27 December, 2014

'Twas the Week After Christmas...

Welcome to my favourite week of the year.

Ever since I left 7-Eleven and resolved never to step out of my home on another New Year's Eve ever again, the week between Christmas and New Year's has been a time of real festive joy for me.
Working in a grocery store means, of course, that the weeks and especially days approaching Christmas are supremely stressful; in the actual week leading up to Christmas, days off are not permitted. But the week between Christmas and New Year's, barring New Year's Eve itself, is the slowest of the year by far, so the time you've banked tends to get paid out then. Between the three holidays and your banked time, you might end up working two shifts in the space of seven days. Ah, luxury.
Now, I haven't been working for the last this year, so it probably seems odd to you that I feel that sense of languid lassitude even more strongly than usual. But I do, because even though I haven't been punching a clock for six months, I have actually been working. Harder than I ever have, in some ways. More on that in a minute.

This is World Junior week...if you're a hockey fan, this is some of the best pure hockey you will ever see, every year. A distant cousin (who is nevertheless a good friend of mine) has tickets to all the Toronto games this year. Envy!

The last weekend of the year means the newspapers are, for once, something approaching what they used to be. Lots of meaty articles dissecting the year that has passed and predicting the year ahead. They provide excellent blogging material, for one thing. They also give me a real and needed centering effect: this is where the world is, that is where it has been, and this is where it's going. Like many, I take this week to do the same on a personal level, so I can greet the new year properly. Granted, this can be done on any day, and should probably be done on a limited scale on every day...but it is easier to do when everyone else is doing it too.

Breadbin readers have been along for the ride this year in a way that I did not, quite, intend in January. I think it fair to say that I went through that midlife crisis I scoffed at not even three years ago. All it took was one corporate downsizing.
Losing my job caused me to deeply question...pretty much everything about myself, and many of the answers I dredged up were not at all pretty. Pretty damned persuasive, yes...but not pretty.

I was good at my job. I really was. But that didn't stop them from laying me off, which made me doubt I really was any good at the thing I'd been doing for the better part of twenty years--really, the only thing I'd ever done. And since retail was a fallback position for me after I had royally fucked up my life lo those twenty years ago, absent that career it's no surprise I suddenly found myself back in 1994 when I least expected it.

That's not the only hurt I've suffered this year, but suffering it made the other hurts and rejections much harder to deal with. I still have bad days, but nothing like what I was feeling in July and August. I felt not just insignificant, but also blocked--even writing it out, which had always worked for me in the past, simply opened up another well of pain. Working didn't work, writing didn't work, even loving was made to seem pointless there for a while. I can't really tell you how horrible that was to live through.

The job search was not going well, either, which further sapped my confidence. I believe I have skills built up over a lifetime of retail that would (will!) transfer very well to my next career...but, at least at first, it didn't seem like anyone agreed with me. There, too, I've been undermining myself, both mentally and physically. It has been my observation over many, many years that people in retail jobs are treated as if they are less than human. Cashiers are screamed at for things that are completely out of their control; stores are expected to be open Christmas Day. I'll never forget the story a former colleague told me about a customer she had once...this was years ago, now. The customer told her daughter, who was about ten years old, "now, you have to stay in school, otherwise you'll end up just like her".

That's retail...and I felt like I had failed at it. Worse, prospective employers seemed to agree there for a while. Turns out my resumé was twenty years out of date and had serious structural issues to boot which did not showcase me well. That fixed, interest has been shown and I will be employed again soon, I am sure. Not in retail.

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It has not been by any means a bad year despite so many bad things happening. I have learned who my friends are...and who they aren't. For every friend I thought I had and didn't, it turns out there's someone I didn't know was a friend who is. Those are valuable things to learn. So is the lesson that some dreams are worth the waking up from.

There have been joys spread out throughout the year, several of them involving my friend Craig: a couple of Jays games (well, he'd call them Sox and Yankees road games), and seeing and hearing him perform in CABARET and THE ADDAMS FAMILY, spending a couple of days with him and his family at his old place in London; helping him move into his new place. Love you, man, thanks for everything.

Other friends have made themselves known, appreciated and loved this year. Jason (as always), Nicole, Sue, Jo-Anne, Ande  and some others have really been there for me and I hope you know I'm here for you, too.

And of course my love for Eva has only deepened this year...as I knew it would, as it has in every year since we met. There were some who doubted us; there are some who doubt us still. But I know she is my life's companion on the road we have chosen together, and nothing and no one will take that away from us. Eva has been an absolute rock in some pretty ugly emotional weather....for about a month she was pretty much the only thing keeping me tethered. There is no doubt in my mind that 2015 will be our best year yet.

I've passed the fourth of what turns out to be six courses towards fluency in French. (There's a French for Business course that, contrary to what a teacher told me, is actually part of the certificate program.)  My marks so far have been 92, 93, 94, and 95 percent--this past course was 93. I'm happy with those marks...I had no reason not to do at least this well this time around. It wasn't as if I was working, or anything.

The highlight of the year was undoubtedly our     first     cruise in September, which did not go quite as well as we expected but which was nevertheless a fantastic experience. "Docean" was everything we hoped it would be, even if it waved hello to Eva a little too enthusiastically for her new reduced form to handle.

Writing all this out makes me feel bad again for feeling bad in the middle of so much love expressed. Believe me, it's recognized...and returned.This flip of the calendar represents a lot more to me than a change in the date.

I think I'm ready to take the reins again, folks.

Happy New Year. May 2015 be your best year...until the next year.

19 December, 2014

The Gift of Christmas

Once upon a time, if you asked little Kenny what the most important part of Christmas was, he'd have answered "presents" without taking the time to breathe. Or blink. And a very specific kind of presents, too--the kind he wanted. He was raised better than to throw temper tantrums when presented with gifts it hadn't occurred to him to want, but little Kenny wore his feelings on his sleeve, the same way big fat Ken does, and I suspect a few people were made all too aware that they probably shouldn't have given little Kenny anything at all.

It took far too long for little Kenny to reach the second stage of maturity, the stage that gratefully accepts gifts of need rather than want. (With space allotted for that category of gifts between "need" and "want"...call them..."weeds".) It can still, I'm ashamed to admit, be very easy to convince myself of the need of a want, and then let the weeds grow and grow until they're neck-high and choking me. But that second stage, which really took root in my twenties, in a way wasn't all that much better, because it was still focused on (a) stuff I (b) getting. At least at that age I was properly grateful for things like clothes. Little kids never want clothes. Big kids are ecstatic to get clothes. I was (and am) partial to comfy sweaters, the softer and warmer the better. But I can be made to grin ear-to-ear with a few pairs of MacGregor Happy Feet in my stocking. One of life's greatest little pleasures, for me,  is the joy of putting on comfortable socks...and come Christmas each year I'm usually in need of new socks.

Hey, I'll take underwear, too. I seem to need them every year as well. There are an awful lot of deer around here. (I know I don't drive--sssshhh!)

Another Christmas standby is deodorant. The first time I got six sticks of B.O.-De-O in my stocking I thought somebody (we won't name any Evas) was trying to send me a message about my pungency or something. No...it wasn't that. It was that unscented deodorant was ON SALE!!! and so bingo! here's a year's worth in one go.

You have to understand that unoderated deodorant is barely a thing. SpeedStick makes one (most places don't bother to stock it) and if there are other varieties, I don't know of them. If I wear any other flavour of deodorant, it interacts with my sweat somehow to make me smell like a skunk that crawled up inside the ass of another skunk, died, and then fermented for a while in an old leaking garbage bin. So SpeedStick Unscented it is. And if you find it on sale, that's an ADD TO CART.

-----------

The best gift I ever saw given was from my stepfather, John, to my mother. I don't remember the year--if I could remember the house I was in, that'd friggin' help--mid- to late-eighties, is all I can come up with. Doesn't matter. What I remember is that I had a veritable sleigh-load of stuff under that tree. Lots and lots and lots. John had his share of things, too. There were some things from me to my Mom, things from me to John, quite a few things from Mom to John. Nothing from John to his wife. Not a thing under that tree from him to her, and you could tell as the gifts were being distributed she was feeling a little...odd. I mean, of course he didn't forget Christmas, who could do that to the love of his life, and yet there was nothing, I mean NOTHING, under the tr--

Wait a minute. What's that...what's that thing under there at the back? Addressed to my mom, using his pet name for her. It was one of those gifts you can't disguise easily, and John hadn't bothered: long before she unwrapped it she knew it was--

a calendar.

You could see the emotions at war on her face. There was definitely something wrong here. I mean, a calendar? That's it? The question hovered there in her throat. You couldn't hear it, but you could see it, even smell it a little.  She looked at her calendar. It said 'OUTHOUSES' on the front and had a picture of a country privy. Nice picture, in it's way, I guess, but--still, if we'd known the letters w-t-f could be put together in that order in 198-, I'm sure they would have been.

She opened the calendar.

Every month there was something taped in there designed to get her OUT of the HOUSE.  Leafs tickets one month. Jays tickets another. Tickets to concerts,  handwritten tickets for an outing of mini-golf, an IOU ONE PICNIC in August...that kind of thing.

From puzzled and confused to overwhelmed in about twenty seconds flat.

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The best Christmas gifts I have ever been given...I have to divide this into pre-Eva and Eva eras just to keep it fair. Pre-Eva--honestly? It was also a calendar. THIS calendar had, written on each and every day of the year, a snippet of love song lyric with artist and song name, and every day under that it said "I love you".  No song was repeated; only a few of hers and my favourite artists were. Every...single...day of the year. It was a leap year, too. I can't even imagine how much time it took Lynne to do that. Our love was snuffed out not even two years later, which just goes to show you that even the most heartfelt gift may go for nought in short order. But I have never forgotten it, and each time I think of it, I feel an echo of what I felt then: a species of a huge, all-encompassing affection.

The best Eva-presents...I just got one of them this week, those tickets to the Book of Mormon. I'm never going to forget that. The other thing that we got each other, home on Christmas Day 2006, was one Georgia-Peach that I find myself still missing quite a lot.

Really a lot. Yes, we got her for each other (and for Tux, too)--but let's face it, that dog was my dog.

Really, a lot.

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This is maybe the first year I've gone beyond the stage of needs, or even weeds, and into a new stage where I would honestly prefer nothing material. I still have lots of socks thanks to a sock infusion in the summer; there have been a few less deer around here lately;  I have lots of sweaters; I'm in good shape. Ask me what I want for Christmas, specify it has to be a thing, and it's going to take me a minute or two to think of something.
If you buy me things, of course I will be happy to get them. I got presents from a good friend last night and nearly cried at the thoughtfulness that went into them. They weren't big by any means but they were meaningful. 
But even better than the meaningful gifts was the chance to spend meaningful time with a meaningful  friend I care about. I've had more than my share of that over the past month, after several shameful months of feeling lost and forgotten, needy and greedy.  I'm truly blessed with so many wonderful friends, and seeing them means so, so much.

I've reached the point in my life where Christmas really is all about other people, most specifically kids. We haven't decorated around here for years because (a) no room; (b) the aforementioned Peach would Peach the tree in no time at all; (c) the cats would do the same thing and frankly my (d)ear,  I don't give a damn. Christmas is not and has never been about decorations, for me. Even as a kid, a tree was just the thing the presents went under (and remember, back then it was all about those presents...they could have been stored in and dispensed from the bathroom, for all I cared). Putting up the tree, spraying that fake snow on the windows, . forcing my hands to string popcorn and cranberries--all of those things that make everyone else feel all festive just make me feel like ugh, work.

Bur it means a lot to other people. Especially children. So this year we have donated our tree-in-a-box (a blue spruce, natch) to Eva's mom, at whose place we'll all be on Christmas Day, watching two-going-on-twelve Alexa oohing and aahhing over the freshly decked halls. The thought of that brings back a fair bit of Christmas cheer.

This is also the first Christmas season in a great long time that I haven't had to concern myself with matters of retail, and what a blessed relief THAT is. I don't have to try and gauge eggnog sales ever again. (They go down a little every year, but how much is a crapshoot and you'd better have stock right up until close on Christmas Eve--after which point anything you have is essentially garbage.
I don't have to wonder why, year after year after year, huge distributions of product would come in, all for a week that was ultimately not much busier than a normal week (albeit closed one day and may as well be closed another.)  I don't have to deal with people wondering why we're closed early on December 24th (and yes, people actually ask, every year, if we're open Christmas Day: trust me, it's coming, because people in retail are not human and do not have families and most certainly do not deserve their Christmas too.)

That is yet another of the priceless gifts of Christmas. As we head into the homestretch--I can hear Santa limbering up--try to remember, in the midst of Stressember, that Christmas itself is a gift, whether you are Christian or not.






17 December, 2014

RANT, part 2: Inadvertently Reinforcing My Political Beliefs

Now to what I was going to write about today before this morning's wtf moment intruded.

This one, I'll warn you right off, is boring. There's no way to make it crackle.  It's *intensely* political. These are the blogs my wife doesn't bother to read and I don't blame her. You're excused too. If you want to read a defence of my political beliefs, read on: if you don't, I won't hold it against you!


I am a staunch liberal at this point. Which is not to say I don't have some beliefs that I share with conservatives, and it certainly doesn't mean I believe that people who see the world differently are evil. Misguided--perhaps. Sometimes I might elevate that to "willfully blind", in those who refuse to consider other points of view. But I freely accept that conservatives will say the same thing about me: misguided, willfully blind. Hell, just this morning I was called an idiot.

I draw the line at EVIL, though. When people get to calling me, or something I believe, EVIL--well, I have to stand up and protest.

This came yesterday in the context of a Facebook debate on what exactly Islam is: is it a religion, a race, an ideology? I was trying to say that Islam is a religion, a political system, and a legal system all wrapped up in one monolithic thing that tends not to allow room for any other descriptor. That makes Muslims dangerously susceptible to radicalization; although the vast majority of Muslims are not radicalized, enough are to pose a serious problem that needs (link to previous post here) careful deliberation and not knee-jerk bomb-bay "solutions".) In the meantime, we were having a mostly friendly, mostly civil exchange of ideas, although one person was insisting that any criticism of Islam made you a bigot. Which is just silly: if I'm a bigot for criticizing Islam's treatment of women, well, I'm a proud bigot, then.

Apropos of nothing at all, someone appeared in the conversation and said this:

I'm just curious if anyone in this conversation is aware that the verbal sniping,finger wagging and shaming language/tactics at play here are all a direct result of unfettered Cultural Marxism. Congratulations. You have all successfully been indoctrinated into the Communist fairytale.Keep drinking the poisoned kool-aid and pass the borscht please...

I had never run across the term "Cultural Marxism" before. He supplied this definition, which I gotta warn you gets right out there into tin-foil-hat land:


Cultural Marxism: An offshoot of Marxism that gave birth to political correctness, multiculturalism and "anti-racism." Unlike traditional Marxism that focuses on economics, Cultural Marxism focuses on culture and maintains that all human behavior is a result of culture (not heredity / race) and thus malleable. Cultural Marxists absurdly deny the biological reality of gender and race and argue that gender and race are “social constructs”. Nonetheless, Cultural Marxists support the race-based identity politics of non-whites. Cultural Marxists typically support race-based affirmative action, the proposition state (as opposed to a nation rooted in common ancestry), elevating non-Western religions above Western religions, speech codes and censorship, multiculturalism, diversity training, anti-Western education curricula, maladaptive sexual norms and anti-male feminism, the dispossession of white people, and mass Third World immigration into Western countries.

Ain't that a mouthful. I'm basically being accused of undermining Western society. And somehow being a communist to boot.

After a little back and forth, this person sent me, in good faith, an article called Liberalism And Its Origins and asked me to read it. Perhaps he felt that doing so would make me see the light, as it were. Instead, it reinforced many of my reasons for being a liberal.

I was put on edge immediately with the realization this had a Christian source. I'll admit that out front: it's a bias of mine. Most Christians, in my experience, can tell you the most insanely self-contradictory things without blinking. Like that God loves you unconditionally, but he's going to judge you and send you to hell for all eternity if you don't love him back in the right way. Like that we're created in the image and likeness of God but our bodies are shameful and must be kept hidden. Like that praying to God works (what, was one of the football teams praying to lose?)

Sure enough, Liberalism is right away established as anti-Christian and therefore evil.

Sigh. It is endlessly amusing to me that the Christian Right, most specifically that loud and prevalent strain of it which holds Ayn Rand as a hero, remains blissfully unaware that her philosophy inspired modern Satanism. SOMEBODY's views are evil here.

We are told that the original strain of liberalism ("Classical Liberalism") "was not entirely evil", and correctly informed that it was originally concerned with individual right that predated the State; said State had a moral obligation to protect those rights. The article then lays out, in Stately Progression, as it were, how this morally acceptable belief came to be distorted into something evil.

And what makes modern liberalism evil, according to this article?

Freud's avowedly anti-religious analytical theory of the mind and his view of sexual freedom, Nietzsche's atheism and concern for individual freedom (including, paradoxically, the 'freedom' to choose to enslave weaker people and nations), and Marx's social and economic theory have made very major contributions to modern Liberalism. Indeed, liberals have been at the forefront of the movement which has sought to reclaim Marxist social theory from the hideous stain of the track record of world-wide communism.

Freud has largely been discredited for decades. Nietzsche's influence on liberalism is highly debatable; the man had an aristocrat's hatred of populism and egalitarianism, both of which are core tenets of liberalism (classical and modern both). As for Marx, let me just say this: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" is a truly remarkable leap in spiritual insight that, very unfortunately, tends to be corrupted by power. A truly Marxist society, distinct from communism,  has never been attempted and is probably impossible absent several MAJOR paradigm shifts that I don't believe humanity is capable of at present.

"Liberalism cuts bad human contact loose from any sense of Christian responsibility or morality".

Well, this is preaching to a Christian audience, so it's assumed everyone knows what Christian responsibility and morality is, for one thing. Strangely enough, though, Christianity has splintered into dozens and dozens of competing sects, many of which have differing views on morality and all of which assert themselves to be "true Christianity". So there's that.

Maybe it's that evil liberalism lurking in me, but I have always said that each individual charts his or her own moral course. Anyone whose course is judged deviant by the vast majority of society--the child molesters, the rapists, the murderers--is certainly held to account. The argument put forth by the Right--that these animals should be locked up indefinitely in criminal warehouses and factories called "prisons" has been shown over and over again not to work. Even the death sentence does not decrease the commission of crimes for which it is meted out. For all but the most mentally damaged, treating criminals like human beings seems to work. It;s really little different from what I espoused in my last post: hurt people and they tend to want to hurt you back; heal people and they don't.

Just before launching into its inevitable religious pitch, "Liberalism And Its Origins" quotes Nicholas Capaldi's "Faking It: The Sentimentalisation of Modern Society", thus:

"The liberal paradigm makes the following assumptions: first, human beings are born with impulses that are basically good (the denial of the traditional Christian doctrine of Original Sin); secondly, all anti-social behaviour is the result of external environmental influence (eg, lack of information or resources, presence of hostile attitudes and the absence of approving attitudes); and thirdly, in order to make people whole again, it is necessary to engage in social engineering or the reconstruction of institutions so as to provide information and resources, eliminate hostile attitudes, and promote approving attitudes."

Oh, the horror.

Let's start with original sin. It was one of several things that drove me away from the church when I was young and it should be ignored the way everything everything else in the OT that doesn't involve evil evil butt-sex is ignored.

There are so many things wrong with this doctrine that it's hard to know how any self-respecting human being can claim belief in it. You have an omniscient and omnipotent God who, knowing full well his creatures are going to eat the fruit of a certain tree, forbids them to do so...and then punishes them for doing it. Very harshly punishes them, in fact, far, far out of proportion to what they did. And not just them. EVERYBODY ELSE, too. Especially the women, because Eve did it first. Hey, now. Mama said life ain't fair, but that's ridiculous.

And what's that tree called? Well, it's CALLED "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", but it properly translates as the "tree of the knowledge of everything". I would suggest that this very ancient prohibition has echoed down the centuries, manifesting today in a willful ignorance of knowledge in the name of religious purity. This has disastrous effects both personally and on a societal level.

Is that the action of a loving God? Never mind that he supposedly eventually got around to providing a means for his creations to escape part of his punishment (even the most devout Christian woman experiences pain in childbirth, after all)...what about all the people who came between the exile from Eden and Jesus? What about the literally billions of people who have never been exposed to Jesus since? I submit to you that this is the work of a devil, not a god.

"Secondly, all anti-social behaviour is the result of external environmental influence (e.g. lack of information or resources, presence of hostile attitudes and the absence of approving atti--"

--stop right there. Just stop.

First off, if "antisocial" behaviour isn't external in origin, it must be internal. Well, in some cases, the mental illness that spawns criminal activity is hereditary. But somehow I don't think that's how they mean it here. It seems to me like this is, if not outright racism, very easily adapted to a racist mindset. It isn't that long ago, after all, that good Christians believed black people were savages. Many people who consider themselves to be good Christians still do believe that, in fact.
Of course anti-social behaviour is the result of maladaptive socialization, where it doesn't stem from preexisting mental illness. That's actually the definition of anti-social.

And second, "the absence of approving attitudes"? Really?

Really?

Is whoever wrote this trying to suggest we liberals believe that anything goes? That no behaviour should be met with anything but approval? Even the most lenient of parents paints a line somewhere. Strangely enough, I'll draw on my own Christian days and invoke "love the sinner, hate the sin" here. Bearing in mind of course that a "sin" is in fact an error and errors are corrected, not punished...

"Thirdly, in order to make people whole again, it is necessary to engage in social engineering..."

Isn't it funny how if you agree with something, it's good parenting or good values...and if you don't, it's social engineering? It's kind of like judicial activism. When a court renders a conservative judgment, it's solid jurisprudence and to be congratulated. When it comes out with a liberal judgment, well, that's judicial activism and a sign of the impending apocalypse.

I'm guilty of this myself from my side of the aisle. I maintain that we have been socially engineered not just by governments, but also -- and more pervasively -- by amoral corporations. You are not a human being any more: you are a consumer. Is there any better proof of that than the widespread inclination to line up for an electronic bauble to replace the works-perfectly electronic bauble you already have? Both baubles have been specifically designed to remove you from human society: hell, we've socially engineered the telephone to the brink of extinction in a matter of, what? ten years? fifteen at most? How's that for anti-social behaviour?

But at any rate, yes, we liberals do believe in giving civilization a little nudge here and there towards, you know, being civil. That's called "progress', hence "progressive". Conservatives, by and large, resist change, preferring to preserve the status quo at worst and recreate some mythical romanticized version of a past that never existed, at best.

Liberal extremists -- I've yet to meet one, but they do exist -- yearn for a totalitarian state based on liberal principles. That's not liberalism: that's authoritarianism, a completely different beast. There are at least as many conservative authoritarians, probably more, and there are liberal and conservative libertarians, too. Where do you fit?

 Regardless. do we really judge philosophies by their most extremist adherents? Fine, then Christians are all evil because Westboro Baptist Church. Wow, I can do it too.

One last thing. Towards the end of this article we are treated to a hodgepodge of evils that liberal society has supposedly loosed upon the world.


  • "unparalleled abortions"
  • "frightening rates of drug abuse"  
affecting less than two percent of the population, with that rate stable over time despite $1.5 TRILLION dollars spent fighting it; just as prevalent in red states as in blue states  *
  • "and a suicide rate which stuns those who come from the very poorest countries"
A quick look at this chart should show you that the links between suicide rate, prosperity, and "liberal-ness" of country are very, very flimsy. Moreover,  the suicide rate among homosexual youth -- a group widely shunned by conservatives -- is comparatively higher than the national average*; and those rates are highest in the conservative South*

*U.S. statistics used throughout for the sake of ease and continuity

I don't believe that conservatives are fully (or at all) aware of these fact-and-figure rebuttals of their claims. Certainly I don't believe they intentionally enact policies that create more teen pregnancies, for example. I have found that conservatives, by and large, know what they believe and won't let facts get in their way. Whether that anti-intellectualism is a revenant of pioneer individualism, a willful religion-based disavowal of the "knowledge of everything", or something else altogether, is well beyond my pay grade. I will say this, though. It is not for something that is the source, even the unwitting source, of so much that is evil in this world to criticize those of us trying to make the planet a better place.



RANT, Part 1

I'm sorry, this one's political and probably long and I'd rather not inflict it on everyone in this merry merry season--Christmas themed blogs coming soon, promise--but I'm angry right now and I need to vent.

Let's start with this. A member of my family, someone I haven't seen in almost thirty years, turns out to have political views that are, shall we say, Fox-y. I mean hard right wing, the kind of man who has no problem calling me a "libtard". (Echoing that famous libtard Pierre Elliott Trudeau, I've been called worse things by better people.)

Anyway, he posted this this morning:


This isn't the first time I've been confronted with the yawning chasm between the way hard-core conservatives see the world and the way I do, but it's been one of the most telling. It's obvious to conservatives that a barbaric act calls for barbarism in return. It's obvious to me that it doesn't.

Because barbarism breeds barbarism. War begets war, torture begets torture. It's an endless loop, and it tends to intensify. To my mind, anyone who willingly engages in torture is an aider and abettor of terrorism and should be denounced as such. Seriously. You want more 9/11s? Piss more people off by torturing and killing their families and friends. Do you really imagine, even for a second, that the normal reaction to cold blooded murder is a bunch of warm fuzzies? Think back to how America felt after 9/11. Remember the shock, the horror, the anger? Now remember that American proxies killed and maimed literally millions of people in the Middle East in the decades leading up to September 11. 2001. They've also directly killed many more since: all sources agree it's at least 32 times the death toll  of 9/11. That's in Iraq alone. Their bumbling has also led to (and ARMED!) ISIS. Practically every step America has taken in the Middle East over a long, long period of time seems as if it was precisely calculated to create war, not peace.

You'd almost get to thinking it was intentional..

Am I saying America deserved  9/11? Of course not, that's preposterous and offensive. They most certainly didn't, and neither did the innocent civilians killed before and since deserve their deaths. Nobody deserves to die because of somebody else's political beliefs. That goes at least tenfold for religious ideals. Gods preaching hate, death and darkness should be shunned by all those seeking love, life and light.

I've always said there is a time when people need to stand up and fight. I still believe that. But it is IMPERATIVE that we fight for the right things, and with the right motives. Inflicting our political and religious beliefs on others is not a justifiable reason to fight. It isn't, it never was, and it never will be. Do you think the jihadis are right to try and subjugate the world under their variant of ultra-conservative Islam? No? Then why is it perfectly okay for us to spread  our own political and religious belief systems?  

"Because they're inherently better."

No argument...here. But oddly enough, the people who would be the beneficiaries of freedom and democracy tend to disagree strongly enough either to reject it outright or to accept it and then twist it into something unrecognizable to us. Do they have the right to do that? I say yes. The proponents of American hegemony tend to say no, just as strongly.
We were in Afghanistan for thirteen years. We lost 158 brave men and women there, and even more by their own hand once they came home (what a disgrace that is!)  What did we accomplish there by helping to kill over 21,000 civilians?

Not a whole hell of a lot.

Taliban support in Afghanistan has steadily been dropping: it stands at 29% now which is down nearly thirty percentage points since 2009. That's how death cults work: eventually people get sick and tired of dying. You find the same thing in Palestine, where a whopping 70% support a one-state solution to the ongoing conflict there.

War is never a long-term answer to any question worth the asking. People may believe strongly in a war;  they can very easily be whipped into a frenzy against real or imagined enemies. But drive the costs of war home to those people, again and again and again, and sooner or later peace starts looking sensible.

It's the same with death cults (ISIS and the Taliban both qualify here). Does anybody even remember who the Galleanists were? They were an Italian anarchist group responsible for a large number of bombings in New York and elsewhere during the second decade of the last century, culminating in an attack just a few blocks from what would eventually be called Ground Zero.  That attack killed 30 and injured hundreds--it was calculated to inflict maximum damage, using the technology available at the time; given stronger weapons they would not have hesitated to use them. They were ready to kill and die for their cause, and Galleani was, by all accounts, very persuasive. The bother of a follower of his said "You heard Galleani speak, you were ready to kill the first policeman you saw."
A mere six years later, Galleani and his cadre of death were all but forgotten. Today, they're a relic. As Jonathan Kay notes in the article linked above,

The good news, history teaches us, is that terrorist cults are morally self-extinguishing: Ordinary people become alienated by any movement that makes a systematic practice of killing innocent people.


But let's put all that aside. Let's pretend, for a moment, that bombing people and torturing people makes their friends and families all happy and peaceful and never for a moment thinking of retaliation. Let's pretend that death is what people want most out of life.

TORTURE. DOES. NOT. WORK.

Napoleon Bonaparte knew that over two centuries ago. His full quote:

The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know.

Oh, I can perfectly understand why we'd like to believe torture works. We want to hurt people who have some link (even if that link turns out to be tenuous) to those who have hurt us.  But again, I have to ask, why is it that our actions are always justifiable and theirs never are? Why is it that we can torture with impunity, but any retaliation on their part is barbaric and completely uncalled for? (And remember, there are peace-loving civilians, supposedly allied with our enemies, who are asking themselves the same question!) That we are engaging in torture to obtain information that is at best of dubious benefit marks us as monsters. And the existence of other monsters on the other side of the world should not excuse our monstrous acts.

At some point, somebody is going to have to stand up and say enough is enough. And if it's not going to be them, maybe it should be us. The alternative is a blood feud that has the potential to engulf much of the world. Why don't people see that?


14 December, 2014

The Book of Mormon

Simply put, one of the best musicals I've ever seen.

Definitely the funniest. Even knowing many of the laughs going in, my face hurt.

I've been waiting to see THE BOOK OF MORMON since it premiered in 2011. This musical, penned by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame,  won nine Tony Awards; its cast album is the top selling Broadway recording in over four decades.  Needless to say, I have listened to it several times.

Quite honestly, I wasn't sure I would ever get to pair some visuals with the soundtrack. It's the most expensive ticket in New York right now. A touring company came through Toronto in May of last year and sold out instantly. When I heard about the production arriving at Kitchener's Center in the Square, I admit I pestered Eva. Well, perhaps nagged would be a better word. Let's just say I made her quite aware that this one meant something to me.

The cheapest ticket was almost a hundred bucks. That meant something else to both of us. Turn It Off, Ken.

A good friend of ours inherited two tickets, and then got a boyfriend for one of them. Eva bought a ticket for me for Christmas. I was amazed she was able to get one only two rows behind Ande's pair. In any event, that's how I ended up accompanying Ande and Tim downtown this afternoon.

They were demanding a warlord's ransom for parking, so we stored our car several blocks away for free and walked instead. Before long we were settling down and the curtain went up.

(Aside to Craig: the book did not mention a trumpet player, only keyboards, bass, percussion, and programmers. Yet I assure you somebody  was playing a trumpet. It was not programmed because I heard it warming up and it was easily discernible in several (top f and g!) places. Consider me puzzled.) 

Parker calls his play "an atheist's love letter to religion". As you would expect from the creators of South Park and Team America: World Police,  it is profane. Shockingly so. The central number in the first act is an extended middle finger to the Almighty (Chicago cast here, and I warn you: people of faith WILL find this offensive).

What you don't expect, and what exists in spades beneath the profanity...is profundity. Even that cheerfully blasphemous number right out of  The Lion King gets the audience thinking:

"If you don't like what we say
Try living here a couple days
Watch all your friends and family die
Hasa Diga Eebowai!
...
Here's the butcher, he has AIDS
Here's the teacher, she has AIDS
Here's the doctor, he has AIDS
Here's my daughter, she has aaaaaaaa......
Wonderful disposition
She's all I have left in the world
And if either of you lays a hand on her...
I will give you mu AIDS!"

The Ugandans have no use for Mormonism or any religion...until Elder Cunningham twists his Scriptures into something more relevant to their lives full of poverty, war, disease (the village doctor has a habit of popping up at inopportune times -- is there really an opportune time? -- and singing "I have maggots in my scrotum!") and rampant female circumcision.  An inveterate fabulist, Cunningham sprinkles his doctrine with so many pop culture references that it's soon completely unintelligible--the point being, of course, that it was that way all along. The musical pokes incessantly at some of the more asinine beliefs of the LDS church...but it also is a remarkably touching treatise on the nature of belief itself, its purpose, and its power.

The cast is uniformly excellent, in a couple of cases arguably better than that of the original Broadway show. I was most impressed by Christopher John O'Neill (Elder Cunningham)  and Alexandra Ncube (Nabulungi).  Dazzling choreography, sizzling music, marred in a couple of places by sound that was a titch out of balance.

I found it most interesting that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has ads on the playbill covers ("You've Seen The Play, Now Read The Book"); upon exiting, we the audience were confronted streetside with actual Mormons distributing actual tracts. The LDS church initially protested the musical on Broadway; this approach is much more intelligent.  They claim to have gotten at least one convert from it. 

I believe ("I Believe") them. As I say, the faith on top is an object of relentless ridicule, but the idea of faith is presented as a good and powerful thing--so long as you don't insist on taking things literally.

All in all, a great afternoon at the theatre.  Thank you, Eva, for the best Christmas present I have received  in many years. And thank you, Ande and Tim, for allowing me to join you.








Things Are Looking Real

Eva's mom told me today that I'm not allowed to post anything in French on my Facebook timeline, since she won't understand it if I do: I'll get a "wtf?" which I'll translate as "what the French".

So of course, upon reviewing the best music of the year on iTunes this evening, a song literally jumped out and slapped me. A French song, naturellement.

I'm going to have to write an attempt at an English translation to this, for my mother-in-law. Warning, there's a solitary dirty word in here.

NOTE--SKIP TO ABOUT 50 SECONDS IN FOR THE SONG.

 Serge Fiori-LE MONDE EST VIRTUEL ("The World is Virtual")



Ken's hopefully semi-accurate English translation:

When I watch a show in the Bell Center (arena in Montréal)
I see people everywhere tripping on the show on their cells
It's me that's lost but it's not natural
The world is virtual

I have my Facebook profile linked to my Twitter
The Twitter's linked to my toaster
So my English muffins can receive emails
The world is unreal

CHORUS
All alone, everyone's all alone
Gone, everyone's gone
So far, everyone is so far
I'm bored, I'm bored

Give me some Viagra, give me some Cialis
Give me high performance, the rest can go fuck itself
Give me porno flicks in my dishwasher
The world is sexual

Forget politics, give me the computer
Forget culture, give me something that makes me hard
Everyone in their gizmos, everyone all alone on their cells
The world is virtual 

CHORUS

The more things change, the more they're the same
Is there someone in the machine?
Is there someone to talk to me?
Send me a private message
Is there life in my friends?
Is there truth in my keyboard?
Is there blood behind the screen?
Or is it just the wind, just the wind?
I'm bored
The world is virtual
The world is sexual
The world is virtual
-------------------------

Without a doubt, my song of 2014. Have I not written most of that lately?

BUT MEANWHILE IN THE REAL WORLD:

Things are looking up.
This has been the best week of my year, socially, and it's not over yet. I want to thank each and every one of my friends--you know who you are--who has taken time out of a busy life to see me. I've been craving human contact, not just words on a screen, and what I got over the past six days (and more to come) will keep me going for a while. Thank you. You have no idea how much I appreciate you all. 

French final on Tuesday: I'm going into it with something like a 97% grade. I feel like a bit of a fraud. I'm one course away from supposed fluency--and let's just say that their idea of fluency and mine are VASTLY different. I had thought being "fluent' in French meant, for example, that I could take any one of these blogs I have written over the past ten years, sit down and translate it into coherent French. Or take a French blogger's posts and make them understandable in my native tongue. I am so, so far away from even thinking of considering the possibility of imagining attempting this. I wrote an essay, about 400 words, most of which I had written in English already here in this blog, and it took me three hours to do it. And I still made a few mistakes. I wasn't marked down for some of them because the teacher said I was using concepts I hadn't been taught yet (he actually had to get his dictionary out once)--the things he marked down were errors I should have known to avoid. I'm awful at that. Always have been, in everything. Get the hard stuff perfect, mess up on the easy stuff. Driving: parallel park easily, botch a simple right hand turn. Hockey: make an impossible toe save only to have the puck shoot between my legs ten seconds later.

But I'll take the mark I get, thankfully. And I will certainly cherish the contact. Gratefully. I hope to have other positive news soon as well.












08 December, 2014

Isn't One Person Good Enough?

"If a monogamous relationship breaks up, people never consider monogamy to be ‘the problem’, or take it as proof that monogamy doesn’t work. But they do with polyamory. I suspect this has something to do with the number of myths about polyamory that exist in wider society." -Anne Hunter

Using the paradigm that society accepts, relationships that work do not break up, by definition.

This is not the only paradigm in existence, and it may in fact damage people: all too many marriages stay together, even now, out of some misguided sense that they should...."for the children", "because what will the neighbours say", "because divorce is a sin"...and never mind marriages: other relationships can't and shouldn't be rated on longevity. Someone can have a deep, lasting positive impression on you over the space of a few minutes.

But again using the paradigm that is generally encouraged, if a relationship is agreed to have failed, i.e. not lived up to its aspirations, that is the fault of the individual relationship, be it open or closed.

I understand why people look upon "poly" with suspicion. It's different, for one thing: it goes against cultural scripts that are incredibly pervasive. Children are raised with a plethora of fairy tales full of unspoken assumptions that monogamy is not just the only acceptable option, but the only conceivable option.

Another problem, and I have alluded to this before, is the very common assumption that polyamory is a thinly veiled license to cheat. I am a respected giver of advice on Reddit's polyamory forum, and I see this and help to set it straight at least once a week.
We'll say it's a woman. It usually, but by no means always, is. She'll announce to the forum at large that her partner disclosed he's polyamorous. He also chose that moment to announce that he's had sex and/or fallen in love with somebody else, but "you can't blame me, because I'm poly."

No. That's not poly, that's despicable. It's not that "No true poly person" would do such a thing--this isn't part of the accepted definition of polyamory. For the record, polyamory involves multiple romantic relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all involved. If that's not what you're doing, it's not poly, it's cheating and you're a cheater.

The thing I really want to talk about, though, is the even more common misperception that polyamorous people believe that no one person is good enough for them.

Doesn't that seem arrogant? Can you imagine someone saying that to someone else? "Honey, yes, I love you, but you're just...not enough. You don't fulfill me, all on your lonesome. I need more attention, more love, than you can possibly give me..."

Ugh. Boy oh boy am I glad that's not what polyamory is about.

There are simple (and simple-minded) analogies often used to explain the poly mindset to the uninitiated in terms they might grasp. I've used the children one myself: if you have two children, you don't love the second one any more or less than the first and you can't even argue the love is all that different.
I once had this explanation backfire badly on me when the parent I was talking to  admitted rather sheepishly that she didn't really love her younger son that much at all...but generally, the objection that gets raised is that adults are not children and romantic/sexual love is a whole different animal. Of course romantic and sexual love is different in type than the love you have for your children--but who says that one of the differences is that it must be limited to one person? Seriously, who says?
There's another one that gets tossed around sometimes that asks you to imagine you could only ever have one sort of food for the rest of your life. You might love love love some alligator stew, but if that were all you could ever eat..
I don't like that analogy any more than you probably do, because just like adults aren't children, people aren't food. If you really want to go with a food metaphor, most people with any depth to them are a whole world full of buffets, and it's not too much to ask to limit yourself to that world, now, is it?
No, it isn't.

But let's take the focus off that one relationship and put it on other relationships, since the defining difference between polyamory and monogamy is just that, the number of relationships.

You have a friend. You care deeply about this friend: in fact you love him or her. That's not something that is often said between people who are "just" friends. I happen to think it should be.
Now, society says there are hard limits to how you express that love. The exact limit varies quite widely between committed monogamous couples: some spouses don't have a problem if you go out with your friend for dinner, some do; some might base their objections on the fanciness of the restaurant. You might be okay giving your friend a peck on the cheek, but most spouses would take issue with a peck somewhere else, and it's a given that a peck better be all there is.

Poly people, by and large, reject these externally imposed limits on love. They may substitute certain limits of their own--certain people may be out of bounds, or certain behaviours. But while it is vitally important that all parties in a polyamorous relationship are on the same page, we tend to let relationships grow if it seems right that they do so.
And here we are back around this side of the mulberry bush. Why would it seem right? It's not right, you've already got one relationship you claim is wonderful What do you need another for?

If you think that way--many, in fact most, do--it's because you're working with a scarcity model of love. At its most extreme, this model claims that there is only one "soul mate" for you out there, and you will never be truly happy until you find him or her.

There are more than seven billion people on this planet. Even cutting them roughly in half to represent the people of the appropriate sex, you're going to be looking for a while. Probably quite a few lifetimes. Meanwhile, within this lifetime you're always looking for the next "better" thing (which is actually a person), and discarding the thing you just had (that was a person, too) when it/he/she comes along. As Dan Savage tweeted last week:

"Next serial monogamist with six or more exes who tells me he could never be non-monogamous gets a slap"

The scarcity model of love is at work whenever we think, even for a second, that we've "settled".  It is  what makes us question someone's love for us when we see him looking at someone else. Many people derive a sense of security from it, actually: I must be special, because she only does ____ with me. (Many polyamorous people actually think this way too: it's a hard habit to break.)

There is, needless to say, another model of love: an abundance model. According to this perspective, love is not rare at all, and thus does not need to be hoarded. Shared love increases. That's the model I, and other poly people, subscribe to: the existence of love somewhere in a person's life does not imply that love was taken from somewhere (or someone) else. We don't "settle": we gather experiences. We know that we are special, and so are our partners, and so are our partner's partners...The experience of loving many is extremely rewarding for us.  And yes, it can give us new experiences and a new view of the world.

It can also be harrowing. It's a real balancing act after awhile, because while love may not be limited, time certainly is. I have my own quirks that make me rare even among poly-types and can cause me grief: I love people within a fairly wide range almost by default, unless and until I am given a reason not to. I find it almost impossible to "turn love off", which in turn means heartbreak can linger longer than it should.  And it demands a level of communication and self-reflection that can be taxing, even for someone like me who has been self-reflecting and communicating since forever.

As always, "mine is not a better way; mine is only another way." I don't write these blogs to convert, but merely to inform. This is one particularly vexatious misconception that begged correction. Polyamorous people aren't that way because "one person is never enough", but rather because we believe relationships are their own things, separate from other relationships, and able to grow -- and fade -- as desired.




05 December, 2014

In which great quantities of laughing gas are dispensed...

Been a rough week here in the Breadbin, battling old demons and an annoying virus.
Eva had the virus first, and I got it as it was clearing up for her. Sore throat, general aches and pains..and a cough.

Thanks to chronic bronchitis when I was a kid, any virus that comes equipped with cough is going to remain in memory long after its every other symptom has faded away. I'm the picture of health now, if you can ignore this hacking cough that will probably persist, if history is any guide, for a week or even two before it finally peters out.  I can get to sleep just fine, but after three or four hours I wake up coughing away....out of deference to my wife, who needs her sleep much more than I do right now, it's led to me keeping some odd hours.

The demons--you don't need or want to hear about them. The battle continues, let's leave it at that for now.

---------

So this blog entry is either going to make you laugh out loud or disgust you. Possibly both. Can I go for both?

I've written before about Eva's fascination with flatulence. Her mom reports that when she was a toddler she could while away the time in her crib pffffting to herself and giggling. To this day, you fart, she laughs--it's Pavlovian in its simplicity. She just can't help herself. 
For a husband like me who silently added to the vows that he would endeavour to make his wife laugh loud and often, this predilection for pootery is a gift from heaven. If I ever need to lighten the mood around here, I can just perform a one-cheek-sneak and brrrrap! mission accomplished.

But there are times I outdo myself. I outdid myself this week.

Bubbles the cat has a case of kitty pinkeye, and we give him eyedrops daily. He doesn't appreciate the ministrations overmuch, and so lining up his head and actually getting the drop in is a minor exercise in feline physics. To make things worse, I have a real issue with being the bad guy in any interaction with pets (or humans, for that matter), and so Eva's forever trying to get me to actually hold the damn cat, c'mon Ken, you've got vice grips for hands, use them...which means in turn that once a day we're standing cheek to cheek, as it were, for an extended period of time.

You think you know what's coming. I assure you, you have no idea.

So a couple of nights ago Eva's got something meaty in the microwave and Bubbles presents himself  for inspection...we decide to put the eyedrops in. First I have to actually get the cat. He's not super suspicious like some felines I've known: you can walk up to him, slowly, and bend down, slowly, and--

--see, now, bending down was where I went wrong. My joints weren't the only things that flexed. A series of pancake-shaped gobs of gas leaked out of my behind, silently and merrily filling my pants. I'm not kidding here: there was a distinct sensation of weight surrounding my bean-blower all of a sudden, and can I be forgiven for thinking oh, this is going to be fun?

I grabbed the cat and straightened up, causing more silent protests in southern regions, and calmly walked out to the kitchen, proffering Bubbles the cat and a secret cargo of bum-bubbles to my darling wife.

Now you must understand that I have been called "you rank son of a bitch" by no less an authority than Eva's brother (who is himself quite an accomplished fartiste). I have cleared rooms, provoked coughing fits not unlike the one that woke me up this morning, and elicited cries of profanity. I'm not rude enough to fart in public where other people might taste me,  but...sometimes you can't help the hang time. On one occasion, at 7-Eleven, a gentleman customer walked down an aisle I had strafed more than a minute before, turned around, and exclaimed "It smells like a God-damned SEWER in here!" before high-tailing it out of the store. I've left a McDonald's bathroom, sat down at my table, and observed a little boy going in and immediately coming back out to tell his father, "Daddy, I can't go in there." Load me up with French onion soup and I just might be poisonous. I'm the man behind the screaming Zeller. Are you getting the picture?

Eva's nostrils suddenly flared. Her eyes widened. The cat's whiskers twitched. 

It was horrible. It was awful. It was glorious.

The best thing was that the smell was not identifiable as a product of Arse at all. It had neither the searing brown reek of excrement nor the burnt rubbery bouquet of charred tire that can sometimes accompany a squadron of mud-ducks. No, this was something altogether different. Sickly sweet, the kind of thing you might smell in a morgue. Eva told me later, once all the tears had been shed, that she was positive whatever was in the microwave had gone over.

Normally when I have set a trap like this, the look of guilty pride on my face gives me away instantly. Not to mention that Eva's giggles, let alone the ones induced by air biscuits, are infectious: on more than one occasion I've added to the haze in the room when my laughs come out both ends.

This time, somehow, I kept my cool even as I continued to steam-press my boxers. I think again it was because the smell was so novel, so grotesquely interesting, that even I couldn't determine with absolute certainty that I was, in fact, to blame.  

Meanwhile, Eva's nostrils flared again and again, taking it all in. The droplets safely deposited, I let go of Bubbles and started to walk away.

"Did you-- was that your ASS?"

And I dissolved into a puddle of chortle. I mean, how could I not? Eva was sputtering around the room cursing everything in sight. I had done this. Me. 

This one, in case you're wondering, has been christened the "crop duster". It really did have a kind of pesticide odour to it. And Bubbles? His pinkeye's gone.

He's got stinkeye now.