31 March, 2013

On Target?

There is a very interesting (at least if you're me) interview with the head of Target Canada in the most recent issue of Report on Business Magazine.

CEOs are politicians: their party is their corporation. As such, they are verbally slippery. It is very difficult to get yes or no answers out of them. The interviewer here tries several times to get Tony Fisher to commit to saying whether Target Canada prices will be similar to those at Target in the U.S. After some hemming and hawing about being "competitive within the Canadian marketplace", we finally get the truth: no.

And they can't be. As much as I rail against the ridiculous price discrepancies between Canada and American given that our dollars are roughly at par, and as much as I dismiss the stupid 'economies of scale' argument (come on, most of Canada's population is a hop skip and jump from the U.S. border), the fact is I'd rather pay more and know that the employees are getting something marginally closer to a living wage.  (The minimum wage in Ontario is $3/hr higher than the U.S. federal minimum wage).

But the thing in this interview that I most fixated on was the key difference Fisher noted between American and Canadian retail culture:


"What was one of the biggest surprises for you when you moved here in August, 2011?" "I wanted to be a consumer here, so I could say exactly what it is like to shop at Loblaws or Sobeys or Metro or Fortinos on the grocery side, what it’s like to go to Canadian Tire or Home Depot, or to shop at Walmart or Shoppers Drug Mart. One of the biggest surprises early on was just how many different places I had to go to get what I wanted. There was a lack of one-stop shopping. Now, Walmart exists, but it’s the consumers’ mentality. It was just kind of part of the norm."

There's no "kind of" about it. I can certainly understand, from a retailing perspective, why Fisher might find this mentality baffling and of course he'd want to change it. All I can say is good luck with that.

Caveat lector: I have not been a Target 'guest' in Canada yet. However, I've heard from many that have been...the hype has been close to insane. This is to be expected in a country with such a pronounced inferiority complex as Canada. Oh, my God, an American store has come to Canada, I simply MUST shop there!
And most of the reaction I've heard has boiled down to meh. Wal-Mart with wider aisles. And empty shelves.
This isn't a surprise. For all we've heard about American just-in-time inventory know how, the truth is that Canadian companies are much better at that than most of their American counterparts. I tell you this: if my store had as many shelves empty on opening day as I've heard the ones in Guelph and Fergus did...opening day would be postponed and heads would roll.

Give me American selection, is all I'd ask. If I want Vanilla Coke, or Minute Maid Pomegranate Lemonade, I should be able to buy it. That said...

I have a deep, deep distrust of any place that sells food and. Take Wal-Mart. Their general merchandise is almost without exception low-quality, low-durability, low-cost, with emphasis of course on the cost. They claim to have a customer service culture. They don't. Just try to find an employee when you need one.
Let's say I want to buy a television. If price is my sole concern, I might look to get it at Wal-Mart: they usually have a few TVs at an intriguing price point. But I'd better have done my research first, because any employee I consult is unlikely to know all that much about televisions. The same holds true for most of what Wal-Mart sells.

What's more, their grocery selection, even in the Supercentres, is pitiful...and compared to the discount grocery banners like No Frills, FreshCo and Food Basics, the prices really aren't anything to get excited about either.
In short, trying to do everything means you do a half-assed job. Pretty much by definition. Target's welcome to that retail model, and I've heard their quality is a step above Wal-Mart's...but  you'll pardon me if I doubt their employee training is comprehensive on the whole of their inventory.  I mean, they do pay their employees minimum wage.

Fisher moves on to discuss Target's extensive customer profiling, and this is where I do believe the company has an edge...even though many people I have spoken to find targeted ads and promotions spooky for some reason.  Let me put it to you this way. You're going to see ads...the world practically runs on them. Would you rather see ads that might have some relevance to you, or those that really, really don't? My eye and ear edits out ads almost automatically, precisely because I ain't buyin' what they're sellin'.
If the reason you're spooked is because you don't like soulless corporations knowing everything there is to know about you...you're reading this on the Internet, aren't you? You're way too late. For that matter, better close out your account at the bank and turn in your credit cards.

I'm in no hurry to shop at Target. It's not out of Canadian patriotism--even if Target bombs, it won't bomb near as badly as Zellers--it's more out of that distrust of generalists that seems to be a uniquely Canadian consumer trait.






I

29 March, 2013

Vows

I, Ken, do take you, Eva
to be the wife of my days
the companion of my journey
the friend to my life
and the mother of our children
to live with you in joy and
to grow with you in love.
With these words
and all the words of my heart
I marry you and I bind my life to yours.

I'm looking over the booklet that encapsulates our October 2000 wedding ceremony. Twelve and a half years later, I find myself marvelling at how well the late Rev. Janice Aicken crafted this ceremony for a couple she barely knew. From the prayers to the sermon to the poem that punctuated the service midway through--the poem!

MEDICINE

Grandma sleeps with my sick grandpa
so she can get him    during the night
medicine to stop the pain.
In the morning, clumsily I wake them...
Her eyes look at me from underneath his withered arm
The medicine is all
in her long un-braided hair.

--Alice Miller

--everything fit together and resonated strongly in the little Embro church where we bound our lives together.

We married in that litte Embro church because Eva's parents had married there before us. The symbolism, the continuity, mattered to both of us. As I recall, the vows, above, were selected from a passel of possibilities...I certainly couldn't have written any better at the time and doubt I coud now.

I, Ken, do take you, Eva

At first glance, that verb seems a bit harsh: it harkens back to when men raided the cave of their bride's family, 'took' their bride by the hair and dragged her away. I've never felt that way about Eva (or anyone), and I think that's one reason among many that our marriage works as well as it does for us. I don't own Eva and she doesn't own me and that's why marriage is just like single life, except it has security.
No, I hear take in this context and think, what do I take Eva for? I take her for

the wife of my days

The nights go without mention--nobody needs to hear about those anyway, least of all in a church--and yet I think the distinction there is critical. It's the days that make a life, after all.

the companion to my journey

I particularly like this phrase, as clichéd as it is nowadays when everyone has come to view their life as a journey. Hey, we've driven to Florida...twice...in a 2003 Toyota Echo, which is only marginally bigger than a Breadbin. And when I say "we" drove, I lie: "she" did all the driving and I was along for the ride. That would have been a test of our relationship if our relationship required testing...but we accomplished both trips with a minimum of friction and crankiness. I try not to feel boastful pride, but I'm proud of us for that.

the friend to my life

Something about "to" rather than "of" there calls out to me. Again, it seems to indicate an independence: even as our lives are about to be bound, we are retaining our distinct identities.

And, of course, Eva and I are friends first and foremost. From my perspective, there's a great deal to be said for marrying your best friend...

and the mother of our children.

That line was remarked over and deliberately included; at the time we fully intended to have at least one child. I find it odd that so many people consider marriage to be all about children when the standard marital vows make no mention of kids at all.
As it stands, he closest thing to kids we have--and they're remarkably close some days--have four legs and fur. And yes, Eva is often "Mommy" in this house and I'm "Daddy". (Oh, how the Tux loves his Mommy...)

with these words and all the words of my heart

(and there are an awful lot of those, aren't there, love? Sometimes my heart won't shut up!)

I marry you and I bind my life to yours

I really like the declaration here. The usual run of marriage vows simply has the couple exchange "I do"'s or occasionally "I will"'s. I think it means something to actually announce what it is you will do. Thoughts are creative; spoken intentions moreso; and actions more still. A marriage vow is a powerful thought, vocalized: a concrete action in front of witnesses. The echo of that vow rings down the years every day for me.

"Bind" is an interesting choice of words. As a noun, it's the last thing you want your marriage to be in. As a verb, it has two contradictory meanings: stationary, as in tied in place...and going somewhere. Both meanings are richly applicable to us. We have come a long way in our time together and we're just gathering a head of steam....

I love you, Eva....








27 March, 2013

"There's zero closure"

This one's going to piss some people off. For that I apologize, and I issue a couple of disclaimers right up front:

1. My family has a large number of current and former police officers in it. You will look far and wide before you find someone who respects and admires cops as much as I do. I have no patience for the people -- most of them young, but not all -- who disparage peace officers,  who call them names, and who think they're all jerks.

2. I have a great deal of sympathy for the family of slain Sgt. Ryan Russell. It's not going to sound like it in a minute or two, so I want to get that out right now and underline it: I sympathize with the Russells.  That family could have been mine on occasions beyond counting and it really is horrible to have to explain to a toddler that Daddy is never coming home.

However, the kinds of things Sgt. Russell's widow Christine is saying to the media give me pause. A great deal of pause. "There's zero closure in a verdict of not criminally responsible", she said, after the man who ran down her husband with a stolen snowplow. "I believe Ryan deserved a lot better than this," she said.

No doubt he did. Nobody deserves to die that way, least of all a peace officer who is serving and protecting the rest of us. But with all due respect, Mrs. Russell, you seem to have more of an issue with the verdict than you do with the death of your husband, and I find that unseemly.

What were you looking for? Guilt, I imagine, which would carry an automatic sentence of at least twenty five years in jail. Maybe you've fantasized bringing your husband's service piece to court and gunning the psycho down. Hell, I wouldn't blame you for having that thought. But the psycho who killed your husband was just that, a psycho. A person found to have an actual and acute mental illness. That's the only way that verdict, "not criminally responsible", can be rendered.

What happens to Kachkar, the psycho, now? He undergoes psychiatric assessment and he's placed in a facility until he is deemed not to be a threat to society. That could well be longer than twenty five years. That could well be the rest of his life.

Perhaps you disagree with the assessment that Kachkar was in a psychotic state at the time of the murder. This was argued in court, with psychiatrists testifying for and against. The jury found that the defendant was not "in touch with reality" when he committed the crime.

(Personally, I'm of the opinion that anyone who kills another human being is by definition mentally ill...but there are mental illnesses and mental illnesses. Kachkar was found to be -- what's the correct medical term I'm looking for? oh yeah --batshit insane.)

May I, again respectfully, suggest to Mrs. Russell that a guilty verdict, even one that carried the death penalty if such a thing actually still existed in this country, would not change the fact of your husband's tragic death in any way. No court of law can turn back time and bring the dead to life. I wish one could. I wish I could. But I can't.

And closure? There ain't no such thing. Not because of this verdict...because of the death. Death is all the closure we ever get in this life. It lingers. It lingers longer when there's love involved, as there clearly is here. It never goes away. Nobody is suggesting it should. But as with anything else "good" or "evil" in the world, what matters is not what's past, but what is next. 

You see a man who "got away with murder". I see a sick man who will now, as his defence lawyer says, get the help he needs. He wouldn't get that help in jail. Trust me on this. Jail is not about "help". And while you might not appreciate helping the monster who killed your husband, Mrs. Russell, without that help he might kill again.




22 March, 2013

Night and Day

Two or three times a year, for the last twelve years, I've had to contend with a grocery inventory.
This is nothing to what the fresh departments deal with: for reasons unknown, deli, bakery, and produce count their stock monthly. What's more, they have to count all their stock, sales floor and backshop included.
Thank goodness we don't have to count the product on the sales floor. A team of inventory specialists comes in to do that, and the speed at which they work is astonishing. It's usually between six and eight people, and it takes them less than four hours to count everything. I have no idea how this is done. Magic, I assume.
The back room stock--which for me means the dairy cooler and the freezer--is the extent of our responsibility. It's responsibility enough, and it seems to get worse, rather than better, with every inventory.
At my old store, it was a relatively simple matter: many times I'd done it in eight hours, cooler and freezer both. Of course, there I simply had to count the stock, not work all of it. Even so, as the store got busier through the years, I eventually found myself taking two shifts to count it all.

This inventory it took four. Four night shifts.

That's because in this store, the scope of my responsibility has increased. It's not just the dairy cooler and freezer any more: it's the rest of the grocery department as well. And in a store as small as this one, wherein often the shelf won't hold a full case of whatever....there's a lot of backstock. And of course it's expected that every case gets worked.

We got done in the nick of time--I was still tallying up milk and eggs when the inventory folks came through the door. Now I'm trying to revert back to my normal schedule, and it's not going well.

I've said before that I am not a night person. University residence forced night shifts upon me. There was simply no possible way to sleep on the west wing of the second floor of MacDonald House. I had arranged most of my classes in that first year for early morning. I can't say I was naïve; no, I was completely oblivious. It quickly was made clear to me, however, that my 8:30 classes were my problem: the truly sensible drunken partiers, i.e., everyone else, had scheduled their classes for afternoons and evenings. Dawn was not a time to get up. Dawn was a time to think about going to bed.

Laying awake listening to the projectile vomiting contests and lacrosse games outside my door, I figured I deserved to be paid for this. What's more, I honestly believe I would have eventually assaulted somebody if I didn't remove myself from the din. And so I started working graveyards at McDonald's.

Those were fairly enjoyable. I had my music--this was long before the iPod, and I didn't own a Walkman, but I did have a ghetto blaster to drag from place to place. The store was closed--this was also long before Mickey Dees realized just how many drunken partiers there were in my town who could really go for a Big Mac at three in the morning. My job was to clean.

My job has always been, at least in part, to clean. It's probably why I'm charitably described as a slob at home. Let's be real here: I'm a guy. That means, as Dave Barry says, I can't see dirt until it can sustain commercial agriculture. Cleaning stuff is annoying to me, because I can spend forever polishing something to a high gloss....and if I miss one speck of dirt, I've wasted that forever. So I don't bother, at home at least, until a critical mass is reached and I go into a cleaning frenzy.

Anyway, circumstances forced a fateful career change on me: I went down the street a block to 7-Eleven....and the rest is bitter, bitter history.
It was five years, give or take, to get to the point where I just couldn't take another person hurling abuse at me because I carded her for smokes, or hurling a can of soup at me because why the fuck not. I went from convenience to discount grocery, and am now in a full service grocery store. Night shifts, thankfully, are at a minimum.

There are advantages to working nights, don't get me wrong. On night shift, the uniform is not required, which means I don't have to wrestle with the top button on a dress shirt for an embarrassingly long period of time and I can wear comfortable clothes. Once the store is closed, an hour into the shift, the iPod can come out and impart energy. At that point there are no customers and no boss and I can simply do my job and go home when it's done.

But it means sleeping during the day.

Even back at 7-Eleven, that was a near impossibility for me. For those five years I don't think I ever got fully to sleep or came fully awake. Sleeping pills help, but even so fortified, I'm apt to wake up in three or four hours. And I don't mean to whine (he whined), but waaaaaaaaah!  I need my sleep!

Today is Friday...the first full day off I've had in very nearly two weeks. I worked a day shift yesterday after having worked a night shift Tuesday into Wednesday. Because I slept pretty well Wednesday night, I thought I had successfully flipped my schedule.

No such luck. I've been awake most of the night. Should have taken more sleeping pills, but to be honest I'm more than a little worried about developing a dependancy on them. There will be a nap today...but you'll excuse me if I don't count sheep.

We don't stock sheep.











18 March, 2013

Sticking Up For Something I Hated

This is disturbing.

According to this, fewer than half of Ontario's elementary schools have phys. ed. teachers, and the majority of the teachers that do exist are part time. Furthermore, schools are having trouble fitting in the mandated twenty minutes of exercise per day.

Say what?

You can't tell me there's no such thing as recess anymore: I live across the street from an elementary school and I see it (and hear it) morning and afternoon. That's half an hour right there--not counting lunch hour. Nobody I knew ever took the whole period to eat.

Do kids not take physical education any more? I remember it going all the way back to grade one (before that, in junior and senior kindergarten, it was called 'play time'.)
I have to admit that part of me, the part that absolutely loathed  phys. ed., finds itself grateful, if so, that nobody faces humiliation of the sort I endured daily. I sucked at phys. ed. Sucked hard. You wouldn't know it from my evaluations and later letter grades in the subject: I think a succession of teachers took pity on me. I'd usually get a B, occasionally even an A...but let me assure you those As were of the A for effort variety. Then as now, I was about as flexible as your average iron bar. I had the strength of a gnat, the balance of a drunk, and eye-hand co-ordination of a being without eyes or hands.

The one thing I excelled at was endurance. I got an Award of Excellence in the endurance run that was part of the Canada Fitness Test; the rest of my ribbons were purple ParticiPACTION awards that you got just for coming out. I couldn't do forty pushups at that age with a gun to my head; the 'flexed arm hang' was a torture; the crunches made me feel like I was being chewed on and the standing long jump was definitely more standing than jumping. The worst thing was that those who had performed their tests and earned their red ribbons invariably hung back to gather 'round and chortle at little Kenny.

I was forever hurting myself in phys. ed., sometimes semi-seriously. Don't put me in the same room as a trampoline. I never mastered the art of staying in the center of those things and once I went sailing right off the end when the spotter regrettably abdicated--though what else was he supposed to do with a flying Kenny coming in for an unscheduled (read: crash) landing? Or there was the time I tried to do a back somersault, again on a trampoline, and succeeded only in breaking my nose with my knee.

Even when I didn't hurt myself, I hurt myself. Exercise hurts. I don't understand all you gym rats who say you feel great after exercising. I'm sore everywhere, out of breath, possibly lightheaded, certainly heavy-footed...what's to like about that sensation? Isn't that kind of like getting drunk just to experience the puking shakes?

And yet...

As much as I despised every phys. ed. period and wished I was actually handicapped instead of just seeming to be, I really don't like the thought of it being outright mothballed. Kids go to school not just to get their minds sharpened, but also their bodies and spirits--both of which, my experiences notwithstanding, contribute mightily to creating a well-rounded individual. Not to mention that the exercise kids get in phys. ed. is all too often the only exercise they get. Hell, kids don't even walk to school anymore. It's almost as if parents are collectively raising cellulite instead of children.

I'd suggest that mandatory phys. ed. should be, well, mandatory. That school isn't just about the three Rs, two of which don't even start with R. That the heavy price in humiliation I paid was actually worth it in that it kept me from being a total blob.



16 March, 2013

Ghoulish?

The violin played by bandmaster Wallace Hartley as the Titanic sank has been found.

Despite two large cracks and some corrosion, it's in remarkable shape, all things considered. And it's going on display in Belfast City Hall, less than a mile from where Titanic was built.

A Redditor named 'hootbot' asks,

Isn't it a bit ghoulish to tour bits of the Titanic around, a ship on which 1500 people died? I mean, imagine if there were a 9/11 touring carnival with bits of office furniture and blood stained palm pilots.

This is a common sentiment, and certainly understandable. But I disagree with it.

First and most facile, neither the victims of Titanic nor those of 9/11 care a bit about their personal effects at this point. That's because they're dead.

I object to the use of the word "carnival", with all the jollity and lightness of purpose it implies. Anyone who has spent any time researching Titanic, as I have--let alone those who have seen the ship, or any of its contents--will tell you there are no carnivals on the bottom of the sea. (Or at the bottom of Ground Zero, or in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, for that matter.)

Like many, I saw James Cameron's Titanic when it came out. Previous to that, I'd had a sketchy knowledge of the sinking; after watching the movie, I devoured everything I could find on the subject, until I had bits of the cargo manifest memorized.
The story affected me in a way very few had before or since. Not the grafted-on, oh-so-Hollywood love story--fer Chrissake, Jack, grab your own bit of flotsam and dare to separate from your Rose for a few hours and you'll have a lifetime together!)...the story of the ship itself. In its story is the best and the worst of what makes us human. It's a tragedy that's very much of its time--the very thought of "steerage" on a ship is repugnant to Western ideals a century later--and yet it's timeless. The same hubris that led a publisher to suggest "God Himself could not sink this ship" also led to the slipshod preparations that doomed the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and will doubtless figure in tragedies to come.
(The parallels between Titanic and Challenger are astonishing and deeply chilling....)

And the chain of errors that led to the deaths of 1517 passengers in the frigid Atlantic would be comical if the end result wasn't so grisly. From the deliberate decision not to clutter up the decks with needless lifeboats, to the bridge binoculars being left behind in Southampton, to the doomed attempt to 'port round' the berg, to the equally foolish closing of the watertight doors...nearly everything that could go wrong did, helped along by an unwavering belief in the superiority of technology right until the bitter end.

(If Titanic had hit the berg head on, she wouldn't have sunk. She'd have sustained heavy damage and been towed ignominiously into port, the butt of jokes for years to come...but most if not all of her passengers and crew would have survived. Likewise, if they'd left the watertight doors open--if, in other words, they ignored their nifty-neato technology--Titanic would have sank on an even keel, taking much longer to do so.)

The atmosphere around displays of historical tragedies is sombre and reflective, as it should be. Personal effects from the victims of such tragedies are what create this atmosphere. It is, in every sense, a memorial. A memorial to family members, for friends, or even strangers who were, nonetheless, human beings. I don't think it's ghoulish to examine the past, even the horrors of the past, so long as we try to learn from them.





10 March, 2013

Life Lessons


I have had an exceptionally challenging week, with the prospect of (at least) two more to come. I can't elaborate on details, much as I'd like to; the Net has eyes, and they see all. Suffice it to say I have arrived home each day with a steadily increasing understanding of how people just...suddenly...snap.
Being as stability is arguably my most important core value, you can perhaps understand how weeks like this leave me a little seasick.
At times like this, I find myself inhaling positivity wherever I can find it. Which is, of course, everywhere. The love of my wife, a beautiful melody, the smiles of friends...these things are stabilizing and sustaining. 
The bolded quotes below come from the Conversations with God trilogy, by Neale Donald Walsch:
“Know and understand that there will be challenges and difficult times. Don’t try to avoid them. Welcome them. Gratefully. Cultivate the technique of seeing all problems as opportunities. Opportunities to…be, and decide, Who You Really Are.”
This struck me as silly the first few times I read it. Then I started noticing the good things that came out of undeniably bad events. I began to (try, at least, to) take a few steps back and examine the problem in front of me from different angles. Often, the easiest way to defuse a problem situation is to reflect, for just a second, on how many people would love to face the problem I'm facing. There are people, for instance, without jobs. Job stress would probably be welcome in their lives.
“If you want guarantees in life, then you don’t want life. You want rehearsals for a script that’s already been written. Life by its nature cannot have guarantees, or its whole purpose is thwarted.”
This was a hard one for me, because I confess, I do want guarantees in life. I want a guarantee when I get out of bed in the morning that I will face no unpleasant surprises today. The stronger the desire for such a guarantee gets in me, the more unpleasant surprises I tend to face.
The thing is, I am writing my life. You are writing your life...we're all making it up as we go along. It's when we forget we're at cause for the events in our life that we start up the pity party...oh, no, what is happening to me? Life in the passive voice. That's not living, that's dying.
“To live your life without expectation–without the need for specific results–that is freedom. That is Godliness.”
I believe this is a very Buddhist sentiment. The only way I've found to even attempt this is to take whatever's in front of me and (a) accept it; (b) cherish it; and (c) it for what it really is: the next forking point in the road that is my life. How will I react to this challenge? Eventually, I hope that I no longer react at all...at that point I will be proactive, and I won't actually see challenges, only opportunities.
I have a ways to go.
“Never resist anything. If you think that by your resistance you will eliminate it, think again. You only plant is more firmly in place. Have I not told you that all thought is creative?”
This is expressed elsewhere more succinctly:
What you resist persists. -- Carl Jung
Stress is created by resistance to life. I need to remember this daily, sometimes hourly. I loathe the phrase 'it is what it is' --what else would it be, what it isn't?-- and yet there's a real truth in that bit of nonsense that I need to accept. 
Life is what you make it, and life is what you make of it.



07 March, 2013

"Nobody wants to see someone get hurt"

...says every hockey fighting aficionado. after someone inevitably does get hurt in a hockey fight.

Oh, I understand the sentiment. It's that emotion, nameless in English, that would be guilt if it could be admitted to. Instead it comes out as -- or at least I hear it as -- a pitiful, plaintive whine. Yeah, it's fun to watch people bashing each other's skulls, but how was I supposed to predict one of them would get a concussion out of it?

Last night, Frazer McLaren and David Dziurzynski engaged in fisticuffs twenty six seconds into the game between McLaren's Leafs and Dziurzynki's Senators.

There was no reason for the fight. Not that there ever are reasons, only excuses. Tonight's excuse was provided by McLaren, who said he was looking to give his side "a spark". Instead he gave his opponent a concussion. Time will tell if it's one of those fleeting concussions that only sidelines you for a couple of weeks or a career-ending, life-destroying concussion the effects of which never go away. You never know with these things.

The gloating on Maple Leafs fan boards is sickening. "He filled out his face like an application", says one game summary, which goes on to note that "team loyalties and opinions on fighting aside, no one wants to see a body shake so vulnerably like that."

Nah, nobody wants that.



Listen to the crowd. Listen to how much they don't want that.

"But most hockey fights don't end like that," you say. "People don't generally get hurt in hockey fights, beyond a cut or a bruise."

Yeah, and only one out of six people playing Russian roulette actually shoots himself.

And how do you know most hockey fights don't end in injury? How many have you been in? Do you know how many hockey 'enforcers' are addicted to painkillers of one sort or another? Have you not noticed the relatively recent rash of suicides? Nah, nobody gets hurt in hockey fights.

But these guys consent to fighting. It's all consensual.

Except for many of these 'enforcers', fighting is the only reason they're in the game. Lose enough fights, or decline to flight, and there goes your lucrative career. How consensual is a fight, really, when you feel you don't have a choice?

There's a code in hockey. People don't just fight for no reason.

Twenty six seconds into the game. Score tied 0-0. No dirty plays on either side. Just a team in need of "a spark" that, you'd think, should have been there in the first place because they were playing their provincial rivals, in a game that could well have playoff implications. Hell, twenty six seconds isn't even enough time to properly assess if your team is flat or not.

You're a wuss. Hockey is a manly sport that involves periodic beatings. Deal with it.

How many fights do you see in the Stanley Cup finals? In the Olympics? Is that not good hockey?

Imagine Dzuirzynski is your son. No, never mind that. Imagine McLaren is. Are you proud of him?



02 March, 2013

Flanagan, Whatcott, and Free Speech

There are people out there defending Tom Flanagan.

Incredible.

Only in academia can you say something like "[watching child pornography] does not harm another person"--and that you have "grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures"--and have some people in the audience claim this is defensible.

Defend it then. I dare you.

In  the most technical sense imaginable, the kind of distinction that only makes sense inside ivory towers, Flanagan is right: simply watching child porn does not harm another person.

HOWEVER.

To watch child porn, child porn must first be produced, and that does harm people, many people, most grievously. Furthermore, a sizeable subset of those who do watch child porn will find themselves no longer content with just watching it. This is why merely possessing child pornography is a crime, and I goggle at the thought I'd have to explain this to anyone, much less a formerly respected man who was instrumental in the political ascendancy of Stephen Harper.

I can't help but wonder what I might find on Flanagan's hard drive. I kind of think somebody should take a peek. Where's Anonymous when you need it?

The oddest thing about this is that Flanagan really was highly respected by more than a few people. He's stepped in it before, of course, calling for the assassination of Julian Assange. In hindsight, that's not too surprising: Assange is all for freedom of incriminating information, and the more I read about Flanagan, the more incriminating information I find.

But he was a respected, even feared, political strategist for many years, and I simply can't imagine what moves people like him to commit career and social suicide. Nor what moves anyone to try and defend the man.

Flanagan's illuminating remarks on the essential "harmlessness" of child pornography serve as a useful exercise on freedom of speech. The man said something utterly repugnant; the reaction was swift and decisive. No fewer than seven organizations severed ties with him, pretty much instantly. Anyone still associating with Flanagan will now suffer his taint...and this as as it should be.

Flanagan is a libertarian. Let's look at the views of a different sort of Canadian conservative by the name of Bill Whatcott.

He's that tiresome sort of Christian who gives the rest of them a bad name. It seems as if his God has but two inviolable commandments: thou must not be gay, and thou must not commit abortion.

Proselytizing on behalf of this god has repeatedly landed Whatcott in legal trouble. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal found him guilty of hate speech; he had that conviction overturned, and the tribunal appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
More intervenors appeared, both on behalf of and against him, than in any other Supreme Court case in history. (Nice to see some churches taking up legal arms against him--the United Church and the Unitarians.)
The Supreme Court has upheld limits on free speech in Canada, but did so in a very vague and insubstantial way that leaves me wondering just what is okay to say and what isn't.

I can certainly understand the temptation to shut this man up. Unlike, say, Flanagan, Whatcott can hide under the skirts of Religion while making his hateful pamphlets, and he has a relatively large number of well-funded people and groups who agree with him.

But the world is changing. There will come a time, I am convinced, when expressing the kind of opinion Whatcott routinely does will have similar personal consequences to Flanagan's opinion now. I think that short of actually inciting violence, people should be free to say whatever the hell they want. These days, the really hateful stuff will find its way online in short order, and the speaker will find himself wishing he could eat his words. All without a single lawyer being paid.

The Friend Zone

Back to the well. What can I say, it's a deep well.

A friend's recent Facebook status:

Friend zone- a term people use when they have a 'crush', but know that she/he isn't interested..yet will let themselves be in that situation and give it a name so people will feel sorry for them..if it comes to that, grow a pair and move on.

Easier said than done.

I can say this with some authority, having been in the fabled Friend Zone for a very long time, back in the day. The term didn't exist then, but we had an equivalent, if less succinct, term, to wit: "I love you, but not in that way".

Translated from Friendzonish, that means "You're a good friend, but you're ugly as homemade fuck." (It's also expressed as "I love you like a brother", which should be extraordinarily comforting to an only child, but which usually made him think long and hard about incest taboos.)

That status, that zone, was the source of most of my teenage depression and melodrama. It hurt in that way that only teenage rejection does. High school is full of couples coupling. It's not an atmosphere conducive to the self-esteem of people who are ugly as homemade fuck.

I never lost hope that eventually some Object Of My Undying Affection would drop the qualifier and just say she loved me. But I did eventually accept the qualified love -- more properly called like, but whatever--for the comfort that was in it. Better some kind of companionship than none at all.

The funny thing was, once I resigned myself to the situation--to always hearing about that way, and how I wasn't fit for it--things started to change for me.

I concentrated on being the best friend I could be. And I began to see beauty everywhere. I'd always prided myself on being deep enough to look beyond the tarted and dolled up beauty that saturated high school hallways, but it was only after I started to grow up and stop lusting that I really learned what love is.

Love is, as Robert Heinlein wrote, that condition in which the happiness of another is essential to your own.

I'm still learning about love all these years later. It's a lifelong vocation. I've learned that sex has very little, in and of itself, to do with it. That took a long time to internalize, for two reasons. One, I have never been able to have sex for the sake of sex. I've tried the one night stand and couldn't hack it; deprived of emotion, sex is a biological function like defecation, about as enjoyable. Two, sex is often called "making love", which has always perplexed me. How exactly does sex make love? It's the noblest expression of love already made that I can think of, but it doesn't make love at all.

But all that said, it is possible to love people, "but not in that way". How do I know this? Because I'm married to the only woman I do love "in that way",...and it hasn't changed my love for my friends.

Welcome to the Friend Zone. It need not be a prison. And if you find yourself here, you need not move on. It can be a nice place to be.


I Miss Band



I imagine the school band is something like the school football team. Except in band you don't lose, ever. You have the camaraderie that comes from building something together, the satisfying sense that each member has a critical role in what is produced.
I played baritone, an instrument which scarcely exists outside of school bands (on this side of the Atlantic, anyway). Even in schools, baritones are increasingly being replaced with euphoniums, which  have a more mellifluous sound. I've tried, at various times, trumpet, trombone, and French horn. None of them felt very comfortable. Trumpet especially.

I have a friend who's a professional musician. Cornet and trumpet are his native instruments, and his ability, even in grade nine, was exceptional. I've always meant to ask him how he can constrict his throat to pinhole size, which is what (it feels like) you have to do to hit any note above middle C.

I got to be a fairly decent baritonist. Not a great one, by any means, but a pretty good one. That's largely because I was forever challenging myself to increase my range, tonguing technique, and musical agility. Probably the most difficult piece I played outside of band was the first movement of Haydn's trumpet concerto, which I set as a test piece for a recital. I got an A, as I recall, despite flubbing the high concert D-flat, the same note I'd nailed countless times in practice.

But band, though...

The school band I most remember had that trumpeter friend I mentioned in it, along with several other accomplished musicians. We were a very small group, as school bands go. There was one Kiwanis Festival I recall, wherein the adjudicator noted twice in his writeup that he couldn't hear the second and third trumpets. After looking up a few bars later and seeing only Craig, he wrote "I see why". What we lacked in numbers we made up for in overall talent. Good times were had by most. To this day I'm largely immune from sudden loud noises thanks to a couple of years of sitting practically on top of a drum set, the player of which rejoiced in creating sudden loud noises.

I missed out on the exotic band trips. The Oakridge band went to Nairobi, Kenya, two years before I attended; the Ingersoll District C.I. orchestra had trips to New York and Boston just before I arrived there. The extracurricular highlight of my time in band was a trip to Toronto. We performed at an elementary school and I will never forget the odd sensation I had looking out over the audience and realizing I and my bandmates were among very, very few people in that auditorium with white skin. A little of my naivete was lost in that moment as I found myself truly considering, for the first time in my life, what it might mean to be "other".

Most of the memories revolved around the music. There are no recordings out there from my years at Westminster--again, I missed out; the band did make a couple of vinyl albums a few years before I was there.  But YouTube is a virtual treasure trove...nearly every piece I played is on there somewhere. This is probably the piece I most enjoyed performing.

I'm living in the wrong part of the world to truly indulge my love of wind, and especially brass, music. In Britain, there are dozens, scores, perhaps hundreds of local bands, many of which have youth chapters, and the best of those bands can aspire to considerable acclaim and a modest fortune.

Here's one of the world's best euphonists playing 'Brilliante', a fantasy on 'Rule, Britannia' that blows my mind every time I listen to it:



Mead makes the high notes sound so effortless, and his tone is so pure...*sigh*

Just listening to the repertoire is happy-making. I can't imagine what playing it again would do for me.