31 December, 2012

Thoughts (And Actions) Upon The Turning Of The Page

My brother-in-law (hi, dude!) brought this to my attention a couple of weeks ago and it's been percolating in my mind ever since. It occurs to me that '6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person" is a perfect thing to dissect at New Year's, when much of the world is preoccupied with resolutions. Let's remember that that word, resolutions, should really be hyphenated: "re-solutions". What's in your life that needs solving? And does it really need solving again? If so, why didn't you solve it right the first time?

This article is full of food for thought, written in Cracked magazine's inimitable style. Ultimately, though, the first three courses didn't sit all that well with me...

'TRUTH' 1: THE WORLD ONLY CARES ABOUT WHAT IT CAN GET FROM YOU

The way this is presented, it's self-evident. "Niceness" alone isn't going to count for a whole hell of a lot when surgery is required. Yet even here, something grates on me. Look at the writer's examples of things society needs: houses, food, entertainment, fulfilling sexual relationships.

Yeah, that's some of what the world needs now. You can sure tell a man wrote this, though--a woman would likely have written 'fulfilling relationships', without the qualifier. That would have covered a lot more ground, and been more true to life besides.
Here's some stuff that's missing:

Perspective
Wisdom
Truth
Beauty
Joy
and...well, we'll let Jackie DeShannon finish up.

None of these things pay...in money. But all of them will make you rich nonetheless...and the lack of them will make you poor indeed.

Yes, the world only cares about what it can get from you. But do you care?

'TRUTH' 2: THE HIPPIES WERE WRONG (YOU ARE YOUR JOB)

Bullshit.
The hippies were only wrong because we let them be.We rejected their vision of a world of peace, love and understanding and replaced it with a world crammed full to bursting with violence, hate and confusion.
There is something to be said about your job being your contribution to the world. But you, in your job, can be a contribution to the world no matter how menial or masterful that job may be.
I work in retail. I've worked in retail for most of my life.  The overall contribution of my job to society at large is insignificant in the extreme.

But I meet a lot of people. And I try to make each person I meet happier in some small way for my having met them. ("Shared pain is lessened and shared happiness is increased and thus do we refute entropy"). My job, like everything else in my life, has the meaning I give it. And I choose to infuse that job with the meaning that is me.

'TRUTH' 3: WHAT YOU PRODUCE DOES NOT HAVE TO MAKE MONEY, BUT IT DOES HAVE TO BENEFIT PEOPLE

I actually can't argue that. But what a pithy and strange example he gives: he claims women fall for the jerks because they have something to offer beyond being "a nice guy". In my admittedly limited understanding -- I'm not a woman, needless to say -- the idea is to date the jerks for the adventure that's in it...and then marry your best friend, the nice guy. Any other path, such as, for instance, marrying a jerk...probably leads to heartbreak. Because usually jerks don't change.
There is one corollary here that needs to be hammered home. Want to be loved? Be loveable. Couple that with confidence, the kind of thing that jerks have oozing out of the stuffed crotches of their jeans, and you're golden.

'TRUTH' 4: YOU HATE YOURSELF BECAUSE YOU DON'T DO ANYTHING

Well, I don't hate myself, but it's true: I could do more. I fancy myself a writer; I don't write enough to really be a writer. This is the core of the message in this article, and it is a good message, a valid message. Thoughts are creative. Words are even more creative. But actions...

And I don't mean clicking 'Like' on Facebook.

Which brings us to

TRUTH 5: WHO YOU ARE INSIDE ONLY MATTERS BECAUSE OF WHAT IT MAKES YOU DO

One of my favourite authors, Gary Jennings, once said "pray into one hand and piss into the other and see which one fills up faster". This holds equally true for the "thoughts" that serve as secular prayers, viz. "I'll keep you in my thoughts". All well and good--thinking about someone or something is probably better than not thinking about him, her or it.

2013 is the year I'm getting off my ass and improving myself. I'm not sure I'll get everything on the list done--it costs--but damnit, there is a list this year and we've already acted on some of it. I've been thinking about betterment for a long time, hoping that'd make me better. It didn't. At some point, actual effort's needed. Why not now?

Because

TRUTH 6: EVERYTHING INSIDE YOU WILL FIGHT IMPROVEMENT

And it has. It took me a while to equate the things I've been saying for years, the things I still believe -- "I am not my job", "Money isn't everything", and "Accept what comes", among others, with the real sense of stagnation I've been struggling with for the last couple of years. It is possible to be content with what life brings, yet still desire new experiences. It is possible to be happy making a living, and yet yearn to make more of life.

Happy 2013, everyone.




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29 December, 2012

I Am A Dumbass

"A heads-up would have been nice, dear", Eva said to me on the way out of the movie theater.

No kidding. To provide one, however, I would have had to use my own head.

We had just watched the bawlfest known as Les Miserables. She had never been exposed to "the persistent greatness" of the story as the New Yorker terms it (Hugo's novel has been in continuous print since its first publication in 1862 and has been adapted numerous times for various media). I was very curious to see what effect, if any, the movie would have on someone completely unknowing the source material.

God knows the musical devastated me. Thereby hangs a (short) tale.

I saw the Toronto production with my girlfriend at the time--it would have been '91 or '92. We both walked in not knowing what we were in for; I walked out three hours later barely able to see for the tears...along with all the audience. Except Lynne. She had what I swear were the only dry eyes in the house. (You'd think the warning bells would have been tingling a little there, let along jangling loudly a couple of hours later when she questioned her boyfriend's manliness to her entire college dorm, but I was oblivious. I do recall wondering how anybody could remain tearless through that. And I was amazed at the attention that the denigration of my sensitivity granted me from more than a few of Lynne's dorm-mates. Guys: tears are worth girl-points.

"Why do you like that movie," Eva asked me once it was over. "Is  it just because it's a musical? Or is it because hundreds of people die in it?"
Our divergent taste in movies has long been a source of comedy in our relationship. Eva likes comedies, big-budget action flicks, and eighties kitsch, the cheesier the better. I'll join her for those big budget blockbusters, so long as they don't derive from comic books, but the type of movies I like most are powerful, emotional dramas. I like to feel my movies, and Les Mis will get you right in the feels.
And yes, there's something about musicals. Tho thue me, thailor. I don't care how limp-wristy this makes me sound, but it's hard not to appreciate a fusion of acting and vocal talent.

And tears are cathartic, we all know that, right? It hurts to cry, but tears are the drainage system for the brain. Every once in a while, it's a good thing to open the dam a little. So I fervently believe, anyway.

Eva, bless her heart, always joins me for my movie indulgences, even ones she has little to no interest in seeing herself. Occasionally she exits the theater having enjoyed something in spite of herself, often she doesn't (ask her some time about "three hours of snow". But today I sensed anger underneath the totally understandable tears...anger I had only realized was just as inevitable as the tears about fifteen minutes before the movie actually ended.

"What kind of reaction did you think I'd have to a movie where the dad dies in the end?" Eva asked me.
God damn it, I just wrote again about her dad's passing today. It hasn't been far from mind since well before it happened, which wasn't very long ago at all. And yet I blithely entered a movie theater imagining all the emotional places--and there are several of them--except the ending, which had completely slipped my mind.

This is not the first time I have made a fool of myself in a movie theater, only the worst time. Our first date was The Matrix, a movie I had previously seen on my own, sensed she would like, and further sensed that she might be able to explain it to me better than I could myself.  Our second movie date, however, was a clunker called Instinct. Monkeys die in this movie, a detail I did not know going into it. Nor did I have any idea at the time that my now-wife loves all animals, especially primates. Since we saw that, you'd be surprised how many otherwise wonderful books I have read that were utterly ruined and made unfit for sharing by the death of an animal, often a monkey. Sometimes the monkey isn't even essential to the plot, and so whenever I'm reading and enjoying a novel nowadays, on some level I'm just waiting for the monkey to show up so it can be killed.

Instinct was ignorance. Les Mis was a deeper level of ignorance. I actually feel sick with shame at how much of a dumbass I was today. And a movie I really enjoyed and would heartily recommend will now forever be linked in my mind with my own insensitivity.

2013 Can't Get Here Fast Enough

The less said about this year the better.

Which is one reason I haven't said much this year.

The Breadbin has reduced its output by about half. One reason has been a deep lassitude that has pervaded my life in 2012; another has been a striking lack of anything good to write about (and as we were all taught, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all). Low-grade stress has been a constant companion, both personally and in the wider world, and for much the same reason: uncertainty. I'm a person who would much rather hear bad news, even the worst news, than no news at all, and 2012 has been very much a "holding pattern" kind of year, a "through a glass, darkly" sort of year.
The entire year has been a study in low-grade, carefully stoked media panic. The stock market has gone up and down, by my count, exactly 4783 times due to the Euro debt crisis and 3196 times due to the so-called 'fiscal cliff'. I've learned to discount the wild swings, convinced that each undulation is skillfully orchestrated by those who can profit from it, but the oscillations are felt far outside the cloistered world of the upper crust. This is, incidentally, something the upper crust consistently fails to grasp.

The constant up/down cycle of hope/fear, for me at least, provokes two likewise contradictory emotions: anger...and boredom. Wake me up when you people decide to stop manipulating my world, okay?

The uncertainty is everywhere. Will there or won't there be an NHL season? I'm far from alone in not giving a puck anymore; the lockout negotiations have been conducted with exactly the same cynicism that suffuses the stock market. Fans--who ultimately pay the freight for both NHL owners and players--are seen as nothing more than pawns, and I refuse to be anyone's pawn. If that means I can't be a fan anymore, so be it.

When will the world end? Your guess is as good as Mayan. Some people thought it would go poof when Romney was elected; some others are sure it has ended now that Obama's back. But the December 21st big boom failed to materialize.  Another apocalypse stunningly averted. The mere fact that so many people took such a transparently hokey prediction seriously was deeply dismaying. (Greer notes that most of the people feeding the frenzy acted themselves as if nothing would happen on December 21...more cynicism.) But NASA fielded hundreds of distressed letters, some of which detailing proposed mass suicides, all because the world was coming to an end. Just as it did in 2000 and several times since. Do people have no memory?

Cynicism. Manipulation. Lovingly cultivated fear. Kids massacred in their kindergarten, and we're told it's because there aren't guns in schools. No wonder I've withdrawn from the world a tad in 2012.

There have been bright spots: of course there have. It took me about four years at FreshCo to feel the same level of comfort with the people that I feel here in a little over one. I freely admit I have carried, and will carry, a torch for the store I left--there are many good people there I fiercely miss. But there are good people here, too, and I'm now at the point where I look forward to seeing them each day. I've taken some tentative strides towards turning an online friendship into a real-world friendship, with promising results: for a man like me who doesn't make friends easily, this is news. Eva and I marked 12 years, and I am still in awe of this woman I married. In awe of, and in love with. Life, within the four walls of this Breadbin, is still moving along, mostly, as it should.

Mostly. Eva lost her dad to cancer this past year: that loss, and the manner of it, will reverberate for years to come.  Some good has come out of it, not the least of which is that Eva has quit smoking once and for all. But a world without John Hopf in it is a world deprived. While life of course goes on, it does so under protest.


2013 is going to be an eventful year here. For one thing, I'm going back to school. More on that later in January. It will be a year of personal transformation: a pivot-point from the life I have lived--as lovely as it has been--to the life I really want to live. Because when the world is pumping cynicism at you, you have to respond with hope. And when you feel used, it's time to use yourself.

Happy New Year to all. Here's to 2013: may it be everything for you that it will be for us.


18 December, 2012

Words Are Not Enough

"We will take every step possible to ensure the safety of all of our people...I'm sure many of you who a parents here had the same reaction that I did when I heard this news....Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to be able to hug our girls a little tighter tonight, and I am sure you will do the same with your children."--President Barack Obama,  Friday, July 20, 2012, in reference to the Aurora movie theater shooting

"I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight."--President Barack Obama,  Sunday, December 16, 2012, Newtown, Connecticut


With all due respect, Mr. President, words are wind.
Your speeches are necessary; they are comforting; they offer some solace in the midst of grief so pressing as to be unsupportable.

But words are not enough. Words alone will do nothing to prevent the next tragedy, or the next, or the next.  Some sort of concrete political action seems required. The current strategy of jetting around the country offering homilies doesn't seem to be working.

Dunblane, Scotland may be the only place on earth that really knows what Newtown, CT is suffering right now. In 1996, a madman killed 16 kindergarteners and their teacher with four legally-acquired handguns. Within a week, there were over 750,000 signatures on a petition to ban handguns. Within a year, that was the law of the land. There have been no such incidents since.

In Tasmania, also in 1996, a madman shot and killed 35 people with a weapon very similar to the one used by Adam Lanza in Newtown. Twelve days later, strict gun-control laws were put into place. There have been no such incidents since.

From the Right we hear that it is in the nature of criminals to scoff at bans, and that simply banning weapons is pointless. The first bit is true. Killers, once they have decided to kill, aren't going to select a different means of doing it because, yike, the gun is illegal. However, banning guns is most emphatically not pointless. It has to do with the culture.

A ban is a statement--using more than just words--by society saying "this we do not accept, this we will not tolerate." Without such a ban in place, the tacit message is the opposite: "guns are okay", even "guns are necessary". Which inevitably leads to Aurora and Newtown.

The political climate in Washington seems to be shifting ever so slightly. Senator Joe Manchin (D), a member in good standing of the NRA, has suggested that "everything should be on the table". This is a welcome development. Of course, there will be others within the NRA who remain adamant that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives people the inalienable right to carry assault rifles around. Perhaps, just this once, these people can be safely ignored. After all, it's not as if Obama is seeking re-election.

Gun control is only one thing that can and should be closely examined. There are many others. While it is dangerous to comb through any given criminal's life and criminalize anything out of the norm, there are some warning signs in this case that shouldn't have been ignored. Lanza was home-schooled, possibly because of learning disabilities. He was very bright, but reclusive and troubled; a family breakup can't have helped. And he was obsessed with guns, playing Call of Duty for hours on end and able to name every piece of military equipment the U.S. ever produced.

I'll be honest, I'm not comfortable with any of this. Call of Duty and its ilk are anything but out of the norm. They are insanely popular, for reasons I don't claim to understand. (If you're wondering, yes, I play video games, by somebody's definition, anyway: Bejewelled, Peggle, Zuma...games where I don't have to wipe blood off my screen and hands afterwards. But never mind me.)

I won't go so far as to suggest violent games breed killers. I know many people who play them, some of them a tad excessively. I question the attraction, but I'm willing to stipulate that none of these people are murderers in training. Violence in gaming and movies does not make people kill. But killers are likely to gravitate to that violence, and that's the point I really want to hammer on. Do we really need a world full of inspiration for the weaker minds among us? Do we really?
I can sense my readers pulling away from me, maybe thinking it's time for a couple of hours of Call of Duty, and I understand. So moving on: homeschooling.

Why?

Learning disabilities are one thing, and I'll be talking about them soon. Personally, I doubt Lanza's mother was any kind of expert on her son's reported disorders. If she was, she'd have known that social contact was absolutely critical for his development. As it is for all of us.

Homeschooling is not something I generally support. And I'm somebody who would have very much wanted to be homeschooled. I loved school and the other kids by and large hated me and if I could have had the learning without the bullying, you bet your flickin' Bic I would have jumped at it.
But if I was homeschooled, I would have missed out on band and choir. Those things were pathways to acceptance for me. The camaraderie was crucial for my retarded social skills.
Even the bullying made me who I am today. I brought most of that on myself and it took far too long for me to learn how not to do that, but if I was homeschooled I doubt I would have ever learned it at all.

One of my Facebook friends who knew me in those early years has said it's a wonder I didn't bring a gun to school myself. I don't think it would have ever come to that--my dad was a cop, and instilled in me an ironclad sense of consequence that would have precluded the very thought--but I don't deny the possibility might have arisen without the chance to (learn how to) socialize.

Guns are a commonality for these horrific events....the only other is mental illness. By definition, if you murder someone you are clearly mentally ill. My definition runs much broader, of course: in my world, thinking about killing people is strongly suggestive of mental illness and pretending to do it--by means of, say, a joystick and a screen--is...well, never mind. But it seems to me that we as a society have essentially disowned those who suffer from mental illness...which, if you really want to know the truth, is quite a lot of us. Depressives are told to cheer up; those living with schizophrenia or other such disorders are shamed and shunned.
We need to change our attitudes. We need to provide meaningful funding for diagnosis, treatment and eventual cure of a wide range of mental disorders. We do it for physical ailments--why not for the internal ailments that are potentially deadlier?  (Diabetes, say, left alone, will kill you. Schizophrenia, left alone, might kill you and Christ only knows how many others). Children's mental health should be assessed just like their academic grades.

We need to act. The time for talk is over--it was over decades ago. Some of our actions will have unintended consequences, because most concerted actions do. Those unintended consequences can be addressed as they crop up. Soft, soothing words are not enough.


14 December, 2012

So Much Outrage

***note: I am writing this blog in installments. I have not left the house for a week due to a pulled groin that is still making it difficult to sit for any length of time. My apologies if this blog is disjointed. Then again, I'm angry enough right now to let my pain fuel my fingers.***

-----

I have never in my life felt so much helplessness, so much anger, so much disgust at humanity, as I do today. I've fondled my off switch many times over the past ten years...today I hit it, and hard. Enough. Fucking enough.

I woke up this morning to this. The TL; DR: Admittedly corrupt bank launders billions of dollars in drug and blood money; is fined five weeks worth of revenue on the grounds that any punishment more severe might cause financial unrest.

What does this tell you about American priorities? The Mexican drug cartels actually designed money boxes to exactly fit through the teller windows. Could you be any more brazen? This went on for years. And the bank, as punishment, gets not even a slap on the wrist. More like a brush of a thousand dollar bill on the wrist. And its executives? No jail time...not even a trial. Break out the Dom Perignon...very good, sir.
Meanwhile, your average drug user, if caught, get his assets seized and his ass thrown in jail. I don't care how you feel about illegal drugs, is this not just a tad hypocritical?

So while I'm digesting this, and trying not to throw up, I stumble around the net and discovered this, which is strongly reminiscent of Todd Akin and entirely too many other white Republican men...

Any judge making this sort of asinine comment should be immediately raped disbarred.

And then, of course, the capper, the event that made the rest of the day's idiocy, as outrageous as it is, suddenly pale: the horrific school shooting in Connecticut.
Twenty seven dead. Most of the victims between 5 and 10 years old. The heart weeps.

"Now is not the time to politicize this tragedy", I hear. Really? How come anybody daring to mention that this atrocity was committed with a gun is immediately shushed, while Billy-Bob Douchecanoe can freely say "hyuck, if the teachers had themselves some shootin' irons, ain't none of this woulda happened"? (Don't think anybody would say something so stupid? You're....obviously...not...Republican.

Enough of this, I can't take any more. Perhaps the worst realization of all to come out of today for me--the HSBC bank executives that should be in jail are sure to get hefty bonuses; the Grotesque Old Party will continue its assault on women unimpeded; and this school shooting will soon be just another footnote...

05 December, 2012

Where does all the hatred come from?

The species of hatred I'm thinking of is woman-hatred, misogyny.  Like many forms of hatred, it finds free expression in any number of so-called "jokes".

Reddit-thread that brought this to the front of my mind (it's never far from it, truly): Today I learned there are 17 people alive that were born in the 1800s, and 16 of them are women". Top-voted comment: "You know why women live longer? Because they don't marry women." Somebody down the thread inserts a correction: "actually, married men live longer than single men." The rejoinder: "it just seems longer."

And on and on and on. "You know why women live longer? So they have time to park." Hahahaha, very funny, because women can't drive, get it? Get it?

My wife is one of the best drivers I know, male or female, and I can state with some assurance that she has already lengthened my life. She's certainly added untold measures of joy to it.

And I can say the same, to an obviously lesser degree, for every female friend I have. (I was going to blog this evening about those female friends: one of them is moving to the far side of Neptune soon and I'm going to miss her dearly.  I'm in a sentimental state of mind. What the hell.)

My female friends. Strictly platonic, which goes without saying but has to be said anyway. I've always gotten along much better with women than with men...much more so and somebody could probably accuse me of hating men. It's just that women are generally so much more mature. At least when men are around. I've heard stories about how women can treat other women that make me wonder, sometimes... And even when I was immature (and I brought several new layers of meaning to the word), I craved maturity in my life and so tended to hang around with women, insofar as they could stand my hanging around, anyway. (Part of that immaturity I had provided endless fuel for the fantasy-fire from every woman who so much as smiled at me. I'm glad that has abated. It's a burden to carry around.)

Oh, come on, Ken, are you telling me you never think about _____ in a sexual way? Never?

Well, okay, maybe a little. As Brad Paisley sings,  I'm still a guy. But it's been toned waaay down by the fact that (a) I'm happily married and (b) the female friends I'd be most attracted to in some alternate universe are either married themselves or may as well be. Also (c) friendship with these people is its own (rich) reward. There are many other factors you don't need to hear.

I have remarked probably too often about how comedy is built on pain, either inflicting it or revelling in it, and as everyone present knows by now, I don't find pain funny.  Whenever I hear these jokes about wives -- have you noticed the wife jokes outnumber the husband jokes at least a hundred to one? -- I can't help wondering where this free-floating hatred masquerading as comedy comes from. Are there that many wives who are absolute bitches? Doubtful. I'm sure there are at least as many husbands who are absolute bastards. Some of them might just be the people making the bitch-jokes. There are two sides to every story, aren't there?

I had to laugh...in the ensuing Reddit-argument I threw myself into, somebody said

Yeah, how dare someone take something they see in their every day life, like men always having to ask their wives for permission to do something, and make a joke about it after so many other people have already done jokes of that nature.

I replied

My wife asks me permission to do things. I ask her permission to do things. If it's going to affect the relationship, it needs to be cleared first. That's what being in relationship is. Usually it's a quick "can I? yes". If it's something larger, like half the monthly budget larger... of course it's going to be an actual discussion.

It seems to me like there are an awful lot of single men who don't really have any least clue about love and relationships. Love, as Robert Heinlein defined it, exists when someone else's happiness is as essential to you as your own. I can only guess that many men have yet to experience that state. Sad...


04 December, 2012

The End of the (Phone) Line?

Author Charlie Stross muses about the possible end of telephony: "while voice telephony hasn't outlived its usefulness yet, but if we don't find a solution to the spam problem the end is in sight."

The spam problem, oh, yes. Remember when spam used to be shit posing as mail? I haven't had a spam message in my email inbox for so long I'd almost welcome one for the comic relief. I remember those messages used to say things like "Peenizz ENLXXARGEXMENT IN TWO2 DAYS!!!" At least six years. It's been at least that long since I've been bothered by so much as a single unsolicited email.

I get unsolicited phone calls every day. Often several times a day, and sometimes into the later hours of the night. We tend to power down this household at 8 or 8:30 p.m, and if the phone rings much after that I assume somebody's dead or dying. Yet telemarketers think nothing of calling at 9, 9:30, even later, and why would they? It's probably midmorning in Bangalore where they're calling from.

These calls come despite our having signed on to Canada's joke of a DNC registry, which, as it turns out, has so many loopholes it may as well not exist at all.

In fact, it's a safe bet that if the phone rings in this house, it's not worth answering. We subscribe to Call Display, even though we're charged to do so (and this in itself is one of the great Canadian scams; it costs money for the telco to block that information!) It's invaluable in that it lets me know at a glance whether or not the ringing phone is going to get my attention. (Telemarketers who may be reading this: did it ever occur to you people that if you call my number seven hundred times and  I never once pick up, it's because I have no interest in talking to you? No, of course it didn't.)

In case you're wondering, no, I don't pick up the phone and scream at them, much as I admit I'd like to sometimes. There are two reasons for that: one. I really can't be bothered to expend that much negative energy; and two and more importantly, I've been on the other side of the phone. Market research isn't telemarketing--in fact "sugging", or selling under the guise of research, is strictly illegal-- but most respondents seem to think it bears a suspicious resemblance. Telemarketing is soul-crushing work. We'd be doing more than just ourselves a favour if we outlawed it.

Many of my readers have moved to outlaw telemarketing themselves simply by ditching their land line. An increasing number of Canadians rely solely on cell phones and/or VoIP for their communications needs, and as Stross notes in relation to himself, an increasing subset of those people rarely if ever actually speak into a phone at all. I find Mr. Stross's reliance on text messaging to be especially ironic given that he has often publicly complained of carpal tunnel.

I will not ditch my land line. As it happens, I just ditched my cell phone--a long overdue move given that I haven't seen it in six months and haven't used it in well over a year. (I happened to run across it, but do you think I could find the cord to charge it?) Maybe if I cared, I'd have put more mental effort into keeping track of the location of cell phone and charger. But as you might have guessed,  I can't seem to care about cell phones. I view them, in fact, as a plague upon humanity, proof that our species is sick and getting sicker every day.

This comment from an anonymous guest on Stross's site:

"I find voice telephony inherently rude. There is an assumption that a unilateral decision by someone else to talk to you should be immediately agreed-to. The first thing I say when I call people is "Is this a good time to talk?"

Maybe my life has grown too static, but my friends and especially my family know when "a good time to talk" is, and that's when they call me, and if they make the effort to make that contact, I consider it rude to ignore them. Texting, to me, is infinitely ruder by sheer volume. If you had to place a telephone call every time you wanted to express a thought, you'd soon be ripping every telephone jack out of the walls of your home....but God damnit, my pants won't stop vibrating. Worse, imagine if you were engaged in a telephone conversation and you could never get half a sentence out without being interrupted. You'd have to back up and start your thought over to incorporate the interruption...then like as not have to do it again. And that would happen every time you called somebody. Hey, it happens every time I text: I'll be busily mashing my thumb down on seven keys at once when an incoming text renders the half sentence I just managed to stutter out completely irrelevant.
Let's continue this mad analogy: suppose that unless you paid very close attention to every phoneme you uttered into a phone, odds were pretty good your caller would hear something completely different from what you meant to say. Something potentially highly embarrassing: imagine if, for instance, you'd last called one of those numbers, and your phone ever-so-helpfully stored up everything you said only to spew it back out to your grandma the next day. How would you feel about your phone then?

And work, you know, that place you're always stressing and complaining about, what if they could (and did!) call you any ol' time they felt like it, whether you were home, in the car, sleeping, cuddling your spouse, or whatever?

And yet all of this happens with texting, and it is by far the most common communication method in use today, and its every flaw is either ignored or giggled over. Humans. I'll never understand them: even being one doesn't seem to help.

Telephony, as Stross notes, is essentially free: 2400 bits a second is an infinitesimal amount of bandwidth nowadays, and even international calls cost next to nothing to make happen. (My phone bills from September 1990 through April 1991 never got below $300/month, and I never once called anyone outside Canada and only rarely outside Ontario. How times have changed...then again, our media bill is more than that now, so maybe nothing's changed at all.)

"Essentially free" is a magnet for spammers, of course. Which means my phone will be ringing off the hook. Sigh. Stross and his commenters (who skew highly intelligent; unlike most Internet comment threads, his are always worth reading) go over the various workarounds: a whitelist (phone automatically rejects all calls except from numbers I specify); various filters ("you're attempting to reach Mr. Breadbin, please press the number corresponding to...six..minus...four...now" which would kick out autodiallers); various other solutions. The problem comes from legitimate calls from unknown numbers. They tend to be important. Your son's phone-slash-wallet-slash-identity was stolen and he as to call you using a friend's cell, or a payphone (remember those?) You never thought to whitelist your aunt, and she's hurt and needs help. A blacklist is much harder--there are practically an infinite number of spam number combinations out there. But still doable thanks to the remarkable amount of data-mining done now. There are apps that will screen any incoming call and instantly assess its validity. That's free, by the way, thanks to the do no evil folks at Google.

Free for now. Wait until Bell Canada gets a hold of it.

The Scrabble analogues on Facebook--including Scrabble itself, as of just recently--now thrust ads in your face, Really annoying ones. Then they tell you you can shut them off for a whole week (!!!) just by getting three friends to sign up and see them. Telemarketing isn't quite the scourge advertising is--I see so many ads in a day that my eyes have long since learned to simply edit them out--but it's a profitable scourge, or it wouldn't exist. I can very easily envision Bell Canada charging the telemarketers for a business license and the use of whatever hellspawned equipment they need...and then charging each customer a fee, akin to how your bank soaks you for ATM usage. "Pay just $5.99 a month and ten telemarketing calls will magically not get through to you."  Pay $10.99 and we'll guarantee every caller on weekdays has a reason to call you besides trying to sell you something."* *between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. only; conditions apply.

I live in Canada. Any solution will cost dearly, because Bell and Rogers and Telus, aka ROBELLUS, and its lackeys in government,  make sure that there ain't no such thing as a cheap or even a "moderately expensive" lunch. Welcome to Canada. At the sound of the beep, please bend over and assume the position."






02 December, 2012

Why Don't People Talk To Each Other?

Currently trying to recover from what may or may not be a pinched nerve. I say "may or may not be" because the pain doesn't seem to be coming primarily from the same place (front of the leg, not so much the back) and because the exercises for sciatica don't seem to be doing any good. Or bad, for that matter. Still, I had real trouble walking yesterday and while I'm marginally better today--painkillers for the win!--I'm dreading work tomorrow.
************
So I'm a longtime Redditor. Being male and with a functional libido, I subscribe to the sex "subreddit (which is occasionally NSFW, I'm sure you don't need me to tell you). Anyway, it positively boggles my brain how many of the questions posed in that subreddit can be answered with a single word: "COMMUNICATE!"
"Husband is a disaster in the bedroom, don't know what to do." Uh, have you talked to him?
"Married for fifteen years, want to open our relationship, how do I go about it?" Open your mouths, first, and talk. A lot. You might not get anywhere, but you certainly won't get anywhere keeping quiet.
"I have this fantasy and really want my girlfriend to fulfill it, help!" Does she read minds?

The same thing applies with any other potential source of marital discord, be it money, division of household labour,  TALK ABOUT IT. This is not rocket surgery, folks. Not if you're married. At least it shouldn't be. If you've married somebody and you can't talk to them, I'm sorry to inform you that you've married the wrong person.

I honestly can't fathom how widespread this seems to be. What causes it? I can sort of understand one party, the other, or both being potentially embarrassed about sexual issues, and nobody likes to find out they're lousy in the sack...but how are you going to improve if you don't know, specifically, where you're lacking? And as far as embarrassment goes, if you can't be embarrassed in front of your spouse, again, you're doing it wrong. Hell, I embarrass myself pretty much daily. Makes her laugh. That wasn't part of our vows, but it probably should have been. "To have and to hold, to cause you to spray Diet Pepsi out your nose until death do us part."

It's stereotypically a guy thing, of course--we don't want to talk about things, we just want to fix them. I'll admit to being born with a huge heaping helping of this particular inclination. I understood the value of talking about things--some days you can't shut me up, after all--but only as a means to an end. It took me many years to realize that for many women, talking about the problem is fixing it. Often all she wants to know is that she's not suffering alone.

Anyway, this was one of the things our premarital course stressed, the need for constant communication. (I've said this before, incidentally, but if you're getting married, you should take some sort of premarital course, all the more so if you believe you don't need one. It'll open your eyes and give you some extremely valuable coping strategies for the days when the love of your life is driving you insane.) Any problem you get into with words can be solved with more words, never forget that. And don't forget, either, that just because someone spends much of their waking life with you, doesn't mean he or she knows what thoughts are bouncing around in your head.

I will cop to another very "male" behaviour: when angry, I tend to withdraw. First, because I hate conflict. Second, because I have a streak of jerky knee in me that is prone to erupt in moments of high stress and make me say something completely unforgivable that I don't even mean. And third because if I'm really pissed, the mental effort involved in widening my perspective and becoming unpissed takes my undivided attention. So I'll back off for a minute or an hour, and then I'll come back to the table able to talk coherently. "Never go to bed mad" was one of the pieces of advice freely given to me before marriage. It's a good one.

But talk. Use your words. So many of life's little (and big) issues can be dispensed with simply by talking about them....this seems so obvious that it shouldn't need saying...but apparently it does. TALK.






29 November, 2012

I Can't Believe I'm Writing This

...and it's not even Stressember yet. Christmas creep, don't you know.

Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas--it's war!

For years I sided with the people who insist on Merry Christmas over vague niceties like Happy Holidays or especially 'Season's Greetings'. December 25th, after all, is called Christmas, and you can pussyfoot around and make up all the festive salutations you want to avoid mentioning it, but it's still called Christmas. (The inner pedant must once again point out, as he does every year, that nobody knows when Jesus was born; it almost certainly wasn't even in the month of December at all; and it's astonishing how many Christians don't know that.)
I'm starting to get mighty annoyed, though, with the shrill, repeated insistence on Merry Christmas as the only acceptable form of greeting this time of year.  THERE IS MORE THAN ONE HOLIDAY IN DECEMBER, FOLKS. And no, I'm not talking about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, or the Winter Solstice. I'm talking about New Year's Day and -- if you live in Canada, at least -- Boxing Day. Three holidays, count 'em, one two three.  Ergo "Happy Holidays" is a perfectly valid thing to wish somebody. If you have a problem with Happy Holidays, drop the s and have a perfectly miserable New Year's Day, okay?

Besides, I can't be expected to look at you and determine you're a Christian. Happy Holidays is a nice, safe greeting that shouldn't offend anybody, of any faith or no faith.

Now, all that said, it's a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree. It's Christmas dinner and Christmas presents, It's not a holiday dreidel...why should it be a holiday tree? If somebody wishes you a Merry Christmas, and you aren't Christian and/or otherwise don't celebrate that particular holiday, the thing to do is to substitute "have a nice December 25th" in your head, smile, wish the wisher a Merry Christmas in return, and go your way in peace. Wishing somebody a Merry Christmas is not some kind of evangelical plot, okay?

Ken out.

26 November, 2012

Found On Road Dead

Poor Rob Ford.
The soon to be ex-mayor of Canada's largest city has discovered to his chagrin that laws apply to him.

Well, actually, he hasn't. He's framing his conviction on conflict of interest charges and consequent removal from office as an "orchestrated attempt by the Left" to get rid of him. A successful attempt, it turns out, and only because Ford himself provided all the necessary ammunition.

The facts of the case were never at issue. I mean, Ford's vote regarding his own football charity is on record. And he flat out admitted he'd never read the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act which he ran afoul of...the very Act that governs his job. I don't know about you, but if I'm ever elected to office, I'll be an expert on conflict of interest matters within a day or two, and avoid anything that even looks like a conflict.
Not Ford, though. He seems to relish conflict. He has an amazing ability to say and do exactly the wrong thing at any given moment, and to do it with a belligerent sneer on his face. He is a boor, a buffoon, a walking embarrassment to the city of Toronto, and all you need to know about Rob Ford can be summarized in his reaction to the ruling that just turfed him from office:

"This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here and they'll doing anything in their power to," he said.

Actually, Rob, I gotta say, you've done so much to help that left wing achieve their goal that I can't help wondering if you have some kind of death wish. You've been caught swearing at a 911 dispatcher (and you waxed positively Clintonian there, denying you swore but allowing as how you may have used "the f-word" to express your frustration); you've gone out of your way to snub your city's gayfolk (and who'd be surprised at that, given that he thought AIDS was a gay disease?) Not a day goes by when Ford doesn't say something that causes you to raise your eyebrows, or roll your eyes around in your head, or smash your head against your desk...

He ignores every attempt to get him to play by the rules. It really makes me wonder how he coaches football. Isn't that a scary thought?

I've Rob Ford, so help me. Even now there's part of me who wishes I could still like the guy: for all his bluster and bitterness, there's a nice guy in there somewhere. I liked that Ford was a kind of anti-politician, a guy who would brook no bullshit...there's a part of me that responds to that populism and always has. When Ford was a councillor, he never spent more than a minuscule fraction of his office budget--there were a couple of years, as I recall, when he spent exactly nothing. That I liked, that I respected. I thought he'd bring that kind of fiscal sanity to a city dearly in need of it. Instead he was the proverbial bull in a china shop. And now the bull's in the shit.

Serves him right.


22 November, 2012

What Doofus Designed The Human Body?

The ridiculosity starts at birth.
Genesis says it's the curse of Eve: "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children..." (Gen 3:16a)
This is one of those places  where, speaking metaphorically of course, the Bible nails it. That curse came about because Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If you're willing to look mythically rather than literally at that whole passage, it's almost as if the knowledge, or consciousness, brings about the curse. (The instant they eat that fruit they are suddenly self-conscious...)
Human beings have more labour pains than any animal I can think of. And why? Largely because our brain pans are grossly outsized relative to our bodies. While brain size alone is an almost meaningless measure of intelligence, brain size relative to body size is much more significant. I've no doubt that if you wander back into the mists of prehistory, you'll find homo erectus giving birth with about the same drama as you or I would have taking a dump. (Wait a second, there's two things wrong with that sentence: one, my dumps are pretty damn dramatic, and two...take a dump? Who does that? I leave mine, myself.)

In any event, since giving birth is pretty much a biological imperative, you would think that birth canals would be better suited to the task. I say this meaning no disrespect to mothers whatsoever; on the contrary, I stand in awe of the pain they willingly endure. But why should they have to?

Pain in general baffles me. Physical pain is stupid. I get that it's a critical alarm to let you know something is wrong. You wouldn't want Riley-Day syndrome, much as the inability to feel pain sounds attractive. Your lifespan is drastically reduced, for obvious reasons.

But that said, pain should have some kind of dimmer switch. There are still any number of pains that announce themselves, and announce themselves, and announce themselves, and there's not a goddamn thing in the world you can do about them. Ask anyone suffering from lupus or fibromyalgia. Or, for that matter, migraines. What purpose does a migraine serve? Is there any good reason why some subset of the population should have wild horses stampeding in their heads? I can't think of one.

Allergies and intolerances. Why? Again, what purpose? That goes for the common ones--the lactose intolerance, which seems to be everywhere now, and the peanut allergy, which nobody had ever heard of when I was a kid--and the really fun ones that often come in multiples. We once babysat a child who was violently allergic to milk and eggs and something else I can't remember. My wife has cold-induced urticaria, which used to be quite severe and is still something to keep at top of mind in the winter.I know someone else who appears for all the world to be allergic to her own skin; I know of someone else who is allergic to sunlight. Absolutely none of these make sense.

Food. I am far from the only person who laments that there is absolutely no food that is both (a) good for you and (b) actually something you'd want to eat. Sugar, that thing our bodies absolutely crave, is a poison. Not fair, damn it, NOT FAIR.

And all this is to say nothing of the basic structural faults. Who decided to put male genitals on the outside, at perfect kicking height? I'd like to register a complaint regarding the lack of anal musk sacs that should be present in all humans, especially me, to deodorize intestinal gases. I don't particularly care if I lose all my hair--one less thing to deal with in the morning--but a lot of men do care. And I do have to protest that if I do lose all my hair, it simply reappears in my nose, or on my back, or in the crack of my ass...is this really necessary?

You're not supposed to use Q-tips to clean your ears, something I've been doing my entire life. Begs the question of what the hell a Q-tip is actually for. Absent a Q-tip, there should be some simple way to clean your ears. I picture a cowlick: tug it and your ears forcibly eject wax with a sploosh and did I ever just gross my wife out.

Cavities. Couldn't we have designed teeth a little sturdier?

The list just goes on and on. The human body is not a compelling argument for intelligent design.


11 November, 2012

"Becoming European"

This is perhaps the most concise and cogent analysis of why Obama won. (Warning: the article itself is sane and measured--a rarity for the National Review, in my experience. Perhaps predictably, the COMMENTS are BEYOND LOONY.)

U.S. conservatives consider non-American opinion beneath contempt...beneath notice, even. It would not surprise Republicans in the least to learn that if the rest of the world had a vote, Mitt Romney would  barely have registered; in their minds, that's just proof of American exceptionalism. What boggles the Right's collective brain is that their red-blooded America do-or-die-ism is, for the first time in a century, under attack from within America by some mad European-bred socialist fever. And damn it all to hell, in the case of Obamacare, the cure is the disease.

There's a part of this article that really resonated with me, and confirmed, if any confirmation was necessary, my progressive bona fides:

Progressivism always looked at the family with skepticism and occasionally hostility. Reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman hoped state-backed liberation of children would destroy “the unchecked tyranny . . . of the private home.” Wilson believed the point of education was to make children as unlike their parents as possible. Hillary Clinton, who calls herself a modern progressive and not a liberal, once said we must move beyond the notion there is “any such thing as someone else’s child.”

 I should state for the record here that I have nothing against my family whatsoever. I love and respect my parents just as much as any Republican does theirs. Where I emphatically part ways with that Republican: while I love and respect my parents, I do not accept that parents should be the final authority when it comes to their children. I hold this to be self-evident, that all parents are not created equal. There are bigoted parents out there who see their offspring mostly as bigots-in-training; there are parents who neglect their kids, parents who abuse their kids, and many, many parents who, through no fault of their own are unable to truly nurture their children spiritually, emotionally or intellectually. Should we just accept the inevitably underdeveloped kids as the price of parental authority? I say hell, no.

That thing Hillary Clinton said, that we must move beyond the notion that there is "any such thing as somebody else's child"? I like that. I like that a lot. That's "it takes a village" writ large.

I have long misread American individualism. One of my core beliefs is that each person charts his or her own moral course. Like many of my core beliefs, this seems so obvious to me as to be beyond question; yet it's probably the thing that most outrageously offends right-wingers of my acquaintance. I'm told there is a right way and a wrong way to live, and it's a parental responsibility to "raise 'em right". Fair enough, I suppose, but I agree with Woodrow Wilson: your responsibility as a parent isn't to recreate yourself. It is, rather, to help your son or daughter to recreate themselves, every day, "in the grandest version of the greatest vision"they have of themselves, to use Neale Donald Walsch's memorable phrase.

 There are many tools available to do this. Family is a big one, of course, but it's far from the only one. Faith, or lack thereof, is another. Friends are a third; the wider culture is a fourth. Think of every positive influence you've had in your life. While many people will cite their parents, they won't always be at the top of the list; for some people they won't be on the list at all.

Yes, I mentioned faith--or lack thereof. I have, at various points in my life, identified as Christian, atheist, and many points in between. There's no simple way to identify me at this point. My belief system incorporates aspects of Buddhism, New Age thought, secular humanism, and Christianity by way of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, , John Shelby Spong, and Tom Harpur. What I am not, in any way shape or form, is exclusionist. I do believe that a faith can ground a person, can exert a positive influence...so long as it does not become a "blind" faith. The exact same thing can be said of a lack of faith...a "blind faithlessness" is every bit as frightening to behold as the most fundy of fundycostals.

Goldberg notes in his column that not only religious, but also married people tended to vote for Romney...but that marriage is in decline in America. I beg to differ: Maine and Maryland (fittingly) are only the most recent waves in a tide of expanded marriage. Moreover, gay or straight, marriage, like everything else in life, is a personal decision--in this case more personal than most--between you, your spouse, and possibly any deity or deities you hold dear. Republicans tend to hold (a certain kind of) marriage as an ideal, a building block of society. There are far too many divorces, to say nothing of awful, unhappy unions, to consider marriage a universal building block of anything at all. Once again, my marriage is fine, I love and respect my wife unto the ends of the earth, but not every man and woman can say the same. Should kids have available parents? Yes, they should, preferably more than one of them. Does a piece of paper and an exchanged vow make any two people ideal parents? Of course not. And is my family any less a family because we don't have kids? Be very careful how you answer that.

Europeanization is a fait accompli now that the man who wrought Obamacare has been re-elected. The Affordable Care Act has its flaws, and they are legion, but it was only intended as a first step towards universal, single-payer health care--the kind of system the rest of the civilized world takes for granted and the kind of system that utterly terrifies and enrages Republicans. Once Americans get used to looking to government to cover their health, they'll never let go, AND REPUBLICANS KNOW IT. So the boogeymen come out. "America will go bankrupt!" they shout.

Interesting, that. It's awful to contemplate a bankrupt United States of America...but it's perfectly acceptable if any number of Americans go bankrupt trying to pay onerous health care bills. Makes me wonder how many people without insurance voted Republican.

And, not to make too fine a point of it here, but it's going to take some mighty fine maneuvering for America not to go bankrupt now, Obamacare or no Obamacare. That said, it's only the profit margin that keeps American health care costs so ridiculously high. No country pays near as much per capita to insure all of its citizens as the U.S, does to insure some of theirs.

Yes, America will go bankrupt, and even worse, government will start looking to restrict freedoms in the name of reining in health care costs. Hell, New York's done it already: they've banned supersize pop. (Actually, as Catelli notes here, they've banned kegs of pop, which doesn't mean you can't buy fifteen glasses of pop and guzzle 'em).

I've noticed, and lamented, an uptick in this kind of thinking here in Canada lately. Only recently have I started to hear people musing about who does and who doesn't deserve health care. Oh, hell, I've been known to think this way myself. My thought process goes are you human? If yes, you deserve health care.

America, we up here to your north started down this path you're on over half a century ago. We're still here, and by many accounts, our economy's outperforming yours and our standard of living is higher. And as much as you bemoan Europe--as much as the world seems to tremble at every least debt-belch coming out of Europe lately--it seems like people have forgotten northern Europe. The Scandinavian countries seem to be getting on just fine. And they're a hell of a lot more socialist than you'll be any time soon...


05 November, 2012

Americans, get out there and VOTE FOR ROMNEY!

Scratch that, I was attempting to make a joke there and that's kind of an anti-joke.

Of course, after the 2004 fiasco, some of you Obama voters are probably afraid you're going to find yourselves unwittingly voting for Romney. The truth is you probably don't have much to worry about from the machines themselves this time around. (Romney's son does not own all the machines in Ohio, for one thing.) So don't fear the machines. Fear, instead, the voter suppression tactics used mostly in swing states and usually, but not always, by Republicans. 
Up here in Canada, we've had our own political scandal, which is still percolating and fostering outrage. The voting irregularities in the U.S. are considerably more brazen and widespread, but for some odd reason they don't seem to provoke the same level of antipathy. I ascribe that to a perversion of the American Dream which suggests that since winning is all-important, a little cheatery is only to be expected and tacitly encouraged. Canada, being a little more (gasp!) socialist, has less tolerance for cheating.

Every election in the United States is elevated into a pitched battle of universal importance. The opposition is out to destroy the American ideal and way of life, to bring on Armageddon, to annihilate the universe. Without engaging in wild hyperbole, this particular election actually is critically important to the future of the United States.  Of course, depending on who you ask, it is vitally important that you vote for Romney, and just as important that you don't.

Republicans will tell you that Obama is not only the first un-American president in the nation's history, but also the first anti-American president. Notwithstanding the  thoroughly debunked yet remarkably persistent "birther" theories, there is some truth to these allegations. Barack Obama is by no means a typical American. His father was very much against American colonialism and Obama was raised in a stew of American criticism, especially concerning the country's treatment of blacks.
This is most evident in Obama's foreign policy, which critics dismiss as hopelessly naive and destructive, and people outside America tend to hail as a welcome and refreshing change. Obama makes comparatively little effort to promote American hegemony, preferring diplomacy and what appears to be apathy where his predecessors might well have responded with outrage and bombs. There is thus the perception of a power vacuum opening up, centered in the Middle East (where else?) This, more than anything else, scares and angers conservatives. There should be no power vacuum in a world  with America in it, they say. No good can come of it.
I'm not so sure about that. It can be argued that American meddling in affairs of sovereign nations hasn't worked out so well. Regardless, a Republican presidency would most likely seek to restore American notions of might and power, starting (where else?) in the Middle East. Romney's on record as saying he wants no part of a war with Iran. Then again, as Warren Ellis notes, the Republican candidate is "only coherent when he's lying".

Domestically, don't buy the carefully crafted narrative of economic recovery. The U.S. is in for a world of hurt no matter who wins. Look out for the Fiscal Cliff, and if that one won't get you, the debt cliff most certainly will. (Don't look at this site if you have a weak heart or stomach.)

As disappointed as many on the Left must be with Obama's first term, it is worth remembering that the Republicans vowed to block any bill the Democrats advanced, "no matter the content". It's also worth recalling that Romney's company specialized in buying up going concerns and shuttering them, exporting well-paying American jobs to China. In that sense, I'd suggest Romney is every bit as anti-American as is Obama. ("There is no God but Money, and Dollar is His Profit".)

My endorsement of Obama is probably predictable. Were I American, I would consider voting for a moderate Republican, if someone was willing to send out a Huntsman to find such a thing. But there being no moderate Republicans in the race, and a flip-flopping, equivocating fence-sitter at the forefront, I feel the choice is obvious.

Americans, get out there and vote.




04 November, 2012

Taking Inventory

In the middle of a gruelling inventory at work. I've been through close to thirty of these and this has been by far the most taxing. Usually grocery inventories involve one or at most two overnight shifts. This time I'm in the middle of five, every one of which has been or will be packed. For reasons too arcane for me to explain or you to care about, I have one night off in the middle of this five night stretch--which is something that has never been done to me in the course of a few hundred lifetime graveyard shifts. It's not easy. I ended up having a long nap last night from 9 until about 3:30. Given the extra hour as the clocks went back, that was longer than I intended to sleep but probably still not as much sleep as I needed. I plan to have another long nap this afternoon, and I hope that'll get me through the night. I hope. All hail Red Bull.

This megadose of caffeine to wake up and sleeping pills to come down is not the way I want to live my life. But without the caffeine I'm a zombie and without the sleeping pills I run the risk of collapsing from exhaustion the way I did last March. (Even with the sleeping pills, last night marked the first time I'd managed more than five hours of consecutive slumber.) I'm just not a night person.

Last weekend saw two friends married. We all went to high school together. He had a crush on her--as did I and I suspect about thirty other guys--and she was amiable but that's it. Twenty years and about six lifetimes later for both of them, they reconnected on Facebook, starting dating, and lo and behold, a marriage I used to joke with him about is now a happy reality.

That same day we met some friends for the first time. I first knew the woman as 'flameskb' and we've been e-friends for, wow, almost seven years now. (For almost four of those years I didn't even know her name...how odd is that? Probably not as odd now as it would have been when I was much younger.) Anyway, we met for dinner at the Prince Albert's Diner, a joint featured on You Gotta Eat Here!, which is Canada's version of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The food was pretty good and I think we hit it off well. Her partner's a budding comedian and a good one.

Between the wedding and the dinner, my week has been suitably brightened.

Friends really do make for a life worth living. That's not a new sentiment, even to me, but it hits home every now and again with a joyous clunk, that satisfying sound you hear when the car door closes firmly and all's right with the world. (Forgive the wandering metaphors: these night shifts have me somewhat scatterbrained.) I wish more of my friends lived closer, is all. Many of them haven't left the city we all grew up in. I'd move back there in a heartbeat, life permitting, except the crime rate seems to have exploded since I called London home.

Oh, well, Facebook may be a poor substitute for face-to-face, but it's at least a substitute.  There's no substitute for friendship.

Or sleep. Once again, this blog's epigram, something I'd put on my tombstone if I ever bother with one:

I have lived and I have loved;
I have waked and I have slept;
I have sung and I have danced;
I have laughed and I have wept;
I have won and wasted treasure;
I have had my fill of pleasure;
And all these things were weariness
And some of them were dreariness--
And all these things, but two things,
Were emptiness and pain:
And Love, it was the best of them,
And Sleep, worth all the rest of them,
Worth everything but Love to my spirit and my brain.
--Charles Mackay  (1814-1889)


26 October, 2012

"That's Not A Beer Belly, It's a Fuel Tank For A Sex Machine"

I have a Buddha-belly.

It doesn't bother me in and of itself. I have never once looked in a mirror and thought Jesus, buddy, you're fat. The only thing that bothers me about my general body shape is that any pant without an elasticized waist will tend to slowly slip off me, unless I cinch a belt tight enough to deprive my legs of blood. That's annoying. It makes me wonder what, exactly, the working world has against jogging pants--which are supremely comfortable and STAY WHERE THEY'RE PUT.

I'm overweight. I'm not obese.

My wife is. Obese, I mean.

She is completely honest and upfront about this in a way that really disconcerts many women. Yesterday, she was striding towards her car after work when someone called to her, "you look like you're in a hurry. Trying to get out of here?"
Eva responded "...as fast as my fat little body will carry me." This caused the other woman to laugh like a loon.
This is far from the first time that my darling has referred to herself as fat. Every time she does, she provokes reactions from laughter to awkwardness. It's like she's violating some ancient feminine taboo. You can't refer to yourself as fat, even if you are. ESPECIALLY if you are.

My male mind finds this utterly bizarre. I mean, it's perfectly obvious that Eva is a big girl. Just look at her, you'll see. I think it's very healthy of her that she acknowledges this weighty truth. There are many fat women who refuse to. And, more critically as far as I'm concerned, there are an unbelievable number of average-sized women, or even skinny-Minnie skeletons, who think they are whales. I don't know whether to cry or scream, confronted by these women.

Of course it's the culture, right? The stereotype is that women have to be skinny to attract men, while fat men are okay so long as they have fat wallets. This stereotype, needless to say, offends me to my core.

Many years ago, I was almost fired for saying I found larger women attractive. This was a nonchalant remark, expressed a little more crudely in the presence of two women with whom I had traded much cruder jokes in the past. One of the women who overheard this offhanded remark considered herself larger (I didn't) and therefore felt I was propositioning her, or outright harassing her, or something (I most certainly was not.) That was my first real lesson in female misperception of their own bodies, something I have had confirmed over and over again since. Skeletons think they're oozing fat; average-sized women think they are aircraft carriers. And actually fat women? They're not allowed to mention their weight at all. No wonder so many women of all shapes and sizes think they're fat. Their self-esteem is weighted down to the point of being crushed.

My heart weeps for these women. Especially the really fat ones. I mean, consider. Nearly every person you meet looks at you and dismisses you as Fatty McTubbo. There may be a human being under all that cellulite, but who wants to find out? Yet you yourself can't even acknowledge your weight out loud without provoking discomfort. or hilarity that you'll probably interpret as discomfort.

Men don't usually have this problem unless they are grossly obese. If I may invoke a gender stereotype to explain a gender stereotype, I think it's because women tend to have a little more empathy, a little more of an ability to get inside heads. Many men, for whatever reason, don't.

Much as I love, and in many cases embody, the "female" way of looking at the world, I really wish in this one case that women were more like men. I wish women didn't spare so much as a passing thought about their weight...or if they did, that their only motivation for losing weight was to feel better physically, not mentally, about themselves. I wish women shared men's comfort in their own skins.

Just say it with me, now: I'M IN SHAPE. ROUND IS A SHAPE. Or: A WAIST IS A TERRIBLE THING TO MIND.

If I could, I would swing a merciless fat-stick at anyone telling fat jokes. You can tell me racist jokes, disgusting sex jokes, nearly any kind of joke at all. But tell me a fat joke and I can assure you I will not laugh. I won't so much as crack a grin. This has been with me all the way back to second grade, when I first heard the taunt "fatty, fatty two-by-four". I observed all the way back then that the girl (always a girl) so taunted would invariably burst into tears. Fat jokes aren't jokes. They're missiles. Guided missiles.

I really respect John Pinette".  He tells fat jokes, directed at himself, but self-deprecating rather than self-shredding. Wouldn't it be great if there was a female version of him?



24 October, 2012

Bullying the bullies?

I admit it: when Anonymous announced they'd found Amanda Todd's primary bully, I cheered. A few days later, I was forced to retract my cheering when it turned out the guy they'd collared was innocent. Of that crime, anyway, though he's facing charges for something similar. Anonymous seems to think this is a-ok. I don't.

Now Anonymous has a new bully/victim. Is he the guy who bullied Amanda?  I don't know. I doubt they really do, either. And that's a bit chilling. You have to figure they found something suggestive in his computer, but at the same time, this is getting perilously close to the same mentality that has forced teachers to refrain from touching or especially hugging their pupils under any circumstances...or the not-a-joke going around that nowadays, you need specific, written and signed documentation detailing every step you can and can't take sexually with any new partner. Women may scoff at that...but trust me, you can destroy a random man's life just by saying he raped you.

I have a wildly overinflated, knee-jerk sense of consequence, coupled with an idealist streak a mile wide. It's not a very good combination to have. I'm the guy who believes people found committing acts of vandalism or arson should have their own property destroyed or burned in return. Which feels great until the thug/pyro also becomes a thief and possibly a murderer.

As for those who taunt and beat on helpless classmates--yeah, there's a spiritually juvenile part of me that wants to beat them to a pulp. It's not (just) simple revenge. Really, it's not. I can't understand why such people don't get that bullying hurts. I shouldn't have to hit you with a hammer for you to intuitively grasp that you shouldn't hit other people with hammers. But if you really don't understand this simple truth, there's a part of me that would like to demonstrate. Here, see this hammer? bash Yeah, it don't feel so good, does it? Just call me Mr. Comes-Around.

But if I was to embark on that path, even if I could somehow evade prison for longer than ten minutes, the fact is I'd be hitting an awful lot of people with an awful lot of hammers. Because our society rewards bullying. Many of the world's super-rich got that way, in whole or in part, by bullying their "inferiors". The entire entertainment industry is built on ritual humiliation, which is why I keep popular culture at arm's length if not further away from myself.

I take great pride in the fact I have watched less than three minutes of so-called 'reality' television in my entire life. It's getting harder, since the 'reality' virus is infecting more and more channels. The Food Network is increasingly full of profane, angry men telling other men how useless they are. The various incestuous relatives of American Idol keep vacuuming up ratings, and somehow I doubt many viewers are actually watching because of the four good singers out of every sixteen. No, they want to see dreams stomped on. They want to see someone with the courage to get up and sing in front of millions of people have that courage belittled and mocked. For every Susan Boyle who improbably bubbles to the top, there are a dozen people with lovely voices who are charged and convicted of the heinous crime of being un-telegenic. Cue the tears.
And network comedies? Please. Almost all of them milk pain for laughs.  Pain is not funny. If you think it is, let me introduce you to my friend Mr. Ball Peen. Or if you'd prefer a less hands-on approach, step into any schoolyard and watch a bully working over his victim. Look at his friends: they're smiling, laughing, having a grand old time. Put yourself in the victim's shoes. Still funny? Didn't think so.

I'm at a loss as to how our 'civilization' come to the conclusion that bullying people is admirable. Oh, the social Darwinists will say it's simple survival of the fittest, and I'd question their definition of fitness.  We can't all be alpha males, after all, and if you really want to look at things from an evolutionary perspective, shouldn't we value each individual's contribution, in the name of diversity?

We pay lip service to that concept, but judging from our consistent choices in entertainment, lip service is all it is.

One of the world's biggest religions centers around a man who advised us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, and not to judge anyone. According to the stories, at any rate, this man practiced what he preached, asking forgiveness for his killers even as he was dying. Somehow, his entire philosophy has been upended by a sizeable contingent of his supposed followers, who spew their hatred of anyone who doesn't think exactly as they do. And I won't even mention that other religion, supposedly named for peace (but actually a synonym for submission), that is responsible for more than thirty thousand known terrorist attacks and murders in the past twelve years. Hey, bullying people is great fun when you have God on your side. And if you kill them, so what? One less infidel in the world.

But whatever the atheists might say, you don't need religion to justify bullying people. Any difference will do. As Ollie (Toby Jones) says in The Mist (2007), "As a species, we are fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room together, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another."

I got kind of off track, there--this is supposed to be about whether bullying the bullies is a good idea or not. I vote "or not". Bullying, like most 'despicable' acts, is usually not done out of real outward malice, even though the victim and the bystanders will definitely think otherwise, and so might the bully. This behaviour nets the bully various social benefits he (or she--please don't think I'm ignoring female bullying, which is in many ways worse) is unwilling or unable to attain any other way. Rewards such as attention, camaraderie (always so much nicer to be on the inside...take it from somebody who's been outside of practically every inside there ever was), respect, even worship: that heady brew is undeniably intoxicating. Bullying the bully, in a weird way, legitimizes bullying. "What you did was wrong, but it's okay for us to do it to you because you did it first." Nuh-uh, I reject that.

And there's the possibility, as with Anonymous, that your one man judge/jury/executioner team has the wrong perp. What then? You've quite possibly ruined someone's life for no good reason. Talk about bullying. On we go up the chain: who bullies Anonymous for their bullying anti-bullying actions? This way: madness..

21 October, 2012

If I was growing up today...

...I probably wouldn't. If I was somewhere between grades six and nine in this lovely year of 2012, I'd be seriously considering suicide. Not in some melodramatic teenaged way, either. I'd be one of those methodical suicides you'd be shocked about, then realize in hindsight was inevitable.
What I wouldn't do, under any circumstances, is post my suicide note to YouTube.

I'm not sure I can say why, and that's what this blog is going to be about: my attempt to explain why I turned out pretty much okay despite five years of what I thought was constant bullying. Why suicide never did more than cross my mind when I was a young teen, and why I'm certain it would do a hell of a lot more than cross my mind if  I was that age today.

In grade three, I was one of The Popular Kids in my class. I wrote horror stories that were painfully derivative but still managed to scare people. I was the epicentre of a short-lived 'maze craze'...I actually sold little books of mazes I'd created for a buck apiece until the teachers got wind of it and put a stop to it. I was even popular with the ladyfolks, even though in grade three I was still pretty innocent regarding the depths of ladyfolk charm.  (Kissing 'em was sure fun, though...)

I moved to London to start grade four, the first of many moves to come. London was only about two and a half hours away from my Bramalea home, but it might as well have been on the far side of Neptune. I went from well-regarded to pond scum pretty much instantly.

It didn't help that I got glasses that summer.

They were desperately needed, of course, but I was at least as desperate not to get them. Nerds wore glasses. I sensed a whole lot of nerd within me just waiting for its chance to be seen and stomped. I was so convinced that glasses were a one-way ticket to social doom that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The bullying was low-grade, for the most part. Not much blood spilled. A few well-placed kicks, a few lunches squashed, a few things I've kind of suppressed. I do remember getting stuffed into a garbage can--a full one--and also a locker; I remember constant belittlement, a whole lot of taunting, unthinkingly vicious. It left internal scars, some of which have not healed even to this day.

What kept me sane? Several things. One, I loved school. I loved learning; I loved showing teachers what I'd learned even more. Teachers didn't bully me. The worst I could accuse them of was forcing me to go out for recesses I very much hated. But recesses were only fifteen minutes, twenty at some schools.

I could go home after school to loving parents. Granted, I'd have to keep my eyes peeled for my tormentors on the way home, sometimes going out a different door, sometimes detouring a couple of blocks out of my way, but once I got home, I was home. I wasn't a spazz or a fag or anything else in my bedroom: I was just Kenny, and Kenny was free to bury himself in books where the characters didn't mock or tease. So that's what Kenny did. The outside world very quickly became a thing to be avoided. Too unpredictable, too many things out there that snarled and occasionally bit.

I kept most of my problems from those loving parents, in case you're wondering. Gentle prodding suggested three parentally sanctioned strategies for dealing with bullies, and NONE of them work, and anybody who has been bullied for any length of time will tell you as much, but what do us bullied kids know?

1) FIGHT THE BULLY.

Yeah, sure. I'll get right on that. Then I'll be tossed off like a flea and mutilated.

2) RAT THE BULLY OUT.

They love that. They just love getting in trouble for something that's so pleasurable. After the trouble is over, they're in a worse mood than usual, and they're motivated to get you but good.

3) IGNORE THE BULLY AND HE'LL GO AWAY.

Bzzzzzt. Ignore a bully and he'll escalate the behaviour until you're stuck in a garbage can or bleeding in a pile on the ground. "Going away" is not in a bully's nature. He bullies on his time and on his terms and he does it until he's ready to stop.

But I had my classroom and I had my bedroom and I was the king of both those places as far as I was concerned. Whereas today...today there's this thing called the Internet.

*************

I was heartbroken reading about Amanda Todd. Just heartbroken. Her story, while completely different from mine in its particulars (and outcome), resonates strongly with me.

Grade seven: she bares her breasts on webcam for a stranger. Okay, now here's where I suspect most parents are cringing and shouting stop this bus, I want to get off, what kind of girl-child does this and where are her parents? The answers to those two questions are many, maybe most and completely oblivious. Emma Teitel says in this week's Macleans that parents are frighteningly naive about what happens in the basements and bedrooms in their homes. Chances are very good to excellent that your little girl has been playing in some of the darker corners of the (spider)web...sometimes unknowingly, often very much willingly. Attention is probably the most powerful of drugs to a teenaged mind. And, of course, where the girls play, the boys will follow, so yep, your little boy's probably seen and done more than you know about, too.

Your fault, parents? Not really. I mean, yes, you should never have let the computer, with or without webcam, wind up in your little girl's bedroom, but let's face it: children of that certain age are evasion experts. If there's trouble out there (there is), and if they've a mind to go looking for it (many of them do), then they're going to find it despite your best efforts.

So that shy little breast-baring begins a sordid story of blackmail, widespread bullying (cyber- and otherwise) and mental breakdown that culminates in suicide. Before that tale fully plays out, her parents move three times in an effort to give their daughter "a fresh start".

Oh, the false promise of the "fresh start". I had four of them, myself: I moved between grades five and six, halfway through grade seven, between grades eight and nine, and again to start grade eleven. The problem for me was that wherever I went, there I was: a fresh fuckface ready to be worked over. The problem for Amanda was more pervasive: wherever she went, she dragged her Internet past and persona with her.

I actually saw somebody questioning why Amanda didn't just delete her Facebook account. Seems logical, if you're an adult. But to a teen today, that's something akin to deleting her eyes and ears. You might see and hear some awful things, but do you blind and deafen yourself because of them? You might as well just kill yourself and have done with it. I have seen and heard several teenagers threaten suicide with the loss of their Net connection, and while some of them were probably posturing, I'm not so sure about others. So much of yourself is invested in an online presence these days that you're literally nothing without one.

Many people, on and offline, taunted Amanda and told her she could end it all just by...ending it all. She couldn't escape it any other way. Eventually she gave up...and I can't say I blame her.

Fight the bully? How? Thanks to the Internet, she didn't even know who her primary bully was.

Rat him out? How? See above. Plus, Amanda felt she brought all this on herself, and so this was her cross to bear. After awhile she was absolutely sure of this. Coming forward meant publicly admitting it...unthinkable.

Ignore him and he'll go away? That picture is out there, still circulating, and there are still any number of hateful comments directed Amanda's way even though she's now dead.

That YouTube testimonial, though...I know why she did it--it got her the attention she really needed, albeit far too late to do any good for her. Personally, I wouldn't have left an online note. Because if I was growing up today....it would be the Internet that would kill me.


*****
Part two to follow: Vigilantes--bullying the bullies?

12 October, 2012

"Hey everybody, I won the Nobel Peace Prize!"

...says Ken, in the year 2021. Or hey, why not make it next year, since they seem to be handing the things out like like candy now?

First Obama got one, not on the basis of anything he'd done at that point, but more because of sentiment and wishful thinking. Three years later, the country he leads is still at war--and will soon be at war on a second front (to be fair, this will happen whether Obama wins another term or not).

I will give the sitting president of the United States some credit for softening the sharp edges of American hegemony. Many on the right are horrified at this, because AMERICA FUCK YEAH WE'RE NUMBER ONE!!!1!!!! without Team America: World Police, the planet will inevitably devolve into a mess of warring factions.
Perhaps they have a point there. America's compulsive pie-poking over the last sixty years or so has kept World War Three at bay...but boy, has it ever increased the terrorism. Personally, I'd just as soon let sovereign nations keep their own councils, and be ready to step in if and only if they insist on acting out. Maybe I'm naive...or maybe invading and occupying countries serves only to breed more terrorists.

No minds will change on the matter at this late date. Suffice it to say Mitt Romney's alpha-male chest-beating resonates with a great many Americans who yearn to return to a time when the U.S. was the unchallenged cock of every walk. And should Romney win next month, as is looking entirely possible, expect war to begin almost immediately.

But back to the Nobel Peace Prize, and the joke it has become. The European Union? Really? Oh, again, points for sentiment. The idea behind the EU was to unite and unify a fractious continent, and a noble (and Nobel) point it was. This prize would have made a hell of a lot more sense in 1994--if it had gone to the people who brought the EU into being, that is.

As about three thousand wags have noted--just on the one news site I sampled-- at this point the only good reason to award the Peace Prize to the European Union in 2012 is because my God, do they need the $1.4 million that goes with it.
The EU, sad to say it, is almost certainly doomed. I've watched world stock markets yo-yo over "Euro debt fears" for two years now and I've become convinced that the marketeers are bouncing the indexes up and down like children on a bed, wringing fortunes out of every rise and fall. The long-term outcome of the game, I'm certain, is not and has never been in doubt: the only thing left is to play it.

I mean, come on. Nothing has fundamentally changed in Europe: the southern half of it is, to varying degrees, bankrupt. Every new infusion of money serves only to keep the game going another turn...and also to make the endgame more catastrophic. Money printed out of thin air always evaporates back into the thin air whence it came, and once this pile does, the inrushing thin air is going to make one almighty boom. And probably more than a few booming echoes of the sort militaries the world over are intimately familiar with. In my darker moments, I wonder if this bauble should henceforth be referred to as the Nobel Piece Prize.

I can think of so many deserving candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. Most recently, Mulala Yousufzai, who has captured the world's attention because she believes that girls should get an education. This is a heresy in her benighted native land...but perhaps not for overmuch longer.
If the keepers of the Nobel flame really wanted to make a statement, they'd give the thing to Julian Assange. His life's mission to make governments and corporations transparent to all will do more for world peace than anything else I can think of.
You know what else deserves a Peace Prize, now that I think about it? Twitter. Without Twitter the Arab Spring would never have come to pass.
Then there's the perennials, or should-be-perennials, like Doctors Without Borders, GLAD, and most of the women's rights organizations you can name, especially those operating in regions where women are not yet people.

But the EU? All I can say is, enjoy it while it lasts.




05 October, 2012

Our Morning Routine

Daddy's alarm goes off.

It's early. That goes without saying, but he'll say it anyway. It might be as early as four a.m., if Daddy's working at 6 that morning. It's 5:00 if he works at seven. And it's never later than 5:30 because that's when Mommy has to get up. 
Daddy has probably been awake for three minutes to half an hour when the beepbeepbeep of the alarm shatters the predawn tranquility. He'll extricate himself from the tangle of covers and dogs--the Tux reclining regally at the top of the bed between Mommy and Daddy, the Peach buried deep under Daddy's covers. (How she breathes down there Daddy will  never know, but that's her preferred sleeping position, glommed to the Daddy with her butt aimed strategically at his nostrils. Peach-farts, by the way, do not smell like peaches.)

Now, the shower. A critical part of the morning here: the Shower is the halfway point between Bed and World. The main point of the Shower, besides the sluicing away of night-time funk, is the gradual dawning of consciousness.
There are certain rules. It must be dark. To turn a light on at this stage of unwakefulness could be dangerous: Daddy's eyes might burn out. It must be hot. A cold shower will waken the Daddy, to be sure, but he'll be in a foul mood that will last for hours. No, the idea here is to create a pea-soup fog in the bathroom. We have a fan in there that's meant for a room three times the size. This is because Daddy has set off the smoke detector from the fog of his showers. 
Daddy stands under the spray like a cow, shaving if he must--he has never figured out the link between facial hair and job performance, but apparently there is one--and attending to other bits of hygiene. 

Then the donning of the clothes, which is accomplished with much moaning and groaning and creaking of limbs, being as Daddy is not 40, as his birth certificate claims, but in fact closer to eighty and as flexible as your average iron bar,

Now we Go Downstairs. Peach is her Daddy's dog: she's bleary-eyed and dopey in the morning, searching only for the couch so she can embark on the Second Sleep. Tux, by contrast, has rocketed down the stairs, and he's prancing like a puppy down there, claws clittering madly on the laminate, awaiting his Things.

Tux gets two Things in the morning, and woe unto Daddy if he forgets either. First is the Cheese: a processed cheese slice that totally makes our dog's day. If the Georgia-Peach is awake enough (rare), she will accept part of Tux's cheese--occasionally, our B.B.-cat will meow for her share as well, and it's cute as hell to see them all sitting in a line in the kitchen, awaiting the Cheese. Tux usually has to be told "Gentle", whereas Peach will take her cheese in exactly the same way an ATM takes your card. zzzzzut!

Next: the Biscuit. This is a standard dog cookie, but it's up there with Cheese, Car-Rides, and Bedtime as far as our Tux is concerned, and it's got about a tenth as much appeal as one Georgia-Ball  to our Peach. Meaning Tux will prance his way around until he gets his Biscuit, and Peach will blearily open one eye, slither off the couch and trudge over to the Daddy, smacking her lips softly and accepting the Biscuit with her customary grace. 

Things given, the Tux then embarks on his Second Sleep, which might be awfully short if Tux's Mommy is about to Come Downstairs. Tux, you must understand, lives for his Mommy. The Things are about the only Things that can coerce the Tux to be on a different floor of the house.

Daddy, meanwhile, has set the Keurig a-burblin'. producing two coffees for him and one for the Mommy (who may or may not require a second coffee later on, after Silly Buggers). He will think about eating breakfast, but probably won't just yet. Instead, he'll sit and drink his coffee, checking the Net for all the news that dared to happen while he was sleeping.

By the time this is done, Mommy has been downstairs a while. The TV is, of course, on. Just for Laughs is chuckling away. If the comedians suck on this particular morning, Mommy will like as not have her Shower early. And Daddy's bowels will commence growling.

Daddy's Daddy calls them steaming stools. They are oddly timed to coincide with Mommy's showers. The humidity left over from Daddy's saunashower combines with the water vapour from Mommy's, creating the perfect environment for the perpetuation of scatological horrors on an all-too-suspecting Mommy. Daddy will sit on his throne, reading the Social Studies page of the Globe and Mail to the Mommy, almost as if the air hadn't been replaced by something best not smelled or indeed thought of. The best part is, with Mommy in the shower, Daddy can't even flush....

Many laughs are shared and choked over, then Mommy gets out of her Shower and goes to get dressed and it's time for Silly Buggers. Tux, of course, knows this, just as he knows about the Things. He's ensconced on the bed, waiting. 
Silly Buggers, aka Hide-the-Tux-Face, is a simple game, but endlessly entertaining. The idea here is to take a sheet and put it over Tux's face. He will then roll on his back and paw madly at the sheet, tangling himself up and grunting like a mushroom. (What's that? You've never heard a grunting mushroom? It sounds just like our Tux playing Silly Buggers.)
If you don't make the first move, like as not Tux will burrow under the sheets himself, nosing them up until he can roll in them and be a Silly Bugger. He will expect, at some point, the rubbing of the Tummy-On-The-Tux, which will change his mushroom grunting in to something decidedly more sensual and. quite frankly, disturbing. Peach will occasionally launch sorties at the hidden Tux-Face, provoking even more hilarity.  The sheets will be in total disarray when this game is over.

Back Downstairs we go, to breakfast...then for the thing that the Peach has been waiting for all morning (yes, even through her Second Sleep)...Georgia-Ball!

Tux will Go Outside to Get-The-Poop-Out-Of-The-Tux. Even this is fun to watch because our Tux refuses to poop in one place like a normal dog. He'll go into a poop-squat and then kind of shimmy-jog over half the yard. Weird dog. 
Georgia will grab her Georgia-Ball (or, if she can't remember where she had it last -- rare -- the Red-Ball will do in a pinch) and drop it in front of the Daddy. Daddy is equipped with a Glove because the Ball will very shortly be -- what did they call it in the eighties-- grodie with Peach-drool and yard-mud. He will throw. The Peach will retrieve. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. At some point, halfway through the game, Peach will suddenly stop halfway back to the Daddy, ball in mouth, and excrete. Copiously. A new lake will form or a new mountain will arise.

As this game is going on, Tux will watch patiently. He will herd the B.B.-cat back In The House if she dares to poke a paw out on the deck. And th---


SQUIRREL!!!

Tux has shot across the yard and is trying to climb a tree. Georgia, ball still clenched firmly in her jaws, will bark and shake her head violently, sounding like a drunk man vomiting all over himself, and she'll give chase.

Tux has never caught the Squirrel. He knows the Squirrel's House -- our shed -- as opposed to Tux's House, and he will sometimes stand at the Squirrel's House door and stare longingly, exactly the way Peach stares at her Georgia-Ball all day every day. 

Daddy is convinced the Peach is telepathic. If Daddy so much as thinks about going In The House, Peach will somehow sense this and come to a complete standstill in the yard, resembling either a cow or Daddy in a Shower. Daddy will then have to tell the Peach to come In The House, and she always comes, albeit reluctantly. 

It's time for Daddy to Go Bye-Bye. He loves the Mommy dearly and he makes sure to remind her of this, in case she has forgotten in her sleep. And then he goes, and the countdown to Bedtime starts.