27 June, 2012

Ken The Pole Dancer

So we did a Costco run today.

I work for what is ostensibly a competitor, but that doesn't diminish my respect for Costco one bit. Some of their prices are beyond belief, and there's no better place to go should you require a keg of ketchup or a barrel of barbeque sauce or a giant pole in the ribs.

Wait, how'd that get there?

Same way the tuna did, I guess.

We always take care to hit Costco within seconds of its opening, because (a) we don't like crowds and that place (b) crowded as hell within minutes of opening, every...single...day. Like most customers, we have a routine that takes us around the perimeter, with one quick and inevitable dart into the center to check out the books. New Uncle John's Bathroom Reader, yay. Back to the perimeter, and now we've hit the frozen foods. I snag a bag of burgers for an insanely cheap price, and then I turn around to make sure my wife is still in view. That's a real danger in that place: once Eva's gone, she's gone, lost in the madding crowd. Granted, the hordes haven't quite hit the frozen food yet, but bombardment is imminent.

At least I know what my wife is wearing today. I don't always; clothes, to me, are strictly functional and if I was substantially fatter, so as to have natural pockets, I probably wouldn't bother with them. (Oh, yeah, and if I lived in a universe where that image didn't just turn your stomach.) But Eva's clad in a new shirt I approved on her last Pennington's run, and she looks even prettier than usual.

But she's not in my aisle.

No problem, she's almost certainly an aisle over. I'll just cut over that way, holding the bag of burgers at chest level pointed away from me, looking at the magnificent array of food, boy does that tourtiere look g--


WHAMMO!

Several collisions happened at once, all because my head had collided with a cloud.

The burgers collided with a giant pole that suddenly appeared. My chest collided with the burgers. All the breath I had in me collided with the walls of my lungs and stopped dead. My pride collided with my dignity as I turned around to see how many hundred people had just witnessed this humiliation.

Nobody. Except Eva, who was trying to suppress sniggers of horrified laughter as she asked if I was okay. I was, I thought...a mite harder, though, and I probably would have yarked, and wouldn't that have been a story to tell the world.

I hate when I do something stupid that results in pain. I hate that I do it so often, of course, but I especially hate the mingled tears and laughter, the pain that screams you deserve me, you dumbass. 


Now do you people get why I don't drive?










20 June, 2012

Love my country, hate my government

Look at at the Breadbin circa 2004-2007 or so and you will see many posts excoriating Chretien, on the grounds of his arrogance, and Martin, on the grounds of his ditheriness. I repeatedly went against the national grain advocating Stephen Harper as a voice of reason.

In related news, I've been eating a steady diet of crow since last May. As I've come to understand, "Stephen Harper" and "reason" don't belong in the same sentence, unless that sentence is "Stephen Harper needs no reason to do what he does".

It's not what this government does that has me frothing at the mouth. Well, mostly not. Many of the initiatives the Harper government has put forth are at least worthy of debate. Hang around leftist blogs for a while and that point can very easily be lost: the general consensus is that Harper is hell-bent on destroying the country.  I'm convinced he doesn't think that way: he thinks like Peter Arnett: "it became necessary to destroy the country to save it". I believe this because the Prime Minister has made his hatred for the country he leads very clear.
(As an aside, I find it very interesting that these criticism I'm levelling at Harper -- that he hates his country -- is often levelled at Obama by more than a few Americans. Could we switch leaders, please, America? You'd love this guy.)

Back on point, it's not what's being done, so much, but how it's being done that makes me loathe this government like none other. Harper has used every dirty political trick in the book to advance his agenda, and when the tricks in the book don't work, he just tosses the book into the fire and writes a new book. Don't like what Parliament's cooking up? Prorogue it. Don't like embarrassing truths being broadcast about your non-performance on the environment file? Kill the agency responsible, and slander them in the process. Don't like statistics that might show up your government? Make sure fewer stats get out there. and brag about it, saying things like "we don't govern on the basis of statistics".

Information? Who needs it? We're Conservatives and we know what's best. Whatever you think you know to the contrary, you're wrong. It's just that simple.

The crime rate's been going down for years, but never mind that: we need more jails because of all the 'unreported crime'. (Not sure what that is, exactly, but it strongly calls to mind unreported criminals, that is to say, unpersons. )

Not only does Harper ruthlessly silence any opposition to his plans -- just ask David Wilks -- he makes every effort to ensure no proper opposition to his plans can develop. Witness the omnibus "budget" bill.

Bill C-38 is crammed chock-full of things have have little or nothing to do with a federal budget. For instance, it explicitly allows the FBI or the DEA the same powers as the RCMP to arrest Canadians on Canadian soil. It basically eliminates a citizen's ability to appeal any decisions made with respect to her employment insurance or old age security. It repeals numerous environmental acts, with nothing to replace them.
By vice of stuffing all these things into one bloated bill, the government essentially killed any opportunity for serious scrutiny. This practically forces Canadians to wonder what (else)  they're hiding. Rather ironic, since the Harper regime is a big proponent of "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear". Yet they routinely attempt to quash, and all too often succeed in quashing, any effort to glean information that might prove contentious.

I try not to wear my tinfoil hat out in public. I really do. But I can't help wondering, as I watch this country erode bit by bit, who our real government is. Is Canada now an oilogopoly? (Criticizing the tar sands can get you branded a terrorist.) Certainly the RIAA and MPAA have our government's ear and arms and legs, now that it's illegal to transfer a CD or DVD to your iPhone, if that CD or DVD is digitally locked. (Stupid, senseless bill that will only encourage what it's trying to prevent. It has about as much relevance as a speed limit on Ontario's 400-series highways.)


If there's any consolation, it's that even media outlets historically friendly to Stephen Harper, such as the National Post, have been publishing increasingly strident criticism. And Canada's reputation internationally, so good as little as two years ago, is starting to slip.. This is good because it means Harper will (hopefully) be tossed out on his ear in 2015. ("Douze mille quinze!" was the chant the NDP shouted as the voting marathon on C-38 concluded.) 


Maybe, just maybe, there will be a Canada left to save by then.




13 June, 2012

Thou shalt not watch others kill

A teacher in the city where Jun Lin was executed has been suspended for showing a video depicting the crime to his high school history/civics class.

Lin, 33, was murdered with an ice pick, raped, cannibalized, and dismembered. The video of the crime later surfaced a website based in Edmonton called "bestgore.com"...which means it's probably in dozens of places on the web by now, and in who knows how many macabre 'collections'.

The very thought that such a video exists makes me sick to my stomach. And regardless of whether or not high school kids unanimously voted to see the accursed thing, that teacher deserves far worse than a suspension with pay. Jail time should be considered, is my view.

I'll go further. Anybody who wilfully downloads something like this should be locked up. Watching it actually trips my get-the-fuck-away-from-me-meter, but I don't want to sound as extreme as I'm probably sounding. Rather, I'd like to try to convince you my "extreme" position is rational.

First, you try to convince me of some good reason why anyone would want to watch, let alone keep, a video depicting the actual murder of an actual human being. I have enough problems with simulated murders on screens -- at sixteen, I recoiled from something as relatively tame as Die Hard -- but an actual graphic murder?

Suppose the man murdered was your son. He was somebody's son, after all. Could have been yours. Still curious? Still got that hmm, I wonder what a real murder looks like sheen in your eye? Or are you maybe thinking of using the video of the murder of Jun Lin as some kind of obscene training manual?

No, I'm not going to suggest that anyone who downloads this is automatically a murderer-in-waiting...so I'll tell you what. You show me who, out of the hundreds of thousands of downloads I'm sure this goddamned thing has racked up, is considering murder right now or at some point in the foreseeable future. You do this with one hundred percent accuracy, and you continue to do it for as long as that video is available, and for my part, I'll make sure those are the people I jail, and everyone else can enjoy their little movie. With popcorn.

Good luck with that. Oh, and remember: Jun Lin might not be your son...but the next one could be.

********

"But the kids voted for it! Unanimously!"

Well of course they did. They're, what, sixteen? My sixteen year old self would have voiced the only dissent -- did, in fact, except the murders I didn't care to see were relatively tame and perpetrated by Bruce Willis -- and for that I got called a pussy. The overwhelming majority of kids that age have been conditioned by movies they Saw, torture porn movies to which I have an unreservedly Hostel reaction. Indeed, one of the students in this idiot teacher's class is quoted as saying the video was "troubling", but had no "lasting effect" on him. As one commenter on CBC.ca said, life is cheap to the videogame generation.

That the children even had the opportunity to vote at all is disgusting beyond words.

The teacher has expressed "regret", to which I call bullshit. Regret that he was caught, maybe. A microsecond of thought would have convinced this teacher that the murder of Jun Lin was not appropriate viewing for his class, no matter what his class might say. Anything that obvious isn't worth regret, and any sorry he might give is worth precisely nothing. That kind of reflexive 'apology' is often offered by sociopaths as they learn what is and isn't acceptable in society's eyes. Not saying this teacher is sociopathic...but I can't help wondering.





12 June, 2012

Snakes on a Plane?

Summertime and the bloggin' ain't so easy...

I'm working on my retail tell-all memoir, originally titled "Tales from Aisle Ten" like several Breadbin posts (I'll be going with a different title, though). Because my discipline is non-existent, I have enlisted the services of a writing buddy to keep me honest. The deal is we each write every day, even if it's only two sentences.  So far, I've skipped one day due to total work-related burnout...I could barely put two sentences together verbally. But otherwise it's coming along. I basically scrapped it and started from scratch and I've now surpassed my old word count: I'm sitting comfortably above twelve thousand words.

Blogging necessarily takes a back seat to that.

However, there's something that came up in the news the other day that tweaked my bloggerbrain.

Read and react...

To summarize: Married D-string actor removes his ring, hits on model on redeye flight. Model strings him along, tweeting the whole time, until her followers--armed with her hints--are able to identify the cad....whose career and marriage are most likely in tatters now. Model realizes (too late) what she has unleashed.

Actor is one of those 'washed in the blood of the Lamb Who Is JAAAAAY-SUS types (it almost goes without saying), but I'll refrain from further comment on that part of the story.

What interests me is that the reaction, which is split seemingly exactly in twain.  Half the people whose comments I've read think the actor (Brad Presley) fully deserved the crap he's getting: serves him right for surreptitiously removing his wedding ring and then trying to cozy up to a woman not his wife. The other half says of the model (Melissa Stetten): what a bitch!


If you're interested, I heavily favour the former interpretation (and I did even before I found out how "Christian" Mr. Presley is). Being hit on by someone you're not interested in poses a real dilemma for a woman, especially when you have a few hours of proximity to look forward to. Telling him off is out of the question: some men won't take no for an answer, and you never know which ones those are by looking at them. Caving is equally unthinkable, especially when you know (as Melissa did) that the guy is married. So that leaves you with a hybrid "be nice but not too nice" strategy that is acutely uncomfortable to prolong.

What do we do with acutely uncomfortable things? We share them, because shared pain is lessened. And we have a sharing culture now, don't we?  Connected as never before, even at 30,000 feet?

Tweet...tweet...tweet...

People need to wake up. They need to understand the society that's a-building. We are moving towards a world of sousveillance....not Big Brother, but millions upon millions of Little Brothers who reach just as far. Some people find this terrifying. It need not be. There are many positives I can think of given a world extrapolated from current trends. One is the almost total elimination of crime. Only a very sick mind indeed would even consider murder, say, if his every action is likely to be seen by at least one camera, and probably many more, the locations of which he can't determine ahead of time.

In private is increasingly a meaningless term. Hitting on a woman in the privacy of your airplane seat is fraught with peril if you happen to be, ahem, married. Unbelievably, Presley had his own Twitter account. How stupid do you have to be?






03 June, 2012

Free tuition?

Topic for blog entry, as suggested by Kate on Facebook yesterday: "University tuition and why it should be free".

In some respects I am precisely the wrong person to ask for an opinion on this. I remain intensely cynical about university almost twenty years after dropping out of it. The reasons for my cynicism are legion, But the biggest has become a running tagline of mine over the years: tuition is far too high, since you shouldn't have to pay professors so much to read textbooks to you. Verbatim. Especially when you have to buy the textbooks, the prices of which are hideously inflated.
I've said that over and over, to varying degrees of online opprobrium. Yet no matter how many Reddit downvotes I garner for this sentiment, I'll keep repeating it, because it was my experience. Not just in one class, either. In most of them.
There was one class I took, "The Philosophy of Love, Sex, and Friendship". Bird course, right? Easy A? I initially selected this course just so I could rewrite a high school essay and get it (in effect) professionally critiqued. I had some odd thoughts on the subject. Still do, in fact. Many of them, Dear Reader, you have seen in this here Breadbin.
Anyway, it was a night class, 7 to 10 on Tuesdays, as I recall. The first Tuesday night I was sicker than the proverbial dog. Sore throat, aches, chills, you name it. The closer I got to the classroom, the sicker I felt. What to my wondering bleary eye should appear in that classroom but a syllabus. Syllabi, actually, a big pile of 'em, detailing absolutely everything relevant to that class. Readings. Assignments and due dates. The date, time, and location of the final exam. A note at the bottom to the effect that assignments could be handed into the professor's mailbox, and where exactly that mailbox was.
Yoink!
 I walked out of the classroom that first night having never actually seen the prof, When I was feeling better, I digested the goldmine of information. Armed with this, I had no reason to actually attend the class, and so I didn't. At all. Ever. I handed in my assignments, including that essay, on time; they were available for pickup two weeks later where I'd dropped them off (the syllabus helpfully informed me).
I went into that final exam having not the slightest clue what would be on it. I got a B-plus in that course. Oh, yeah, and my essay? An A-, but nothing written on it that my high school teacher hadn't already inscribed on the truncated edition three years prior.

That's obscene, you know. What I did shouldn't have been allowed. And yet I hear from my university-aged friends that it's so much better now (or worse, depending on your point of view). Syllabi for most courses are now posted online. Assignments are handed in online, graded, and returned to you online.

Well, shit. What's the point of university at all, then? I can do "online" from anywhere. For that matter, between Khan Academy, TED talks, and a host of other such resources, I could, with discipline, mine the minds of millions and come away with the equivalent of a degree in any number of fields. All for the low and dropping price of a broadband connection.
This is the medium term future of education...by medium-term, I mean "in the foreseeable future, but before the implants show up". Eventually, you'll be able to glean knowledge just by installing the relevant software into your neural system.

I may not agree with piracy, but I certainly understand the motto the pirates live by: "information wants to be free".

In several countries, including Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, tuition is already free. (Denmark even provides a monthly stipend to students). So it can be done: it is being done. All it takes is a wee paradigm shift: society needs to view free tuition as an investment worth making.

The consequence-obsessed bureaucrat in me would insist that a minimum GPA be maintained. Fall below that GPA and still graduate, you're on the hook for fifty percent of your educational costs. Drop out, and it's a hundred percent. (No penalty for changing programs within a year--many students realize early on that their chosen course of study isn't for them.)

I wish I'd been one of those many students. I took an English degree with no thought given to its pecuniary potential at all. People asked me what my major was, I said "English", and invariably they said "oh, so you want to be a teacher, then." The thought of teaching filled me with dread. Oh,  I felt then (and still do) that I could be a good teacher, perhaps even a great one. But only for students who wanted to learn. Which, in my experience, was very few of them.
In hindsight -- which is perfect, depending on the hind you've sighted -- what I should have done was follow my best friend Jason into a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. My life would look markedly different right now, let me tell you. But the thought never occurred to me coming out of high school. Why would it? I'd never even taken business anything in high school, whereas I knew I was pretty damned good at English. It all goes back to that tragic misconception I'd harboured about the purpose of school: not to learn, but to show off what you've learned.

I've been talking about arts degrees as if that's all there is in the world of education. The fact is, university itself is far from the be-all and end-all of education. An argument can be made, in many cases, for a college/trade school education providing a more relevant foundation for a career path. Certainly society needs more people in the trades. The pay's not bad, either. As skills go, a carpenter or electrician is better positioned than a guy like me, who can ask "would you like fries with that" twenty seven different ways.

Should trade school be free?

Unlike university, there are actual costs attached to college and trade school. The people teaching you have real world experience, and so their time is considerably more valuable than any university professor's (the majority of professors have little to no interest in teaching anything to anyone anyway). You can't do trade school online. Tools cost. I'd suggest that public-private partnerships might provide an income stream for some institutions (this diploma brought to you by deWalt?) I do think students in such schools should probably buy their own tools with their own money...pride of ownership and all that. But otherwise I see no reason to perpetuate the outdated stereotype that college is a second-class education.

I'm a big fan of incentives. I've often felt that aspiring doctors, for instance, should be eligible for a discount of up to 100% on their university expenses provided they are willing to, say, practice where they're needed. If tuition is free across the board, you lose that carrot...and so you'd have to resort to a stick instead: set up shop in Toronto instead of Timmins and we'll thwack you with forty thousand dollars in student debt. The system can be gamed. And I think it should be. Because information does long to be free.