contemplation of unknown futures. But no matter how far or how fast the Internet evolves, it's important to remember: even though it has its sharp edges (or perhaps because it does), the 'Net is merely a tool.

26 April, 2007

Newsflash: Ontario's Energy Minister Is Out To Lunch

I've been waiting for this.
Waiting to pounce.
Ontario's Energy Minister shot down the idea of putting scrubbers on our coal-fired electrical stations, because it would cost $1.6 billion and "doesn't help climate change". (Aside: I thought we weren't supposed to be helping climate change.)

Yep, you read it here first: Ontario's air is crystal clear. No more smog days! Yay!

It was only a matter of time before somebody in the political sphere forgot that "the environment" and "Kyoto" are not synonyms. Actually, they're closer to antonyms. It's highly debatable whether the Kyoto Protocol would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by any appreciable amount, since (a) the biggest emitters (the U.S., China, India, and Russia) are either exempt or have no intention of signing on; and (b) Kyoto includes an "emission credit trading" system that in effect just spreads the greenhouse gas around.

Never mind meeting Kyoto. If we totally eliminate all economic activity in Canada...well, we'd all die in short order, but hey! Our sacrifice would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping two percent. Oh, yeah, that'll help.

The federal government, for its part, is banning incandescent lightbulbs. Well, phasing them out, actually, by 2012. I don't get this. I mean, sure, every little bit helps, I guess, but why not just stop making them tomorrow? We changed all our bulbs almost three years ago, not out of any environmental zeal (one television uses about ten times the power of every light in your house put together), but out of a desire to save money. . .

Back to those coal-fired electrical stations. Duncan actually gave another justification for letting them spew filth into the atmosphere besides the cost, viz. they're slated to be shut down in seven years. What a laugh. They were originally supposed to be shut down in two years. Then the Liberals realized they had nothing to replace them with, so they said 2011 instead. Now it's 2014. By the time 2014 rolls around, don't be surprised if they intend to scrap them sometime around Last Trump.

In a way, it's not too much different from our Kyoto journey. The federal Liberals signed on, then realized that meeting Kyoto would involve eliminating the equivalent of Ontario's economy. Not surprisingly, they did nothing for twelve years, during which time our greenhouse gas emissions rose and rose and rose, faster even than those of the United States. Can't blame the Liberals, really, because I've done the same thing myself: when you realize you're obligated to perform miracles, the first one you try is a vanishing act.
Now safely out of government, of course meeting Kyoto is suddenly easy as pie. I'd almost...almost...like to see Dion win the next election just so I can find out what magic he's got up his sleeve.

22 April, 2007

If you're feeling a little too optimistic today...

It's always the gotchas that getcha.

My wife is the single most self-reliant, sensible, capable creature I have ever met. Throw a crisis at her and she defuses it in mid-air and sets it gently on the ground, without taking her eyes off other incoming crises. Occasionally she'll whip an arm out and snag one coming up from behind--something I hadn't even considered, but which she had expected and planned for, timing its exact moment of arrival and disarming it on the fly. I don't know how she does it. Me, I just kind of bumble through life, sparing little thought for the future until it's the present (which is probably the biggest reason I like my life boring). Eva and boredom do not mix well. Remove too much stress too fast from her life (such as, for instance, on vacation) and like as not she'll actually get sick. That's another thing I find incredible about her...she can work thirty hours of overtime a week for a couple of months without her body going into meltdown...then, when the pressure's off, only then does she allow herself to fall ill.
As I've probably mentioned a few dozen times, Eva is a Lister. She makes lists of the lists she has to make. (I refuse to consider the possibility that somewhere there exists a list of list of lists...) I'm convinced it keeps her sane. We differ here, too. Until just recently, I shunned lists, preferring to keep everything in my head. Better to risk forgetting the odd thing than actually be confronted with concrete physical proof of the sheer volume of crap I have to accomplish today. Besides, must I really waste time writing out stuff I have to do when I could be doing it?
Unfortunately, my workload has outstripped my memory capacity, and lists are becoming essential. So I have gotten into the habit of scribbling up a daily to-do list first thing...and it has helped, it really has. I don't forget things any more, but even more importantly, it allows me to focus on each individual task and examine it from multiple angles. I'll probably never be as good at this as someone like my Eva, who undoubtedly planned a seven-bank-shot out of her mother's womb...but I'm getting better.

This thought has been floating around in my head lately as I digest yet more dystopian science fiction (Aftermath by Charles Sheffield) and am confronted with dystopian reality everywhere I look.
Aftermath concerns the struggle for survival on Earth following Alpha Centauri going supernova. The first order effects posited by Sheffield (and backed by hard science, as far as I've been able to research) are absolutely horrific weather patterns (strongly reminiscient of the sorts of things the climate change doomologists are shrieking)...and, much more devastating, a huge electromagnetic pulse that wipes out virtually every piece of electronics on earth. (Did I mention this is 2026, and everything's electronic?)
Thoughts...while there are ways to protect computers from an EMP (Faraday cages), a sufficiently large cage is hellishly expensive. And boy, have we as a society ever put all our eggs in one silicon basket. Break the basket, and we'd be just so much yolk on the ground in short order. It makes you (or at least, me) wonder: does backup exist any more? Have we just blithely bumbled forward, ever more dependent on computers, without any thought as to what we might do if they all failed?
Eva's got a list...of course she does. Reasonably close to our door, we have a "scram box" containing many of the things we'd need if it ever became necessary to get the hell out of here in a hurry. Many people might consider this paranoia, but I consider it prudent. (Of course, in the event of an electromagnetic pulse the car's not going anywhere. I haven't asked her, but I bet she's got a backup plan in place there, too.)
Anyway, here I am reading this nasty, nasty vision of a world-that-might-be, and I take a break and go blogrolling and the world-that-is rises up and bitch-slaps me.
My friend Peter just wrote about the rapidly dwindling bee population. Now, before I read his blog, I would have told you the only good bee is a dead bee, and if it could somehow take out a bunch of wasps and scorpions as it expired, so much the better. I have an irrational hatred of all stinging insects: my ultimate nightmare would be a swarm of yellowjackets arrowing in on me. Hence I'd heard about the approaching extinction of bees, and actually cheered.
Yeah, I'm nearsighted--almost legally blind in one eye, and occasionally beyond blind in both mental eyes. I had forgotten, of course, that bees serve several vital purposes beyond tormenting me. Like honey production. Or...pollination of crops.
Bees die, plants die, animals die, we die. The progression is simple and inexorable.

In a world where viruses out of Africa threaten to wipe us out every so often...where weathermen have taken to predicting the economy (with nothing whatever positive to say about it, of course)...where nations are still rattling all manner of sabres at each other...I bet there aren't many people who saw our downfall looming in the extinction of the lowly bumblebee.

And what's causing this depopulation? Scientists aren't sure, but some are beginning to suspect it might be cell phones.

I further bet nobody saw that coming. I mean, there's convincing evidence that cell phones, used to excess (which is the only way teenagers and business execs know how to use anything), cause all manner of interesting effects. Things like tumours and lost brain cells and maybe dementia. But that's all down the road, see, and right now I gotta take this call.
Suppose that cell phones are, in fact, wiping out our bees...our plants...our animals...ourselves? Albert Einstein said without the bee, we'd have four years to live.

Four years.

Better text all your friends.

17 April, 2007

Insanity

It never ceases to amaze me how, in the aftermath of any tragedy involving guns, the immediate response of a great many Americans is to call for more guns. "If everybody had themselves some shootin' irons, ain't none of this be allowed to happen".
It likewise never ceases to amaze me how, in the aftermath of any Canadian tragedy involving guns, the immediate response of a great many Canadians is to call for more restrictions against guns. "If you ban the guns, see, and then reinforce the ban with another ban...well, hell, let's just triple-ban the damned things, eh?"
For those Canadians who are so viscerally anti-American as to semi-automatically put out of mind the fact that school shootings happen in the True North, Strong And Free Of Those Damned Yankees, here...constitutes... a... refresher... course.

The fact is, these school shootings happen all over the world, and the gun control or lack thereof in any given country has very little if anything to do with them. There are countries such as Britain and Australia in which guns are banned outright, yet somehow people in those countries (including schoolchildren) are killed with guns. There are also countries in which guns are standard issue to teenagers (Switzerland and Israel come to mind) , yet rampages such as the one we saw at Virginia Tech yesterday are all but unheard of.

You're never going to rid the world of these tragedies entirely, try as you might. But you can minimize them. The key to doing so doesn't involve handing out guns to anyone who wants one; nor does it involve registries, stiffer sentencing, or confiscating hunting rifles.

It involves a wholesale change in our attitudes towards violence.

In this twenty first century--roughly our three hundredth as a species--you'd think we would have outgrown the urge to bash our neigbour's head in with rocks. Instead, we've devised ever more sophisticated ways of doing just that (our most advanced invention in this area involves splitting the rocks into atoms, and then splitting the atoms...)
I'm far from the first person to suggest that Homo sapiens, supposedly at the pinnacle of evolution (who says? We do, of course!), hasn't evolved much at all. My friend Peter Dodson recently wrote an article rather despairing of humanity, citing opinions I've long held myself. I love individual humans, quite a few of them, in fact...but whenever we coalesce into groups, bad things seem to happen. We starting behaving like chickens.
Chickens seek out the weak, not to elevate them, but to utterly destroy them. Other animals do the same thing, and we call it Darwinism, survival of the fittest and all that. Then--strangely--while frantically convincing ourselves we're above all that "nature, red in tooth and claw", we act in precisely the same ways.
The funny, sad thing is, we are above all that. Or at least we have the potential to be. Humans have the ability to elevate the weakest among us, to measure 'fitness' on a wide variety of scales, and to ensure that basic needs are met for all. This is the ideal expressed in a panoply of constitutions and credos the world over. Nearly all of us believe people should not be massacred, individually or in groups. Most of us think it's wrong that people starve to death, that women are raped, that children are sold into slavery. All these forms of violence and neglect are held to be immoral by much of the population.
And yet, it all happens. The weak are battened upon by the strong worldwide, emotionally, spiritually, and often physically. We cultivate a culture of difference, then rank the differences, making ourselves superior. Then we use our self-appointed superiority as a justification for violence. Whole groups of people are robbed of their humanity. They're occasionally exterminated, like vermin. And occasionally, out of a desperate desire to even the playing field, they exterminate right back.
What will it take for us to realize we are all one human race? When will we finally understand that winning does not have to mean somebody loses? When will we accept that violence is not a solution to anything?
The shooter at Virginia Tech no doubt thinks all his problems are solved. But he's dead. Some solution.
Violence is insane. Cho Seung-Hui was insane. The world is insane. It's all related.

15 April, 2007

Old Whitey's got something to say.

PREFACE:

Thirty five years on into my life and I'm still working out how I feel about freedom of speech.

I used to be an ardent defender, someone would would willingly allow all manner of offensive chatter on the grounds that censorship bestows undeserved power. My honest belief was that people such as Ernst Zundel should be allowed to spew their filth, the better to brand themselves as fools.
As I got older, though, my faith in my fellow man became increasingly tenuous as I began to realize just how many people in any given audience were fools themselves and would believe and repeat anything they heard. Then I saw a movie called The Aristocrats...an utterly depraved journey through filth beyond anything I'd ever imagined...which disillusioned me further. As I said then, some things shouldn't be said. Hell, some things shouldn't be thought.

But I've regained some of my former conviction over the past week or two.

Having lived a sheltered life, I can't say I'm entirely interested in the antics of so-called "shock jocks" like Howard Stern....or Don Imus. To be honest, I had no idea who the latter was until I heard his commentary excerpted on my own local radio station. As the now-infamous words spilled out, my jaw spilled open. My wife and I regarded each other, both thinking well, that guy can kiss his job goodbye.
If you've been off the planet for the last couple of weeks, Imus referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos".
He apologized, of course. Profusely, repeatedly, and with what seemed (at least to me) like sincere remorse, at least until it became clear his apologies were falling on deaf ears. Little good it did him. I learned long ago that there are certain things considered so evil, so utterly beyond redemption, that no amount of apology can ever mitigate them.
Such things vary from time and time, place to place and context to context. You don't have to go far to hear things much worse than "nappy-headed hos" directed at women: just turn on some so-called "urban" music and brace yourself. The women so described don't seem to mind overmuch (indeed, they almost seem to take pride in it!) while the men who spew such filth are revered by their millions of fans, many of them too young to really understand what they're hearing.
As an aside, most words considered rude, obscene, or profane nowadays weren't always such. The Toronto Star ran an interesting article yesterday detailing a startling array of consumer goods whose colours were described as "nigger brown", "nigger black", or "nigger pink". Apparently you can still see this in places like Hong Kong.
Or consider an even nastier word than "nigger". Ask any woman what she considers to be the most vulgar word in the English language and there's a better-than-even chance she'll cite a word she hesitates to even say aloud: "the c-word", she'll say instead. Everyone knows the c-word, right? But nobody says it, ever. Nobody decent, at any rate. Suppose I told you that word was once the common, accepted term for female genitalia, no more offensive than "vagina" is now. Would you believe me? Doesn't matter: it's the truth. Even then, I'm sure it was offensive to call the entire woman by the name for her genitals--but have you noticed how many men shrug off being called "dicks" these days?
Not that I'm excusing Don Imus, precisely, because what he really ought to have known better. In the United States of America, the First Amendment doesn't mean what it used to...and most people understand and accept that. Archie Bunker would never fly on network TV today, even as shows like The Sopranos and Deadwood don't just push envelopes, but rip them open and spill their contents.

"You can't call them 'nappy-headed hos'", goes the argument, "that's racist!"
Is it? Is it really?
Look up "nappy-headed" on Wikipedia and you're redirected to "natural hair"...the standard hairstyling of many 'people of African descent' the world over. Also called "woolly", "hard", and "kinky". These are pure adjectives, descriptors, with no emotional attachment implied.
A couple of points here. One: there has simply got to be some simpler term for 'people of African descent'...preferably one word...but every such thing I've ever heard is considered racist by some group somewhere for some reason. At one point, "Black" was the preferred term. At another, "Negro" was correct. Now there's no single word to safely denote the racial group we're discussing here.
A second thing I find of interest: it seems as though most of the outrage centered around "nappy-headed" when, to my way of thinking at least, "hos" is at least as offensive. And yet, as noted above, "hos" is common as bling in rap music.
Why is it, exactly, that rappers--who are predominantly "melatonin-enhanced" (yes, I've actually seen that monstrosity in print!)--are allowed to denigrate and degrade women at every opportunity through their lives lived and their music, while one old honky gets fired for one off-the-cuff remark? I grant you it wasn't exactly a nice thing to say, but is that our bounden duty now? To protect everyone from every "not nice" thing that might be said about them? One wonders how the Rutgers ladies' basketball team managed to get the age they are now without suffering multiple nervous breakdowns.

Look, I don't like racism any more than the next guy. I consider us all part of a single race called Human, and divisions based on silly things like skin colour do little to augment our humanity. Perhaps Imus did go too far. But the response went so much further.

"

12 April, 2007

Music Man


I'm a musical person. Always have been, always will be. Music was my first love; I was playing piano before I could read anything much beyond my own name, or even write that name properly. I wrote my first piece at five, a little ditty I called "A Trip Down Main Street" after, of all things, one of the common showcases on The Price Is Right.
As with pretty much everything else in my life, I approached the discipline of music with next-to-no discipline of my own. I probably could have been a prodigal pianist if being one hadn't entailed so much gosh-darned work. Practicing anything that wasn't mine own rapidly robbed the melody of any charm it had. Being forced to play music as it was written (the horror!) just peeved me off.
Enrolled in lessons as soon as my mom could afford it, I detested them right from the get-go. By then, the teacher had to try and undo about four years of bad habits. I had no concept of correct fingering: if the note came out, that was good enough for me. Heck, I had trouble even remembering how to hold my hands above the keys. Anyone who's taken piano lessons knows the first thing you do--before you ever get to find middle C--is learn how to hold your hands, like you're cradling an egg. My egg had long since broken.
The only reason I stuck with lessons as long as I did (up to grade six, Western Conservatory) was a concession I forced out of my teacher from very early on. I got five minutes at the end of each session to showcase whatever I was working on myself. More often than not, I'd use that time to noodle around, free-thinking, grabbing snippets of melody and grafting them on to not-quite-random chords. More than a few compositions were birthed this way.
Improvise--it might as well be my middle name. In 1988, I got to supply music for a school production of Charlotte's Web. There were two showings, a morning and an afternoon, and the music that came later bore only the slightest resemblance to what I'd done before. I wasn't above stealing other people's stuff--there was a girl in the audience, no mean composer herself, and I'd had designs on her for, oh, months at that point; she was a little surprised to hear her own latest tune referenced and expanded upon...then melded to one I'd written for her. (Incurable romanticism doesn't mesh well with incurable show-offism.)
Don't ask me how I do it, how I write stuff, or how my pieces fall together out of the sky. I'm convinced just about everybody has some talent they can't explain. How do you do it? You just do. I've written about twenty full songs, and there are dozens of fragments out there, and I haven't written a damn thing since my threnody for the victims of 9/11.
I haven't played much since about then, actually. I can't explain why, other than to say words have largely replaced musical notes as my stress release of choice.
I fire up my keyboard every so often, just to make sure I can still play it. What would get me back to it in short order, what would chain me to it, in fact, is even the slightest clue of what to do with the music I have written or could still write. They don't teach you how to market yourself in school, and I think it's a lesson everyone should learn, because, again, everybody's got something. Joeli paints--how can she be noticed by People Who Matter? Jim writes--can he get tips on how and where to publish? Jen taught herself how to do professional quality cross-stitching--where can she show her stuff?
Do I bother writing out the notation? (Hope not: it takes many hours just to transcribe a three minute song). I've got software that will notate for me, as long as my pieces aren't too complicated (and I fear they are); alas, I don't have the requisite sound card for the computer, or the MIDI interface, or any number of other things, and don't know if I need any of it anyway. Because even with a pile of perfectly polished sheet music in my hands, I wouldn't have the first idea where to send it. Thanks a buttload, education system.

Seems easier to edit up my short stories and send them out into the storm. Which is what I'm intending to do...as soon as I have some free time that doesn't insist on being filled up with all the stuff I fill free time with. Call my undisciplined, lazy, and a procrastinator and I'll call you thrice right.

Meanwhile, there's music to listen to. You know, I used to think I'd like to die before I got bored. As I age, I realize I'll never get bored...there are always more books to read and songs to hear.

My musical tastes have broadened and diverged widely over the years...though not as widely as my wife's: Eva thinks nothing of following up Vivaldi with Metallica. I'll grant you I can appreciate both, but hearing them in quick succession is a bit jarring. I go through phases, and tend to get a bit obsessed when I'm in the middle of one. Right now I'm digging New Country (which I hasten to admit I've never outright hated, but neither have I sought it out). I especially enjoy upbeat stuff, kind of country-rock, or alt-country, or something like that. My favourite song this month is called "Ticks", by Brad Paisley.
It's funny: name an artist I hate and chances are I can find at least one song of theirs I like. Name a genre I can't stand--rap, for instance--and right away I can tell you I really enjoy early Eminem. Just another complexity, I guess.

Right now the bed is beckoning with its own sweet music. See you later, dear readers.

Please, can we go back? HOW DO WE GO BACK?

I found this on eBaum's World today and it really hit home. It's American, but it applies here too.


50 Years

See what 50 years will do:

Scenario: Jack pulls into school parking lot with rifle in gun rack.

1956 - Vice Principal comes over, takes a look at Jack's rifle, goes to his car and gets his to show Jack.
2006 - School goes into lockdown, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.

1956 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up best friends. Nobody goes to jail, nobody arrested, nobody expelled.
2006 - Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Charges them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario: Jason won't be still in class, disrupts other students.

1956 - Jason sent to office and given a good paddling by Principal. Sits still in class.
2006 - Jason given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. School gets extra money from state because Jason has a disability.

Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his father's car and his Dad gives him a whipping.
1956 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.
2006 - Billy's Dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. Billy's sister is told by state psychologist that she remembers being abused herself and their Dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has affair with psychologist.

Scenario: Mark gets a headache and takes some headache medicine to school.

1956 - Mark shares headache medicine with Principal out on the smoking dock.
2006 - Police called, Mark expelled from school for drug violations. Car searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario: Pedro fails high school English.
1956 : Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.
2006 : Pedro's cause is taken up by state Democratic Party. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English banned from core curriculum. Pedro given diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he can't speak English.

Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from the 4th of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle, blows up a red ant bed
1956 - Ants die.
2006 - BATF, Homeland Security, FBI called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, FBI investigates parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated, Johnny's Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary, hugs him to comfort him.
1956 - In a short time Johnny feels better and goes on playing.
2006 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison.

-------

Never mind 1956. I went to school in the seventies and eighties and let me tell you, if current standards were enforced then, I would have been expelled literally hundreds of times. In grades one and two I was constantly getting in fights, so much so that the teacher would give me gold stars for not getting in a fight over a recess. Never mind that...in grades two and three, we played kissing tag pretty much every day. There were just two of us boys, most days, myself and Gordon. Four girls joined us every day--and yes, I remember them: Laura, Sonia, Anna, and Catherine. Various other girls would cycle in and out, and a couple of other boys. It was an absolute blast. And guess what? The teachers all knew about it. Not one of them said a word. Oh, except one, who thought it was "cute".
Imagine that today.
Boy, things were different back then. All that kissing--and there was a lot of it--was completely innocent. Well, Laura and I thought we were in love, of course--so did Gordon and Catherine--but it never so much as occurred to any of us to be jealous if somebody was kissing somebody else's girl or guy. I know, grade three, jealousy's unheard of at that age, right?
Probably not in 2007. In this era of "rainbow parties"--if you don't know what those are, ask your son or daughter, because I'm not going to tell you--I don't think much is unheard of anymore.

The other day I was walking through a Zellers and happened to notice an itsy-bitsy T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Sexy's Back!" Lingerie? Nope, size 6x for little girls. It's far from the first time I've been confronted with age-inappropriate attire, of course. And I find it utterly insane. I mean, here we are in this society where people can be punished for just looking at a child with a certain gleam in their eye--rightfully so, I must add--but we insist on dressing our children in clothing by Hookers of Hollywood? What gives? Can anyone even attempt to explain that?

Fighting. I can say with certainty that schoolyard fights were always one-on-one affairs, settled with fists and feet only. Bringing a weapon would have been ridiculous even to contemplate--it would have branded you a coward, of course, not to mention the legal consequences we were all aware of. And to have somebody else jump in if you were losing constituted a breach of honour so grave as to be unthinkable.
I don't need to tell you what happens now. Check your local newspaper.

The punishment for being in a fight has changed, too. It used to be detention, or in later grades, study hall. Now you're suspended or, more likely, expelled--which is a real hoot since most of the people we used to call 'juvenile deliquents' don't like school anyway. Why are we rewarding them for their antisocial behaviour? I don't get it.

About once a month I hear of some house party gone wrong. You know what I mean: a dozen kids invited, and two hundred or more show up and proceed to trash the house. In several cases over a hundred thousand dollars damage is done and the family is left homeless. Did that ever happen when we were that age? I think my parents would have killed me. Several times, in fact.

Which brings me to: spanking. Yes, I was spanked, from age three to about eight or nine. Last I looked, I'm not a monster. What's more, I know for a fact my mother was spanked, my father was spanked, and I'm pretty sure their mothers and fathers were spanked, and so on and so forth unto the dawn of time.
In my case, I was spanked because nothing else worked. I don't blame my mother in the slightest for administering the low justice, at first with a "spanking stick" spatula, later with a belt. Hell, I would have spanked me too, probably twice as hard.
Is it the right way to parent? Not anymore, that's for sure. How in the hell did spanking go from completely acceptable to utterly indefensible in one short generation?

Is it something in the water that's turned us all crazy?

10 April, 2007

The Secret's Out

Seen Oprah lately? I haven't...as benign as that woman may be, she frightens me a little. Name one other person who can singlehandedly turn an obscure tome into a national bestseller overnight. At least she seems to be concentrating (for the most part) on using her power to empower others...which is, of course, what having power is supposed to be all about. Still, I do wish more people would act on their own, without waiting for her approval. There almost seems to be this notion that "Oprah says it's okay, so it's okay." I think that's what disturbs me.

One of her latest pet extravaganzas is something called The Secret. Like Oprah herself, The Secret is everywhere. It's a book. It's a DVD. It's online. And the backlash against it is a phenomenon in itself.

I'll be honest...I haven't seen the movie and have no intention of doing so. I haven't actually read the book, either (though I did skim it, looking for the noted contribution of my favourite spiritual author, Neale Donald Walsch). Nevertheless, having read a great many books more developed and considerably more profound (though not, I confess, as beautifully illustrated), I feel somewhat qualified in discussing its themes.

The Secret is basically The Power of Positive Thinking for the modern age, stripped of all reference to God and imbued with a New Age sheen in its place. The recipe is deceptively simple: think nothing but positive thoughts, you are told, and you will attract positive outcomes. Likewise, thinking negative thoughts produces negative experience.
This seems to make a sort of surface sense. Most of us know somebody who never seems to suffer, who always seems to have a smile. And I suspect pretty much all of us know at least one person who can find a dark cloud around any silver lining--and who, oddly enough, never seems to run out of dark clouds to fixate on. Me, I can think of about ten people I know in that latter class, and every one of them can sap me of energy and kill my Happy Thoughts if I let him.

But what of the person who falls victim to tragic circumstances...the child whose parents are murdered before her eyes, the woman walking home one night who is dragged behind some bushes and savagely raped, the man who loses his job and his home and ends up living on a park bench? Are we really supposed to believe that these people simply weren't thinking hard enough about the Good Things In Life? I find that sort of thing rather sickening, myself. It's little different than some holier-than-thou sanctimonious goody two-shoes telling you that you simply didn't have enough faith.

Of course, on a very high, esoteric level, I do believe our thoughts attract events and even matter. What's more, I suspect within my lifetime science will back me up on this. After all, thoughts, words, deeds, matter, events...all these things are various forms of energy. As of right now we know very little about the energies our brains run on. Is it so farfetched to believe, for instance, that all those energies can and do mesh in utterly prosaic and yet miraculous ways? Is that sort of belief more or less farfetched than belief in a Supreme Being who never stops loving you, but demands you never stop loving Him, and who will punish you eternally if you step too far off His chosen path?
You know what? If I had to simplify "the energy of the Universe" into one three letter word, I figure "God"'s as good a word as any.

Now, I'm not sure if The Secret is written in such a way as to encourage the backlash it's receiving, or whether the vast majority of its naysayers have simply chosen to misread and misinterpret what it says. I have read several columns mocking the entire idea behind The Secret..."I sat down and visualized a million dollars! I thought about it really hard! For, like, an hour! And...drumroll, please....nothing happened!"

Well, duh.

If there's one thing I have learned and applied after having trolled through what seems like an entire library of spiritual tomes, it's that wanting something and getting it are pretty much polar opposites. The Rolling Stones said it: you can't always get what you want. "The more you get, the more you want" was a proverb in the 1300s. Hell, even in my Christian days I was made to understand that the proper attitude for prayer is never supplication but always gratitude. If you truly desire to be rich, by all means imagine yourself rich...but if your mind's eye insists on painting a picture that is in any way different than the one you get with both eyes wide open, brother, you're doing it wrong. The fact is, you're already rich. If you don't believe it, look around for someone poorer than you. Then give him some of the riches you have, that he doesn't. In the giving will you realize the truth: that you had something to give. Apply that lesson often enough and you'll be thinking of yourself as rich in no time. And yes, The Secret is correct: like attracts like. Think you are rich--and think it genuinely, by which I mean think often of all those things you have to give--and you will become the richer for it. Trust me, it works.

It works with love, too, incidentally. Looking for love? It's been said often that you should look first at yourself: if you don't love you, why should anyone else? But I'd argue that love is a circle: the way to love yourself is to love another. In doing so, you become aware of the love within yourself, and thus make yourself more lovable.

That's what the Law of Attraction means to me. From what little I have seen, the mistake in The Secret is its preoccupation with the physical: the money, the luxury car, and so on. These things are simply things. They are not wealth; thinking they are is perhaps the most common error in our society. Those who are truly wealthy have no need of trinkets and baubles to prove it. Pining for status symbols without a sense of self-worth (acquired, of course, through the ascribing of like worth to others) will get you nowhere.

And that's all I have to say about that.

08 April, 2007

Hockey Blog 2007 (III)

Toronto Maple Leafs report card 2006-2007

(cf.
here)

(caveat: as I write this I still have no idea whether or not they are in the playoffs. This report card is based on their regular season only.)


I started to do a player-by-player comprehensive report, and that fizzled out after I got through a few forwards. The fact is, this team is so damned inconsistent that it's nearly impossible to give them any kind of meaningful grade. One night they go out and shut down one of the top teams in the league. The next night they fall to one of the cellar-dwellers.

Long before this season started, it was evidently decided by Leafs braintrust to take the path less trodden and build their team differently. Unlike almost every other NHL team, almost all of our offense comes from the defense. Since there are very few D-men who are exceptional at both ends of the ice, this philosophy requires a top-flight, cool-under-pressure, game-stealing goalie in the Roberto Luongo or Marty Brodeur mold.
About all Andrew Raycroft has in common with either of those two is his goal stick. Simply put, Raycroft is horrible. Even on nights when he's playing well, there's this little niggling voice in the back of every fan's mind (and, no doubt, the minds of the people playing in front of him) that any minute now a shot's going to come sailing in from the blueline, high glove side, and Raycroft's going to wave at it as it goes by and lands in the net. Raycroft has established the Leafs franchise record for wins by a goalie, but that stat ought to come loaded with a few domes of salt, as there are no longer such things as ties. Raycroft was yanked in that final do-or-die game last night after letting in at least two inexcusable softies. He may yet prove to be a decent goalie. I hope he proves it somewhere else.
Moving out from the beleaguered crease, we first come to Tomas Kaberle, who is our sole All-Star (I'm not counting Yanic Perrault) and deservedly so. This is a future Norris Trophy winner. A couple of weeks ago I watched him lug the puck out of the zone despite being triple-teamed by the opposition. Joe Bowen, Leafs play-by-play man par excellence, said something like "And there's only three guys on Kaberle, no trouble there. Four and he might be a little concerned." Kaberle still doesn't shoot the puck enough, in my opinion, but you know what? He shoots just often enough that a goalie can't always discount a shot. I'd think long and hard before I'd trade this guy for anything below, say, Jordan Staal.
Hal Gill has been our other bright light on defense, our sole stay at home guy. He's got the wingspan of an Airbus and, although he's a plodder, his positioning is more often than not sound enough to overcome people speeding in on him. He was everyone's favourite whipping boy in Boston, but he's become an integral part of the team here.
The rest of the defense...is offensive, usually in both senses of the word. Special pair of goat horns for Bryan McCabe, whom they might want to think about converting to forward. Still has his shot, for whenever teams forget that's all he does. Why didn't we trade him last year?
I would like to single out Carlo Colaiacovo for a breakout season. He still gets injured with great frequency, which is scary, but when he's healthy he contributes...and even though he's good for one brainfart every game, he's also fast enough that he can usually get back into the play. His diving poke check is a thing of beauty.
Moving up to the forwards, we have two, maybe three legitimate first line players here followed by a whole host of third and fourth line muckers and grinders. Mats Sundin was as advertised good for a point a game, badly snakebit the last quarter in the goal-scoring department, but still contributing. He's something of an enigma. On the one hand, he's the definition of steady...point a game, like clockwork. But the way he goes about that is just bizarre: he'll go five games without a point, then get ten points in his next five games. It's almost as if he pays more attention to his own boxscore than anything else.
Darcy Tucker: another great season derailed by injury. He might have been a 40 goal scorer if he'd stayed healthy. He's a Leaf for life and if Sundin retires I think they ought to give him the "C".
Kyle Wellwood: despite missing half the season, he almost matched last season's point total. It's not inconceivable to suggest a healthy Wellwood would have been our top scorer. Immensely creative with the puck, he is hampered by the sub-par talent level of his linemates, who seem incapable of expecting Wellwood's unexpected passes.
After these three the talent level goes over a cliff and we have to rely on intangibles such as grit and heart. Kudos to Nik Antropov, who improved despite once again missing a third of the season. Boos to Stajan and Steen, who took several steps backwards this year and were largely invisible. And a message to John Pohl: John, I had you down for 40 points, and while you didn't quite manage that, you would have if you'd been used properly. I sorta kinda thought Paul Maurice knew your nose for the net.
Finally: Boyd Devereaux. I got a serious case of man-love on for this guy. He came up from the Marlies and resurrected his NHL career with speed, work ethic, and an occasional clutch goal. Keep him...and clone him.

All in all, this team actually improved a bit over last year, point total notwithstanding. With any kind of a goalie and even one more scoring winger we'd be talking about home-ice advantage right now. Maurice deserves credit for keeping his team together despite a hospital's worth of injuries.

GO DEVILS GO!

07 April, 2007

Hockey Blog 2007 (II)

Ah, but I did get one thing indubitably correct:

WASHINGTON SUCKS.

Hockey Blog 2007 (I)

I'm writing this an hour before puck drop in the final game of the regular season for my Toronto Maple Leafs. Possibly the final game of the year for them. Or for the Habs, their opponent tonight. Or--depending on what the Islanders do tomorrow against the Devils--for both of them. I can't recall the last time a regular season game was this important. Not for one team (that seems to happen every year for my Leafs: it always comes down to one game) but for two. Simply put, both teams have to win this. It should be an incredible match. Meaning of course, there's a better than even chance somebody's going to get blown off the ice. No, I won't say who. Predictions are a mug's game. They were at the beginning of the season and they certainly are now.
Speaking of the beginning of the season, I made a number of predictionsback in October. Let's see how I did.

1) SORRY, OTTAWA, THIS AIN'T YOUR YEAR EITHER. I'll stand by this and dare them to shock me. They might go one round...maybe even two...but no further. Now, if they had finangled Roberts and Laraque the way the Pens did...
2) THE LEAFS WILL BE LIFE AND DEATH TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. AGAIN. As our ex-P.M Johnny Crouton was wont to say, "For sures on dat." How much more life and death can you be than having to win your last game and rely on another team to lose their last game?
3) DUCKS-PREDS CUP FINAL. Braincramp! This is, of course, impossible until the League re-aligns. Surprised nobody called me out on this...it would have given me a chance to say Ducks-Sabres final instead...but that'd be cheating, now, wouldn't it?
Mind you, both Anaheim and Nashville are tied with 108 points right now. At least I selected two fine teams.
4) AT LEAST FIFTEEN PLAYERS WILL SCORE OVER 100 POINTS.
Uh...not quite. Only five have that many now; Hossa might sneak into the club, as might Jagr with a hot hand in his last game. I also suggested here that only two goalies would have a GAA under 2.00: Kiprusoff and Brodeur. Neither managed it, though Brodeur came reasonably close. The indefatigable Dominik Hasek came closest, and hands up all one of you who saw that coming.
5) GARTH SNOW WON'T LAST THE YEAR. Here I fell flat on my face in exactly the same way Wang and Snow didn't. I had the Islanders picked to finish dead last. Instead, they're still in the playoff mix with less than 24 hours to go in the season. As far as I'm concerned, Ted Nolan should get Coach of the Year. Again.
6) OVECHKIN WILL BEAT CROSBY IN THE POINT PARADE. Bzzzt. Can I weasel out of this by saying I had no idea Malkin would actually play for the Pens this year when I wrote that? Probably not, since he and Sid the Kid don't even play on the same line. Count me in on the Crosby bandwagon: the guy's amazing. And Pittsburgh looks like a budding powerhouse. Beyond their big three, they have surprising talent and depth. Still a little green in goal, but give them a year or two.
7) BOSTON WILL IMPROVE BY AT LEAST TWENTY POINTS (and probably make the playoffs) Bzzzt again. Take the zero away...they've improved by two points instead.

See? Mug's game. Like I said.

Leaf report card later.


02 April, 2007

Fatigue

Pardon the paucity of blog entries of late. To tell the truth (and shame myself), I'm just too damned tired to think about much of anything at all.
Yup, it's EASTER WEEK again!
Longtime readers, as well as those EVERY SINGLE ONE of you who pile into grocery stores this time of year and buy everything in sight, then bitch because it's all gone...
Deep breaths, Ken. Start over.
Easter, you know? The time of crosses and chocolate bunnies is also, inexplicably, the busiest week of the grocery year. Thanksgiving is a pale imitation. Christmas comes close. But Easter--which never meant a thing to me beyond a perfunctory trip to church and some little chocolate eggs scattered around--means a whole hell of a lot to just about everybody else.
This year, it's the usual lack of holding power that vexes me, but it's compounded by a change in my schedule and added responsibilities.
Yup, yours truly is officially a keyholder now. That means I close the store on occasion, in my case on alternate Wednesdays (I also work Friday evenings). That wouldn't be much of an issue, except I work every Thursday morning and alternate Saturdays as well. By the time I get home on Wednesday nights, it's ten o'clock. On Fridays, eleven. And I'm up at ten after five the next morning.
To make matters worse, we're moving to what they call "summer hours"...how much you wanna bet they wind up permanent?...closing an hour later through the week, meaning I'll get home at eleven on Wednesday nights--and that's if everything goes well. Any delay closing the store and--because of the vagaries of Grand River Transit--I'll be home at midnight. Even assuming I can fall asleep immediately (a dubious proposition), I'd be getting five or at most six hours of sleep.
Cry me a river, I hear you saying. I'm lucky to get that much sleep on any night of the week.
Yeah, buddy, that's you. I'm not built that way. I'm tired just thinking about it.

Every grocery chain tries to outdo all the others when it comes to holiday flyers. (Well, not every chain: the high-end stores, like Loblaws and Sobeys, don't have to flog every last item in their stores to draw customers in, relying instead on quality and selection--which is, after all, what people care most about at holiday time). The discount banners, like us, have to try and peel people out of the full-service stores, and there's only one way to do it: price. So the usual suspects are on sale--you'll find frozen vegetables, ice cream, and Pillsbury Crescent Rolls--on sale almost everywhere, not to mention cream cheese, half-and-half, and so on and so forth--but then they had to put Fruitopia and Five Alive chilled juices on for 97 cents. Cue the gnashing of the teeth and the banging of the head. That's a full time job, keeping that stocked.

So I come home and think "blog? Blah." And it'll be like that until Easter Sunday.

Until then....