30 July, 2012

Chick Fil-A: Anti-gay?

So Chick Fil-A has found itself stuck on the wrong side of the cultural road. So says Miss Piggy, and you don't want to mess with her.
Canada doesn't have Chick Fil-A, just like Canada doesn't have Cracker Barrel, Bob Evan's, Sonic, What-A-Burger, or a host of other delicious fast food eateries. Canada does have gay marriage, and last I looked the sky's still up there. Much as I'd love to see more choice in the Canadian fast food outlet landscape (and grocery store, for that matter), I wouldn't want this at the expense of something as important as same-sex marriage.

The two are mutually exclusive, right?

Check out this letter, from the Mayor of Boston to the President of Chick Fil-A.
While I admire the spirit of this letter, I'm not so sure I agree with the, uh, letter of it. Do we really want to check the beliefs of all company executives against a Pre-Approved Beliefs List before we grant them permission to operate in our city? Think carefully before you answer that.
Customers are free to vote with their wallets. If they think Chick Fil-A's bigoted, they don't have to patronize it. If Christians have a problem with Disney, they can stay away.

Now, Chick Fil-A's president, Dan Cathy, did say one thing that impressed me, under the circumstances. "We never claimed to be a Christian business. There's no such thing as a Christian business. Jesus didn't die for a corporation." These are not his words--he quoted another Christian businessman, Fred Roach--but they're worth reflecting on, for Christians and non-Christians alike.  Cathy, for the record, has mounted a vigorous defence of the "biblical" family unit. He has not said one word directly attacking homosexuals or homosexual marriage.


I'll let Lewis Black rephrase that. "If you're against the war it doesn't mean you're for the other side". Has Cathy or his company donated to pro-family-values outfits that actively campaign against gay marriage? "Guilty as charged", he might say. But are they "anti-gay" outfits...or merely Christian outfits?  Are they the same thing? And if they are, do we shut down any company professing Christianity?

This comes down to a topic I've mused on, and written on, before. Tolerance. It doesn't mean what it used to. There was a time when the word "tolerance" meant I don't like you, you don't like me...and that's okay. Now it means "you have to accept me exactly as I am, and if you don't, you're a homophobe zealot/godless heathen". 


Note that: it cuts both ways. For every right-thinking person trying to drag a fundycostal sort into the 21st century by his or her ears, there's a Christian asking pointedly why she's no longer allowed to believe and live by age-old tenets.


I've fallen into this trap myself, most recently dumping a friend of long standing because of her views, which I felt were anti-gay and she considered simply Christian. I can justify this to myself because I also have gay friends (and family), and I can't in good conscience accept someone who considers them to be inherently 'wrong' as a friend as well...the cognitive dissonance would rip my head apart.  


But would I prohibit that woman from owning and operating a business? How is that different from, say, running a gay man out of town?

I will make one suggestion. Companies should be forced to disclose what charities/political causes they donate to. I don't care which end does this, the corporation or the charity, but it should be done as close to in real time as humanly possible. I want to know what companies are doing with their money before I give them any of mine. Again, this would cut both ways: the Christians would be equally happy knowing which companies are supporting 'sin', wouldn't they?


27 July, 2012

Torn

A year and a half ago, the Winter Olympics were held in my home country (albeit 4512 km (2803 miles) away from me.  (As information: the distance from the easternmost city in Canada -- St John's, NL -- to London, UK is only 3744 km (2326 miles). And St John's is 3172 km (1970 miles) from me. As the Arrogant Worms so memorably put it, Canada's Really Big.

("It isn't what you do with it, it is the size that counts...")

I have to confess I got sucked right into the maw of Olympic over-enthusiasm last time. In my defence, I was far from alone: hell, over eighty percent of this country watched Canada win the gold medal in men's hockey. It was something of a relief to stand up and be counted, to imitate the rah-rah U S A! U S A! patriotism we have seen so much of. And to be justified in doing it, as we won more gold medals than any host nation had ever won at a Winter Games.)

The Olympics are a spectacle, and spectacles are by definition mesmerizing. If they were a  movie, the poster might look like this:


It used to be easy for me to subsume myself in the pomp and pizzazz of the Opening Ceremonies, to immerse myself in the thrill of competition, to cheer my country on. That was back when setting a "personal best" actually mattered...these days, it often seems to be all about medals, specifically gold medals. But every Olympiad brings stories of incredible obstacles overcome, sportsmanship, tragedy and triumph that are captivating, and I try my damnedest to keep my mind on these stories and the competitions themselves. I try not to think about the McDonald's has the exclusive right to serve so-called 'chips'. You know, McDonald's, that most British of institutions that's the first place you think of when you think of authentic fish and chips. I try not to think about the possible terrorists who were let into the country despite an obscene amount of money spent on security. I try not to think about how just saying "London Summer Olympics 2012" in any combination and in just about any context could land you a thirty thousand dollar fine.

You know, that's a pretty long list of things not to have to think about. Don't think of a white elephant. Damn, too late...oh, speaking of white elephants, check out the Beijing 2008 venues just four years on.

Yes, I'll probably be watching and cheering. The pull is damn near irresistible. But for the nothing it's worth, I'll be watching this year with a heady dose of guilt to go with the anticipation.

26 July, 2012

"There will be no more professional writers"

I call bullshit.

There will always be professional writers. And musicians, and artists. Words are windows on other worlds, and they're not going away any time soon. Music is arguably as necessary to the human condition as food and water: babies who are so premature they can't even suck yet respond positively to music. And art is...well, as a poster that went around Facebook a few months back put it, 'EARTH without ART is just EH".

But you read the article linked above and it really does seem as if the sky is falling on any number of careers. There are an increasing number of people who seem to be willing to "work" for free, "paid" in popularity. Huffington Post, I'm led to believe, doesn't pay its contributors a red cent.  And it's not alone. Time was, whenever news happened, if you were lucky enough to have a camera on you--yes, you yowwens, "cameras" were once unitaskers that you had to remember to bring with you if you might conceivably wish to take some photographs--you'd pull out your camera, take the shot, get it developed (a process that could take anywhere from an hour to several days)...and then you'd look to sell your picture to a news outlet for cash dollars.
Now, of course, everyone seems to have a camera on them if they're awake, and that camera is capable of sharing its pictures in seconds to the entire world. "Selling" your picture is extremely unlikely, since (a) you're probably not the only person who got the shot and (b) even if you were, "information wants to be free". So you put your picture up on YouTube and count your coin hits.

You can't exchange hits for anything edible.

Yet.

In my wild dreamy moments, I hope the financial system we have now sticks around just long enough for a little more tech to develop...and then crashes utterly and completely, never to return. I like to think that dollar bills and debit cards are someday (and relatively soon) going to be as obsolete as wampum.

This is, I'll admit, kind of unlikely, because there are many chiefs out there with mucho wampum, and they have this desire to keep it from anyone else. But then again, given the amount of money being printed out of thin air,  I still believe its only a matter of time before this

is bus fare.

If money is essentially worthless, what replaces it? A different sort of currency--a currency we're slowly getting used to even now. The currency of....currency. Call it what you will. Call it Whuffie, call it darknet credits, call it upvotes and downvotes...this only succeeds as a system if transparency is a constant, not just a buzzword. If everyone can determine with a glance your reputation score, and add to it or subtract from it based on your words and works--well, then we have the basis for a new society. A writer of the next century's Giller Prize winning novel--or, hell, Fifty Thousand Shades of Brown--will collect accolades and be able to spend them.
There are issues to be worked out, to be sure. There should only be so many credits accruable to any one entity, lest someone gain too much power. The credits could be scaled based on reputation: if you're rated an asshole, everything you do costs more. If you do something truly depraved, your credit rating, so to speak, goes right to hell. I'm sure there are other problems to be solved. But they're solvable problems, unlike some of the problems with our current financial mess...

25 July, 2012

Near Misses




Every now and again I am confronted with evidence that the average human and I are wired differently. This month's evidence, fittingly, is in the latest issue of Wired magazine. It's not yet available online, so I will quote Ben Paynter:

...[N]ear misses aren't successes. They are indicators of near failure. And if the flaw is systemic, it requires only a small twist of fate for the next incident to result in disaster. Rather than celebrating then ignoring close calls, we should be learning from them and doing our very best to prevent their recurrence. But we often don't.
Post-Columbia...researchers at Georgetown's McDonagh School of Business...asked NASA employees and MBA students to rank different versions of a mission scenario. One described a highly successful project; the other project nearly self-destructed but was ultimately saved by a lucky break. Regardless, subjects ranked both missions as equally well done..."


I wouldn't rank them that way. Though I admit I probably would have in my childhood and teenage years. My parents, my stepfather especially, used to regularly chide my black/white thinking. Things were either wrong or they were right, there was no gray area. Well, the older I get, the more I believe that almost everything is some shade of gray. Hell, gray has been my favourite colour for years.

I used to fall into the binary trap on a daily, if not an hourly, basis: making snap judgements that overwhelmingly tended towards "either/or" instead of, perhaps, "both/and". This made life considerably simpler, but it blinded me to different modes of thinking...rather ironic for someone who always felt inexplicably "different" himself.

My spiritual path reflected my attraction to binary thinking. I had ricocheted rather oddly from Christianity to fervent atheism and back; neither end of the continuum felt right to me, in a way that was  exceedingly hard to describe. The sense that everything you believe just might be bunkum doesn't lend itself to ready analysis. But I persisted, with the help of several prods to the mental posterior that came along. Most notably, Neale Donald Walsch's there is no such thing as right and wrong.

As I migrated inward, seeking spiritual answers that didn't fail my internal bullshit tests, I came first to dispense with dyads and eventually to recognize continua in more and more places. And to settle, more or less, in the spaces between.

Whenever I find myself stomping down on one end of a see-saw--it still happens today--, my own Mrs. is near the other end to keep things from flying off the handle. Eva's a big girl, in more ways than just the physical. Dislodging her is no easy task, because she has thought out her position on any number of issues. Not just decided something...actually thought it out. The upshot of this is that she's able to take up contrary viewpoints with a facility that still occasionally frightens me and befuddles me. She would make a killer debater. No matter what view I blurt out, she can demolish it in short order, then take the view she just espoused and demolish it in turn. This is tremendously liberating: it can't help but bring me back into balance quickly. It is, of course, far from the only reason I married the woman...but it's a damned good one. Binary thinking is not her usual mode--she doesn't just think outside boxes, she occasionally questions whether there are such things as boxes.


Binary thinking is hellishly hard to combat, not least because in doing so you're apt to start thinking that it is bad and your "new" thought patterns are good. 
On this and several other subjects, I owe a debt of gratitude to John Michael GreerBinary thinking is not bad, per se: it's just, as Greer notes, often used nonproductively.  Things are deemed "right", a "success" and "good" if they work; "wrong", a "failure" and "bad" if they don't. Well, stepping outside the binary box, a method might "succeed" after a "near miss"...is something that almost failed really a success? Or maybe there was no "near miss" and all objectives were achieved. Were they really the right, so to speak, objectives? Can http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_consequences">unintended consequences be foreseen with more thought and understanding--which might spring out of ternary, rather than binary, thinking? 


"Moderation in all things, including moderation." --Petronius (27-66 AD)


"Ours is not a better way. Ours is merely another way." --Neale Donald Walsch




17 July, 2012

Gunplay: A Spiritual Perspective

In the wake of the shootout in Scarborough yesterday, I'm going to break one of my ironclad current events blogging rules and speculate before all information is in, to wit:


I'm willing to bet that the perpetrators are black.


I could be wrong, of course...but I doubt it. We're not permitted to collect crime statistics based on race, because that would be (gasp) racist. Never mind that Jamaicans, Somalians, and assorted other melatonin-enhanced people have been shooting each other since time out of mind in the cores of countless cities, Toronto no exception. Unless you're the Harper government, the first step towards solving any problem is collecting reliable data on its scope. We can't do that, because it might offend a few people, and being offended is so much worse than being shot.


Obligatory disclaimer: I have nothing against black people, brown people, or green polka-dotted people...only people who don't play by the rules. And if it is found, as I suspect it would be, that a higher percentage of black people don't play by the rules, the next question we must ask ourselves is why.

There is no shortage of specious theory being advanced to answer that question. It's American gun culture. (How many of these people have ever lived in America--which, for all its warts, is infinitely safer than so many other areas of the globe?)

It's the restrictions on gun ownership and use in Canada: if everybody had a gun, this line of "reasoning" goes, people would be afraid to draw theirs, let alone fire it.

Uh, okay.



It's the lack of meaningful sentencing: if, say, we handed out a mandatory ten-year sentence for possession of an unregistered firearm, all the gang-bangers would be in jail in short order...

...except that (a) you'd have to catch them first, almost always after they've shot somebody and (b) the sort of person who goes out and shoots people generally either doesn't care about consequences or is actually incapable of thinking them through--which is why mandatory minimum sentences don't reduce crime. Even the death penalty has no effect on crime.

So let's put aside all our reflexes to cry racism and look dispassionately at the cultures that produce the majority of the gang-bangers. I see two major issues here, each one insufficient in itself to create a criminal, but both together tending to produce them.

The first is a specific kind of poverty.

Yes, most poor people are law-abiding. So, incidentally, are most rich people, or most middle-class people. But culturally encouraged poverty is another matter.
Poverty is a hell of a disease to shake, it's true, especially when everyone around you is afflicted with it. But some people try to throw it off, and others simply give up. When you give up, that's when you're most vulnerable to the 'glamour' of the gang war: dulce et decorum est pro amici mori.

(Linguistic aside: the word 'glamour' originally meant a magic spell cast to convince its victim that somebody or something was attractive. That's in English. In Scots Gaelic, the term denotes a malevolent shapeshifter. Both definitions fit war of any kind rather well, I should think.) 


What factors 'encourage' poverty? I would argue the biggest one is the second factor in producing criminality: familial breakdown, leading to  community breakdown.

In certain cultures, it seems that fathers no longer have any obligation to mothers or children. The way women are portrayed in hip-hop videos reinforces this: they are simply receptacles to be pumped and dumped. That they line up for the chance to be receptacles tells you men produced the videos.

I wish I had a solution to this: it is so pervasive, and so damaging. Fatherhood binds a man to his family and offers a foundation on which a son (particularly) can build. I'd suggest further than except in extreme cases, even a poor father is better than no father at all. Poor fathers can be learned from: don't do this, don't do it that way. A void for a father breeds nothing but an attraction to voids.

Without cohesive families, 'community' is a nebulous concept at best: people tend to degenerate into an 'every man for himself' attitude that fosters shortsighted, often criminal, thinking.

As I said, I don't have a solution to this--far greater minds than mine have wrestled with it to no avail. But we have to talk about it. I can't solve this and I doubt you can, either....but together we stand a fighting chance. That's what family and community is for: together, we build each other up. As human beings, if we really want to achieve what Neale Donald Walsch calls "the greatest version of the grandest vision we ever had about who we are", we need to expand our perspective outward, beyond our comfort zone. Some of us care only about ourselves. Others care about their close families and friends, others about their tribes. A very few have demonstrated caring towards the entire world. That's where we need to get to. It seems like a hell of a long way to go, but it the journey can and has been made in a single leap of insight.

In the meantime, as with any evil act, the thing to concentrate on now is what next. If we continue along the path of least resistance, these victims will have died in vain. If we choose to really delve into the hows and whys of this tragedy, perhaps something good and lasting might be gained from it. That's my hope.



09 July, 2012

Piracy, Again

First of all, and once again, apologies to my readers for the lack of fresh content. If it's any consolation, I have one e-friend averaging a post a month, another who hasn't posted at all in eight months, and another blog I follow that's been silent for well over a year now. Two of the three tweet pretty much constantly. I have tried Twitter--I've had an account for over a year now--and I don't understand the appeal at all. My thoughts resist being truncated into 140-character sound bites and those that don't go on my Facebook wall anyway...so what exactly is the point?

Anyway. if you read the above thinking what a weirdo, you probably should bail now.

The Reddit thread concerned the ludicrous shipping/handling charges that U.S. companies inflict on Canadian customers. I mentioned the vast discrepancy between the Amazon.com price for Season 1 of Game of Thrones and the Amazon.ca price...then detailed how I got around that. I sent a money order for the U.S. cost plus five bucks to my friend in California...who ordered the thing and mailed it to me. I saved about twenty bucks.

Reddit has a little orange-red envelope that lights up when you get a reply to your post. Within seconds, that envelope lit up, I clicked it, and found this: "cost on TPB: $0."

TPB, for those of you not up on your TLAs (three letter acronyms) is The Pirate Bay.

And so I answered my informer. "If something is worthless, why do you have it?"

He didn't understand. I rephrased the question.

Why would you want something that isn't worth paying for? I dislike the value of something being doubled just because I live on one side of an arbitrary line. But I really enjoyed Game of Thrones and if I were to assign a value to it, it wouldn't be zero dollars. 

Response:

 You have a gaping disconnect in logic there. Just because I don't wanna pay for it doesn't mean it's not worth paying for. GoT is a great show, it's definitely worth more than nothing, but I'm not gonna pay for it if I can get it for free. Simple as that. If there was a way that you could get a Ferrari for free (with no consequence and the equivalent ease of torrenting a file), would you do it? I know I would.

Would I get a Ferrari for free?

Assuming I drove, and had some use for a Ferrari in a country where it would rust out after a year and I couldn't drive it legally anywhere past second gear...I'd be wondering what mechanism I was using to get this free Ferrari, how much the people who made it were paid (would you want a car made by people working for peanuts, let alone nothing?) I guess the short answer is no, I wouldn't want a free Ferrari.

I sat there in the wake of writing this, thinking to myself you just turned down a free Ferrari. I checked and rechecked the thought process that led to that surprising conclusion, and eventually straightened up and said yup, I just turned down a free Ferrari.


For the record, I do, on occasion, pirate things. I will resort to piracy when the legitimate purveyor of content doesn't want my money. In the case of a record album, I will make this assumption if, for example, iTunes--the largest seller of music in the world--does not stock it.

I have also pirated many an album on a trial basis, as it were: the equivalent of taking it out of the library. If I don't like the album after a couple of listens, it gets deleted. If I do like the album enough to keep it, I buy it.

I do this because I am a writer and composer and I really like the idea of writers and composers being compensated for their skullsweat. Now, that said, I share with the most ardent pirate a complete and utter contempt for the middlemen who are desperately trying to cling to obsolete business models. I would just as soon reward an author or composer directly. I believe that this is eventually going to be commonplace, but right now it's very rare, and agencies like the RIAA and MPAA are fighting it like crazy. I get that nobody likes to be rendered irrelevant, but that's technology for you. We don't lament the loss of chandlers and smiths nowadays.

I can certainly understand trying to find as good a deal as possible on whatever you're buying. But for me, at least, that doesn't extend to free.