23 February, 2011

The Bare Facts

or, if God had intended us to walk around naked, we would have been born that way.

Skin.

We all have it; we've all seen it. But -- at least in North America -- it's widely viewed as shameful and disgusting. Especially the (ahem) naughty bits, the Parts-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. Parents go out of their way to come up with "acceptable" words for the unmentionable parts. Pee-pee. Thing. Birdie. Down There. Even if they call the parts by their proper names, there's usually an aura of discomfort that pervades their discussion.
I learned the real names for the you-know-whats early. I was given a book called Where Did I Come From? which spelled them all out. I have never forgotten that "vagina rhymes with North Carolina". That little book spared my mom the first few episodes of The Talk.
But I couldn't help notice, even as a little kid, that the material laid out (so to speak) so matter-of-factly in the book was anything but matter-of-fact in real life. It seemed as if a penis, for example, could never actually be called a penis. On the one hand, there was a seemingly endless list of "low" words and clumsy Harlequinisms (how you women can read 'purple-helmeted warrior of love' without collapsing into gales of hysterical laughter is beyond me); on the other, you'd have people vaguely waving in the general direction of the penis and thunderously frowning. Don't think kids don't pick that up...they do.
I spent much of my life buried in books when I was younger. This has shaped my life in countless ways, from the obvious (hey, buddy, do I look like a rugged outdoorsy guy?) to the not-so, or maybe nutso (I have this idealism, a very firm Belief In The Way That Things Should Be, that doesn't jibe well with messy reality). Books have also heavily influenced my views on love and sex, starting with that Where Did I Come From? and working up through Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson, both authors strongly sex-positive (and well ahead of their time). There's something tremendously liberating in seeing one's own thoughts, especially those ideas may be controversial, laid bare in print.
George Carlin is another icon of mine. In a sane world, he'd have been canonized by now. Then again, a sane world never would have needed him so badly. His specialty was deep, thought-provoking statements beneath the caustic comedy. For example, his views on prostitution: "Selling's legal. Fucking's legal. Why isn't selling fucking legal? Why is it illegal to sell something it's perfectly legal to give away?"
Why, indeed?

I am not a practicing nudist, on account of entirely practical concerns. No pockets, for one. I live in an arctic tundra wasteland for half the year, for another. But I have no moralistic objection whatsoever to public nudity: it's just skin.
This, it turns out, is a very common attitude: just not here. In Germany there are numerous parks with 'Free Body Culture' areas, places in which you'll see businessmen and women eating lunch in the altogether. Any sexual activity is strictly illegal--if you want to see a society that tolerates public sex, you have to look to the so-called "primitive" tribes of Africa, Asia, and South America. But nudity in and of itself is no big deal, not only in Germany, but throughout much of Europe. Like most European norms, this one strikes me as eminently sensible. (See what I mean? Firm Belief In The Way That Things Should Be, which doesn't mesh well with the world as it actually is around me?

I live an hour's drive from one of the largest Gay Pride parades in the world. I haven't been able to go and show my support (yet)--but I've always wanted to, and have had to settle for watching it on TV. Strangely, you can't find coverage even on OUT TV, which bills itself as Canada's Premier GLBT Network, and news coverage is always heavily edited. Now, I gotta tell you, I'm not in any big hurry to sit in front of my television screen and gaze at hairy chests, let alone flaccid penises bobbing along. But the censorship strikes me as bizarre. Insane, even. We can't let little kids see breasts! Better not feed 'em, then, eh? Or...penises! Ha. Little boys figure out penises right early. They may not know their adult purpose, but they sure learn in a hurry how good they feel. I have it on good authority the same holds true for little girls and their clitorises.

You sick monster, sexualizing children!

Who, me? Not at all. Merely acknowledging reality, something which North American culture tends to have a problem doing. Kids are going to masturbate. Later, once grown, they're going to fool around with sex. The more you forbid it, the more likely they will. Humans are curious creatures, and if you put a brick wall in front of them, they're probably going to climb it, tunnel under it, or walk around it.

Religious, by which I mean Christian, types tend to protest most loudly about the 'degradation of morality' and 'gross public indecency'. Memo to these folks: we were all, according to your Holy Scripture, 'made in the image and likeness of God'. I don't know about you, but if I believed that, it'd make me fiercely proud of my body and perfectly okay with showing it off. But no, it's to be kept shielded from everybody, especially the little people that once came out of it. The logic, if there is any, escapes me entirely.

Aside: I've often wondered just how virulent the protests would be in the case of a hypothetical Straight Pride Parade. I'm not saying they wouldn't exist, but it often seems to me as if there's some hidden chapter in the Bible somewhere that states--entirely in red letters, and about six hundred different ways--that Homosexuality Is The Most Unforgivable And Heinous Sin Ever Hatched By The Devil In The Unsuspecting Minds Of Men. (Never women; lesbianism's beneath notice. Weird.) Of all the so-called sins going on in the world, the fixation on that one has always puzzled me.

Then there's the people who claim to have no problem with nudity, provided the naked person fits some preconceived notion of attractiveness. You've probably run across these people, the ones who went to the nude beach on a dare and came back sputtering and gagging at the fat women and wrinkly old men they found there.
This behaviour is inevitable in a culture as hypersexualized as ours is. It's also completely wrongheaded. It stems from the misguided belief that the body IS the person. We've almost completely lost touch with the ancient maxim that we are composed of body, mind, and soul (or spirit, if you like that word better). New Age belief holds not that the body is a container for the mind and soul, but rather that the spirit encompasses the body and the mind. I suspect science will some day prove this to be the case.
I've always believed this, and it's what allows me (usually) not to judge people on their appearances. I've always put more stock in someone's mind and spirit than in their body--which isn't to say I can't appreciate a beautiful body. But we're all going to be ugly--externally--someday. Some of us are internally ugly already. You can't tell who is and who isn't, though, by their skin.

People: love the skin you're in. Maybe you don't need to show it to the world...but there's nothing wrong with you if you do.




21 February, 2011

You People Need Help

So there's this video floating around Facebook...the one, the only Justin Bieber's CSI episode, wherein I guess he's shot dead. I would know this if I followed pop culture or Justin Bieber; I trail along miles and curves behind the one, and wouldn't recognize the other if he showed up at my door ushered by whatever rapper it is that ushers him around.
My wife does the pop culture following in this house, and she is dismissive and a tad contemptuous of the Bieb, given that she was born in Saint Ratford, as she calls it. "I was here first," she says.
Dismissive and contemptuous I understand. Actually cheering a re-enactment of his death? Not so much.

I was in therapy for a while in my early teens. I don't remember what landed me there. It probably boiled down to my folks not understanding me. I don't blame them one bit, considering that I can count the people who consistently understood me on the fingers of one thumb, especially back then. What I recall most distinctly about my therapy sessions was the growing disconnect between the therapist and me. He kept asserting, and trying to prove, that I did not understand the difference between fantasy and reality. This was, and is, total bullshit. I told him as much every way I knew how. My problem at the time was that I didn't really know too many ways how.

I could turn that accusation--he doesn't understand the difference between fantasy and reality--on the legions of (mostly) guys who have lustily cheered the completely fictitious death of completely fictitious character Jason McCann. After all, to a man, they're acting as if it's the actor, not the character, who is killed. Moreover, I'll admit to being a little frightened of a person who finds the death of another human being...a human being whom he has never met, and who has never harmed him in any way...to be an event worth cheering.

Justin Beiber is merely the latest example in a catalogue that stretches back through the Jonas Brothers, the Backstreet Boys, probably back to Paul Anka and beyond. Doubtless if Elvis Presley were just starting out today, there'd be legions of male haters to go along with the adoring multitudes. Is it jealousy, I wonder? Do people really hate Justin Bieber because of his prepubescent posse? How pathetic would that be? Guys: most of the girls with Bieber fever are far too young to even look cross-eyed at. You know that, don't you?

These people who cheer at "Justin Beiber"'s death by gunshot, though--do they really bear the real Justin Beiber ill will? The Facebook "I Hate Justin Beiber!" fan club is instructive. There are over seventy thousand members in just this one forum, and the first thing I saw when I look at that Wall chilled me. "I burned a Justin Beiber Teddy bear and picture today. It felt SO good." And what did you think while you were burning that bear and picture? You didn't think--even for a second--about engulfing Justin Bieber himself? Naw, of course you didn't.

And they told me I had trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

The so-called problem with me when I was a teen was my visceral hatred of violence. It didn't matter where the violence showed up: in real life or on television. Apparently it was perfectly okay to have a problem with real-life violence, but imitations on a screen, no matter how graphic, are hunky-dory. Under quite a few circumstances they're supposedly funny. Hahahaha, you could die laughing.
I have never found pain funny. I have likewise never found pain sexually arousing. Pain is pain. It hurts. It's never funny when it's you, is it? Here, let me punch you in the face and then laugh at you. You'd call me a monster, and rightfully so. But it's fine if you watch it happen to somebody else on a screen. Why? Because it's not real? And yet it's shown to you as if it was. They go to great lengths to ensure verisimilitude. Why bother?

I'm not a Justin Bieber fan. I've heard exactly one of his songs--One Less Lonely Girl is on heavy rotation on one of the channels at work--and found it about as mindless and mediocre as most pop music today. But I don't hate the guy. On the contrary, I respect him tremendously. Here's the first YouTube megastar, a boy who's parlayed an accidental discovery into millions upon millions of dollars. You tell me what's to hate about that, because quite frankly I have no idea.










14 February, 2011

Jury Panel Member # 508

"You're being very whiney", Eva intoned as we drove downtown. "And it's very unattractive."
Yeah, happy Valentine's Day to you too, I thought...and then continued to whine. "Look, it's not that I have a problem fulfilling my civic duty. I just have a problem with the fact that my employer won't pay my wages if I do."
"You're not even losing a day here, though. You just have to do something you don't want to do on your day off. Waaaaah."
"--And maybe tomorrow, and Wednesday....hell, the summons states it could be up to five da--"
"So you take some vacation days. Waaaaaaah."
Shut up, Ken, I thought. Like most arguments with your wife, this is one you can't win.

Waaaaaah.

Eva works a few blocks from the courthouse to which I had been summoned. I grabbed a coffee in the atrium of her building and assembled my time-passing items on the table in front of me. Globe and Mail, check. Two novels, check. iPod, check. An hour and a bit later, I found my way to the courthouse.

Holy crap. There had to be five or six hundred people packed into the main lobby like so many sardines. We sardines were halved and sent to different courtrooms. I was among the first inside courtroom 2, and I found a seat at the extreme front left of what I would later learn was the "body" of the courtroom. My reasoning was simple, and twofold: added legroom, plus if they went front to back, I might get out of here sooner.
Or, I reflected, they might go alphabetically, in which case my last name would stand me in good stead. Boy, I'm glad I'm not Ken Zyzzix.
Then again, maybe they'll go by jury number. I'm 508. That's a lot of numbers.
The court was called to session and we all rose. Not for the first time, I was forcibly reminded of a church. The pews courtroom benches were just as uncomfortable, and now with the up-down, up-down. Would we be kneeling before a statue of the scales of Justice before the day was out?
The judge announced himself and said that this would be a criminal trial. He confirmed with the Crown attorney the estimated trial length: eight days. Yike, I thought. Eight days! Plus however long it takes to get a jury! Waaaaah!
Then came the arraignment. Almost despite myself, I was sucked right in as count after count was read out. Seventeen in all: it took almost twenty minutes. Two counts of trafficking in a controlled substance, "to wit, crack cocaine". Nine counts of various types of assault, against three persons. Kidnapping and forcible confinement. Two counts of uttering threats, one a death threat and another a threat of bodily harm. And one count I missed the legalese for, but which boiled down to an attempt to pimp. The accused stood stoically as each charge was read, and pled not guilty to all counts against him. I sat there in the audience and thought seventeen counts, and you're not guilty of ANY of them? Riiiight. They don't just make these things up, buddy. Then I clapped a mental hand over my mental mouth and resolved not to let a thought like that form again.
The judge then went through several different valid reasons to be excused from jury duty. Medical conditions. The inability to hear or understand English. A personal connection with the accused, either of the lawyers, or the police officers expected to be called as witnesses. Extreme personal hardship. I waited for "Waaaaah!" to be cited, but it wasn't. Nevertheless, at least ten people declared themselves unfit to sit as a juror, for a variety of reasons, some of which I felt sure were made up. "It's against my religion," was one that actually took the judge aback. I missed what religion the man professed, but the judge let him go with a shake of his head.
Another thing that wasn't cited as a reason to be exempted from jury duty in this case: racism. Which, quite frankly, surprised me. The accused was a person of colour, or, as his lawyer called him, "African-Canadian", and two of the alleged victims had white-sounding names. Moreover, the accused's lawyer was so black he was almost blue. I really would have expected some sort of racism filter to be applied.

Twenty names were picked at random out of a drum. Mine was not among them, so I was free to watch the ensuing fun.
Seven of the chosen people decided at that moment to announce that they, too, had issues that would prevent them from serving. I could sense the judge was growing a bit exasperated as this went on; I also got the sense he'd seen the same routine many times before.

Finally we got to the actual jury selection. The judge explained that either the Crown or defense attorney could accept each prospective juror or "challenge" them. A challenge could be "for cause", in which case two already selected jurors would act as "triers of cause" to determine whether or not the prospective juror was acceptable. Or it could be a "peremptory" challenge, in which case no reason would be given and the challenged party would be free to leave.

The defence attorney stood and announced that he intended to challenge each prospective juror for cause. Ah, here's the racism filter, I thought. And it was, indeed, a racism filter, but it took an exceedingly long time to work. The procedure was unbelievably long-winded and tedious. First, the triers for cause would get the choice to swear on a Bible or solemnly affirm. (Rocket, you may be interested to know that more than half of all those placed under oath chose to affirm). Each trier was asked "Do you swear/solemnly affirm that you will well and truly try whether (prospective juror name) stands acceptable or unacceptable to try the accused, and a true verdict give according to the evidence (so help you, God)"? Each trier would say "I do".
Then the prospective juror would be asked to swear or affirm. Then the defence lawyer would state his challenge. The first three or four times, he said that the question he was about to ask was allowed by Canadian law, and that it was not intended to 'cast aspersions' on anyone. (The judge eventually told him this preamble was not necessary). The question went as follows:

"After the trial and before your deliberations, His Honour will instruct you on the importance of impartiality. The accused in this case is African-Canadian, and the alleged victims are not African-Canadian. Do you feel that the fact that the accused is African-Canadian and the alleged victims are not African-Canadian will affect your ability to be impartial in judging the facts of this case?"

Confronted with this $64,000 question--which I still believe could have been asked beforehand of the entire courtroom and answered by show of hands, thus saving everyone involved a great deal of time--some people chose to announce to all present that they were, in fact, racist.
Most didn't. One woman said that she would not be impartial, "but not because the accused is African-Canadian". Hah, I thought. No, you're not racist, are you? Racism's a crime, and crime is for black people, right?

In every case, immediately after the answer had been given, the judge would address the triers of cause and say

"I remind you that an impartial juror is one that will conduct his or her duties with an open mind, and render a decision based solely on the evidence presented and my instructions at the conclusion of the trial. If you feel that (prospective juror) will conduct his/her duties in this way, you will find that he/she is impartial and thus "acceptable". If you do not feel that he/she will conduct his/her duties in this way, you will find that he/she is partial and thus "unacceptable". You may confer with each other and render a verdict."

The triers found acceptable all those who said that they would be impartial, and unacceptable all those who said they wouldn't. It was all so predictable...almost pointless, I thought. I began to play little games with myself, sitting there. Is it racist, I thought, to look at a person and decide on appearance whether he's racist or not? I decided it was, but it was the only diversion I could engage in without appearing rude, and so I engaged in it. That farmer, Hank Whathisname? Racist. (Yep.) That little old lady, Edith Somethingorother? Not racist. (Wrong).

So we'd go through this entire routine, the Crown would say it was "content" with the potential juror, and we'd sit there on tenterhooks waiting for the defence attorney to say "content" or "challenge". If everybody was content--the Crown always was, the defence used at least five of the twelve peremptory challenges allowed--the juror would be sworn in:

"Do you (swear/solemnly affirm) that you (juror) will well and truly try and a true deliberance make between our sovereign lady the Queen and the accused at bar whom you shall have in charge, and a true verdict give according to the evidence (so help you, God)?"

One down. Eleven to go.

Look, I get it that this all has to be nice and legal, but surely there's some way to streamline this whole process. The prospective jurors could be sworn in all at once. The triers of cause need only be sworn once themselves. And everyone knew, after the first time a juror was challenged for cause, just what that cause was and that everyone else was going to get it, too. No wonder lawyers insist on getting paid a squillion dollars an hour. I would, too.

It took over three interminable hours and ten more drawn names to get to eleven jurors.
We all sat on eleventerhooks waiting for that twelfth. We had one person announce she could not be impartial, followed by three (!) peremptory challenges from the defence attorney. Just as I thought my bladder was going to simply explode and shower the entire court in yellow justice, the defence attorney stood and rumbled "content". A sigh of relief ran through the room...and then the judge asked for nine more names, to serve as alternates. Again, my name was not called. By this time I had truly mixed emotions about that. Jokes aside, I do believe I would make a fair, impartial juror. I would love the opportunity to "a true verdict give". At the same time, if it took this long just to empanel a jury, who knows how long the trial would really take? It would of course be necessary to give the legal definition of each charge at least three times, probably more often. Chances are at least one jury member wouldn't understand the simplest of instructions. (George Carlin: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half of 'em are STUPIDER THAN THAT!") If the judge gives explicit direction at the end of the trial, why have a jury at all? Why can't "jurist" be a paid profession, something like a lawyer without the antagonism? And yes, why aren't employers legally required to pay wages of employees serving on juries?

Waaaaah.

Seriously, though, in Ontario, jurors get squat for trials up to ten days' duration, the princely sum of $40/day for days eleven through 49, and (wow) $100/day in the unlikely event the trial runs past fifty days. This strikes me as not just unfair, but discriminatory. Remove the financial hardship from this civic duty, and people wouldn't feel the need to lie about why they can't serve. You'd get a much more representative sample, including more poor people. In the event the accused is poor--and lots of them are--the jury would more closely resemble his peers. Wouldn't it?

I will say this. It was an experience just being part of a jury panel. I hope to be able to follow the trial I would have been a part of. But at the same time, I'm glad I get to go to work tomorrow, and that's not something I say often.

13 February, 2011

Sing it, Aretha!

I've been a hockey fan nearly as long as I've been alive. Longer, if love of a game can be transferred through DNA. My dad has been a Leaf fan since the days of Armstrong and Bower--those halcyon days of yore when the Toronto Maple Leafs would routine sip champagne from Lord Stanley's chalice--and that love of the game and team has passed unto me, his son.
In my long-time tenure as a fan, the NHL has gone through several eras. We had the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s: those Flyer teams were the personification of Conn Smythe's legendary aphorism "if you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice". Anyone thinking today's game too violent should be cautioned not to watch game tapes circa 1972-78.
The 1980s saw "firewagon hockey", characterized most often by high scoring games in which few leads were safe and few deficits insurmountable. Ten or more players cracked the 100-point barrier every season, led by Wayne Gretzky, who had more than 200 points an astonishing three times. Nobody before or since has had 200 points in a season even once, although Mario Lemieux did once finish with 199.
The NHL of the 1990s saw the addition of several teams in non-traditional markets and a corresponding dilution of the overall talent level, which led inevitably to a more defensive mindset among most NHL coaches. Goaltending, always vital to a team's post-season success, evolved tremendously over this period; few pre-1990s goalies would survive for long in today's game.
The 2000s brought us the NHL lockout and the subsequent salary cap, which has affected the game in many ways, some good (parity) and some not so good (ridiculous long-term, front-loaded contracts).
Here we are in 2011, and the state of the game is debatable. Tractor pulls still routinely outdraw NHL hockey on U.S. television. Several of those 1990s expansion teams are tottering on the brink of financial collapse. More concerning is the prevalence of cheap-shotting and overall dirty play. Here, let me Cooke you up an example:

HOW IS THIS MAN STILL ALLOWED TO PLAY NHL HOCKEY?


Cooke was recently suspended a paltry four games for his latest dirty play (not shown in this video) on Fedor Tyutin. In the past, he has ended players' seasons and in the case of Marc Savard, quite possibly careers. It's sickening to me that a player like this is allowed to draw a paycheque. This is behaviour than in most other contexts would land someone in jail.

And while Cooke may be the most egregious example of cheapshot artist, he's far from the only one. Indeed, reckless disregard has become almost a default style of play in recent years. An excellent opinion piece by James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail suggests the reason is money, more specifically the gross difference in salaries between the NHL and the minor leagues. Most of the players who deliberately intend to injure are those "on the bubble" between the glamour and comparative riches of the big leagues and minor league ignominy. Mirtle calls for the abolition of the "useless" fourth line in the hopes that it might mean a greater respect amongst players.

I'd go further, myself, and eliminate not lines but entire teams. The Hockey News once ran an interesting thought experiment: what if there were still only six teams in the NHL? They cherry-picked the rosters of thirty NHL squads to form six elite teams that would make even the most casual hockey fan drool. I wouldn't expect anything so drastic, but the contraction of even two teams would mean a noticeable uptick in the league talent level.

In the meantime--and perhaps that should be two words, "mean time"--we have cheapshots precipitating brawlfests like the Montreal-Boston game last week (fourteen fights) and the Pittsburgh-Islanders match the other night (seventeen fights).
Now, I'm not one of Mike Milbury's pansies. I like me a good fight in a hockey game, and Puck Daddy knows I'm not alone. Nobody leaves the room during a fight. But seventeen in one sixty minute game? That's not a hockey game, it's a joke. Not a funny one.

Don Cherry calls it "old time hockey". I have a real admiration for Cherry, but in this case he's wrong: "old-time hockey" didn't have quite so many cheap shots, and it did have a healthy respect for the opposition. You may have hated the team you were playing--hell, the Leafs and Canadiens players travelling from Toronto by train for the second leg of a home-and-home would avoid all contact with each other, even if it meant going without food and drink for the trip--but you recognized the guy beneath that hated jersey was a fellow hockey player and human being.

Respect. That is what's missing, and not just from hockey. There's little to no respect anywhere else any more. You certainly don't see it in politics. Nor in grocery stores. Trust me on that one. The worst thing is, once you allow disrespect to gain a foothold, it rapidly eats away at everything in sight until your entire culture is rotten to the core.

09 February, 2011

There's Your Election

So, as usual, Canadians don't want an election right now. They apparently would rather just let Harper govern for the rest of his life, dragging the country further and further right as he goes.

What if the Liberals were to, oh, I don't know, stand up for themselves? Even just a wee bit?

I for one am sick unto death of these damned attack ads. They really should be illegal, especially since we are NOT in an election campaign right now. But that's not to say I wouldn't welcome a nice gutter punch from Ignatieff and crew.

Since the Conservatives are so gung-ho on attacking Ignatieff on patriotic grounds, he should perhaps start there. He could mention how Harper has expressed profound admiration for America under George W. Bush...in no less august a forum than the
spend half an hour or more outlining all the nasty things Stephen Harper has said about Canada over the years. Especially trenchant:

"Canada is a northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term." It's a "second-tier socialist country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second world status, led by a second-world strongman appropriately suited to the task." At one point, Harper urged that "Westerners, but Albertans in particular, need to think hard about their future in this country." And, of course, "You won't recognize Canada when I get through with it."

Sure we will, Steve-O. It'll look just like the worst parts of America. We'll have America's failed policies on crime (and incidentally, they're keeping how much it'll cost us a secret.)
We'll have a country increasingly polarized and fragmented, increasingly concerned with narrower and narrower definitions of "the common good". We'll have SUN TV News (aka FOX News North) to tell us how filthy and evil the Liberals are, not to mention the commie NDP. Our social programs will slowly be starved of funding on the grounds that they're, well, socialist.

Is this your vision of Canada? It sure as hell isn't mine.


Oddly enough for an Alberta separatist, Harper is now warning of the perils of a Quebec separatist movement that is all but dead.

06 February, 2011

Question

The love of my life sounded exasperated. "Does anybody live without vices?" she asked. I didn't know how to answer the question; it's a thorny one.

Eva, yesterday, celebrated her 100th smoke free day. She's quit smoking in the past--once for four years--but this is the first time she'd ever quit "cold turkey". (Aside: what a weird phrase that is. Nobody seems to agree on its etymology. I like the theory that the "cold turkey season", i.e. post-Thanksgiving/Christmas, signalled the end of excessive alcohol intake.)
Wikipedia states that a supposed advantage of the cold turkey method is that, "by not actively using supplemental methods, the person avoids thinking about the habit and its temptation, and avoids further feeding the chemical addiction." The last part of that sentence is correct; the first is utter hogwash. Eva still thinks about smoking. She's angry that she can't be a "social smoker", one of those people who smokes once in a blue moon. It won't happen. If she has so much as one puff, she'll be a pack a day smoker in no more than a week.

My love has an addictive personality. Cigarettes are far from the only thing she has given up in her life. Most of her addictions have been licit, some illicit, and all of them seemingly interchangeable. She'd quit one thing only to take up another. It's part of who she is: I suspect that, if it were possible to perform a total addictionectomy, Eva would lose a lot of her drive to succeed, a drive that fuels her waking existence.

Because one of the things you could say Eva is addicted to is good for her--and anyone else's--condition. She has an incurable thirst for knowledge. It has served her very well over her personal and professional life. It's an "addiction" worth keeping.

Before you say "ah, it's so simple, just turn the rest of her addictions to healthy ends!", consider exercise. Eva lasted considerably longer at her gym than many people. Her trainer told her the good feelings she got from exercising would eventually become self-sustaining: that she would exercise just to get those good feelings. A year later...oh, yes, she would get those nice feelings after lifting a cumulative twenty thousand pounds (and I get horrid feelings just looking at that figure), but as she put it, exercise is like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop." Those good feelings are so much easier to obtain. Say, by means of a puff. Or a sip. Or a toke. Or a pill. Or any number of other things.

I have my own issues, and Dad's episode last month has brought those into stark relief. I need to stop treating food as entertainment and start thinking of it as medicine. That's a difficult adjustment at the best of times--it is a cruel, cruel irony that absolutely everything you're supposed to eat tastes like sawdust.
My biggest bugaboo--like most, I'd say--is portion size. Did you know that a box of Kraft Dinner supposedly constitutes four servings? That you're expected to eat only eleven potato chips at once? I look at the "proper" size meals with incredulity: yeah, maybe I'll eat that and live, but that sound you hear is my stomach, gurgling as it sucks all the joy out of the room in search of more sustenance.

It carries over into my drinks. I don't drink alcohol...never really saw the point of it, to be honest. But coffee? Cola? I am a caffeine-o-holic, suffering from the world's number one unacknowledged addiction. Just two cups of joe in the morning, but I'm kidding myself: the cups are mugs. Each one holds three standard cups. I've limited my cola intake over the past couple of weeks, and I miss it. The alternatives just don't compare.

Eva's latest weaning: aspartame. (While healthier than sugar, it's not the best thing for a diabetic to consume.) The Diet Pepsi has thus gone out the window, leaving us with (ick) water. I'd suggest we'll be down to "bread and water" by the end of this year...but bread's a no-no on the low-carb diet that has, to date, been our most successful undertaking.

Successful, yes, but at the price of constant vigilance: let one scoop of mashed potatoes into your life and you'll flood your carburetor in short order. It's kind of like that single puff of a cigarette. I lost a good deal of weight and felt good doing it. As good as I felt tucking in to a plate of honest-to-goodness food? Not even close.

Does anybody live without vices? And if so, do they really live happily?

04 February, 2011

The Great Disconnect?

"You can not be responsible for how clearly your message is received. Only for how clearly it is sent."
--Neale Donald Walsch

Very good, if brief, article in today's Globe on what the author terms the "great disconnect" that Facebook and the like have wrought.

Twenty years ago, if you couldn't meet face-to-face, you had two options for staying in touch. One was the postal system, now sneeringly dubbed "snail-mail". The other is still around, yet according to this article, increasingly shunned: the telephone.

Snail-mail is, of course, incredibly slow. A conversation by mail is pretty much out of the question: by the time you get an answer, you may not have forgotten the question, but like as not you've forgotten the emotional state you were in when you asked it. Yet books of letters qualify as Literature, with a capital L: the very laggardly nature of the postal system lends itself very well to deep, introspective communication.

I'd argue that telephones by nature foster disconnect. My thoughts on this are heavily influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest:

A traditional aural‐only conversation — utilizing a hand‐held phone whose earpiece contained only 6 little pinholes but whose mouthpiece -- rather significantly, it later seemed -- contained 62 or 36 little pinholes — let you enter a kind of highway‐hypnotic semi‐attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine‐groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone‐pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign‐language‐and‐exaggerated‐facial‐expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet — and this was the retrospectively marvelous part — even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided. During a traditional call, e.g., as you let’s say performed a close tactile blemish‐scan of your chin, you were in no way oppressed by the thought that your phonemate was perhaps also devoting a good percentage of her attention to a close tactile blemish‐scan. It was an illusion and the illusion was aural and
aurally supported: the phone‐line’s other end’s voice was dense, tightly
compressed, and vectored right into your ear, enabling you to imagine that the
voice’s owner’s attention was similarly compressed and focused . . . even though your own attention was not, was the thing. This bilateral illusion of unilateral attention was almost infantilely gratifying from an emotional standpoint: you got to believe you were receiving somebody’s complete attention without having to return it. Regarded with the objectivity of hindsight, the illusion appears arational, almost literally fantastic: it would be like being able both to lie and to trust other people at the same time.

There are times I hate the telephone. It has all the perils and few of the pleasures of a face-to-face conversation. Lacking body language cues, people talking on telephones can easily misinterpret each other. Worse, responses are required instantly: not always desirable, especially should your conversation develop into an argument.

Enter the next generations of communication tools: email, texting, and social media sites like Facebook.

EMAIL is increasingly rare today, probably for the same reasons "snail mail" is obsolete. It's too slow. I'm in that "tweener" generation that goggles at what I just wrote, but if you ask someone half my age, odds are that's what they'll tell you. Odds are also that they're bullshitting...but they may not know it.
It's not speed the yowwens are decrying: their beloved texting is no slower (and no faster) than an email. It's depth. Email, like snail mail before it, connotes a depth of communication to which increasingly few are willing to plunge. Email is slower than a text message only because it's generally longer. It requires more attention of the reader. A Twitter-feed or a text message--140 characters at most--can be read and digested in a single glance. I'm not sure how much shallower we can get...I'm only sure we'll soon find out.

Facebook counts among its denizens over half a billion people, including most (not quite all) of the people I care about. It's become my default communications tool. When Dad had his heart attacks two weeks ago and I was incommunicado, Eva very helpfully updated my Facebook status so that everyone would know where I was and that Dad was okay. No other tool I can think of would apprise so many people so easily.

Am I, as the article above suggests, a "narcissistic digital native" who expects "continuous connection", but who will "shut others off" when I "don't have the time or the will"? I'll address each allegation in turn.
NARCISSISTIC: enough of what I think about me. What do you think about me? No, seriously, any blogger completely devoid of narcissism won't remain a blogger for long. Yet I don't suffer the delusion that the world revolves around me. I like to think I can write, and that my writings will be read and appreciated...but I'd still write this blog if nobody read it.
EXPECTS CONTINUOUS CONNECTION? Please God, no. I demand connection on my time and terms. Maybe that says something even worse about me. I don't think so. Leave something in your Facebook status and I'll see it tonight, tomorrow or next week. I still don't often carry my cell, and in any event don't have voice mail on it: if you want to call me, the safest way is to call my landline and leave a message...which I will retrieve and attend to as soon as I can.
"SHUT OTHERS OFF WHEN I DON'T HAVE THE TIME OR THE WILL? Guilty as charged...and I hope each and every one of you out there is every bit as guilty as I am. It's nothing personal, and we all do it, don't we? Who here has never screened a call? Held off on answering a message of any kind?
All in all, while I appreciate that Facebook might promote a disconnect in some cases, I don't believe it does for me...




02 February, 2011

Stop The Meter





I've been driving my wife to distraction for a couple of weeks now because I won't shut up about usage-based billing (UBB). Apparently I'm not alone: this seems to be one of those periodic issues on which the protest gets so big the government deigns to listen. Stephen Harper's Twitter feed, if you haven't seen it:

We're very concerned about CRTC's decision on usage-based billing and its impact on consumers. I've asked for a review of the decision.


Review? What's to review? The "decision", like every other ruling the CRTC spews forth, clearly puts the interests of a very few (in this case, primarily Bell Canada) above the interests of every consumer in the country.

In all my life, I've never seen such a blatant middle finger extended to the Canadian populace. Under Bell's fastest plan (assuming their speeds are as advertised: they aren't, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish), you'll get one hour and twenty three minutes of download time per month before they start dinging you at $2/GB. It's actually cheaper to mail a hard drive across the country. Don't believe me? One of the ISPs being held hostage by Bell's jacked rates will adopt this business model if UBB remains in place.(pdf)

I can't say why the CRTC's accepted Bell's proposal, except to suggest they're too antiquated to deal with today's media. I can tell you why Bell came up with the proposal in the first place: Netflix. Expressvu can't compete with $8/month for all the movies you can watch, so their solution is to introduce another price layer and make that layer so thick nobody in their right mind would sign up.
Unintended consequences? University students wondering if they can afford to access the four hours a week of YouTube lectures that are part of their classes. Business start-ups concerned that they can't afford videoconferencing, webinars, and other competitive necessities. No, it's not quite "people freezing to death in the dark", but there's a good reason for the outrage.

Incidentally, Bell's Fibe TV, the Internet television service they're rolling out, touts its ability to store a hundred hours of HD content. That's four times the monthly download cap, unless Fibe TV services are exempt from download caps, as I rather suspect they must be. Because as the video above makes clear, the point of UBB isn't simply a "user-pay" model. We all pay for our Internet use already, and data transfer costs next to nothing. The point of UBB is to crush competition. If it also crushes the Canadian Internet, oh, well. At least Bell will turn a healthy profit.

If you haven't already done so, please sign the petition at OpenMedia.ca.

Schools Closed Due To Normality

Not this again.

One of these winters, a cloud is going to obscure the sunrise and cause mass panic.

Wilfrid Laurier, the University of Guelph, and Conestoga College are all closed today, because once again, somebody listened to a weather report and overreacted. The weather reports themselves have been full of hysteria. "Snowzilla!" "Snowmageddeon!" "SnOMG!"

Get (sn)over it.

About six inches on the ground...if that. Wind blowing a light breeze at 14 km/hr. Skies overcast. LET'S CLOSE THE SCHOOLS!

Now, I get it, Hamilton and environs is seeing blizzard conditions. They've closed McMaster University, which makes a trifle more sense. But around here?

I'd really love to pinpoint when it was that every random flake of snow was suddenly deemed a WEATHER EVENT and worthy of round the clock hype. Do the weather forecasters not realize how ridiculous they sound? It's Canada, it's winter, it snows. Always has, probably always will. But sometime between when I was knee-high to a snowbank and now, the STORMCENTRE went live and everything changed. The tense music started up and the list of cancellations followed.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. When they pull the city busses off the streets, that's when the schools should close. Whoever's responsible for school board transportation should call up the city transit early in the morning and ask "are your busses running today?" If the answer is yes, then kids should be in school. Hell, it's not as if anybody walks anymore.