29 April, 2013

Don't Worry, Be Happy

There's been quite a media hullabaloo over the the revamped DSM-5, the so-called 'Psychiatrist's Bible', and the way it demonizes normality.
For instance, grief is now considered a mental illness...if it lasts longer than a fortnight.. You read that right: If your life partner up and dies on you, you'd better be over it in two weeks or else you're mentally ill. If your child dies, don't be such a Debbie Downer: hey, in two weeks you can start trying for another one!
Or let's say you've got cancer. If your doctor thinks that your cancer is bothering you a little too much (because after all, it's only cancer), presto! You've got cancer and you're sick in the head.
Then there's 'Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder', which is what your kid has when he throws a temper tantrum. I'm sure pills for that 'disorder' will be forthcoming and that may please some harried parents. But most of us -- including, you'd hope, most psychiatrists -- recognize that kids are not little adults and that their moods are dysregulated and disruptive on occasion because they're, um, kids.

To their credit, many professionals are boycotting the DSM-5 on the grounds that it makes damn near everybody, including the psychiatrists, mentally ill. But it's still going to be the go-to reference for the American Psychiatric Association. This bothers me on several levels. (I'd like to tell you it enrages me but you might decide I'm crazy).

First, of course, it means that I'd pick up any number of mental illnesses as if by magic. Hell, just the other night I found myself crying for no reason I could readily discern. While I'm pretty sure that's fairly common, its very commonality doesn't seem to shield it from classification as a mental disorder any more. I'm down at least as much as I'm up and a lot of times I'm just meh and if I'm not happyhappyhappy all the time, somebody somewhere is going to conclude I'm sick and need medication? That's enough to give me a case of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

Second, and much more critically, I'm sure Big Pharma is welcoming this new manual with open arms. Feeling down? Pop a pill. Been a week since the funeral? Pill time! Can't reason with your two-year-old? Shove a pill down her throat.
I'm a guy who has to be motivated to take muscle relaxers or acetaminophen. Spare me your goddamn happy pills, okay?

Third, and most alarmingly, this will inevitably make life even more of a living hell than it already is for the fairly large number of people out there are are suffering from actual mental illnesses.

I know and love quite a few of them. The misconceptions people have about the mentally ill are soul-destroying. All but the most debilitating cases of mental illness go without notice. Odds are very good that a friend of family member of yours has a diagnosed mental illness. We don't treat physical illness as a lessening of the person, so why are we so quick to judge mental illness that way? And what happens to chronic depressives when grief is suddenly a mental illness?
A probable answer to that lies in the ADD/ADHD controversy that is seeing more and more kids on Ritalin because they won't sit still in class. Gee, when I was growing up, it was the kids who did sit still in class -- like me, for instance -- who were treated as if they were buggo.
But there is such a thing as Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder. As overdiagnosed as it undoubtedly is, there are definitely legitimate cases of it out there. I'd imagine their illness is belittled at every turn. "Oh, it's all in your head".

It's all in your head. If I could expunge one phrase from the English language, that'd be right up there near the top of the list. Every time I hear of someone saying that I want to find them and punch them repeatedly in the face as hard as I can, and then inform them sweetly that the pain they're feeling is all in their head.
This goes for physical illnesses too, of course, the invisible ones like fibromyalgia and lupus and chronic migraine and chronic fatigue and so many others that have been misdiagnosed over and over as mental illnesses. "You don't look sick to me!" If you hear that often enough, I bet you start questioning your sanity just a wee bit. Why won't the world acknowledge this illness, which is part of who I am? We're told over and over not to appear weak. Do you have the slightest inkling of the amount of inner strength it takes to get out of bed for some people? To go to work and carry on a normal life? To stay on a relatively even keel in the face of physical and/or emotional pain so monstrous it would reduce most of the it's all in your head people to quivering wrecks?
People living with these diseases and disorders are heroes in my eyes. If that makes me crazy, then you can send the men in the white coats to lock me away.

28 April, 2013

The Annual Toronto Maple Leaf Analysis, PRE-PLAYOFF EDITION



Playoffs. Us long-suffering Leaf fans can be forgiven a little giddiness and confusion...aren't those things for other teams?

Not this year. For the first time in this Breadbin's history, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the playoffs.

The wags will tell you it's because the season was short this year, and being as Toronto is only capable of playing half a season, well, it stands to reason. To which I say: so what. Every other team played the same 48 games, and for once the Leafs are at or near the top of the league in categories other than giveaways and goals against.

Without further ado, the grades:

GM DAVE NONIS B

A gentle breath of fresh air after Burke's bombastic boorishness (though ya gotta admit ol' Burkie was entertaining as hell), Nonis seems to be all about removing obstacles for his players to succeed. The team was beset with a LACK of success going into the season, LACK standing for Lombardi, Armstrong, Connolly and Komisarek; all four were traded, demoted, or waived, Nonis' trade deadline performance was underwhelming,  and the active search for goaltending statistically, Luongoly inferior to the goaltending he already had,  was infuriating. In the end his saner side prevailed and the team was able to take its first playoff steps.

HEAD COACH RANDY CARLYLE B+

The consensus, going into the season, was that this was not a playoff team. Unproven goaltending, suspect D, a historically bad PK...a real longshot to make the dance. I'll get to the other things in a minute. That bad PK? From far and away the worst to second-best in a season. That's what an actual coach will do for you. (No offense to Wilson...or rather, all offense to Wilson, who treated the defensive zone like it was radioactive.)
Moreover, Carlyle has established a team identity and promoted cohesion up and down the lineup. These guys play for each other. It's good to see that. I suspect Carlyle will garner a couple of Adams votes (although this year, Paul MacLean in Ottawa owns that award).
To some extent, there are smoke and mirrors involved here. The team's PDO, an advanced stat that essentially measures luck, is the highest in the NHL; its Fenwick percentage, which is a measure of puck possession, is the lowest. In other words, this team is content to let its opponents have the puck, play with the puck, shoot the puck...so long as they do it from non-scoring areas. Toronto is insanely opportunistic: many times this year they've won despite being handily outshot.
Carlyle deserves points for keeping the team on an even keel, which is not easily done in this market. He's known when to lighten up and when to peel paint off the walls, Keeping him from an A grade is his team's maddening inconsistency. They can play with, and beat, any team in the league...and then the next game they can look like they did last night, absolutely horrible.
GOALTENDERS

JAMES REIMER 19-8-5, 2.46 GAA,  .924 SV%,  5 shutouts A
These are better than league average numbers across the board, something the Leafs have not seen since Eddie Belfour. Reimer is a solid goalie who reads plays well, has a knack for picking the puck out of traffic, and rarely gets rattled. His rebound control is still occasionally shaky and puck handling is not his forte, but when he's on his game he's very good verging on spectacular. If not for him, this is not a playoff team. (By the way: THIS IS A PLAYOFF TEAM.)

BEN SCRIVENS  7-9-0, 2.69, 9.15, 2 B
The goalie with the bizarre glove stance. Scrivens was a respectable backup who kept the team in the hunt when Reimer was lost due to injury. Ben plays big in the net and is acrobatic with very quick lateral movement. Good showing.

DEFENCEMEN

DION PHANEUF 9-19-28 A-
The Leafs Captain can't seem to get the respect he's due. He's top ten in the league for points by a defenceman; he plays by far the toughest minutes on the team. We can debate the letter on his sweater until the end of time but the fact of the matter is, he's doing his job, and doing it well.

CODY FRANSON4-25-29 A-
Outpointed Phaneuf, good for #8 in league scoring amongst D even though he's second pairing. His defensive zone play still needs some work: he has to remember to keep moving his feet. But all in all this has been a season of sweet redemption for Cody, who was inexplicably benched for most of last year.

CARL GUNNARSSON 1-14-15 B-
Played most if all of this season hurt, and you could tell: it affected his mobility and at times his decision making. Reliable stay-at-home D who is steady but not spectacular.

JOHN-MICHAEL LILES 2-9-11 C
has not been the same player since he suffered his concussion last season. By all accounts he is a dressing room leader. Likely traded this off-season.

JAKE GARDINER 0-4-4 (12 GP) D+
Don't give up hope on Jake. He's the best skater in the D-corps by far and he showed last year what an offensive threat he can be. But this year has been a write-off. Prone  to lackadaisical defensive play and stunning blunders. He's in that awkward place where careers are easily derailed: too good for the AHL but with loads to learn to be effective at the NHL level. Previously this exact position was inhabited by one Nazem Kadri, who has busted out with aplomb. Let's hope Gardiner does too.

MICHAEL KOSTKA 0-8-8 C+
Carlyle paired him with Phaneuf for some time, and so he played hard, hard minutes, performing reasonably well for a guy who'd never seen the NHL before. However, he was totally miscast as a PP QB and really doesn't belong on the first pairing. He does have offense he hasn't shown: last year he was a one-man Marlie wrecking crew, which is probably what motivated the Leafs to pick him up in the first place.

KORBINIAN HOLZER 2-1-3 D-
Not ready for prime time despite having performed admirably for years at the AHL level. With lots of work on his skating he could contribute: he has a nifty mean streak that earned him the nickname "Bullholzer".

MARK FRASER 0-8-8 B
Unsung defensive stalwart with a nasty side, he plays a simple, no nonsense stay at home game and relishes clearing the crease. This is another type of player the Leafs have not had on the roster for years. Was at or near the top of the +/- standings for much of the year. Not a fast skater, he relies on smart positioning to separate man from puck. He, like Franson, can be beat with speed to the outside, but together they made a decent second pairing.

FORWARDS

PHIL KESSEL 20-32-52 A
When will Toronto fans fully embrace the superstar they have here? Yes, I said superstar. Phil Kessel is an elite player that has outscored all but three other players over the past three seasons. Playing in the media fishbowl that is Toronto, you'd think more people would notice that. Did Burke overpay to get him? Undoubtedly. Has Phil lived up to his end of the trade? Abso-friggin'-lutely. Besides the patented shot and the exceptional passing, Phil has noticeably elevated his backchecking this year and is now, dare I suggest, a complete three zone player.  He's led the team each year in scoring. Bravura performance. Now if we can just keep him away from that 6'8" block of Kryptonite called Zdeno Chara...

NAZEM KADRI 18-26-44 A
Hello there Nazem Kadri. I have written some disparaging words about you and I have been forced to eat every one of them. Pierre McGuire coined the nickname 'Nifty Mittens' and you do have those. You managed to finish top twelve in NHL scoring despite playing only 16:03 a game. Impressive. (Then again, there's an argument to be made that the reason you have all those points is because you've been shielded from top-echelon competition.) You also have a nice mean streak to your game and you draw penalties like nobody's business. You remind me of a budding Doug Gilmour. Higher praise I'm not sure I know how to give. Here's to a long and Cupful career as a Leaf.

JAMES VAN RIEMSDYK 18-14-32 B-
His prior high water mark for goal scoring in an 82 game season was 21 goals. So for him to pot 18 in 48 isn't bad. When he plays the power forward role Carlyle envisions for him, he is VERY effective: many of his points came from a few feet in front of the net. Unfortunately, this is not a game that James wants to play very often and he spent long stretches of this short season off the scoresheet and in the doghouse. Career could go either way.

TYLER BOZAK 12-16-28 B

Tyler is very hard to grade because he's still playing in a role (first-line center) that is unsuited to his skill set. He shows flashes of vision and his faceoff skills are best on the team, but his BFF status with Kessel leads him to look for Phil when he should be shooting himself, and he's largely predictable on the puck (except in shootouts). He will be seeking a hefty pay raise and to some extent he deserves one, but going forward you have to think Kadri will be Kessel's center. Bozak's future as a Leaf is in question.

NIKOLAI KULEMIN 7-16-23 B
Two years ago Kulemin scored 30. Last year he scored 7 in 70 matches and never seemed to find his game. This year he settled in somewhere between the two extremes. He's the defensive conscience of the top six and he always has done a lot of the little things well, but you'll likely never see 30 goals out of him again. He has a lot of value to this team, but it's the kind of value apparent to coaches and few others.

CLARKE MACARTHUR 8-12-20 C-
Another player who excelled two years ago (playing with Kulemin, as it happens). Clarke was wildly inconsistent this year, with long periods of near-invisibility. MacArthur is the quintessence of "average".

JOFFREY LUPUL 11-7-18 (16 GP) A+
Could he have scored his pro-rated 92 points in a full season? Doubtful, but I'd hesitate to bet money against it. Beset by injuries including a concussion and a broken arm from a Phaneuf slapshot, Joffrey was the heart and soul of this team while he was in the lineup and he showed astonishing chemistry with Kadri. I won't suggest Lupul is the second coming of Wendel Clark...they are totally different players. But Lupul does have something no other Leaf since Clark has had: a primal, unrestrained joy at being a Toronto Maple Leaf. No disrespect to Phaneuf, but Lupul is this fan's idea of a captain. Also, he's Eva's "cutie patootie", whatever that means.


JAY MCCLEMENT 8-9-17 A+
Kessel, Kadri and Lupul light the lamp. Reimer is ultimately the last line of defence and he had a very good season. But you could certainly make a case for Jay being the MVP of this team. He is a huge reason the penalty kill went from laughable to highly laudable. He never takes a shift off and he rarely makes a mistake. If people weren't blinded by offensive numbers, McClement would be given the Selke this summer: he has logged more PK time, on  (again) the second-best PK corps in the NHL, and the next 18 players on that list are defencemen.
If the Leafs actually do keep progressing into legitimate Cup contenders over the next few seasons, it's a safe bet McClement will be part of it all.

MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI 9-7-16 D
Last year was Kulemin's lost year. This was Grabovski's. I'm not sure what happened here but Mikhail's wheels have fallen off and the passion is gone from his game. Carlyle asked him to be a defensive forward and he failed. I'm almost certain his time as a Leaf is done, but odds are they won't get as much as they could for him because of the hefty contract he failed to live up to this year.

LEO KOMAROV 4-5-9 A-
One of the most hated players in the league. I love this guy. Joe Bowen repeatedly informed us this year that Komarov would be just as effective without a blade on his stick He's a hitting machine and he hits hard. But he's not dirty...just annoying as all hell (if you're on the other team). You'd like to see a tad more offense out of him but even without it, he's a player you just have to keep.

FRASER MCCLAREN 3-2-5 B-
As a pure goon, he gets an A: he doesn't lose many fights. As a hockey player...well, he skates well for a man his size and he can cycle better than you'd think. Hands of stone, though...which you don't want ro get hit with.

COLTON ORR 1-3-4 B-
Goon #2. I've elevated his marks simply because he appears to have learned how to skate over the past year. One of these two players is superfluous, to my mind.

The team as a whole is too inconsistent to expect to survive the first round of these playoffs. Most teams making it in after having missed for a long time are fodder for the perennial contenders. But anything can happen and this Leaf fan is just elated to see his team in the game.

GO LEAFS GO











26 April, 2013

Boston, Toronto, and What We're Up Against

Three times I have started to write this blog. Three times I have deleted it and started over.

Boston is not an easy thing to write about. First, there was for quite some time a serious lack of credible information. Conspiracies breed like rabbits in an environment like this, especially since there are many people with political agendas perfectly willing to twist what facts there are to fit their narrative. I like to think I'm not ready for a tin hat, but I am willing to entertain the notion that things aren't always as they appear. Entertaining that notion has led me into some pretty dark places over the past few days, let me tell you. I won't link--these people don't need the attention--but there are more than a few people convinced the Tsarnaev brothers were framed, that this was actually an inside job perpetrated or at least aided and abetted by the U.S. government.

There's a kind of logic in the insanity of that assertion, the same kind that sustains the 9/11 "truthers". (Indeed, many of the same elements are present, including a mysterious Saudi allegedly wined and dined by the government in the immediate aftermath and then discretely flown out of the country.) Certainly the people who believe things like this take it as read that their government hates them. At the very least, they believe that the U.S. government secretly likes acts of terror being perpetrated on its own soil, the better to keep the citizens in line. Whip a little Patriot Act on 'em. Reintroduce CISPA
...and keep reintroducing it until it passes. Eventually the government will have the police state it yearns for.
It's seductive, this state of mind. Knowing The Truth (tm) gives you a real sense of power, especially when you're surrounded by ignorant sheeple who won't wake up. It also makes it easy to fit future atrocities, whatever they may be, into your head: no need to flail around for answers, The Government Did It.

(Of course, it follows that you can substitute "The Government" for your bugaboo of choice. I'd be more inclined to believe the conspiracists, whatever their truth, if I didn't invariably detect pre-existing antipathy towards whoever their idea of the guilty party is.)

The ever-changing reports out of Boston pose their own problems for somebody who prides himself on getting it right. Just today we learn from the surviving Tsarnaev brother that further attacks were planned in New York City. This is interesting for two reasons. It renders conspiracy theories null and void, of course. But it's also interesting because four days prior we were told Dzhokhar Tsarnaev might never speak again. That's quite the misdiagnosis. .Almost enough to turn me back down the conspiracy trail...never mind.

The third factor that makes Boston difficult to write about: once again, people have died in the name of jihad.

We're not supposed to acknowledge this, even though the people who are planning and carrying out these attacks have no trouble whatsoever citing jihad as their motivation. To be honest, I'm not sure why this is. Certainly it can't be out of a fear of giving offense...do we really care so much for the feelings of those who wish us dead? If so, maybe we deserve everything being done to us.

A chilling glimpse into the mind of a jihadist came this week here in Canada. Working off a tip from the FBI, Canadian authorities foiled a plot to blow up a Via Rail train en route from Toronto to New York. One of the accused questioned the authority of the court, saying that the Criminal Code of Canada is not a holy book.

This is what we're up against, folks: people who not only are out to kill us, but who believe it's their holy duty to do it and that any laws standing in their way are irreverent and thus irrelevant. We're up against a faith that does precious little to root out its extremists. To be fair, it's hard to blame them: moderate Muslims, those who view the call to jihad as a metaphor and nothing more, are at least as hated by the fundamentalists as us infidels.

Spare me, please, the protestations that Islam means 'peace' and that it is a religion of peace. Islam means 'submission', and the radical Islamists believe they are called by Allah to fight the dar al-Harb (the 'house of war', i.e. the world not under Islamic rule) into that submission. This website shows their efforts towards world "peace", which are ongoing.

All that said, the threat of Islamic terrorism, or indeed any kind of terrorism, should not be enough to keep you housebound. I almost never agree with Ezra Levant on anything at all, but he couldn't be more right here. Why was Boston shut down? Was it really necessary to paralyze a great American city just to find two whacko brothers? I think not. What kind of message does this response send to aspiring terrorists? As Levant notes, the marathon bombings, while tragic, were extremely modest on the terrorism scale--the kind of thing Israel deals with on a daily basis. But America--America, the big, the bold, the brash, the beautiful!...wigged out. C'mon, America. You're better than that and you know it.

Back here in Canada: Justin Trudeau, newly minted Liberal leader, has earned predictable scorn for musing about the 'root causes' of terrorism. Our Prime Minister scolded him, saying "now is not the time to commit sociology". (Aside: very telling choice of verb from a man who has given us every reason to believe he hates and fears science. To me it sounds as if "sociology" is an atrocity like murder, which is something you also "commit".)
Needless to say, I disagree with the idea that we should not examine the root causes of any problem in order to solve the problem. But it is fair to note that poverty, an oft-cited 'root cause', isn't one. The Tsarnaev brothers were nowhere close to poor. Osama bin Laden was obscenely wealthy and many of his most devout Saudi followers are, too. You want root causes? I wrote about them seven years ago:

Here's Hussein Massawi, a former leader of the terrorist group Hezbollah--a group which shares ideals with al-Qaeda--on the reason for terrorist attack: "We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you."

There are those who earnestly believe 9/11 was the opening salvo in a war of civilizational dominance. I don't believe that. Even with religion as a motivator--and it's a hell of a motivator--any cause that insist you kill yourself in order for it to be fulfilled is doomed. Given the choice of life versus seventy two virgins, even most Muslims will pick life.
(Another aside--Such a weird, weird belief that is. I mean, I could dive right into those 'appetizing vaginas', but 'eternal erection'? No, thank you. And who's going to be better in bed, a virgin or a woman who knows what she's doing? Even if you pick the virgin...there's only 72 of them. Of course, being as they're all ninety feet tall, it'll take you a while to climb each one. And you're probably going to get repeatedly grossed out on the way up because they're all "transparent to the marrow of their bones." Yeesh. If you're sexually aroused by any of the foregoing, could you please do me a favour and step away from me? Thanks.) In summary then: these terrorist attacks are likely to continue for some time. The attackers are highly motivated, and they believe they are doing God's work. However, the overblown response to each attack plays right into the terrorists' hands, and the media frenzy doesn't help either. It would probably be a good idea to adopt the British maxim...


Turning against each other by blaming our government, or liberals, or conservatives, or anyone other than the terrorists, is likewise counterproductive. Yes, as distasteful as the Left may believe this to be, we are in fact at war with a perverted ideology that wishes us dead. But no, contrary to what many on the right will tell you, a Muslim is not a suspect by virtue of his faith.

19 April, 2013

Trudeau, Take Two

In a stunning victory predicted by no one, some nobody named Justin something-or-other came out of nowhere to become the leader of the federal Liberals. I mean, seriously, Justin Trudeau? Who dat? The media has been strangely silent.

Even my non-Canadian readers can probably recognize the sarcasm. The truth is that the Canadian media has been all over Justin Trudeau like white on snow for years and the leadership convention the Liberals held was a waste of everyone's money and time, because Trudeau's coronation was assured the moment it became clear Michael Ignatieff would lose the last election--which was about thirty seconds after the writ dropped.

The Liberals, the once (and future, so they devoutly believe)  Natural Governing Party of Canada, have veered wildly between a farce and a tragedy since they were inexplicably (to them) booted from office in 2006. The sense of entitlement, and their refusal to recognize same, positively oozed out of the party over two ensuing elections: the reaction to each loss was a kind of comic bewilderment. How can you elect those...barbarians? They figured if only they had the right figurehead leading the party, they'd be welcomed back with open arms. To that end, they first tried Stephane Dion, on the grounds that their last major success story, one Jean Chretien, was almost as incomprehensible to half the country.Dion bombed. So they moved on to Michael Ignatieff, a Serious and Intelligent Personage who had neither the patience nor the ability to engage in political warfare. Ignatieff seemed to believe that his job was to teach Canadians the right and proper (Liberal) Way, and the condescension was palpable.

Stephen Harper, who has condescension down to a fine art in other contexts, made light work of Ignatieff and his party in the last election: for the first time ever, the once-proud, still far too proud, Liberal Party of Canada was reduced to third party status.

Enter Trudeau Junior.

Polls seductively suggested that with Trudeau as leader, the Liberals could not only get back into power, they could do so with a majority. The Liberal rank and file, forgetting that polls are fickle things, endorsed Justin with a will, despite knowing precisely dick-all about how the man proposes to govern the party and the country.

This was actually smart politics on Justin's part: a blank slate can be filled with whatever people want on it. But now he has to illustrate some substance behind the style, or Harper will eat him for breakfast and shit him out by lunch time.

Trudeau's biggest problem is his party's irrelevance over the past near-decade. Harper has shifted the political climate rightward and the political clout westward. (It would not surprise me in the slightest to see Harper agitate for the capital of Canada to move to Calgary.) And  and Trudeau is a name to strike hatred into the hearts of a substantial subset of the western population.
The  Liberals are also not popular in Quebec, where the surname Trudeau has a pointed history. The trick Justin's going to have to attempt to pull off is to make the electorate forget his last name. That might be difficult, since the name and a full head of fluffy hair have propelled him to where he is.

If I sound disdainful of the Liberals, that's because I am. They've made it very hard not to be. If I sound like I relish the thought of endless Conservative governments...trust me, I don't.

I initially supported Harper. I'll admit it freely, not just because you can see the support by visiting old Breadbin posts. I still don't think the man is as evil as he is commonly portrayed, and I don't automatically oppose everything he proposes, or does, for that matter.  But quite frankly, any good the man does is more than offset by his autocratic governing style and his complete disdain for science, facts, and reality itself.  We need a new government in this country. Don't believe the attack ads insinuating that only Harper's Conservatives know how to run an economy: historically, the economy has done better under left-leaning governments in democratic countries, and with a few notable exceptions, Liberals and New Democrats leave the books in better shape than they found them.

Had Jack Layton lived, I truly believe he would have been our next PM. But his successor, Mulcair, has failed to capitalize on the momentum that carried the NDP to Official Opposition status and his chances are essentially nil. I don't hold out much hope for the Liberals, either, especially since I think Trudeau will garner just enough support to effectively split the anybody-but-Conservative vote. That will allow Harper to cruise up the middle to another majority.

Unless the Liberals and NDP unite.

There's been some babble about this possibility, but Mulcair shut it down when the NDP success looked like it might continue and you can damn well bet Trudeau won't entertain the notion when the polls tell him he can win on his own. After years of thought, I still can't decide how I feel about the prospect of a united left. I've watched the American two-party system falter and I've noted with alarm increasing polarization of politics here in Canada. The last thing I want to see in this country is two political parties. That is, it's the last thing I want to see until somebody tells me the only alternative is one-party government under Harper's Conservatives...

I want to see Justin Trudeau beat all expectations. I don't think he will.



16 April, 2013

Amanda Todd, Take Two

*administrative note: I'll be tackling Trudeaumania and the awful events in Boston over the next four days.

I don't think Margaret Wente gets it.

In response to the question "what to do about Rehtaeh?" -- a question many Canadians are asking themselves -- she opines,

"The first thing to do is to resist the urge to vigilante justice[...] Rehtaeh could be your daughter--but those boys could be your sons. Let's not ruin more lives with a rush to judgment."

Really. Margaret? You, a conservative who champions the notion of personal responsibility, are asking us not to "ruin more lives" just because the people whose lives we're thinking of ruining merely gang-raped a 15-year old girl and then plastered her all over the Internet?
Forgive me --no, don't--but wouldn't you say those boys ruined their own lives?  I would. I would say that those boys followed up one illegal act (underage consumption of vodka) with a much, much more serious offense that the police original deemed not to be criminal, despite Rehtaeh being a minor. (The case has since been reopened; unlike Ms. Wente, I hope justice prevails.)

As much as I love the Internet and respect its power for positive change, there are times, quite a few of them in fact, when I want somebody to pull the plug and shut it down for good. I wrote in my most linked post...

no matter how far or how fast the Internet evolves, it's important to remember: even though it has its sharp edges (or perhaps because it does), the 'Net is merely a tool.

...but sometimes I confess I want to take the tool out of the tool box.

The problem is the anonymity that hiding behind a screen provides. It allows a girl, as Wente notes, to become a 'triple victim'. First the rape, traumatic enough; then the sharing of the lurid images; then the inevitable cyber-catcalls of 'slut' and demands for sex. There's nothing about this case that isn't sickening. And I assure you it's more common than you know. Right now, there are girls all over the country going through the same thing Rehtaeh did. Hell, just look at Amanda Todd...who wasn't gang-raped, but suffered the full force of cyberbullying for years just because she bared her breasts online.

I don't know the answer. I wish I did. Part of me wants to question where the parents were, the ones who allowed children access to vodka and who weren't around to stop the ensuing horror before it could begin. But even I, sheltered boy that I was and sheltered man that I am, recognize the naivete in that sentiment: boys will find places to party and -- as much as I hate it -- they'll also find a way to get drunk. Put a girl in that situation...

Which isn't to say "boys will be boys", a phrase I cordially detest. You can't dismiss gang rape with that kind of petty nonchalance. You just can't. I want consequences, meaningful consequences that show the disgust society holds for rape. Spiritually, I know I'm supposed to tell you that the young rapists deserve forgiveness and a chance to make some good out of the lives they've ruined for themselves...and in my higher moments I'm willing to concede this is possible...but only after the magnitude of their wrongdoing has been expressed. Repeatedly, so as there's no question in their minds.

The rape, as repugnant as it is, isn't what has horrified me most about the Rehtaeh Parsons case. The online sharing of the photo and subsequent ugliness makes me question the sanity of the perpetrators, and the non-reaction of the world at large makes me question my own sanity. Does nobody else wonder about the kind of people who would not only rape a girl, but would brag about it, with photographic proof? Does it not strike anyone else as utterly monstrous to treat a victim of rape as a potential sex toy?

I mean, to me, rape is worse than murder, in the sense that there are (a very few) defences for murder. I can't think of any possible justification for rape, in any circumstance, ever. To first perpetrate and then perpetuate that rape is...words fail me.

I was talking to a colleague at work the other day, a father with young children in school. He tells the me school environment has changed beyond all recognition since we were in it. The word 'faggot', once a schoolyard staple, is all but unheard of. People's hateful attitudes towards difference of all kinds have been taught out of them, for the most part, he alleged. I thought  yeah, sure, they just wait until their targets are home alone and online.

Which is probably true, but it just shifts the onus on to the parents. What's unacceptable face to face should be just as unacceptable online. Perhaps more unacceptable: online, after all, you don't have to have the courage of your convictions. You can hide behind a screen and be as vicious as you like.

I'm not sure there's a way to remove the essentially anonymity of the Internet, but only on a case-by-case basis. If there is, that's obviously the route you want to take. But in the meantime, education is the best way to go. That and making an example of the occasional monster. That part's critical.


10 April, 2013

The Facts Of Life

Yesterday's blog was not up to par, for which I apologize. Though I haven't succumbed to the allure of Twitter--truth is, I don't even feel it--it seems like I'm having some trouble lately organizing my thoughts into coherent sentences and then organizing the sentences into coherent paragraphs, which is, to my mind anyway, the defining characteristic of a Twit.
I feel random thoughts tugging me in all directions (how exactly did that Blue Jays reference get in there yesterday, anyway?) Distractions, distractions everywhere. And the blog journeys are getting shorter and shorter as my mental fuel economy declines. It's probably time for a mental tune-up.

What I was trying to say yesterday was concisely and elegantly put by Russell Brand in an otherwise very critical eulogy" in The Guatdian
which accuses the deceased of destroying the British idea of community:

"This demonstrates, I suppose, that if you opposed Thatcher's ideas it was likely because of their lack of compassion, which is really just a word for love. If love is something you cherish, it is hard to glean much joy from death, even in one's enemies.

An aside (see: distractions!) English could really use an antonym for eulogy. That word derives from Greek, essentially 'well-speaking', and there are an awful lot of so-called eulogies out there that criticize the deceased rather than praising him or her. Malogy? Maybe.

Anyway, I wanted to delve a little into another comment I found in my web-wide peregrinations yesterday, this on a forum where speaking ill of Maggie Thatcher would get you tarred and feathered and probably banned:

It seems that any politician that asks for any level of personable accountability and responsibility is reduced to a greedy bigot.

Why have conservative principles become so hated by so many?

If "THE FACTS OF LIFE ARE CONSERVATIVE" are we seeing a first world attitude that says - screw the facts, someone is going to be accountable for me and it won't be me?

Facts are difficult things. THE PEOPLE'S MONEY WILL RUN OUT.

--"JMM"

It seems to me that both these contradictory phrases are true, depending of course on how you see the world. Liberals and conservatives routinely accuse each other of being blind, after all.

Are the facts of life conservative? Being a liberal, I find it hard to even parse that sentence,so I'll turn to someone else to articulate the argument for me:

BEHAVIOUR HAS CONSEQUENCES

"Western Chauvinist" assures us here that the plight of black families (to the extent that there are black families in America) is all the fault of liberal "compassion". I've heard this argument my entire political life--that offering a hand up to people simply creates dependency.
To some extent this is true: simply giving money to people tends not to accomplish a whole hell of a lot. But that's not an argument against giving money to people. It's not an either-or system here, it's "both-and". Give money, yes, and give more. Give wisdom. Create esteem. Not just self-esteem but esteem in community. If you want prosperity, you need community--short for 'common unity'. Remove that sense of common unity and you create an every-man-for-himself ethos that makes a very few people fantastically rich and the rest of us dirt-poor.

LIFE IS NOT FAIR

Our blogger here adds that no amount of progressive government will make it so. Again, true as far as it goes. The first part is an important lesson that used to be offered starting in kindergarten; the second part is being put to the test in educational institutions all over the place...as when everyone wins a medal simply for trying and no one is allowed to fail at anything, ever. This is creating a generation of people who can't cope with inevitable failure, and I'd suggest this in and of itself is monstrously unfair.
But two wrongs don't make a right. And the problem again here is that society is not, or ought not to be, a zero-sum game. We have set it up, and conservatives want to keep it, so that for every winner there must be a loser. This need not be the case, and it's a relatively simple fix: rather than examining every scenario and situation with a view to what benefits me, try asking yourself what benefits most people.
This used to be standard operating procedure. It still is, in places that haven't lost themselves in the ethos of extreme capitalism. And it creates a society in which a few rich people are a little poor, and the vast majority of poorer people are substantially richer. You'll never eliminate all the unfairness, but mitigating it is absolutely crucial...especially if you're one of the fat cats. Because the lower class scum will only stand so much enforced inequality before they rise up and come for your head...behaviours have consequences!

COMMON SENSE IS INDISPENSABLE

Indeed it is. When you kill people's families with bombs and drones, common sense suggests those people will hate you, for instance. If you mock people's beliefs and assert your own superiority at every turn, common sense suggests that you'll be ignored at best.
These are not the examples Mr. Western Chauvinist has in mind, of course. I have to admit I particularly love the example he cites, that you can't spend your way out of debt.

FDR's New Deal was an attempt to solve the Great Depression, and it failed. Or perhaps it didn't: there's an argument to be made that without it, the effects would have been considerably worse. However, the New Deal was more than an economic stimulus package. It was an attempt to preserve confidence in American institutions. In that respect, it worked very well.

There is an increasing distrust in America today. Few trust the government; fewer still trust Wall Street; it seems that American citizens increasingly distrust each other. Washington has a moral obligation to reverse this by any means necessary, because the logical outcome of a continued decline of trust is...too hideous to contemplate. That, too, is common sense.

THERE AIN'T NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH

This maxim was popularized by one of my literary idols, Robert Anson Heinlein. I disagree with a fair bit of this author's politics, but he's one of the people who has profoundly shaped my mind.
TANSTAAFL is central to our current ideas of economics, and it's rigidly true in the context of the zero-sum game we have set up.
Canadians often brag about their 'free' health care. Of course, we understand that our health care system is not free, per se: it's paid for through taxes, distributed amongst the Canadian population as a whole.  This is an example--at least as far as I'm concerned--of a common good: better that everyone pay a little than a few people pay a hell of a lot. The extent to which you agree with that statement is a reliable measure of your compassion.
I find it very interesting that Western Chauvinist cloaks his conservatism in Christian theology, when even a cursory reading of Scripture will convince you beyond doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was anything but conservative, socially or otherwise. Look at the people He hung out with: utter rubbish as human beings, right? He thought otherwise, and that's at the core of His message to the world: we are all one. Why else are we told to love our neighbours as ourselves and even to love our enemies?

HUMAN NATURE IS FALLEN

I disagree. Sure, there is evil aplenty in the world...but less and less of it as time goes by. We think humanity is at the pinnacle of its evolution, that we know it all, that we're invincible. These are adolescent traits. We're an adolescent race, going through the throes of civilizational puberty. We've got a lot of growing up to do. But we also have come a long way, in some cases in a very short period of time. Look at marriage, for example. A generation ago it was unthinkable that two men or two women who love each other could or should get married...and the option is increasingly available to them today. Every poll shows that the younger generation is more tolerant, more compassionate, and more determined to make a better world than received wisdom would have you believe. The oft-cited anger and apathy of the young is a direct result of the magnitude of the task we've set them.

"The trouble with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money"--attributed to Margaret Thatcher

Let me know when Norway runs out of money, okay?

The conservative brainwashers will tell you that socialism has never worked and can never work, because it runs contrary to the greedy and us/them view of the world they mistakenly call "human nature". They're also quick to tell you to look to history: socialism, they say, has failed every time, and liberals, they tell you, think it will work this time because they haven't tried it yet and they know better.

Hogwash.

It's true that pure communism has never worked, and it's certainly arguable that it can't ever work on anything more than a  limited scale. But the same can certainly be said of pure capitalism. The tendency towards extremes is one of the most troubling aspects of today's society, in my view. Each side works assiduously to reject the slightest taint of the other, and blames any perceived injustice on the prevalence of the other's point of view.
The reality is that socialism and society come from the same root for a reason. This was recognized in ancient Rome...Marcus Aurelius tells us that which is not good for the bee-hive can not be good for the bee. I've little doubt this sentiment is much older than a mere nineteen hundred years...because behaviour has consequences and common sense is indispensable.

America fancies itself the most prosperous nation in the world. By most measures, it's not. By some measures, it's not even in the top ten.  (Unfortunately to a certain breed of conservatives, the degree of MURICA FUCK YEAH! is not one the metrics used to measure prosperity...)

There are other measures of prosperity besides material wealth. This is something held as self-evident outside some benighted corners of the United States of America.

The "facts of life are conservative" crowd have no answer for the miracle that is Bhutan. This tiny nation, poor by standard measures, is, as nations ago, deliriously happy. Its quality of life is improving rapidly, no thanks to austere conservative principles designed to impoverish the many for the benefit of the few.

There is nothing sufficient compassion can't solve. I truly believe this, and that's why I'm a liberal.






09 April, 2013

I'm Resigning From the Human Race

...because I obviously don't belong in it.
The vitriol surrounding the death of Margaret Thatcher is a frightening thing to behold. "Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead" is #27 on the British iTunes download chart this morning. It isn't because The Wizard of Oz aired in Britain last week.
In several Internet fora I have posted the following:

You know, folks, it's okay to dislike, or even to hate, Margaret Thatcher's policies from her time in office. It is not okay to hate *her*, and it is *certainly* not okay to cheer at her death.

Some people have agreed with me. Some. But there's been quite a bit of this:

Yes you can, she was innately evil and any hatred is justified. Who cares if someone is a human being if they're utter rubbish as one?



I'm reminded of the death of Jack Layton and Christie Blatchford's nasty anti-elegy penned before the body was cold. You don't have to be liberal or conservative to be rude and unseemly: just human, it seems.

There really is no middle of the road any more, is there? People are either loved or they're hated. The love is eternal and the hate is hellacious. I feel weird every time I have a "meh" reaction--which is pretty often, because let's face it, the majority of the world is kinda meh as far as I'm concerned.

Maybe that's why I'm having trouble dealing with the world lately. It's hard to stay on an even keel when everyone's battering you with expectations at every turn. The Blue Jays are 2-5 to start a 162 game baseball season in which, if you believed the hype, the team was supposed to go 324-0. Accordingly, the world is ending: everybody out of the pool and off the wagon, okay?

American politics keeps on keeping on: the country's going to hell in the proverbial handbasket and it's all the fault of the Republocrats.

It comes out most when a politician dies, for some reason. The time to publicly rejoice or lament a politician, in my view, is when he or she passes from elected office, not from life. But in the case of Thatcher, Layton, Chavez...you get the distinct impression that if these people weren't dead, a vast number of people would be more than happy to kill them.

Indeed -- and I don't mean to be alarmist -- I'm getting that distinct impression more and more often of late, that the only thing holding us back from widespread violence is social convention. Which may or may not be fraying.

So I hereby submit my letter of resignation from humanity. It's been an interesting time in the company of humans and I have learned a great deal that will benefit me in future endeavours. I'll still be around to keep an eye on you, though: you humans are simply to unstable for me to be able to afford not to.