29 June, 2013

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Paula Deen

The word is nigger.
Let's not call it "the N-word" or "a racial slur". We're adults here. Words have power, yes, but circumlocutions like "the N-word" give them more power than they deserve.  And so the word Paul Deen admits she has uttered on numerous occasions is nigger.

It's odd what an extra g does. It turns the Latin word niger, "black", into a word so toxic it can kill careers and irrevocably tarnish reputations...if a white person says it, that is. If a black person says it, of course, it means nothing. I find that very strange, don't you? Occasionally gay people will call each other fag, almost always as a way to reclaim the hurtful word. But other than that, I can't think of a single minority that freely throws around the pejoratives other people use for it. You don't hear Jews calling each other kike or Germans calling each other Kraut. 
An American academic named Cornel West said,

"There's a certain rhythmic seduction to the word. If you speak in a sentence, and you have to say cat. companion, or  friend, as opposed to nigger, then the rhythmic presentation is off. That rhythmic language is a form of historical memory for black people..."

Be that as it may. The fact is that much before 1900, nigger wasn't even pejorative...it was simply what black people were called, and what they called themselves. George Carlin said, in arguably his most famous routine, insisted that "there are no bad words. Bad thoughts, bad intentions...and words." Well, black people have been the subject of a whole lot of bad intention over the centuries, and so it was probably inevitable that nigger wouldn't be a simple descriptive for long. And so it was decided that "colo(u)red" would be the politically correct term. Now, of course, it seems to be almost as pejorative as nigger, and the correct term is simply "black".
Why you'd discard a word like colored is beyond me, especially in favour of black, the absence of colour. Black people's skin is rarely actually black. It's so many lovely shades, from coffee-and-cream  and tan through chocolate, burnt umber, and yes, sometimes a black so black it shimmers and is almost blue. Lots of beautiful colours, but the word is black and none other, if you're white.

But who am I to dictate what a race I don't belong to calls itself? Black it is, then.

But about that word nigger. It persists, of course. In Albany, Georgia, where Paula Deen was born and raised, I'm sure the word was used liberally...and probably still is, Which is not to defend or excuse the racism of those who use it...only to note that words are habits and habits can be hard to break. We're currently trying to scrub the word fag out of existence, and to reclaim gay as a simple descriptor. It's not easy. You'll see both used pejoratively and perniciously on any number of online forums, for instance.

I guess the short way of saying all this is that I feel sorry for Paula Deen. I really do. She admitted to saying a bad word..."yes, of course:, she said when asked if she had ever said "the N-word". Frankly, I'm willing to suggest that any Georgian who claims never to have said nigger is lying through his or her teeth.
She was honest about her use of the word, but denies having bad thoughts or bad intentions,  You'd expect her sons to stick up for her", of course, but still...I just can't in good conscience call someone a racist simply on the basis of allegations that could very well be trumped up.

The last time I watched a public figure's career go up in smoke, it was Tom Flanagan saying that watching child porn didn't hurt kids. Yeah, you could kind of see why his career went up in smoke. But Deen's?

23 June, 2013

For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn

The title of this blog post is the entirety of a 'six word novel' usually attributed, and almost certainly misattributed, to Ernest Hemingway. It's a masterpiece of flash fiction. There are many other attempts at the form, some successful, others less so. I find such exercises interesting as a creative challenge, but even the best of them is nowhere near as fulfilling to me as an actual novel or even a short story.

My desire for explanation, for substance, is a real and pressing handicap, it seems.

It started with Twitter. I will never understand Twitter. I have a Twitter account that I almost never use. I check in on the feed every now and again, mostly to keep track of an e-friend who has largely abandoned his blog for the Twitterverse. The 140 character hard limit on tweets means that his more complicated thoughts take four or five tweets to get out, and my Twitter client posts in chronological order forcing me to read "up" the screen, something I find much more annoying than I should. As far as actually tweeting things myself...why? I have a Facebook timeline that serves exactly the same purpose, with a couple of advantages beyond being able to write a complete sentence. I can post pictures and video to Facebook that other people can copy and paste; and if I post a link, I don't have to go to the added step of running it through a link shortener. or whatever it is you call sites like tinyurl. And call me juvenile, but I like "liking" things. On Twitter, there's no way to tell somebody you liked their tweet without actually telling them you liked their tweet.

The latest social media frenzy seems to be something called Vine. It was obviously created for people who thought Twitter was too wordy and time-consuming. It's flash fiction for a digital age: instead of six words, you get six seconds of video. Six seconds, that's it. That's what we've (d)evolved to: six seconds fine, seven seconds BORING!

There are lots of things that can be communicated in six seconds. This clip (NSFW) is without a doubt the funniest I've ever run across.



Good for a laugh (or well, let's be honest, I can watch that on a loop and laugh every time),  but eventually you find yourself asking where's the beef? (Yeah, I know, he tucked it between his legs, ha-ha.)

I just don't understand why people's collective attention span seems to be shortening by the month. There's so much political crap going on nowadays, pretty much all of which demands considerably more than six seconds of video or 140 characters to even summarize, and you can bet the people behind the curtain are getting away with their larcenies and obscenities knowing damn well the rest of the populace can't be bothered to pay attention.

The other issue I have with both Vine and the culture I find myself trying to navigate is that it's mobile only. You can't access Vine on a desktop, not directly, at least. We all know that people are wedded to their goddamn smartphones: they won't even put their toys away while they're driving. But what utterly flabbergasts me is that mobile phones are used at home over things like desktop computers and, not to put too fine a point on it, televisions. Because evidently we don't like actual keyboards, and the 27" monitors and 50+" televisions we have just don't compare to that little three inch screen. When insanity grips so many people, I can't help wondering if I've gone nuts....


11 June, 2013

"I've Got Nothing To Hide"

Glad to hear it. Neither do I.
I mean, really. If the government wants to know what my Internet is for, so what?


I'll tell you so what.

I used to think just like you, you know. That "privacy" was overrated, that since I'm not a criminal, I'd have no problem if some nameless faceless entity started scrutinizing my online output. Oh, dig deep enough and they'll find some pretty embarrassing stuff--there are posts on Usenet that I'm not proud of--but there's nothing there that could land me in jail, or anything. Ditto my telephone calls. I don't associate with terrorists, after all.

Nah. I, like you, don't care about privacy. I don't have curtains on my windows. I gotta tell ya, all my neighbours do, and they keep 'em closed. I'm quite sure all those bastards are hiding something. Not me. I've got nothing to hide. That's why I post my pay stubs on Facebook and upload the whole of my sex life to YouTube. You do that too, right? If you don't, what are you hiding? And my medical diagnoses--why shouldn't the world know I have a mental illness? It's  not as if they're going to discriminate against me with that knowledge, right?

Right?

Okay, so maybe I have a few things to hide, stuff I consider nobody's business but my own. But still. Since I don't actually upload my sex life to YouTube, I don't think it's subject to government surveillance. Hey, supposedly the government will only know the metadata anyway--that I called my wife's cellphone at 6:27 p.m. last Wednesday. We're told the naughty stuff I said is not known and unknowable. Government officials have said this, repeatedly, and I can't remember the last time one of those people was ever caught in an untruth, can you?

Privacy is not about "hiding' things. It's not about secrecy. It's about a volume of information we consider personal that we carry around with us and choose not to reveal. This information is different for different people. Some folks -- we've all met one, haven't we? -- revel in disclosing all sorts of info you'd really rather not hear. Contrariwise, many of us clam up when it comes to financial matters, which to me is rather odd, and political preferences, which to me is utterly bizarre. But what I think about the things others choose to leave private is irrelevant: if they disclose any of that information to me and I subsequently, say, blog about it, the consequences to me would be dire, and I would deserve every one of them.

---------

But we're in a brave new world, right? A world where people tweet pictures of what they're eating, a world where people actually use a popular app called Foursquare to let prospective burglars know when they're least likely to be interrupted in their activities. The notion of privacy in such a world is, as Margaret Wente notes. as "quaint as buggy whips and hoop skirts". Corporations from Facebook to Google to Ma Bell have collected vast sums of information on you; Target knows when you're pregnant; to say nothing of your bank and Visa and...and...and...

Couple of distinctions, though. You handed all this info over willingly. Maybe not all that willingly, but ultimately you made the call. (You did read the Facebook EULA, right, the one that grants Facebook the right to use anything you post on your account, for as long as it exists on your account?)
You had to agree to those terms of service, which means you should have read them. If you didn't, and now you find them unacceptable, you can always delete your Facebook account. I'd miss it, myself...but I lived without it for thirty five years, somehow. I'm sure I could again.
Likewise, I could go further and stay off the 'Net if I was really that concerned about my personal information. That would be a very, very difficult thing for me to do, not least because I'm terribly afraid I'd find out in short order I have considerably fewer friends than I think I do. But again, I lived quite happily without an Internet for quite a long period of time. And I'm reasonably sure in giving it up, I wouldn't lose every friend I have.
Visa? How I'd love to live without that. A bank? That's damn near impossible these days, but I know a few people who manage to live and be happy without a bank account.

Whatever the Tea Partiers might think, you can't live without a government.

Moreover, those corporations can't do anything much worse than withdrawing their service to you...on their own. The government, working with these corporations, can make your life a living hell. Or worse, it could kill you. That may sound like a paranoiac's wet dream, It isn't. That sort of thing is frightfully common in, well, most of the world. And even here, if you happen to share a name with a known terrorist, I wouldn't try crossing the U.S. border. Or getting on a plane for a nice family vacation. Because to err is human, but to really fuck it up, you need a computer. Because people have this deeply unfounded faith in the data their silicon servants spew forth. Because if you try to protest your innocence too loudly, well, shit, you're resisting arrest! Oh, fun! Let's drag out the toys!

Or maybe you don't share a name with a known terrorist. Maybe you're just black. (People, I implore you: watch this video. If you ever thought racial profiling was exaggerated, you'll stop thinking that right quick.)

Yet another issue: if you ever do something the government doesn't like, that's all the excuse they need.
You don't do anything the government doesn't like, you tell me. Gee, that's too bad...I thought you cared about the environment. Maybe you hung up on the pollster calling on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada. (The duration of that call, all three seconds of it, is on record.) The point I'm trying to make here is that there are certain things we know this government doesn't like--facts, reality, science--and quite possibly some things we don't know they don't like. And even if you're a 100% dyed in the wool Harperite, you have to concede his government won't last forever...and the next government will have an entirely different Shit List you don't want to be on. The government, no matter what political stripe,  should not have this power. They are servants of the people, not the other way around.
Edward Snowden did something the government didn't like, and he's living in fear of his life. As an ex-CIA employee, he has a pretty good idea of the lay of the land, and he's pretty certain he'll be laying under the land fairly soon. There are two possible lessons here. The one the U.S. government wants to you absorb is the usual: don't fuck with us. The one Snowden's pressing for is considerably more compelling: everybody fuck with them!  They can't throw us all in Gitmo, can they?
Why did Snowden come forward? Because, as he says, "I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things".

Neither do I, sir. Neither do I.

And the justification they try to use? Terrorists! Oh, please. That's so 2001. Hell, toddlers were more deadly this year. While I will forever maintain that radical Islam is an issue that needs dealing with, I do not and can not accept the idea that martyrs for Allah are hiding behind every bush. Dubya used to tell us there were certain things we'd have to do "or the terrists win".  Well, we've handed over freedom lock, stock and barrel: I'd say they have won anyway. As Ben Franklin so memorably wrote, "those who would give up ESSENTIAL LIBERTY to purchase a little TEMPORARY SAFETY deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

The absolute worst part about all this is that it's so secret, we can't even have a proper debate about what this is, what it isn't, and what it's for. If the mock debate we do have (short on critical facts)  gets too heated, the government can simply cite national security and shut it down--while doubtless putting the most fervent protestors on Santa's Naughty List.

Is this what you signed on for, living in a democracy? It sure as hell isn't for me.
     



09 June, 2013

Update

Two weeks gone by in a blur. Lots of life packed into those two weeks, little of which I'm at liberty to write about, meaning a Breadbin gone cold once again. I feel like I owe my readers an apology...then I look around my little blogosphere. One friend, who used to post considerably more often than I ever did, confines most of his output to Twitter now, posting once a month to his blog, if that; another hasn't written a blog post in over a year and a half. I'm coming up on thirteen hundred posts in this here Breadbin and I'd very much like to keep it going...but it often feels these days as if there's little to write that hasn't been written already. Several times, even.

--------------

My French course proceeds apace. I got 96% on my midterm and 98% on the little 75-word essay. I'm not bragging: nearly all of this material I learned by grade eleven, and so marks like this are to be expected. Actually, the near-perfect marks bother me inordinately for not being perfect...because the errors I occasionally make are stupid, stupid little errors. I know "maison" is feminine. I know how to spell "mademoiselle". It irritates me not just that I make little mistakes like this -- hey, everybody's brain farts every now and again -- but that I fail to catch these errors proofreading. That really pisses me off. I edit instinctively in English. Any errors you find in these blog posts (and there have been many over the years) occur because I don't often proofread before I publish. But in French, it seems like I can look at the same sentence over and over without seeing the GLARING ERROR staring me in the face.

I never had this perfectionist streak in high school. I got high marks without much effort (in anything that didn't involve math) largely because of a whole lot of outside reading. My parents used to wonder what kind of marks I'd pull down if I actually tried...and I never cared to. I had a cynical attitude towards school even then: not a place to learn, but a place to show what you've learned. That attitude grew exponentially in university, when "what you've learned" better be "exactly what the professor told you". No marks given for outside learning, not when that outside learning contradicted the prof's pet theory. Have I mentioned just how much I hated university? I have?

Anyway...

My French teacher, the same one I had for the conversational French course I took last term just to get me thinking in French again, is really good. He's been teaching French and Latin for decades, Many of our handouts bear the name of the high school he used to teach in, which brings back memories of my own high school French. I will confess, though, to a certain impatience. French courses the world over start by teaching you a certain class of verbs that end in -er: parler (to talk), ├ętudier (to study) and so on, Logically, this makes sense: there are quite a number of these -er verbs and they all conjugate exactly alike, which means you can build up a decent vocabulary fairly quickly. After you've drilled those -er verbs into your head you are confronted with ├¬tre (to be) and avoir (to have), which are both irregular; learning them gives you access to many useful expressions. But what you don't get, at least for far too long, is any instruction in tenses. We're just getting to aller (to go) this week, which will open up the future a crack (I'm going to do thus-and-such)...the actual future tense of verbs is beyond the scope of this course and possibly the next one, too. That's to say nothing of other tenses and moods...it's all well and good to know how to say "I talk", but you kind of want to know how to say things like "I would talk" or "I will have talked"...hell, we haven't even got to "I talked" yet.
Again, this is logical...an English speaker can easily get lost in the various verb endings that denote tense and mood in French. Logical, maybe...but frustrating. It makes me wonder how close to fluent I really was, once.

------------------

There's a dishwasher arriving in our house this week. This will be the first dishwasher I've owned since...since forever, it seems. I''ve been the dishwasher for as long as I can remember, and while it's one of the few household tasks I don't mind doing...I'm never going to win contests at it.
To my way of thinking, dish soap plus rubrubrub should equal clean. Even when the dish soap is Dawn--which is liquid magic--it doesn't, not always. "When are you going to learn to clean the outsides of things?" my wife will sigh, and I'll sigh back and clean the damned dish and that'll be it until it happens again, which hopefully isn't the same day. If pressed, I'll pass the buck and blame the light in the kitchen -- which really isn't bright enough for me -- but inwardly I'll face once again the Eternal Truth: cleaning things sucks, especially things which are just going to get dirty again right quick. The amount of effort I will put into a task is commensurate with the amount of time that effing task will STAY DONE.
This extends to every corner of my life. I really wish I could shave ONCE and be done with it, that grass would grow just to a certain height and no higher, that dust would realize it serves no discernable purpose and just bugger off.  Laziness is a fault I will own up to readily, mostly because you can't miss it in me.
So now comes the dishwasher, which really doesn't reduce the labour load any ("doing the dishes" will now mean ("loading and unloading")...but which will probably do a better job than yours truly and thus will preserve Eva's sanity.
-------------------

Lots going on in the world outside. Scandals everywhere you look, no matter the political party. In America, we have Obama being viewed through a whole new PRISM. I'm sorry, I find this mordantly funny. Not that government is spying on American citizens to an unheard-of degree -- that's terrifying, Technology aside, it's exactly the kind of scenario the Founding Fathers had in mind when they put forth the Second Amendment, and this is coming from the furthest thing to a gun nut you're likely to find. Sadly, most Americans are unlikely to notice any of this, because Honey Boo Boo.
No, what I find funny is the right-wing reaction to this bullshit. Some of the same people who will rail against Big Government in any other context are saying that spying on Americans can be justified in the name of security. One of them actually said something to the effect that "this just shows how real the Islamist threat actually is: even Obama's paying attention".) Puh-leeze. With this kind of data mining, it's only a matter of time until the definition of "enemy of the state" is greatly broadened.
The tinfoil-hat types (which I will not link: search them out yourself if you want) are saying there's no good reason for Americans to know the extent of their government's surveillance...yet...and so they expect Americans will be provided with one very shortly. I'm just putting the thought out there. I don't expect a large-scale terrorist attack in the next little while, but if one happens to materialize I will find myself questioning everything I thought I knew about...everything.

Closer to home, we have our provincial Liberal government embroiled in a power plant scandal. I'll be honest: until the dirty tricks showed up I wasn't paying much attention to this. Cancelling things for political reasons is what governments do: it's as old as NIMBY. But now it seems there's a coverup as to how and why this was cancelled, and Premier Wynne's unlikely to withstand the shaking her government is getting. I expect a vote of non-confidence and an election very soon now.

Then we have the good ship Harper  in Ottawa encountering the first real storm of its sailing. Up until now, our Dear Leader has been fantastically adept at steering around political shoals and hidden reefs; any dissenters have been cheerfully thrown overboard: But now we have this Senate expenses hurricane: an ill wind blowing Harper no good.There has even been talk of Harper resigning...which believe you me, won't happen. Anybody with the chutzpah to rename the national government after himself isn't going anywhere. I'll tell you what: if Rob Ford resigns as Mayor of Toronto, I'll put some credence into Harper's resignation. But Ford would rather smoke crack than resign, so...

--------------

And that's about it from here for a few days. Keep well, everyone.