29 January, 2012

All About Me: "Midlife Crisis" Edition

As I approach the venerable old age of 40, I constantly find myself scanning for signs of the midlife crisis that society says should be bushwacking me any day now. I'm supposedly going to wake up one morning, very soon, go buy a Ferrari and use it to pick up women twenty years my junior.

I can confidently assure any Evas who might be reading this that all is clear on the Ferrari/floozie front. I mean, I'd have to steal the Ferrari, and I can't think of one floozie who'd look at me twice even with a Ferrari, and even if I could somehow finagle a floozie into my filched Ferrari, I'd crash the thing pretty much instantaneously. Nothing says crisis quite like a floozie corpse in a wrecked Ferrari.

All joking aside, I have been through a 'midlife crisis'. Except if my crisis actually hit me at midlife, folks should be planning my funeral along about yesterday.

I didn't buy the sports car, of course...but I did spend an almost equivalent sum on meaningless trifles. Endless meals out. Probably close to a thousand dollars on arcade games. Albums bought just because I kind of liked one song.  Stuff like that. And yes, there were floozies. I had affairs, plural. Not exactly my proudest years, '90-'98 or so.

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there"-- L.P. Hartley

I've lost most of the language I once spoke in that foreign country, and I've abandoned its customs. In fact, it's hard even to imagine the state of mind I lived in back then, much less that it was I who lived in it, if that makes any sense at all.

It goes without saying that everything was All About Me. What would make me happy, short-term? I foolishly figured that if I piled up enough of these short-term happinesses, I'd be happy in the long term as well. I was, of course, different from my dorm-mates: they got drunk practically every night. I didn't grasp the obvious truth that I was far more wasted than they could ever dream of getting, just not on alcohol.

I had two relationships in those years, and they were also All About Me. In hindsight, the first was actually more mature than the second, but even so there came a day in that relationship when I decided there was something lacking. A little pizzazz. Okay, Ken, stop mincing words. Sex.
There was sex, but it was perfunctory and put me very much in mind of England. Rather than invest in the relationship by means of honest communication, I spent considerable time orchestrating an affair.I would have hotly denied such an insinuation--the woman I was chatting online to meant nothing, and it was merely a coincidence that she lived all of a block away from Lynne and I. And when I went over there one night just to play Nintendo (like I was ever any good at console video games!) it was such a surprise when Judy just fell into my lap, and even more of a surprise when I--

Yeah. Such a surprise. Neither was it at all shocking that I continued to frequent Judy's place over the next six or eight months. And it shouldn't have been a surprise when Judy and I had a little argument and she threatened to tell Lynne about her existence. I came home from that confrontation with my mind reeling, trying to figure out a way to get through the next week or so with my ever-precious balls intact. One more non-surprise: I got home to hear awfully Lynne-like moans--not that I'd ever heard her moan, but I could imagine--coming from Ben's room. The anger I felt was quashed immediately by the realization that I was the worst kind of hypocrite going. The only saving grace was that it was considerably easier to confess my transgression. I slunk out of the house for a couple of hours and then came home and spilled. Lynne never did; her lack of ball-ripping was all the confession I needed. Lynne and I limped along for another few months, but the relationship was doomed and I think we both knew it.

Enter Cathy. I met her online as well, through the Usenet forum soc.penpals. We were real penpals at first, actual pen-and-paper pals, over the summer where she was at home fifteen hundred miles away and offline. I'm here to tell you that while snail mail is slow, it can work just as well as screen chat in developing affection.  Maybe better. Over a season you can accomplish a lot in that direction if you're willing to write ten or fifteen pages at a time.

She bussed home from Fort Frances--a gruelling trip--and I bussed to Toronto to join her for its last leg. She had prepared a letter, which she handed to me before dropping off to sleep. She told me not to read it until we were almost home. That was difficult, but I complied.
 That letter detailed every flaw I was likely to find in her, said she was more than willing to accept mine, and proposed we get serious. "If you're okay with this, poke me awake".

I did. And we "got serious", after a fashion, although again in hindsight the relationship was childish. We called each other 'Cathybear' and 'Kenbear'--the memory of which is rather sickening, now--and I saw her as a means to complete my life. In other words--just the next trinket.

That was one flaw Cathy didn't bargain on when she said she was willing to accept my flaws, and that was my continuing desire to make everything All About Me. You'd think I would have learned. I thought I had. But when Cathy was diagnosed with clinical depression, I began the process of bailing on her. The only option, really: I couldn't 'fix' clinical depression. As it progressed, it was often as if I wasn't even in the room. So I decided not to be in someone else's room. Again, this was a decision I kept hidden from myself--it said too many things about me, too many things that contradicted the virtuous, goody-two-shoes image I had of myself.

I met that 'someone else' online (where else?) I was so thoroughly convinced of my own physical unattractiveness by this time that I knew the only chance I had to attract and hold somebody was if they didn't have to look at me through the first stages. I may be ugly, but I got the words, yo.

 She eventually came to spend a weekend. Chaos ensued.I had cunningly cultivated the polyamory defence: that I could love two people at once. To be fair, this was an ideal I truly held for a number of years...but I couldn't live up to it in real, messy life. All About Me had failed once again, rather spectacularly this time.

I still feel terrible about what I did to Cathy. I've tried to track her down, not with any intention of contacting her, but just to assure myself she's still alive. That may sound melodramatic, but she attempted suicide at least once while I knew her and I'm terribly afraid she's succeeded since. I don't know, and I doubt I ever will. But it remains my life's only real regret. Hurting people is not what I am about.

Neither is All About Me. I can date at least the buddings of my maturity to the exact moment I realized my life was complete as it was, and needed nothing or no one else to complete it. I learned not to look for contentment, but simply to feel it anyway. And within a week of my writing that the first time, I met the woman I was to marry. She doesn't complete my life and I don't complete hers: we are two people who have joyfully consented to share life's journey together. We're going to hit the thirteenth anniversary of our first meeting in a little less than two weeks, and I'm still amazed that before I met Eva I didn't even know what love really was. I'd thought marriage was a trap. Ha. Marriage is the security that gives you your freedom.

May I respectfully suggest, if you're going to have a midlife crisis, it's much better to get it out of the way early, while your life--let's face it--still doesn't mean much and anyone you hurt is likely more resilient. One hopes. That isn't to excuse hurting anyone, of course--when you hurt someone, you're always hurting yourself--but I think it's better to be immature at a young age...




22 January, 2012

License to Not Drive

I don't drive.

I've mentioned this oh-so-little, but oh-so-defining factoid about myself several times over the years, and occasionally I've alluded to the phobia I have that is the reason I don't drive. An e-friend coined 'euqunophobia' to describe it, from the Greek root for 'to pilot' as in a chariot. Prior to his making that word up out of thin air, there was no word in the English language to denote fear of driving. That ought to tell you something, since there's a one-word definition for fear of practically everything else. Apparently nobody fears driving.

Meet Nobody: me.

Outside the driver's seat of a vehicle and asked to consider the act of driving rationally, I'll tell you that yes, I certainly could drive a car. For a while. I might even get through an entire day, week, or hell, month, without hitting something and dying, probably taking others with me. But eventually my attention would waver at a critical second and that'd be that. Splat. This is a given, an absolute certainty, and I base that projection on my inability to pay attention to everything at once.

I look at all you drivers and wonder, honestly wonder how you do it. How do you shut up the little niggling voice in your brain that works out how fast you're going, how fast the vehicle coming towards you is going, and what would happen if that driver fumbled his smartphone and inadvertently jerked the wheel right into your path. What X-ray vision technique do you use to determine that there is not in fact a child about to run out into traffic from between those two parked cars?

Back in Driver's Ed.--which I did take, believe it or not--I found the only driving I was at all comfortable with was freeway driving. People look at me oddly when I confess that, since if anything is going to scare a veteran driver, it's usually the 401. Especially through Toronto, which I confess I have never attempted:





This is the busiest highway in the world. It's not at this level where I live now, or an hour west of here where I lived when I drove on it over twenty years ago. I once talked to a Californian whose knuckles went white travelling the above stretch as a passenger. "Brian", I said, "you're from California. You've been through L.A. Surely this can't be that much different."
"But it is," he said. "The trucks...on this road there are almost more trucks than cars. You don't see that in L.A. at all. It's scary to be between two tractor-trailers that might squash you like a bug."

Welcome to my imagination, I thought.

But the truth is, trucks or cars, the traffic doesn't bother me overmuch on the highway. I can convince myself it's semi-predictable; at the very least, we're all going in the same direction and I don't have to waste too much mental energy worrying about things like this.

In the city, it's another story. It's chaos. Every intersection could well be hiding a red-light runner about to T-bone me. Cars are coming towards me: any one or all of them might be driven by people with an eye and a half on a goddamn screen instead of the road, where I am. I don't know how you drivers do it...I really don't. I'd crack in short order.

If you're wondering how I can cycle with this attitude, it's easy. Bikes move considerably slower and there's usually an escape route available for any developing trouble, even if it's turning your front wheel into the curb and ditching (which I have done, more than once). And most of the streets I cycle on are not primary arteries. Traffic is minimal. Somtimes I have an entire lane to myself. Bike lanes are made of awesome.

But I have been hit as a cyclist and also as a pedestrian. That last story hasn't been detailed in this blog, so here it is: it happened early one winter's morning as I was leaving my job at King and University 7-Eleven en route to my then-girlfriend's place, my de facto home that year, a couple of blocks away. I crossed King Street and turned to cross University: took a few steps out into the intersection when a car turned right directly into me and threw me about ten feet. It was a good thing that car was barely moving and also that I was bundled up against the chill. I was barely winded.  A young woman got out of the car, said "oh my God" about thirty times, repeatedly asked me if I was okay, and then... and then she offered to drive me home. Like I was going to get into a car that had just hit me. I mean, seriously.

As I said, it would only be a matter of time before I'd hit or be hit driving a car. Probably not a long time, either. I equate driving with a video game; in all the video games I've tried, I've never managed to go longer than a few minutes without crashing. The difference is, in real life you don't get five seconds off the clock and a brand new car.

It turns out I'm not alone in my non-driving state, although there aren't many males my age who don't drive, and many of the females I know who don't drive do have their driver's licenses. We non-drivers tend to keep pretty quiet about it. I can't speak for others, but for me there's a sense of shame. Driving is a basic human skill, or so it seems. Teenagers can't wait to do it. Everyone seems to take having and driving a car for granted.

And it really places limits on your life. There are many jobs I could do, and very well, but for the lack of a license. It's critically important that I live on a bus route; even better if I'm within walking distance of work, as I now am.  I'm supremely lucky to be married to a woman who does not mind doing all the driving. I could get groceries from work to hom without her, but it would not be easy and I'd probably have to shop day by day, which would drive up costs dramatically.

The rationalizations I have used to assuage my shame at failing this most simple test of civilized behaviour have gradually, over many years, become statements I take pride in. I'm not polluting the environment. Whether walking or cycling, I'm out in the fresh air getting exercise. I've saving a metric buttload of money. And let's face it, even if I could drive, I'd choose to walk or cycle most of the time anyway. Walking is pleasant, provided you're dressed for the weather. I was reflecting on this yesterday as I was assaulted with a -20 windchill, in other words, a normal January day for this area. The air was a beer commercial: cold, clean, and crisp. Somebody down the way had a fire going. Ah. Memories of campfires past flitted through my mind. The neighbourhood was still mostly asleep, and I could easily imagine myself to be all alone. Just me and my music and an easy kilometer's walk.

Tomorrow it will rain...but a little water never hurt anybody. The walk gives me a chance to plan my day going in and decompress from it coming home, all without having to worry about tons of steel crunching, glass breaking, blood spraying... You know what? This not driving isn't so bad.

20 January, 2012

You know who I hate?

Nobody.

I mean that. There's not a soul on this planet I hate. Not even the really evil ones. Probably because I don't really believe in evil.

I mean that, too: I don't believe in evil. Not as a force, certainly not with a "d" put in front of it to personalize it.

Notwithstanding the whole question of God, which I really don't want to get into insofar as I only have the one lifetime to write, I have a few fundamental problems with a devil-figure. First, a devil is a nice handy device for the abdication of personal responsibility: in other words, "the devil made me do it." Granted, a person of any real faith is unlikely to blame His Infernal Majesty for her every least peccadillo, but still, the temptation, you might say, is there. That is the devil's function, after all, at least if you're alive. The living he tempts; the dead he torments. Eternally.

And here I find I must bring God into the picture anyway. I've railed before against the Christian concept of a God Who judges. Any God that claims to love unconditionally, and yet places conditions on Its love, is not a God but a deeply unfunny joke, and should be treated as such. And if the violation of the conditions placed on Its "unconditional" love results in your being handed over for eternal torment--well, then there is both evil and a devil after all...and that God is both.

Judgment is not a divine trait, but a profoundly human one. Most of us are incapable of truly unconditional love: we invent conditions for our beloved to meet, and then are sad and angry when those conditions go unmet. Those of you who feel you do not do this, imagine how you would react if your life partner were to betray you in some way. That your partner has not--would not, you're certain--does not eliminate the condition you've placed on your love. The most common condition, of course, is simple: if you want me to continue loving you, you may not love another.

This is not an indictment. We're all trying to live the best we can, and most of us have convinced ourselves that there must needs be certain requirements, certain boundaries, else we'll go mad. It certainly seems like a reasonable assumption to make. And yet it's right there in the Christ story as an example: here's a guy who was betrayed, tortured and killed...and who refused--out loud, no less--to blame his betrayers, torturers and killers. That's unconditional, I'd say.

There are those who believe that Yeshua bar Yosef of Nazareth never actually existed. Don't count me among their number. I would suggest, however, that parts of his story have been mythologized, and almost all  of his story is widely misunderstood. That latter is easy to prove given how people today on completely opposite sides of any issue believe Jesus would side with them. Then again, perhaps that only illustrates the disturbing tendency we have to turn "What Would Jesus Do?" into "What Would I Do If I Were Jesus?"

At any rate, I do not and can not accept a God that allows a devil to exist.

As for evil? I'd suggest that's a judgement, and not one that tends to help matters overmuch.

Evil a judgement? Are you insane? Are you seriously suggesting there's something wrong with ME for calling a child rapist evil?


No, I'm not. But child rapists make a case for the raping of children all the time. That's because they're mentally ill. In some cases they're also physically and culturally ill...the benighted tribesmen in Uganda have been told over and over again that having sex with a virgin will cure their AIDS. There aren't many virgins left, and there is a whole lot of AIDS to cure. Ergo, child-rape.

I'd humbly suggest that everything we call 'evil' is perpetrated by someone who is not a monster, not a villain, but simply sick. That sickness may be a passing state--we've all knowingly done something bad, almost always out of a misguided, narrow, self-centered perspective--or it may be something akin to one's natural state. In the latter case, the 'evil' is the result of one of two things: either a culturally reinforced illness (example: the Taliban's treatment of women)...or an actual mental defect called sociopathy.

The latter case is, so far as I know, incurable as of yet, and so it's necessary to separate the sociopaths and psychopaths from the rest of us, for our (and their) safety. The former, much more common case...well, what do you do with someone who is sick? Do you punish them for being sick? That seems  silly to me. You heal them, as best you can. How do you heal "evil"? Education is helpful. A giant dose of empathy, repeated as necessary, will go a long, long way. The Bible puts it more simply: Love thine enemies.


Why would you want to love your enemies? Enlightened self-interest,  That is to say, the surest way to perpetuate "evil" is to treat every "evildoer" you meet like pond scum....


12 January, 2012

Imagine you are a U.S. Marine.

Item: U.S. Marines appearing to urinate on Taliban corpses."

This is "inhumane", It's "entirely inappropriate for members of the U.S. military". It's "deplorable", "shocking", and "an indignity against the Afghan people."

Have we forgotten these are two forces at war?

Let me explain something here. If you are part of a fighting force, and you have been trained for years to hate "the enemy" enough to kill him on sight--especially since if you don't, he's apt to kill you first--a wee-wee little thing like pissing on his corpse doesn't really amount to such of a much. Not after you've, you know, killed the guy. Do you really believe you can, ahem, piss him off any further by pissing on him? Tell you what, folks: when I go, everybody feel free to pee on me. Somehow I don't think I'll care. Or notice, for that matter. I'm dead.

Are you, a soldier trained to hate and kill, supposed to stop hating as if by magic after you've killed? I think urinating on a corpse is a perfectly legitimate way to express hatred and disdain. Which is what we're supposed to feel, right?  These aren't human beings, they're Taliban animals.

Newsflash: you're an animal. I'm an animal. Human beings are animals. Why are we surprised that human beings act like animals?  

The sad thing is that this hatred cuts both ways. I've little doubt a few Marines have been posthumously pissed on. Or maybe the Taliban play games with heads. That's a pretty common thing, throughout history, playing games with heads.

The Taliban aren't born evil: they're made that way through careful cultivation. They believe every bit as strongly in their way of life as we do in ours, and that's a point I think often gets lost. Perhaps they believe more strongly, in fact: they seem to have little compunction about dying for their cause. Does that make them better human beings than us? I'd argue not. If I'm going to judge a human being--something I try very hard not to do, not knowing the lifetime that led to the action I'm judging--I'd suggest the only sane criterion to use is: how does this human being treat other beings? The Taliban do not treat their young, or particularly their women, with anything resembling respect. But this too is part of an engrained culture that goes back centuries.

I sometimes wonder if the Marines who kill Taliban--and apparently desecrate their corpses--ever imagine what their lives would be like if they were born in Afghanistan instead of America. It's a variant of the "good little Nazi"  thought experiment I've conducted with people for many years. I ask people to imagine themselves as young adults in Hitler's Germany. What would they do?  Most people say without hesitation that they'd be good, moral, upstanding young adults and would seek to thwart Hitler by various means. I've had several people tell me they'd do anything in their power to kill the man.
With all due respect: I doubt it.
Oh, sure, there were a fair number of people living in Hitler's Germany who resisted him by various means. And you, fine, upstanding adult that you are, no doubt imagine you'd be one of them. But those resistors were vastly outnumbered by people who believed in the essential justness of the Final Solution, and sought to advance it in any way they could. Don't forget: Hitler was a persuader, in an environment where people were very eager to be persuaded.
And those aggressive people, in turn, were vastly outnumbered by ho-hum types just trying to live their lives. It's amazing what you can live cheek-by-jowl with if all you're interested in is keeping your head down and staying out of trouble.  Statistically, I think it more likely that people would either Sig Heil all over the place--or just ignore it and work their office job, come home and play with the kids, and sleep easy at night.

What's worse? I have no answer for that. I do believe, however, that killing someone, for whatever reason, is considerably worse than urinating on their corpse.

Imagine you are a U.S. Marine. You've just shot a few towelheads before they could shoot you. You're feeling full of, again pardon me, piss and vinegar: in the prime of your life. All's right with your world: enemy vanquished, threat eliminated.  And you did it. Now tell me again how it would never even cross your mind to piss on that corpse.


11 January, 2012

U.S. Politicomedy, Part I: Spreading Santorum

As much as I'd like to resist writing about American politics...I can't. I just can't. Not this year. I'm going to throw up my hands right now and warn you, Dear Reader, that there are going to be several upcoming posts on this topic. If American politics isn't your bag, feel free to tune out. I gotta tell you, though, you're missing a comedy that betters anything seen on television in recent years.

Just look at these Republican candidates vying to unseat Obama. We have a man who, as a Mormon, presumably believes at least some (and probably more than half) of this. We have another man who has, to put it mildly, a wee little Google problem -- which, contrary to his heated denials, is entirely of his own making. And then we have Ron Paul, the darling of the youth set, the man the lamestream media chooses to ignore...possibly because he's a raving racist. Or maybe because even the best of his ideas (and he does have some good ones) are fundamentally at odds with the view America has of itself.
And that's not even mentioning the failed Republican candidates, the ones who have dropped out. Believe me, to fail in this field takes talent.

Where to start, where to start. Eenie, meeny, miney, Santorum.

I'll give Rick Santorum credit: he's consistent. He's consistently against abortion, he's consistently against climate change, and he's viciously against homosexuals. He is on record as equating male homosexual sex as "man on dog" and he believes children are better off with a father in prison than they are with lesbian parents. He considers homosexuality to be a serious moral problem. (At times, he has suggested he has no problem with homosexuality, only with homosexual acts--a distinction I, and I suspect most gay people, fail to grasp.)
He also does not believe that people have a right to privacy, even within marriage, despite the Supreme Court's having enshrined this right in 1965. It's probably redundant to note that the case cited in the above link concerned the right to use contraceptives. Santorum has said that contraception is "a license to do things in the sexual realm that are counter to how things are supposed to be." I wonder when he's going to take his principled stand to its logical conclusion: STAMP OUT MENSTRUATION! END THE SLAUGHTER OF TRILLIONS! Or maybe women who are unfortunate enough to have miscarriages should be imprisoned. What say you, Rick?

Dan Savage is--well, I can't exactly call him my hero, but he's certainly a man I respect a great deal and tend to agree with. His "It Gets Better" campaign has spread far and wide, has undoubtedly saved lives, and has given the gift of hope to countless people--not just gay people--who have been bullied. In the wake of a 2003 interview in which Santorum equated consensual homosexual sex with child-rape and bestiality,Savage mobilized his readership--which numbers in the millions--to determine an appropriate definition for "santorum". The winning entry is now forever linked with Santorum's name in every Google search. Santorum the candidate considers santorum the neologism to be disgusting. And it is. But it's not as disgusting as the former Senator's stance on homosexuals. Not even close.
(Dan has since redefined "rick": "to remove with one's tongue", taking the r from 'remove' and the ick' from 'lick'. This, he says, makes "rick santorum" the most disgusting two-word sentence in the English language..."after 'vote Republican'".)

Ick indeed.

You know, if Santorum hadn't been so repeatedly, passionately hateful--and used several very public platforms to spread his hatred--he wouldn't have this Google problem. But hey! I'm not against hatred...only against hateful acts.

Rick Santorum placed second in Iowa and third in New Hampshire. He could conceivably win South Carolin and a few other states, Will he be able to grasp that brass nomination ring? Not a chance in hell. It's coated in santorum.

08 January, 2012

Ici on parle...

There's a certain sense of--call it schadenfreude, I suppose--that this lifelong Maple Leafs fan gets when observing the mess in Montreal.

Yes, this from the man who believes schadenfreude--joy at another's pain--vies with jealousy (pain at another's joy) to be the most self-destructive emotion possible. Guilty as charged...all part of being a sports fan, I guess.

That's the downside of fandom. A sports fan--the word is, of course, short for 'fanatic' (which in turn comes from the Latin for 'insanely but divinely inspired')--feels a totally irrational depression when his team loses, a just as irrational joy when her team wins, and a completely indefensible hatred for the opposition. There's something primitive and tribal about being a fan, and I don't mean primitive as in rustic. I mean primitive as in barbaric.

Letting my inner barbarian loose for three hours at a time can be tremendously satisfying. I try to temper him by widening my scope: yes, I am a Leafs fan, but I can recognize and appreciate good hockey no matter who plays it. (Though I hate to admit when a Philadelphia Flyer does anything laudable at all.) I try very hard not to view 'my' team through blue and white glasses, and to maintain something of an even keel through thick and thin.

But Eva can attest that I fail at that last with regularity: I'll snap the TV off in disgust when the Leafs are playing like crap, only to snap it back on in five or ten minutes.  When the Red Wings scored last night and a contingent of their fans roared, I let loose with a volley of expletives--"get the eff out of our building" was the mildest of them. Somewhere inside there's my normal, mild-mannered self observing this behaviour with alarm. Fans of any team are welcome in any building, he says, reasonably. Shut up, says Mr. Barbarian. The Air Canada Center is the most expensive place in the NHL to watch a game and it should bloody well be reserved for Leaf fans. Rich Red Wing fans can either go to whatever their building is called these days...or they can blow me.
(Of course, at least half of the Air Canada Center is actually reserved for suited types who are neck-deep in their cellphones to the point they don't even notice, or care, that there's a hockey game going on. Those people piss off the barbarian and the meek man both.)

What's unfolding in Montreal is interesting and a little disquieting,

For non-hockey fans, the Canadiens--called les Habitants, or Habs for short--are the creme de la creme, historically, of the NHL. They've won almost twice as many Stanley Cups as the next-best team (which just happens to be the Toronto Maple Leafs). Their fans are beyond rabid: hockey in Quebec is a sacrament. Many of the Habs fans I know love to lord it over fans of other teams (probably justified says mild-mannered me; buncha snoots oughta have their knocks blocked off says the barbarian).

They've fallen on hard times--for them, at least. Next year will mark their twentieth year without a Cup win (and we won't mention here that the Leafs haven't won since 1967). That said, they've had considerably more playoff success than many other teams over their drought.


After something of a surprise playoff appearance for the Habs last season, they were expected to show, at a minimum, the same compete level this year. Hasn't happened.  The Canadiens, as of this writing, rank 24th in a 30 team league, eight spots out of the playoffs and nine slots behind the Maple Leafs (ha-ha). Like many teams not living up to expectations, they've fired their coach, respected hockey journeyman Jacques Martin. He was replaced by Randy Cunneyworth, formerly an assistant coach of the Atlanta Thrashers.

Randy Cunneyworth is an anglophone. This is the culture he finds himself in.

There was a protest last night at the Habs-Lightning tilt (won, incidentally, by Montreal). There were several grievances aired besides the fact that the head coach of les Glorieux does not parle la belle langue. Among them: there's too much English music played at the Bell Centre (sorry: la centre Bell); the announcements are made in both languages (quelle horreur!), and the team has too few francophone players.

It should be noted here that the last unilingual anglophone coach of the Habs won a Cup with them in 1970-71...but was fired nonetheless because he couldn't speak French. The Habs have won sixteen of their 24 Cups guided by anglophone coaches. It seems patently obvious here that  this controversy isn't about winning.

I feel bad for Cunneyworth. This is a team, remember, that has fired a head coach for not speaking French, even though the team won a championship. They've come right out and named Cunneyworth the "interim" coach...and his promises to learn French are clearly not good enough. Learn French? Les pures laines don't LEARN French, they are French, and to hell with you English types! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!

This is a reminder that people can be fanatical about things much more serious than sports teams. And that fanatics, having only a single track for their mind to run on, are wearisome by definition. Also, on occasion, dangerous. Quebec rejected the Bloc Quebecois last election and found themselves high and dry as the Harper majority took hold. I predicted then that nothing good would come of that, and I'll hold myself to that prediction. I think nationalism is starting to stir again in Quebec. For the sake of my country, I hope I am wrong.

06 January, 2012

A Ken By Any Other Name...

We human beings sure do go by a few names through our lifespan, don't we?

Take me. I was born Boy Baby B. My twin, Monty, died two days later, the two of us having decided to make quite the early appearance. Christened Kenneth Cecil Joseph Breadner, I toddled through my toddlerhood looking very much like a Kenneth. Or a Winston. Don't all babies resemble Winston Churchill?

My first nickname, "Macaw", is still with me today. My father--whose name is also Kenneth Breadner, and let me tell you the confusion that can cause--bestowed "Macaw" on me at two years of age because, I'm told, "all I ever did was squawk and shit." Despite the ignoble derivation, I have no problem whatsoever being called Macaw...to the point where Eva is Lady Macaw.

I was Kenny throughout my childhood. This wasn't much of an issue with my peers--the best they could do to taunt me was to chant "Kenny-penny", which didn't bother me overmuch. It was, as I say, an issue when I was with my dad, because half the world would call him Kenny and me Ken, the other half would call him Ken and me Kenny, and both of us would respond to either. (Dad has the surface dignity of a Ken and at times even a Kenneth, but his heart is forever and ever practical-joker Kenny.)

It could get confusing. My aunt Dawna hit upon calling us Big Kenny and Little Kenny...and slowly, over time, that soured "Kenny" for me. I read somewhere that the -y suffix to a name denoted "little" as it was. Calling me "little Kenny" made me feel doubly small. Of course, by grade four I'd developed a whole new set of nicknames that made "Kenny",  little or otherwise, seem positively benign.  These dark sobriquets included "spazz", "geek", "nerd", "quad"--short for quadriplegic, I guess--and a host of others that did very little for my self-image or self-esteem.
Faggot was one of those. Over the years I've had even close relatives question my sexuality in hushed tones I wasn't meant to hear. Myself, I've never had to question it too much. I've had a couple of gay experiences--like a lot of straight guys--but I have never once looked at a man and thought wow, I gotta have that.
Of course, kids on the playground don't have such a narrow definition of faggot. Anything that's different will get you branded a faggot, and that goes double if the difference is stereotypically feminine in any way. I hated violence with a passion, which only gave a certain breed of person a passionate desire to inflict violence upon me. Most of that went unreported to my parents and especially my teachers. I laugh ruefully whenever I hear adults counselling kids to either stand up to their bullies or turn them in. Most of the put-upon kids in the world have neither the physical ability nor the self-confidence to "stand up" to a grasshopper, and as for reporting the bullying? Please.  Back then, that was a good way to make it worse. And today, all it does is get the bully suspended or expelled from school--which is a reward, not a punishment. (How many bullies do you know who enjoy school?)
Besides, expulsion frees up Mr. Bully to lie in wait for you.  If you're stupid enough to rat on the guy, you get what you deserve.

Somewhere, beneath layers and layers of calluses I've painstakingly assembled, all those derogatory nicknames still resonate and always will. Including faggot, incidentally. Being repeatedly called any number of homophobic slurs can give someone all the makings of a gay activist, without the gayness. Several people close to me are gay, and that's the biggest reason I make a point of writing about gay rights from time to time...but there's also the remembrance of being called a gaylord queerboy cocksucking ass-bandit, and how that hurt, and how it was meant to hurt. It'd be nice to live in a world where none of those words had any intrinsic hurtfulness attached to them, a world where being gay was no more remarkable than, say, having red hair. We're a long, long way from such a world.

Anyway...

By high school I insisted everyone who wasn't a relative call me Ken. Most complied, although a few smartasses called me Kenneth instead...which I would counter by adding an '-eth' to their names, until they got the point. Kenny? "Nobody calls me Kenny, so you must be nobody." That point usually took longer to sink in, for some reason.

I tried, mightily. to suppress that first middle name. Cecil is not a common name nowadays, and as I said already, anything uncommon is ammunition, nothing more or less. It didn't help much to know the name ultimately derives from the Latin for 'blind'. I'm not blind, but I can certainly act that way. I'm proud of Cecil now, of course. My grandfather wore that name with distinction and there's no reason I can't too.

Pop culture yields any number of silly name-fads. For years after A Fish Called Wanda came out, I was "K-k-k-ken". Don't get me started on South Park. I've often wondered if the Johns of the world go through similar things. In the late fifties, was every John a "Johnny B. Goode"? Do kids actually equate your name with a toilet?

My latest nickname took hold back at Price Chopper, and was, in hindsight, inevitable. It started as "Kenny G." and a friend named Craig morphed it into "G-Baby". At first I hated it. Baby? That's worse than little Kenny! I'm freakin' forty in February, why would I want the word 'baby' near my name? But as the nickname spread like a fungus, I grew to tolerate it, even appreciate it. Mostly because it was the first nickname I'd sprouted since 'Macaw' in which I sensed not even the barest hint of malice or condescension. I started calling Craig "C-note" back. All in good fun.

One day the receiver in my new store called me "Kenny G." I groaned out loud, but inside was pretty pleased. It means I'm accepted. It's nice to have a nickname that means I'm accepted. Even if that nickname is "G-Baby".


03 January, 2012

Giving Unions Their Dues

Look back to the early days of the Breadbin, back when dinosaurs walked the earth and we were all eight years younger, and you'll see its baker has changed his mind about a few things.

I'm still recognizably the same person in many ways. Some of my opinions have only hardened as the years have passed, as if in cement. For instance, my attitude re: love and beauty hasn't changed and I doubt it ever will.

My opinion about humanity (I love individual people, but as they coalesce into groups they tend to lose likability) also remains the same. And that monkey's still on my back.

But I've done a slow one-eighty on many matters political over the years. I once was a fairly faithful Conservative supporter; I voted for Jack in the last election and have contemplated becoming a card-carrying NDP member.
This is supposedly bass-ackwards. There's a famous quote, often misattributed to Winston Churchill (as many famous quotes are), to the effect that "if you're not a liberal at 20, you have no heart; if you're not a conservative at 40, you have no brain." I reject that utterly. Liberals have brains and conservatives have hearts. Likewise, liberals can be coldhearted and conservatives can be stupid.

I have decided, by slow degrees over many years, that one of the ways conservatives are stupid is their anti-union stance.

I used to be dead-set against unions. The following anecdotes might give you some idea of why.

My old girlfriend moved to Toronto after she graduated. She was having a hard time making ends meet: we were just coming out of recession and jobs were hard to come by. She called me one night ecstatic that she had landed a job as a cashier at a grocery store. Starting wage was $18 an hour. This was 1994, and I don't make that much now.
Three nights later I got another call. This time Cathy was in tears. Seems she had gone in for her first shift and checked the schedule only to find it was also her only shift that week. Three hours. She asked how she could get more hours and people laughed at her. It turned out that hours were granted by seniority, and any open shift was first offered to the highest person in the hierarchy. If she refused, it was offered at each successive rung down the ladder. The odds of it getting to Cathy at the very bottom of that ladder were essentially nil. Cathy maintained that nobody told her of this policy, and that she had been 'guaranteed' twenty hours a week.
Now, she may have misheard. But I doubt it. People as poor as she was then have an obsessive need to check the figures for any money coming in, and she'd done the math seven ways to Sunday. She told me about it, too, on that first call. I distinctly remember feeling rather envious; I was making ten bucks an hour at the time, doing similar work--except I worked straight nights at Drunk Central Station, a.k.a. 7-11 at University and King.

Then there's what happened to Eva. She ran West Coast operations for a market research company. One year while Eva was on vacation, a malcontent decided to get the place unionized. Nobody said a word to her upon her return; two days later, she looked at the blackboard in her call center and noticed something was wrong. (She has an uncanny ability to do this: to this day, she can look at a screen of code at a glance and spot an error.) The union papers--which by law had to be made public--were mostly hidden beneath a sheaf of other paperwork. Her two best workers quit in protest. ƒƒIt was a good thing her company was in the process of scouting new locations to move that office--and could prove it. Otherwise they would have been forced to remain open, at substantially increased costs.

Dirty, underhanded tricks. I have a friend who briefly ran a unionized store in Brampton, Ontario. He stepped down and relocated of his own accord when he found that his staff was more interested in finding the most trivial things they could to grieve. He spent most of his time trying to placate a union that had no interest in being placated--which left not enough time for the little things, like trying to manage the $%^*ing store.

So, yeah, my attitudes about unions were less than charitable. I've delivered all the talking points in stentorian tones: you knew what the job was when you took it; jobs in the real world have contracts, too, but out here they stipulate your responsibilities instead of dwelling on your rights; striking workers should be fired because there are thousands who would do that work at that pay; if your job pays you fifteen bucks an hour, maybe that's because that's all your skill set is worth.

But then gradually, over time, I began to notice things. Things like how real wages adjusted for inflation have been stagnant for over thirty years, and are actually starting to fall for some. Things like how the richest among us, as I write this on January the third, have already made more than the average worker will this year. And, of course, how jobs are increasingly being sold to the lowest bidder, be that bidder in India or Indonesia, while the parent company rakes in billions in profits. Dirty, underhanded tricks, in other words.

Whenever I've brought this sort of thing up, people have accused me of being Robin Hood. Supposedly I'm out to impoverish the rich and make it so a convenience store clerk and a doctor get equal salaries.

Whatever. THIS is why I think unions still have a vital place.
Here's an Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario. EMD is a subsidiary of Caterpillar, a company that had record-setting profits for 2011 and whose CEO pocketed a cool $10.4 million. (The previous CEO received $22.5 million upon his retirement.)
So what does Caterpillar do? They demand the EMD skilled labourers take a more than 50% cut in pay and benefits. Seems fair, doesn't it? *snicker*
There's obviously more to this story: Caterpillar has every intention of shutting this plant down and relocating to the United States, where at least one Republican candidate hit upon the bright idea of solving unemployment by abolishing the minimum wage.
If Caterpillar was struggling financially, I'd at least understand this a little better. But their profit quadrupled last quarter and the chief executive foresees a bright 2012. Maybe in Muncie, Indiana. Certainly not in London, Ontario.

Sadly, I see this scenario being repeated all over the place...maybe not to this degree, but the new motto everywhere is "do more with less". Actually, it's not a new motto: what with automation, one employee can now do what used to be the work of three. Or five. Or ten. Yet that one employee is still paid the same--or less, when inflation is factored in. Seems fair, doesn't it? *snicker*
                                                  
At some point something's gotta give.  

Much as I hate it, this economy is based on consumption.  If you want to stimulate it, the best and perhaps only way to do it is to raise wages, so that people can afford to buy things. Because let's face it: if you put money in an average worker's pocket, she'll turn around and spend it. If you put money in a corporation's pocket...
Does that mean that the minimum wage should be fifty bucks an hour? Of course not. It would be helpful, though, if it didn't yield an income below the poverty line. Because until we get around to the sensible Scandinavian subsidization of higher education, there's no reasonable alternative to minimum wage employment for many.
And wages--all of them, not just the minimum--should be legally tied to inflation. I would also enact a law prohibiting profitable companies from closing up shop just so they can double profits that just quadrupled. Enough is bloody well enough. People are not chess pieces, and people's livelihoods are not a game.

Understand: I'm not suggesting every place, or even most places, should go out and get themselves unionized. I think a union is, at its best, a layer of tape. When your boss says 'C'mon, everybody, we're going to get on that big slide over there and race to the bottom!", you can firmly affix that tape to your ass and say "not so fast". If you don't see a slide on your workplace's horizon, you don't necessarily need that tape. But if you're already in the playground...
                     

01 January, 2012

I don't do resolutions...

...for several reasons. Firstly, I distrust the very word. If you're going to call it a re-solution, that implies the original "solution"...wasn't.
Secondly, there is nothing implicit in January the first that makes either a solution or a resolution any more likely to stick. Any day can be a new beginning; any moment can.
Thirdly, there's nothing in my life right now that requires immediate change...or if there is, I'm not willing to change it. Because, let's face it, discipline and sacrifice are not among my strong suits. I'd rather live happily, even if it means I die a little younger; the prospect of an old age subsisting on single servings of tofu and Brussels sprouts does not appeal. I've tried several times now to live according to the maxim that food is fuel and is not supposed to taste good...and if that's life, I'd rather be dead. Give me a dingle when they invent healthy food that tastes like food.      
Likewise with exercise. Time and time again I've read and heard that exercise, if you do it long enough, becomes fun. I'm here to insist that this is not the case. Exercise, if you do it long enough, becomes first tiring and then debilitating.

What are some other popular resolutions? The U.S. government has a sitelisting ten of the most popular. Let's see. "Drink less alcohol"...not applicable. "Get a better education/job"--I operate on the 'good enough' paradigm. It's not for everybody and it doesn't make me any better (or worse) a person than you. But the way I feel, if my job pays the bills and I like the people I work for and with, that's all I can ask for. (The education goes without saying: I learn many new things every day.)

"Manage debt"--we're working at it. "Manage stress"--we're working at that, too. "Reduce/Reuse/Recycle"--I could, admittedly, be more diligent about this. I'm pretty good with the blue box, although I don't put all the plastic I could in it, and the green bin for composting is a pain in the ass. But I guess I could use this one, in a pinch.

"Take a Trip"...yeah, sure. when we can afford it. "Volunteer"--by all means. But again, why make that decision on the first of January? It just seems so...arbitrary. Not like something you want to do: more like something you must. That robs the act--any act--of its meaning, as far as I'm concerned.

But it just so happens that there is something I haven't been doing near enough of lately. And in not doing it, I'm letting people down...never a good feeling, that.

Blogging.

Nobody seems to be blogging much anymore. Everybody's largely abandoned it for the Twitterverse, the same way people nowadays prefer to send a text rather than an email. The few times I've had a thought pithy enough to be contained in a single tweet, I've gone ahead and tweeted it...after first putting it in my Facebook status and, like as not, expanding on it in a blog. I find Twitter needlessly constricting, and when it isn't constricting, it's redundant.

But I haven't blogged much. This isn't for a lack of material and seldom for a lack of time. It's laziness, pure and simple. Laziness I can counter. So I will.

I resolve to blog more often this year.

I'm off to a good start already...two posts today!

     

Here we are

...uh, where's here, exactly?

Doubtless there are more than a few people nursing headaches this morning, asking themselves this very question and wishing that they could escape back into the nothingness of sleep whence they came. Not me. Not us.

I haven't seen the New Year in for many years. I hate to be whatever the New Year's equivalent of a pre-spirit Ebenezer Scrooge might be, but I'll bah-humbug the New Year every year until I'm dead. I've earned that right over many a hogwild Hogmanay, none worse than the first.  
Really, people. Do you have to get drunk because tomorrow you write the date with a slightly different set of pencil-strokes? Really?
Never mind, it's another of the many ways I'm not human, and that's okay. I slept in until six this morning, having gone to bed soon after the Leafs lost another to close out the year. I haven't seen a new year in for many years. I have faith it will be there in the morning, and so far my faith has been justified.
After so many years of mayhem--they all blur into each other--I've decided that yes, there is something to celebrate on New Year's Eve. That we made it through another year. That I don't have to dodge nachos and cheese being hurled at my head. That it's unlikely anybody's going to barf in front of me this year. 
Eva and I had a lovely day yesterday. We haven't done a twofer at the movies for quite a while. We saw David Fincher's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and Bird's MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, Both were very well done, but neither completely lived up to my expectations.
GIRL was, in many ways, superior to the Swedish production. You'd expect it to be, given that it had what, ten times the budget. But I found Mara's Salander too sociable, not silent enough. Rapace, as far as I'm concerned, nailed Larsson's creation. 
And I confess, I have trouble shutting off my brain whenever there's an action sequence. Some movies fall into Rambo Syndrome, i.e. let's shoot roughly 3.6 million bullets at the hero and if we're feeling particularly realistic that day, one of them might graze his buffed shoulder and add character. Some movies suffer from that odd idiosyncrasy of bad guys having to explain themselves, frittering away countless opportunities to blow away the hero and prevail. Just once I'd like to see a smart villain in a Hollywood production.
And then there are the car chase scenes, the ones where traffic is either magically nonexistent or at least compliant enough to get out of the way. GIRL has a short chase scene, motorcycle chasing car. Motorbike wins, in a most unconvincing fashion. The car driving psycho need only slam on his brakes and turn the chaser into people pate...but he doesn't. Sigh.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE is chock-full of gross improbabilities--but if I mention even one of them I'll spoil something. Give that movie its due; it has some of the most eye-dropping stunts I've ever seen and a pace that almost never lets up. As popcorn movies go, seeing this one is a no-brainer.
Back in '91-92 I saw pretty much everything Hollywood put out. I couldn't do that today even if I wanted to, because I'm not made of money. I shudder to think how families can afford it...a night out for you and your wife and two kids could easily run you a hundred bucks or more.
Once the movies let out, we headed home and commenced to stuffing ourselves with all manner of junk  food. This is the one night of the year where we say the waist is a terrible thing to mind and just go nuts. Sausage rolls. Mozzarella sticks. Oriental hors d'oeuvres (which in our happy home is pronounced "hoovers doovers" and om-nom-nommed with authority). Chips and dip and crackers and cheese and a bucket of pop and all this ensures the first movement of the new year will register on the Richter scale, but who cares.
And now it's 2012. There's a sharp cold front about to hit us in five or six hours, with snowsquall warnings posted for Monday. Winter has come, riding in on the wind like a hoary old harridan, and we're all here. 
May your year be what you make it.