29 September, 2013

Je cherche un(e) ami(e) qui parle français...

I'm writing this from the depths of the night--twenty of four in the morning, which is getting close to a time I wouldn't blanch to get up at, three months ago--and my thoughts are sluggish, like graveyard worms. I've kept the same sleep schedule on my nights off, at Eva's very wise insistence.
Sleeping during the day is still an issue. No problems getting to sleep, but staying asleep is difficult, even with sleeping pills. It's not the light and it's not the noise...no, the betrayal comes from my own body. Either I'll pop awake ready to wet the bed, no matter that I'd attended to that a scarce two hours prior, or -- like yesterday -- I'll bolt awake with monstrous cramps in both thighs. (I've suffered off and on from leg cramps for much of my adult life, and they are occasionally all but debilitating.) Or I'll suddenly find myself awake for no apparent reason. At least I've learned I can get back to sleep...sometimes even a single extra hour of slumber makes all the difference. For the last week I've had that maddening I'm-getting-sick feeling: tickle in the throat, plugged up head. It refuses to progress beyond a mild annoyance, which in itself is annoying...c'mon, Ken, puke or get off the pot.  Can't afford to get sick now, though, not with yet another inventory coming up at work.

----------

My French II course is progressing. Different teacher this time, with a completely different teaching style. I've gotten perfect marks on my first two vocabulary quizzes, but I have a feeling they're going to get harder from here on out. We're still not even at a grade 11 level yet (with a few exceptions), which makes me wonder how far I'm going to get before I run into substantial material I've never seen. A long, long way, if I have anything to say about it.  I'm trying to expose myself to enough French to keep ahead of the curriculum...reading French newspapers online and listening to a lot of French music. The latter is interesting, because often the first listen-through is gibberish, but once I've gone through it four or five times I can at least pick out what the song's about, and translate whole sentences. It brings me back to high school...one French teacher used to hand out lyric sheets at least once a week, lyric sheets with blanks to fill in, and then play a song two or three times. I loved this exercise...it forces you to think in context. Plus, a lot of the music was interesting in and of itself. The final song we got hit with was this:




The chorus isn't too difficult, but the verses...! It's almost a rap in places, and M. Yake didn't give us too many clues.

The whole French thing iss very enjoyable, and to be honest I can very easily see myself in the teacher's role some day.  But for now, the biggest issue is that this class is only once a week. It's not that I forget things week to week, just that I don't get enough practice actually conversing in French between classes. And by "enough" I mean any. Originally Eva was going to be taking these courses with me, but she got moved to straight afternoons; then I was going to teach her on my own time, but between her overtime at work and my new schedule, that's not happening either.  Y at-il quelqu'un parmi mes amis prêts à devenir un correspondant français? You'd have to be willing to put up with my all-too-frequent errors.

One thing I learned right quick is that I can't trust Google Translate...I think it'll be many years before it can reliably handle even simple translations. One example: There's an absolutely gorgeous, extremely sad song by Lynda Lemay called Reste avec elle ("Stay With Her").

Here, I'm going to link it, it's just that beautiful.



It tells the story of a woman in love with a man whose heart has been claimed by someone else, and it makes my heart ache.   (What a wonderful world we could have if love wasn't usually so damned possessive. That's a whole 'nother blog, or ten.) Anyway, because French is a gendered language, the pronoun for "her' can also mean it, if the "it" is a feminine noun...and that's what Google goes with: "stay with it". On the one hand it's a perfectly understandable error, and on the other it's completely inexcusable.

Reste avec elle
Elle a dans la tête toutes les réalités dont je rêve
which Google translates as

it was in the head, all of which I dream with reality

and you don't need to know a single word of French and not much English to realize that's bunk. I mean, come on, aside from the fact the English "translation" makes no sense at all, and even pardoning the "she/it" issue, French nouns pluralize in many cases similar to English, and "réalités" is obviously plural. And "it was in the head" would be "il/elle était à la tête"...which Google gets right if you reverse-translate.  "Elle a" is  "she has"---it's one of the first verbs you learn. Sigh.

I think the real translation is

Stay with her
She has in her head all the realities I dream of

with the sense that "her every reality is my every dream" (i.e. she has you).

But I could very well be wrong there, and I don't know for sure what's right. I mean, I know all those words and I can translate them individually, but when you get into songs or poetry the actual meaning is often hiding behind metaphor. It may be a very simple metaphor if you know the freakin' language, but I don't. Not yet. J'essaie...I'm trying....





25 September, 2013

We All Shine On

Ask me what my favourite book is and I'll stall for time, as much time as you'll give me. There are so many. I have neither read particularly widely nor particularly deeply -- a failing I chalk up to my abortive stint in Honours English Language and Literature, abbreviated as you'd expect -- but when I find an author I like, I tend to get a bit obsessive about him or her. It's not as bad as it used to be: ten years ago I cycled through four or five authors, re-reading books over and over again until some of them were nearly memorized.  Nowadays, I'm always out looking for new authors to add to my stable, and my re-reads are relatively few. (Which brings up the question of why I keep so many books around, if I have little or no intention of picking them up once I'm done with them...there's no answer to that question except shut up.)
I'll stall, I'll equivocate...but if you absolutely insist on an answer, I'll probably say my favourite book of all time is THE SHINING, by Stephen King. Pedestrian, I know...but that novel still gives me nightmares a quarter century after I first read it. Hands down it's the scariest thing I've ever read, and there's a part of me that delights in being safely scared.
If your only exposure to THE SHINING is through Kubrick's film, do yourself a favour and read the source material. The movie is widely considered a masterpiece...sometimes it seems like only Stephen King and I dislike it. Of course King would feel his book is much better, but he gives solid reasons for thinking so, and I concur with each of them. Kubrick's treatment has some wonderfully spooky moments, and a soundtrack that will never be equalled in the realm of horror, but there's no soul. Shelley Duvall is, in King's words, a "scream machine" and little else...in fact, she's so goddamned whiny that I found myself rooting for Jack. Which brings me to Jack Nicholson. The man does great lunatic, there's no denying that. But that's all he does, in any movie I've seen him in, and certainly in this one. His Jack Torrance is nutso from the first reel. The true horror of King's novel lies in watching a loving (though deeply, deeply flawed) father and husband go insane by slow degrees.

I'll make no more criticism about the film. Revere it if you must--many do--but read the book, okay?

Rarely has a story drawn me so completely into its world. I read The Shining at my dad's house, always and forever the home of Adult Content when I was a kid. I don't know how that book came into my possession; it just appeared one day, with its grey nondescript cover promising dark wonders within: open me, Kenny. Read me. Forever...and ever...
What I do remember is my dad scaring the pants off me just by calling my name. Macaw*, he said, and I uttered a startled shriek and practically levitated off the couch. This was quite amusing to my dad, because although he had absolutely no compunction against scaring the ever-loving shit out of me or anyone else, he hadn't set out to do it that time. Nevertheless, off the couch I flew, making a little-girl sound that I would have been ashamed of had I not been so terrified.

Because in reading that book I became Danny Torrance. It wasn't hard to do, even though he was five and I would have been twelve or thirteen. I lacked his psychic gift/curse (and thank God for that...the ability to read thoughts and see the past or future would drive me out of my skull in short order)...but I was a precocious five-year-old myself, with a vivid imagination, and yes, even at that tender age, I had seen violence and felt bad intentions. You don't have to be psychic to feel those, if they're strong enough,
And I had an imaginary friend. It was all too easy to imaginate myself right into the Overlook Hotel, in the dead of winter, alone but for my parents and a collection of...things.

You can go to the place where King was inspired to write the book--the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado--stay in Room 217 (which is actually reputed to be haunted) and watch The Shining on a 24-hour loop. Yeah, I'll get right on that. Even worse would be to go in winter--unlike the Overlook, the Stanley is open year-round--and mentally edit out any other guests (live ones, at least) that might be sharing the place with you. I'd like to think I could handle being alone with Eva in a hotel for a winter. Truth is I'd probably go shack-wacky, though. Especially if it turns out the hotel has a little something to help me along. At least alcohol has no allure for me...

I'm on my second copy of The Shining, having read the first one to tatters. It was the novel I picked to buy in French, being as I am so intimately familiar with the English version. Give me a sentence of any length and while I might not be able to tell you what page it's on, odds are fair I'd give you the correct chapter.

I bring this up because King has just published a sequel, called Doctor Sleep. I'm sixty pages in and totally enthralled. King's greatest strength as a writer is his characters: they live and breathe. His portrait of a grown-up Dan Torrance is very unflattering and very realistic. And the story coalescing around Dan is every bit as interesting and frightening as Mrs. Massey, the woman in 217 who makes an appearance right early in this book.

If you'll excuse me, I have ghosts to chase.

*Macaw--my nickname from earliest childhood. I still answer to it today. Coined, says Dad, because all I ever did was squawk and shit.

20 September, 2013

Home/Work Balance

If this article even somewhat reflects the state of schools today, then something is seriously out of whack.

The eighth grader here has between three and five hours of homework every night. I didn't have that much in the final year of high school.

I don't have kids, or I would be considerably better informed about the changes our school system has undergone since the '80s. As it is, I get sporadic reports from friends on Facebook who are parents, and invariably I have to pick my jaw up off the floor: the constant fundraising, the completely different schoolyard ethos, and most notably the homework...

Things were so different when I was in school (he wheezed), Fundraising--there was the occasional bake sell even as far back as first grade, and I think it was grade six before I was enlisted as a door-to-door orange salesman. Nowadays the money grab never ends. Either school has gotten considerably more expensive over the years or the funding for it has been cut dramatically. If the latter, I really have to question who decided something was more important than the education of the coming generation...not to mention just what that something might be.

The schoolyard is something I've touched on before. From the idiotic (and thankfully short-lived) ban on balls in one Toronto schoolyard ("somebody could get hurt!") to the asinine rule in place in my local school board (don't throw a snowball: you'll be suspended even if it doesn't hit anyone), I wouldn't last a week in school today without being suspended, expelled and probably charged.

But the homework is what I really want to talk about here. I'm actually offended at the amount of homework inflicted on children today--again, if the article linked above is at all representative.
Again, I'm not sure what has happened here.

I'm an ardent defender of the trodden-upon: it comes from being trodden upon myself over years, mostly at school. I will step into the breach to defend the integrity of police officers, who should be among the most admired people and (online, at least) are instead among the most despised. I will even defend telemarketers and door-to-door salespeople, while privately believing with all my heart that both occupations should be made illegal. It goes without saying that I won't think twice to defend teachers, who are tasked with arguably the most important job there is and paid, many of them, like office drones. I don't think the problem here is that teachers have abdicated teaching and left the kids to themselves.
The curriculum has obviously expanded, as more and more things that used to be left up to parents are now the responsibility of teachers. I actually don't have a problem with this: I have seen entirely too many parents all too content to let the teachers raise their little darlings...and at least teachers are trained to the task. But that doesn't explain the homework.

I didn't get *any* homework until grade four, and even then the homework was of the school project variety, with  deadlines weeks away instead of hours. I can't speak for grades seven and eight--I spent those two years in a "gifted" program where no homework was assigned at all and we students were by and large left to our own devices--but even through much of high school my homework load wasn't too onerous. I had one class, a grade thirteen geography course taught by one Mr. Shaw, that loaded on homework like nobody's business--the very first night we were instructed to freehand a map of Canada, "as detailed as possible", and subsequent nights involved intensive study of the seigneurial system of New France, the concessions of southern Ontario, and the colonization patterns of Northern Ontario and the Canadian West. Mr. Shaw told us that first day that since we were all heading to university, he was going to treat his course like a university course...and he did. Actually, I found his class considerably more interesting and challenging than anything I encountered years later. Mr. Shaw didn't read textbooks to us. We were expected to read the textbooks ourselves...but first we had to find them. He worked us like mules...but at the end of the year--and I'll never forget this--he paid out of his own pocket for the class to attend SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) to see the third Blue Jay game ever played there. It was the first time they closed the roof halfway through. The roof leaked. Badly.

That one course is the only time I can ever remember being overwhelmed with homework. And even though I was a keener/brown-noser, I'm not saying that because I particularly enjoyed doing it. I just didn't get it.
Now we have kids in grade eight being told to read 79 pages of Angela's Ashes in a single night.  For one class!
I've read Angela's Ashes. It's a wonderful (albeit incredibly depressing) book. But to most eighth graders I'm pretty sure the relentless poverty described in that novel would come off as tedious. And algebra equations! I don't recall running into algebra before grade ten, and I know this because it was like hitting a brick wall for me.
If the curriculum is being accelerated--and it sure seems to be--what's at the top end of it now? Because I know for a fact that universities are still finding their first-year students are woefully deficient in written communication and basic math skills. I was horrible at math and I can easily out-arithmetic people half my age.

Put me firmly in the homework is unnecessary camp. With a properly designed curriculum, kids will be inspired to learn on their own time, but they won't (and don't) do it chained to a desk.

17 September, 2013

Forgiveness

"You keep forgetting. But life is not for getting. Life is for giving."--Conversations with God, Neale Donald Walsch

A father hugs the drunk-driving teenager who killed his son. Story here.

It's only difficult to imagine the strength and grace that comes from an act like the one pictured above if you're approaching it from a state of weakness.
If that sounds judgmental, it shouldn't. Imagine you're a gym rat, busily working the circuit. A little 98-pound nothing comes in and can barely lift the dumbbell an inch. Do you snigger at him and call him a weakling? Not if you're enlightened, you don't. Everybody has to start somewhere; from little acorns, mighty oaks arise. You don't criticize the acorn, do you? 

Forgiveness, we are told, is difficult. The desire for revenge for wrongs real or imagined is very strong in many people. Unfortunately, that desire is endlessly corrosive. Left unchecked, it leads to blood feuds, the poisoning of hearts and the slaughter, real or metaphorical, of innocents down the ages.  After a time, hatred becomes the default and all is lost. It takes an act of supreme wilfulness and intent to arrest and reverse such a progression...and for many, such an act is beyond imagining. 

"Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it."--Mark Twain

Better not to have to exert so much effort. Does the violet, in being crushed, have any choice but to release its fragrance? It does not. We humans, who do, can learn a lot from the violet. Because in the end -- and this is a radical teaching -- there is nothing to forgive.

Do you believe you can be hurt? Then you can be, and you will be...until you decide not to be. To be hurt is a decision you make yourself. Needless to say, it's a harmful decision, even if you don't subsequently decide to inflict your hurt on another. 

I'll clarify a few things here for the people who probably think I'm crazy. Forgiveness does not mean absolving someone of responsibility for their own actions--

[F]orgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator. Forgiveness liberates the victim. It's the gift you give yourself. T.D. Jakes

It does mean that our response to a wrong should be always to heal, not to punish. With a very few exceptions, people commit acts we deem "evil" out of an error in their own thinking, most often a shortsightedness and narrow perspective. The word "sin" is the translation most often given for the Greek ἁμαρτία -- which means "to miss the mark", "to be off-target". An error, in other words. What do we do with errors? Well, some correct themselves naturally. Others require a helping hand to correct.  We all make errors. It's speculated in linguistic circles that the very word "sin" ultimately derives from the proto-Indo-European verb "to be".

If you greet a sin against you with anger and resentfulness, you will only perpetuate the sin. This is why I am increasingly against prison as a solution for all but the most heinous of crimes. Prisons are little more than criminal factories; many, if not most, of the people who exit them come out "worse" than they were when they went in. Contrast this place. The prisoners in this Norway jail live in something more akin to a college dorm than a traditional prison, and the list of privileges they have would give many people pause. The people here -- even the rapists and murderers -- are treated, in short, like people.  Which may have something to do with the fact this prison boasts the lowest recidivism rate in Europe: just sixteen percent. These offenders serve their time, but always with the goal of ensuring they don't reoffend upon release. I think at this point I should bring up the word atonement, and ask my readers to insert a couple of hyphens whenever they see that word: at-one-ment. I believe atonement is required, because with atonement comes reconciliation, making us at one with each other again. In truth, I believe most "sin" arises out of the forgetting that we are all one.


The next thing I will clarify has to do with the choice of being hurt. It is, in fact, a choice to be hurt or not: any emotional state is. But if you choose not to be hurt, it does not make you some kind of emotionless robot. You can't tell me the father, above, doesn't grieve the loss of his son. Of course he does; on some level he always will. But he has chosen to turn his grief towards positive ends. Many people make the same choice; I believe it's the wellspring of much of the good in this world.

The third thing I'll clarify has to do with that statement, there is nothing to forgive.

That's what I'm aiming for, and that's what I fall short of. Forgiveness for me requires effort, still, sometimes an embarrassing amount of it. I hope to be able to get to the point of acceptance of whatever comes in my life. Not a stoic, uncaring acceptance; not even a "well, I guess I'll make the best of this" sort of acceptance. I mean an absolute understanding that whatever comes is for the best.
Such an emotional state requires me to always look beyond the appearances of things, to be supremely comfortable in my own skin wherever I move through the world. It also means I must strive to leave every person and circumstance better than I found it...until eventually I don't have to strive any more. I think that with enough practice, it becomes second nature to uncover one's first nature....


11 September, 2013

Quebec's Secular Charter: Too Far.

It's not often that the federal Conservatives and I agree on anything important, but I fully endorse Jason Kenney's vow to fight the so-called 'Quebec Secular Charter.
The ignorance and wilful intolerance is breathtaking, and you can see it for yourself simply by clicking the link.
The opening message on the website, from Bernard Drainville, the "Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship", is in French only, under the Franglais 'Governement Proposals'.  I'll attempt a translation; please bear in mind I just started the second of six French courses last night...

"The guidelines proposed by the Government have as their objective to continue the process of separation of church and State, which began more than fifty years ago in the wake of the Quiet Revolution. The Quebec Government believes that this is the best way to respond to religious pluralism in a modern State, concerned with equality for all, and for us to weave together a strong civic bond above and beyond anyone's religious, moral or cultural differences."

Whew. I needed occasional help from both a French-English dictionary and the ol' Google there. That's not elementary French. No matter: last I looked there were anglophones in Quebec, and it's just plain rude to create an English web site that includes important messages in French only. This continues throughout the site...the bare bones are in English, but click on anything for further explanation and you are met with a wall of French. It's as if they could only bring themselves to use so much English before abandoning it in disgust. Even the English is riddled with Gallicisms and odd turns of phrase that look as if they were run through Google Translate. I guess "perfunctory" is the word I'm going for here. It's really no surprise: this is the same province that has a government entity ostensibly concerned with 'keeping French alive', but mostly concerned with keeping English in its place.

I preserved the capitalizations in that bolded opening statement, and they are telling. Every instance of 'government' or 'state' is capitalized. No other non-proper noun is capitalized. The message here is subtle, but profound: I'd  dare to suggest in Quebec, the State is supreme. Certainly it has assumed the characteristics of the Church it has so thoroughly deposed.

(The Quebecois harbour so much antipathy towards the Catholic Church which, until a couple of generations ago ruled their lives, that the list of swear words in Quebec is thoroughly dominated by religious terns. And these aren't mild swears, either.)

Now, I am not religious. And as many of you know, I have nothing but disdain for the people of all faiths who insist on shoving their God down my throat. I believe one's religion, or lack thereof, is an entirely personal matter. As such, I can understand the general principles behind this Charter. The state has no business promoting any one religion.
That said, ''separation of church and state" does not mean what they think it means. As Kenney notes, "it guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion." If you offended to the point of wanting to ban a mere religious symbol, you not not very secure in your lack of faith. Then again, if you are so offended by English that you mandate all English words be less then half the size of their French equivalents, and you can't bother to translate a simple web site, you're not very secure on your little French island.

And this above all is what I don't understand about Quebec. They have a wonderful vibrant culture that they seem determined to isolate under the guise of "protecting" it. The constant belittlement of the "other" in Quebec society, whether that "other" is someone religious or someone English or, crisse de câlice de tabernak, both,  only promotes anger -- which, as we all know, is simply fear in drag.Quebec is on a mission to homogenize their population. You get the real sense that they'd be most happy if the English just vamooses and took the last vestiges of religion with them.

It's kind of funny that the Canadian government is at odds with this, in a way. They've been all about promoting "Canadian values" themselves. They haven't been so, I don't know, brazen about it, though. They're primarily concerned with letting us know so-called "honour killings" are unacceptable and that women are not property. They're not trying to tell civil servants that large crosses are verboten (though small ones are okay).

I hope the Canadian government goes after this with everything at its disposal. There's nothing wrong with secularism, but enforcing it under penalty of law is no different than a state religion.

08 September, 2013

Fire in the Market

There is a farmers' market about a four minute drive from my front door.  The main building burned down a week ago; I was at Eva's mom's place at the tine, surfing Reddit, when the thread showed up in the Waterloo forum, with a picture. This was five hours before it showed up on the local news websites.
Let's get the most important thing out of the way: nobody was killed or hurt. The reaction, though, amazed me: it was as if dozens of people had been killed. Reddit had a five hour head start, but once the conventional media got hold of this story, it was front page news. NATIONAL news. And the outpouring of genuine grief on Facebook...again, it was as if several people had died.

Perhaps familiarity does breed contempt, even for me: I tend to forget that this market is actually a tourist destination. Seriously: there's a big hotel right next to it. I've never heard of a city that didn't have a farmer's market. Granted, this one is bigger than most. I can certainly understand the appeal of a farmer's market over a store: the food is infinitely better. But the appeal of that farmer's market as a Must-See tourist mecca is lost on me. Ir's like going to a city and demanding to check out an elementary school, or a gas station. It's like they say: you've seen one shopping centre, you've seen a mall.

This is, of course, not a popular opinion around here. And it got me thinking about something my father once told me, that left me slack-jawed.
My Dad lives in Canadian Shield country. Panoramas like this


are a nickel a gross in his immediate surroundings. It's terrain that never fails to relax and energize me. He was talking to me about a drive he took along the 402, a highway not all that far from me that has got to be the most boring stretch of road in Ontario: ruler-straight, few exits, farmland and field on both sides with only the occasional windbreak of trees to liven up the monotony. I asked him if he was in danger of falling asleep on that highway, and he said no, he found the views very interesting. I told him he was nuts to think so, living where he did, and he said "why? All we have up here is rocks and trees and lakes."
"..." I said.
Then I tried again. "..."


As it turns out: he's not alone. Wendell Ferguson lets us know...'the whole North is just proliferous with metamorphic and coniferous rocks and trees...trees and rocks...'



It happened again on the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, in 2003. I was glued to window as things like this


unspooled all around me. I heard the riffle of a newspaper page behind me and tore my gaze from the view to regard a businessman buried neck-deep in the stock reports, completely oblivious to the gorgeousness surrounding him. I remember thinking that even if this was unremarkable to him, the fare--it cost us seventy bucks for one way passage--should have prompted some measure of attention. Perhaps that was pocket change to him.

I guess somebody can get used to anything.

Don't get me wrong: I like going to the St. Jacob's farmers' market, so long as I get there and get gone early. Half an hour into its day and you have to suck your gut in to turn around. That's the problem with anything people flock to: people flock to it.

I'm told many of the vendors didn't have fire insurance, despite selling their produce in a building made entirely of timber. The mind reels and the sympathy abates just a titch (sorry). And then my wife, always the voice of reason around here, looks at me with exasperation and says "boy, sometimes when you decide to judge something, you're pretty damn harsh. What if I had a chocolate stall up there?"
"You wouldn't have been stupid enough to operate without insurance."
"Think again...I probably wouldn't bother. I bet the monthly premium would amount to more than I'd make."
"Well, who makes an entire building out of timber anyw..." and I shut up. At that point even I realized I was being an idiot.

I recognize the timing couldn't have been worse, the harvests are rolling in. But they will rebuild, and rebuild quickly. Many of the vendors are Amish and Mennonite...a more hardy and resilient group of people you'd be hard-pressed to find. And after this market is rebuilt, hopefully with slighter wider aisles, I promise to look at it with new eyes, and not take it for granted.



06 September, 2013

Mistake? Is that what you call it?

Jared Perry says chanting about raping underage girls was "the biggest mistake of his life..

The president of the St. Mary's University student council realizes only now, after five years repeating this orientation week ditty, that it's "wrong". He "feels terrible" about it.

Y is for your sister!
O is for oh so tight!
U is for underage!
N is for no consent!
G is for grab that ass!

St Mary's boys, we like 'em young!

Charming.

What I want to know is how anybody in his right mind could call this a "mistake".  You don't sing a chant "by mistake". It takes conscious effort to form the words, and I should think it would take a hell of a lot of effort to form those words and shout them out with the required brio. (I just bet the set response to this is the asinine "I...can't...hear...you!", just so the assembled can shout it louder. Isn't school spirit a wonderful thing? All hail the leaders of tomorrow!

I remember my own Frosh Week. I wish I could forget it. 1990, this was. The first clue that I had entered a world with entirely different norms was cheerfully waving in the wind, hanging from a bridge on the 401 approaching Kitchener-Waterloo. "Fathers, Thank You For Your Virgin Daughters", it read. There were team-building exercises galore, rife with sexual innuendo and worse (in one of them, we had to name a body part we liked on the person next to us and then kiss it. After the humiliation of that exercise, my room mate and I opted out of further Frosh Week activities. This did not go over well...we were called all kinds of names and told we were lacking in that ever-important school spirit.

At least there were no panty raids that year. They'd been a Wilfrid Laurier tradition since time out of mind, and 1990 was the first year we were regretfully told they would no longer be tolerated.  Regretfully. Some of the student council leaders were very upset about this, as I recall. Me, I was stunned. I spent most of first year that way, come to think of it...many of my floormates seemed to be majoring in Alcoholism, with a minor in Douchecanoe. But yes, I think it's fair to say university started to sour on me in the very first week.

Doubtless I'll be called a killjoy and a party pooper, but I have to ask: why? Why do we have these stupid, pointless Frosh Week rituals? To what purpose? What do they have to do with the three or four years of professors reading textbooks to you that follow them? And how can Jared Perry look in a mirror?



05 September, 2013

Okay, Syria-sly...

In spite of the rather flippant title of this blog, I'm really at my wits end over Syria and the Middle East in general.
The way I see it, there are two courses of action here, each one fraught with pitfalls and neither one even remotely appealing. And then there's the course Barack Obama is trying to steer between the two, which has all the worst qualities of both.

COURSE ONE: ALL-OUT WAR

I must admit there's a part of me that is just itching for this. Go in there and settle all the scores. Assad is a dick-tator in a region positively bulging with dick-tators. I can't think of a country in that part of the world that has respect for (a) its own citizens and (b) the citizens of other countries. And yes, I include Israel in that lot. While they aren't as evil as many in North America would have you believe, their hands are far from clean.

Look, you can't just let leaders unleash chemical weapons on their citizenry. There has to be consequences, and harsh ones, to actions like that: we have a moral obligation to intervene, and forcefully.
But there are two glaring problems with that. The first problem is that because the whole region is such a powder keg, any military strike is going to drag in other countries. At best, you have a regional war (likely with terrorist acts rippling out as far as North America in retaliation). At worst: a third world war that starts the way the last one ended. Nobody want that.
The second problem, every bit as thorny, is the exit strategy--which needs to be worked out almost before an entrance strategy. What is the objective? Democracy and peace, yeah, okay, now let's be realistic. What's the objective? Regime change? Who's to say the next regime is any better? It could very well be worse. Colonization? Locals won't appreciate that at all. Just removing Assad ("Drone, drone on the range...") and bugging out? You really don't want a power vacuum in that part of the world, because, well, vacuums suck.
So maybe you just sit back and look at

COURSE TWO: DO NOTHING

After all, what business is it of America's? It's not like Syria is Mexico and why can't those Yankee bastards just mind their own manners and stop interfering in the affairs of foreign nations? And then there's the economic cost: it's not as if the U.S. is flush with money along about now, no matter what Wall Street may have to say on the subject.
Except the decision to do nothing has consequences, too, and they're not all that pretty. Obama has made as much effort as he possibly can to lessen the yoke of American hegemony...and things like Syria are bubbling up as a direct result. Do you think Assad would have done what he did had he thought America would react instantly and brutally? He's far from the only world leader noting Obama's aloofness with gleaming interest. There's that madman in North Korea, a passel of other Middle Eastern dick-tators besides Assad...and the guy I'm most worried about, Vladimir Putin. I hate to play Godwin here, but the kind of shit Putin's pulling lately has a distinct odour of early '30s Germany about it. He's doubtless gambling (correctly) that the world doesn't have the balls or the resources to stop him.
It sounds like an oxymoron and it really shouldn't be this way, but si vis pacem, para bellum..."if you want peace, prepare for war". Pax Americana has its benefits, chief among them global stability.

So if all-out war is distasteful and doing nothing is too weak, there's what America's doing: a limited action, which may or may not happen after everything has been talked about and pondered over and hey, by the time we get around it to they'll probably have forgotten what it is they did to deserve the bombs.
This may seem eminently sensible to some: a considered, measured military strike that doesn't endanger American lives, doesn't involve too much collateral damage (which, we must remember, is a nice euphemism for "dead women and children"), and which has a defined ending point.

Good luck with that.

Because, as I've already noted, that region is a powder keg. There's really no telling what Assad will do or how quickly things will spiral out of control. You know Iran would be happy to start fighting. Iraq is a a hodgepodge of explosive bickering (thanks to the last 'limited action' the U.S. engaged in) that would destabilize even further. And of course there's Israel, which deals with terrorist attacks just because it's Tuesday and which would almost certainly come under fire right early in any Middle Eastern military foray, no matter how "limited" you make it on paper.

I don't have an answer. I don't think there is one.

04 September, 2013

Blurred Lines

Administrivia--once again, apologies for the scarcity of posts. This time it's because of my new work schedule, which is taking a great deal of getting used to.  I have semi-successfully 'flipped' to a night-time mode (I'll remove the "semi-" when I am only normally tired at bedtime (which is between 9-10am), and not completely exhausted as I am now.
This may sound odd, but I feel as if there is less time in my day now. That's silly--I'm living the same 24-hour day as the rest of you--but when I get home at 6:30am I don't feel like doing anything strenuous and I can't do anything noisy for a while...and then when I get up at seven I prize those hours before my shift the way I so recently loved the early mornings. At any rate, I'm going to put some effort into maintaining this here Breadbin, as once again it is going dusty.

*******

The song of the summer. You've almost certainly heard it...you might be sick to death of it by now.



Okay, your standard gangsta-rap video featuring nearly-naked vixens moving provocatively, with lyrics suggesting all manner of sexual delight/perversion. This time it happens to be set to a catchy-as-hell  tune. You might think this far too explicit for your tender eyes, or you might think it's all in good fun. I'm not going to criticize you either way. Instead, I'm going to present this:



Now, I ask you: which one of these videos was (briefly) taken OFF YouTube because it was too sexually explicit?

That's right, the parody. Granted, the words are a little stronger--the f word actually makes a couple of appearances--but the video content is pretty much the same, just with nearly naked men instead of women. Talk about 'blurred lines'. Try a little irony, it's good for your blood.

People who know me know--I hope--that I don't treat women (or men, for that matter) as objects. I'm more than capable of appreciating physical beauty in a myriad of forms, but it is not and has never been a big deal for me. So you're gorgeous...good for you, now are you beautiful on the inside, where it actually counts?
I am a human male...I do have fantasies, and they're (whew) steamy. But they're about people, not bodies.  Also, I don't let my little head override my big one: I'm not in grade six anymore.

The objectification of women has bothered me for as long as I've been conscious of it. Since before puberty. It was many years before I noticed that men were occasionally objectified as well, and it's not kosher when that happens, either--but with women it's culturally ingrained to the point where women actually line up to be featured in videos that strip them of their humanity and turn them into wildly gyrating receptacles for the exclusive enjoyment of men. There's a multi-billion dollar diet marketed to women not to make them more healthy, but more "physically attractive"...I put that in quotes because even when I do let my inner caveman out for a stroll, he thinks skeletons are gross. And again, women line up to let that industry fleece them of their money and their self-esteem...because they feel they have no alternative. That's so sad it's actually frightening.

But it's maddeningly pervasive. The same magazines that lament (about twice a year) the objectification of women feature women-turned-objects in every issue, and not just in the ads. A recent controversy over female conductors shows that at least for some men, they're just "cute girls on a podium". Women looking for relationships have to dodge men at every turn looking for fucking; precious few of those men behave as if the women exists not just after, but during the act.

And all in the service not of men but of their sex drives. That would be insulting to men--really, as if sex is all we ever think about--were it not for the fact that so many men act as if sex is all they ever think about.

Again I find myself wondering if I'm really a human being. Because sex is not all I ever think about even in those periods when my libido is high. I'm not a machine: I can only spend a tiny fraction of my life having sex. Moreover, the physical sensation of sex, while certainly pleasant, doesn't seem to me to be something to build your life around. The emotional intimacy, on the other hand, does...but many men act as if that intimacy is something to be avoided. I don't pretend to understand that...