31 December, 2012

Thoughts (And Actions) Upon The Turning Of The Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to

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

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

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

Because

TRUTH 6: EVERYTHING INSIDE YOU WILL FIGHT IMPROVEMENT

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

Happy 2013, everyone.




.


29 December, 2012

I Am A Dumbass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013 Can't Get Here Fast Enough

The less said about this year the better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


18 December, 2012

Words Are Not Enough

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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


14 December, 2012

So Much Outrage

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

-----

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05 December, 2012

Where does all the hatred come from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I replied

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

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


04 December, 2012

The End of the (Phone) Line?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






02 December, 2012

Why Don't People Talk To Each Other?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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