28 September, 2015

The veiled threat: a quick thought.

"I don't think that anyone has the right to tell a woman what to wear, or what not to wear. And if indeed there are cases of oppression, let's not go after the  oppressed person, let's go after the oppressor. And it's not by depriving a woman in that circumstance of her citizenship and of her rights that we're going to be able to reach out to her."
--NDP Leader Tom Mulcair (source)

I've been wrestling with this issue since it showed up in Qu├ębec a couple of years ago. I have the privilege of counting among my friends an extraordinary woman who has spent time in Saudi Arabia, where she was required to be veiled. Her views match quite well with those of women's rights activist author, and president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, Raheel Raza.  I would love to see Raza, or my friend, debate Mr. Mulcair.

Because both sides here have valid points. Both sides can legitimately claim to stand for women's rights.

It is true that the niqab--the burqa too, for that matter--is profoundly misogynistic. It's also true that neither is a requirement of Islam itself. That renders the religious accommodation rationale moot and takes quite a bit of the wind out of the sails I had been floating as a proud supporter of women being able to wear whatever the hell they want.

Not all of it, though. Because as Mulcair notes, punishing a woman who is already being oppressed is not exactly fair. Also because xenophobia hides so easily beneath the veil of concern for women's rights. I just unfriended a relative on Facebook the other day when a discussion on veiled women suddenly veered off into la-la land: "Forty-eight percent of people in this country weren't even born here," he informed me. "Soon we'll be a minority in our own country."

The horror.

America is a melting pot and Canada is a cultural mosaic: we learned this in social studies class, and it's true. There are benefits and drawbacks to both models. I can't deny that occasionally I've felt a pang of what the hell are you doing in my country when I'm confronted with someone who's been here forty years and never bothered to learn a word of English. But I happen to think that many cultures mixing together enriches the larger culture. Provided that our laws are respected. There is no place for shari'a law in my Canada.

Let's continue to welcome women and men from all over the world. In view of the fact they have a right to wear what they want as Canadian citizens, depriving them of that right at the moment they're granted citizenship seems hypocritical in the extreme. And yes, if they are being forced into wearing a veil, let's go after the man who is forcing them to wear it.


Okay! Blue Jays! Let's...Play...Ball!

I know there are many people out there who believe baseball is only slightly less boring than competitive paint drying. I'm not going to disabuse you of your notion, because we all have sports we can't stand.

For me it's football. I've only ever watched one football game from beginning to end, when the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks defeated the Mount Allison Mounties to win the Vanier Cup in 1991. It was a school spirit thing, even though I never really had much of that.  (Still remember the T-shirts, though, with a Golden Hawk extending an upraised middle talon, caption "Mount This!")

I have a prosaic reason for hating football: it was always the football players who took the keenest interest in rearranging my face. I've been beaten up (quite badly) by Tim Tindale, who went on to play for the NFL's Buffalo Bills (slogan: Boy I Love Losing Superbowls). That's my claim to football fame right there.

I'm a fan of baseball. It appeals to me on many levels. George Carlin has a primer on the differences between baseball and football that, while quite funny as he always was, makes several underlying points that really resonate with me (as he always does):

In Football, the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing his aerial assault with a sustained ground attack, which punches holes in the forward wall of the enemies’ defensive line. (applause) In Baseball, the object is to go home, and to be safe. I hope I’ll be safe at home, safe at home.

The whole atmosphere surrounding baseball is unlike that of any other sport I can think of. There are rivalries, sometimes heated ones...but most baseball fans really do respect other baseball fans and usually 'their' teams. Baseball's the only place they stop the action so the entire stadium can rise to its feet and start singing a song that dates to 1908. There's a sense of camaraderie with baseball fans, a studiousness that mirrors my personality. And then, of course, there's the history. No other team sport is so rife with history. The stats encoding that history in its minutest detail have gotten a bit ridiculous--"he's the only lefthanded knuckleballer in major league history with a career WTF of .360, an OMG of .750-plus, and a BBQ of -1 or better"...but every player who steps into a batter's box and runs the bases is literally walking in the footsteps of his sport's greats...and he knows it.  The crowds cheering today's Trouts and Donaldsons and Arrietas and Prices are no different that the ones who cheered Mantle and Maris and Koufax and Ruth...and they know that too.

I've been holding off on writing a Toronto Blue Jays blog out of fear I might jinx them somehow. (Scratch the most rational sport's fan's surface and you'll find a dark cave riddled with superstitions: you don't refer to "no-hitters" until they're over, for instance: the same goes for shutouts in hockey.) Now that they Jays have clinched a post-season berth for the first time in 22 years, ending the longest drought in professional sports, I feel like some shackles have been removed.

Do you remember 1992 and '93? The Jays won back-to-back World Series titles and the celebrations were just amazing. I lived then, as I do now, an hour west of Toronto and the main drag in my city shut down as throngs of cheering people, by no means all of them young, rushed out into the street and starting hugging and kissing total strangers.  I still get chills listening to this (RIP Tom Cheek): "Touch 'em all, Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home run in your life."

And then things went south in a hurry. The Jays entered a prolonged period of mediocrity. You'd find at least one star player on every year's roster--Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay being the two most memorable--but the team never seemed to put it together. They compete in the nuclear arms race that is the AL East division, and until recently they've been bringing budgetary pop guns to each year's nuke-fight...with predictable results.  They'd sometimes go on a run of eight or ten wins in a row, but the fans and even the players seemed to know they couldn't sustain it...and they never did. Each eight game winning streak would be followed in short order by a stretch of ten losses in twelve games, and Jays fans everywhere would return to their somnolent doze.

Not anymore.

The 2015 incarnation of the Toronto Blue Jays looked, at first, to be destined for the same scrap heap that had consumed its predecessors all the way back to '95. They could hit home runs, there was no denying that...with Bautista and Encarnacion, power wasn't a problem. Josh Donaldson looked as if he might provide some pop and much-needed defence as well. But pitching? Arguably their best starter was  the ageless Mark Buehrle, a solid and dependable #2 or #3 on contenders...and a whole lot of question marks after that. Even the days of the the Doc, when the rotation consisted of "Halladay, and pray, pray, pray", were more inspiring. And the bullpen was, in my considered opinion, a disaster.

On July 28th, the Jays' record stood at a game under .500. Josh Donaldson had proven to be everything we could have hoped for and much more besides...and yet the Jays kept finding new and interesting ways to lose baseball games. It was infuriating, because once again this year the AL East was uncharacteristically the AL Least division. Getting into the playoffs was a less daunting proposition than it had been in many years...but the Jays didn't seem to be into daunt. Dilly-dally, dither, dipsy-doodle...not enough daunt.

Alex Anthopoulos had had enough.

First he traded one talented but laid-back shortstop, Jose Reyes, for an even more talented and driven Troy Tulowitzki, also picking up LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe to stabilize their bullpen. Then he rented the consensus best pitcher available, David Price, who instantly became the Jays' ace by a country mile. Almost as an afterthought, Anthopoulos brought in Ben Revere, a pesky outfielder who had a career history of spraying hits every which way and an above-average glove.

And what happened? Oh, nothing much...the team just went 38-14 in its next 52 games. Price has been lights-out every time he has stepped on the mound, compiling an 8-1 rec with a no-decision since joining the Jays and making himself a good bet to win a Cy Young. Tulowitzki started his tenure with a bang, going 3-5 with a home run  and two doubles, and has contributed most games since (although currently injured after an unfortunate collision with Kevin Pillar). The bullpen has snapped into form thanks largely to the emergence of Roberto Osuna...the youngest player in franchise history to don a Jays jersey (and the youngest player in the history of baseball to record an extra-innings save).

And that Josh Donaldson guy?  The odds-on favourite to win the AL MVP award. It's an honour and a privilege to watch this guy play baseball. He  does it all and he does it well, never taking a second off and making it all look easy.

Yes, the stats get a little out of hand. But look behind the numbers and what you see on this team is...a team. They care about and for each other and they emanate an intimidating aura of confidence: we're going to win and we're going to have fun doing it. Fans of other teams have started to take notice, and in the manner of baseball fans everywhere, they're appreciative of the talent and the teamwork.

A division pennant is well within their grasp, and then the playoffs await. Nobody wants to face them. But I sure want to watch them win it all.

C'mon, sing along with me:


27 September, 2015

This Is How I'm Different

I knew I had a real problem the first time I used Microsoft Word.

This little puppy popped up on my screen and asked me if I needed help. I didn't, and so he tucked his tail between his legs, gazed forlornly at me as if I had just banished him outside, and slunk off the screen.

Now, it's not as if I cried, or anything. But I did get a little hitch in my chest. I wanted to tell the puppy that he could come back and stay on my screen as long as he didn't get in the way of my typing. Maybe wag his tail every now and again. Look at me with a little happiness in his eyes.

The Microsoft Office assistants have been mocked, parodied, and called "one of the worst software design blunders in the annals of computing" by Smithsonian magazine. And all I remember about them was banishing the little puppy, and feeling awful doing it.

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

A couple of weeks ago, with back-to-school in full swing, the amount of garbage set out to the curb in my neighbourhood suddenly quadrupled, and included all manner of cast off furniture and such. Eva and I watched as two burly sanitation engineers wrestled a queen size boxspring into the back of the garbage truck, which ate it in stages, setting off a cacophony of creaks and groans and snaps. I winced several times and gritted my teeth: I found the noises ugly almost to the point of physical pain.

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

More than twenty years ago, I went to visit my best friend, who was living and working in downtown Toronto at the time. I met him for lunch, in the towering atrium lobby of his office building. There were what seemed like thousands of similarly dressed men rushing to and fro like so many rats in a maze. You've heard the saying 'you could cut the air with a knife'? I felt as if I had to use a machete, hacking through thick brambles of tension with every step.  The best metaphor I can come up with is a psychic smell, a mental miasma of fear. It was an indescribable relief to get out of that building into the open air.

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

I can go on and on with anecdotes like this: rare is the day I don't gain a new one.

I have too much empathy. Way too much. It sits in my gut, ready to give my insides a good rearranging any time someone is in pain around me. The nausea can and does progress to the point of vomiting if the pain is severe enough. I can harden myself against it, if I know it's a long-term thing I can't do anything about, but I feel compelled to do what I can to lessen that pain instead. People think I'm so loving and caring, and I am, but that love and care as a selfish component to it. I want my gut to stop pogoing around my body cavity, okay?

It doesn't matter whether it's a person, an animal, or an inanimate object. If it's being destroyed in some way, I empathize with it. I seem to be incapable of turning that off. God knows I've tried.  I've tried because even I recognize those anecdotes above are not indicative of mental health. I can forgive you if you laugh at me for wanting to run away whenever anything explodes, or for getting a little bit misty-eyed at this



"That is because you crazy", indeed.

Over the eleven years I have been writing this blog, I have repeatedly cited Spider Robinson's philosophy, given such high expression in his Callahan's Place novels, that "shared pain is lessened and shared joy is increased; thus do we refute entropy". If I could sum up my mission in life in one sentence, that would be it. That maxim permeates virtually every important interaction I have, both on and off line. I seek out pain, it seems. I never have to seek far to find it: pain is lurking behind so many smiling facades, and so many people have constructed intricate and persuasive personas to mask their pain from themselves and especially from anyone else who might see it and judge them for it.

I don't judge. I feel.

It's why you'll see me always trying to drag people closer to the center of any argument, seeking consensus. Consensus is harmonious; extremism breeds free-floating hatred, which all too often is unleashed on total strangers...wounding me by proxy. It's hard for me to read the kind of vicious, unthinking attacks that pass for 'debate' when you can't see the person you're debating. I don't understand why rudeness and worse is so damned common online: how are the people behind the pixels so easily minimized? The few times I have found myself feeling the kind of intense anger that I see all around me, I've withdrawn completely. I don't want to inflict pain on people whom I know are already hurting.

It's why I love the way I do: because people are loveable. Simple like that. Also because so many people have forgotten they are loveable, and reminding them seems to me like a good thing to do. It might just lessen some of their pain...especially if they choose to share it with me.

It's why I love music so much: because music is universal and heals pain like next to nothing else. Through music, I can share my hurt and you can share yours and somehow we'll end up with less than half a hurt apiece. 

It's why I read: because reading expands perspectives, opens you up to different perceptions, and allows you to better understand people and their pain. 

Many folks do not believe that shared pain is lessened...they act as if sharing pain just provokes a different sort of pain. I may not be able to heal what's causing your hurt -- I'm only human -- but goddamnit I can do something about that other pain. Expressing your anguish should never cause more anguish...but bottling it up will

Since I can't seem to turn this empathy off, or even down...I might as well do something constructive with it, no?

24 September, 2015

So, like, total freedom, right?

"AN IT HARM NONE, DO AS YE WILL"
--the Wiccan Rede (song here, one I love and live by, live and love by)


So I've been reading a lot about poly relationships, and there seems to be a recurring tend. The impression I'm getting is that if you're poly you have to be okay with everything your partner wants. For example, you're not comfortable having sex with someone who's having unprotected sex with someone else. The response is usually to tell that person to work on themselves so they're not stifling their partner's expression and that hard limits are just signs the person shouldn't be poly. Am I missing something? Is it really fair to tell a person they're not allowed to say they're not okay with something?
--user "CSpyder", posted to r/polyamory, 9/23

This is an extreme variant on a common question in poly circles. Indeed, it's pretty fundamental to relationships in general.

We're all familiar, or we think we are, with the freedoms and restrictions in monogamy. Odds are you'll find yourself less familiar than you think, though. According to this survey, 92% of women and 86% of men consider "having sex with someone else repeatedly" to be cheating. (Presumably the minority, which I find surprisingly high for both genders, would feel differently if that sex was paired with emotion.) Towards the other extreme, another survey found that seventeen percent of women and nine percent of men considered viewing pornography to be cheating, while seven percent of women said if their man stayed up all night talking to another woman online (no mention of topic), that was cheating. (Yike.) But by and large, we know what we're talking about when we talk about monogamy.

Polyamory is a whole different world. YOU decide what's legal, what's illegal, and what penalties will accompany illegal behaviour. And the YOU here is plural...by which I mean more than two: remember, polyamory is "multiple committed relationships with the knowledge and consent of all involved".

Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, in their book MORE THAN TWO, have devised a "Relationship Bill of Rights" that is useful for everyone, be they mono or poly.
__________________
THE RELATIONSHIP BILL OF RIGHTS

You have the right, without shame, blame or guilt: 
In all intimate relationships:

to be free from coercion, violence and intimidation
to choose the level of involvement and intimacy you want
to revoke consent to any form of intimacy at any time
to be told the truth
to say no to requests
to hold and express differing points of view
to feel all your emotions
to feel and communicate your emotions and needs
to set boundaries concerning your privacy needs 
to set clear limits on the obligations you will make 
to seek balance between what you give to the relationship and what is given back to you
to know that your partner will work with you to resolve problems that arise
to choose whether you want a monogamous or polyamorous relationship
to grow and change 
to make mistakes
to end a relationship

In poly relationships:
to decide how many partners you want
to choose your own partners
to have an equal say with each of your partners in deciding the form your relationship with that partner will take 
to choose the level of time and investment you will offer to each partner 
to understand clearly any rules that will apply to your relationship before entering into it 
to discuss with your partners decisions that affect you 
to have time alone with each of your partners 
to enjoy passion and special moments with each of your partners 

In a poly network:

to choose the level of involvement and intimacy you want with your partners’ other partners
to be treated with courtesy
to seek compromise 
to have relationships with people, not with relationships
to have plans made with your partner be respected; for instance, not changed at the last minute for trivial reasons
to be treated as a peer of every other person, not as a subordinate
(Veaux, Rickert; source)

I think nearly everybody can agree on the first set, and even the most staunch monogamist can understand how the second set might function. Many people have problems with the third set, specifically the very last point:

to be treated as a peer of every other person, not as a subordinate

One of the most common mistakes people make transitioning from monogamy to polyamory is to draw up a long set of rules and restrictions designed to ensure the primacy of the existing partnership over any other. This seems like a logical thing to do if your object is to ensure the primacy of the existing partnership over any other, right? Unfortunately, logic doesn't always obtain in a world full of emotion.

And sometimes logic just goes right out the window. My favourite two examples of that both concern the RMS TITANIC. If she had rammed that iceberg head on instead of (logically) trying to port around it, she wouldn't have sunk. She'd have been towed into port with her bow heavily damaged, an international laughingstock to be sure, but loss of life would have been minimal, perhaps zero.
Once that iceberg was hit, TITANIC was doomed...but what did Captain Smith order? The watertight doors shut--which had already been done, because it was the logical thing to do. But if those doors had remained open, TITANIC would have sunk on an even keel, taking much longer to do so. She could well still have been afloat when  the CARPATHIA arrived.

Elevating one relationship over another breaks both of Veaux' and Rickert's Rules of Polyamory, to wit:

1. THE PEOPLE IN THE RELATIONSHIP ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE RELATIONSHIP
2. DON'T TREAT PEOPLE LIKE THINGS

If you treat people with the love, respect and devotion they deserve, you're likely to get the same treatment in return. This means wherever possible, boundaries should replace rules.

BOUNDARIES VS RULES VS GUIDELINES

The difference is surprisingly simple. A boundary is negotiable; a rule is not; a guideline is a self-imposed rule.

Rules are usually enacted in response to fear and insecurity, and enforced because it's easier than working on that fear and insecurity.  Boundaries can be used to set limits on freedom, but those limits are expected to be discussed and expanded as relationships evolve.

Without getting personal, Eva and I have one rule, one guideline ("don't be a dick") and a few boundaries that are always negotiable. We believe this model will allow us maximum freedom while still respecting each other and our metamours to the utmost degree.

It is not only okay, it is obligatory to express discomfort in relationships. In good ones, regardless of their form,  the expression of discomfort is seen as an opportunity to heal the hurt. If you are in a relationship where it is not okay to express discomfort, that is an abusive relationship, and you need to leave it. Relationships of all kinds imply freedom granted, not denied.


23 September, 2015

Escape to Another World

The cinematic highlight of 1993 for me, and I'm sure for many others, was the release of JURASSIC PARK. 
I had seen virtually everything Hollywood had put out over the preceding two years--cinephile girlfriend--but our relationship  had blown up like a Michael Bay explovaganza by that point. Hobson's choice: I saw JURASSIC PARK alone. 

I have always hated going to the movies alone. It hasn't stopped me from doing it, if I really want to see the movie badly enough, but I feel like the world's biggest loser, sitting by myself...almost as if I'm wearing a trench coat with nothing underneath it. But for JURASSIC PARK, I didn't care. Dinosaurs trump low self-esteem. Dinosaurs trump a lot of things, really.

And that movie performed. It was damn near perfect: stunning spectacle--the effects hold up 22 years later--but so much more besides. It functions as a scathing critique of blind faith in science, of capitalism, of humanity's misperception of its place in the world. All this and velociraptors. 

There was a heated debate, at the time, over that film's rating. It was rated PG-13, meaning any child could get in and see rampaging dinos chasing kids just like them. My Media Studies prof allowed me to write an essay on whether or not children should be allowed to see such things. (Longtime readers may be surprised to find out I argued they should.) 

I wrote that essay much the way I would write a long Breadbin entry today, with a framing personal story and references pulled from all over. I got a 95 and a complimentary question I've never forgotten: "have you considered writing for the media?"

I had, as it so happened. And so I went to that prof and had a long sit-down discussion with her. Shortly after, I dropped out of university.

What she told me was a variant on what people have been telling me my entire life. I have talent, she said, but talent alone is meaningless. In order to succeed at a newspaper--the first step, at the time, towards writing the long-form articles I admire as a writer and a reader--my talent must bent indefinitely  to the will of an editor, and behind him, a readership, with very firm ideas on what is and is not "news"...ideas I vehemently disagree with. Her words, as well-meaning as they were, had the effect of slamming a door in my face. You'll have no doubt noticed I don't handle rejection very well.

I have digressed.

Movies. Dinosaurs.

In those halcyon days before stadium-style cinema seating had made it to our fair city and drove most of the rest of the business out of business, there were three movie theatres within a couple of square blocks of downtown Kitchener. Before JURASSIC PARK, for whatever reason, I'd only ever been in two of them, the Lyric and the Capital. I saw SILENCE OF THE LAMBS earlier at the Lyric and loved it so much I went back to see it again the following night; I saw TITANIC later at the Capital and did the exact same thing. 

The Hyland occupied a cavernous space in the basement of one of the few office towers that existed in downtown Kitchener ca. 1993. It had seats for more than 450 people, and on the night I saw JURASSIC PARK, I got one of the last ones: frontmost row, off to the right. Not ideal seating, but so what? Dinosaurs!

All this trivia is about to mean something, I promise.

I'm convinced that each of us has at least one incredible ability that happens to be incredibly useless. I, for instance, can sit down at a piano and play a song that's never been played before (and most of the time will never be played again). 
My darling wife has this astounding, and astoundingly pointless, facility of recalling anywhere she has ever sat. Go into a restaurant, no matter how long ago it's been since she was there last or how many times she's been there, and she can tell you "I sat there, and there, and over there..."

This talent of hers of hers seems to have come at the expense of her ability to recall dates. She wouldn't be able to tell you within three years either way when JURASSIC PARK came out; even important dates rarely imprint on her. We joke that we married in 2000 so she'd always remember which anniversary was upcoming: I'm the one who remembers dates around here. 

So Eva says she sat "front-middle-left" when she saw JURASSIC PARK at the Hyland theater, but couldn't tell you whether it was the 7:30 showing on June 12, 1993. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if it was: it wouldn't be the first time we had crossed paths, long before I met her at a job interview in 1999.

The Hyland cinema closed shortly after we saw JURASSIC PARK, and laid vacant for some time. It has reincarnated as the second-run/repertory Apollo,  and last night we went full circle there and saw JURASSIC WORLD.

The theater itself couldn't be more different. It's considerably more upscale, with actual tables to rest your popcorn and local craft beer (that's another change) on; much more comfortable seating, and no sense whatsoever that you're in a cave. That said, the prices are quite reasonable (even more so if you have a Groupon that effectively gave us two-for-one admission and concessions). 

We needed an escape; it had been a very rough day. Luckily, the theater was almost empty--I think there were three other couples there besides us, not that I was paying that much attention.

No commercials or trailers before the film started, and right away I was hit with the HOME ALONE problem: I couldn't shut my brain off.

HOME ALONE is one of two movies that I have walked out on partway through (the other was BEETHOVEN).  HOME ALONE is considered a comedy classic, but I couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to even let the comedy begin. I'm supposed to just accept that a mother and father would accidentally forget to take one of their children on a trip to Paris?  After sending him to his room the night before? And the kid would let this happen?  Yeah, sure, tell me another one. On second thought, don't, because I can see the "comedy" is going to involve pain, the way it so often does. Excuse me...pardon me...sorry...I'm gone.

So here we have JURASSIC PARK up and operating bigger than ever, in the wake of -- did the first three movies even happen? Apparently not. Okay, it's a full reboo--wait a minute, they're fully acknowledging at least the first movie not ten minutes in. Um? Hello? The first generation of life, uh, found a way, and I'm supposed to think "try again, fail again, fail better"? Even more astonishing, regular boring old velociraptors and T-rexes aren't good enough anymore and we need to (gasp) GENETICALLY MODIFY even bigger, badder beasties? Give me my hip waders, I beg you, the bullshit's getting thick on the ground here. 

I was turning all that over in my mind and I realized that yes, actually this sort of thing probably would happen. It's a chronic failing of humans to forget the past: every real-estate and commodity bubble pops and blows goo all over investors who, right up until the splat, were feverishly arguing about how "it's different this time". Austerity as an economic strategy has never worked, and yet it's always the first "solution" trotted out to any economic problem. If you prayed to God and bad things still happened, you didn't pray hard enough. Try again, Fail again. Fail better. It's something Ian Malcolm would have said, with a sardonic grin on his phiz.

Okay, let's see if they even allude to this.

Not quite, but several of the characters seemed as if they were in on the joke, which I appreciated. Those characters were cardboard cutouts, every last one of then--the dinosaurs, especially the raptors, had more depth--but before long the gobble-gobble had commenced and my brain had finally winked out. It was just Eva and I and our limbic systems, out for a stroll in the woods. 

The popcorn ate itself as the people got popped and eaten. Predictable, sure, but the journey was fun. 

Total escapism...which is just what was needed. I'm glad I saw that on a big screen. Incidentally, once again the 3-D glasses were entirely unnecessary. I'm still waiting for another movie that actually demands those glasses. I'm thinking I'm gong to have to wait for the sequel to the only one that has so far: AVATAR.


Thanks, love, for a great night.


21 September, 2015

Refugees, Again

1956...Budapest is rising...
1956...Budapest is fighting...
1956...Budapest is falling...
1956...Budapest is dying...
--Tim Rice, CHESS: THE MUSICAL

It's sickening, what Hungary is doing to Syrian refugees.

Hungary has a far-right PM (Viktor Orban) with an even-further-right opposition that has been gaining in popularity lately. The Syrian refugee crisis is the perfect opportunity for Orban to be a good Nazi and "preserve the Hungarian nation". And so you have razor wire, tear gas and water cannons to repel the tide, and worse-than-prison conditions for those refugees who managed to get in before Hungary had any clue as to the scope of the situation.

It's strange that Hungary, of all nations, should be so virulently anti-refugee. The 1956 uprising, the first spark of heat in the Cold War, is still within living memory. It produced over two hundred thousand refugees, more than a few of whom are still alive.

But in Hungary, and in Eastern Europe generally, a strain of xenophobia has existed since time out of mind. The Museum of Terror in Budapest, a memorial to the horrors of communism, heavily implies that communism was actually Jewish revenge for the Holocaust...but only in Hungarian. The English plaques make no such claims.(source one) (source two)

There are people in Canada who share this xenophobia. It goes without saying they are on the rightward end of the spectrum and the redward end of the necktrum. In the wake of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned off the coast of Turkey, a Conservative supporter heckled a reporter by asking “How many kids drowned in pools in Canada this past summer? Do you blame the government for that?”

I'm seeing all kinds of hate masquerading as concern for the--to borrow a useful phrase--"old stock Canadians". There's the picture floating around Facebook of ISIS flags flying over Syrian refugees in Germany...WE DON'T WANT THEM HERE! it says, and no, we sure don't. Only problem is, that ISIS flag was Photoshppped into an older picture.

There's the "refugees make better bank than Canadian pensioners!" claptrap I refuted a few blogs back. And just this morning, I got this piece of bile in my mailbox:


Can someone please explain the following regarding the Syrian refugees arriving in Europe and perhaps Canada from worn torn (sic) destinations.

 1/ How come they all seem to have endless supplies of money to pay the people traffickers.

 2/ Most appear to have working mobile phones. 

 3/ Most appear well dressed and fed and do not appear to be suffering the effects of malnutrition.

 4/ Most of the refugees are men of military age. 

 5/ Why are other Muslim nations not helping their fellow Muslims. (Saudi, Kuwait, U.A.E. Indonesia but to name a few) 

 6/ How come the two boys and their mother drowned off the Turkish coast can be returned for burial to the place they fled so quickly, what I believed to be I.S. held territory. ]]


Could it be they are being paid to come to Europe as a way to increase the Muslim population and get IS fighters embedded in Europe? We all know life is cheap from an I.S. point so the loss of a few lives along the way has no meaning for them as long as it benefits their cause. Just a thought.

I almost burst a blood vessel reading this. Really, refuting it is like swatting dead flies, but...

1) Define "endless supplies". It cost one migrant $2000 for the privilege of a twelve hour sea voyage with 75 other people on a boat meant for 30. That's more than a year's salary--likely most of his life's savings. If you're leaving home, with no guarantee you'll ever see home again, would you not take money with you? I would.

2) Okay, here's where I LOSE IT. Such parochial thinking. GO ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, from the slums of Calcutta to the favelas of Rio to the poorest parts of Africa and EVERYBODY HAS A WORKING MOBILE PHONE. Just because it's obscenely expensive in Canada doesn't mean it's that way...anywhere else.

3) They are fleeing a WAR ZONE, not a ^&^*ing FAMINE. This is not the Middle Ages: ISIS doesn't besiege a town hoping to starve people out.

4) Oh, really? You counted? I'M a male of military age, and if ISIS was on my doorstep I'd be over the hills and gone. Call me a coward if you will, but what I really am is a realist. I am not physically, mentally, or ammunitionistically equipped to deal with that threat. Sorry. If it's any consolation, you're welcome to come with me. I am intimately acquainted with several dozen places ISIS would consider well beneath notice.

5) Now HERE's a legitimate question. There's an air-conditioned tent city in Saudi Arabia that's used for the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. It holds over 300,000 people...and it's sitting empty. The whole region is filthy rich and could easily absorb ALL of Syria. But it won't, for a couple of reasons. One is that many of the Syrian refugees are the wrong flavour of Muslim. The overwhelming majority of the refugees are Sunni, so they are not welcome in Shiite-dominated areas. And ISIS hates all Muslims that do not adhere to their strict perversion of the faith. They loathe Saudi Arabia in particular. Sheltering refugees invites reprisals.

6) Kobane, Syria, the hometown referred to here, was not and is not 'IS held territory". It is in fact rather hotly contested territory, having been the site of several ISIS massacres, but it is not under ISIS control. See, that's kind of how war zones work, and why people tend to flee them.

A final note on the final note up there. Migrants are not being paid to go anywhere. The Muslim population in Europe is doing just fine all on its own, since their birthrate is higher than the native populations'.

There are, sadly, many Canadians who will read these questions, rephrase them as statements, and repeat them. And that hurts my head...and my heart.

18 September, 2015

The Job: time to take "stock".

Another "let's all hate Wal-Mart" thread is going on in Reddit as I write this.

Hating on Wal-Mart is a popular thing to do. I've indulged in it once or twice myself (that last link, one of my better blogs, will take you into "my" store, six years before it became "my" store, for the 2009 incarnation of the anniversary sale that's currently running--not to mention a Sobeys store I had yet to work at in 2009 as well).

I have worked for the big blue behemoth for five and a half months now...just long enough to have some genuine insights into the culture of the place.

I should tell you first off that the Wal-Mart Supercenter I work at is atypical, just as the FreshCo I worked at  is atypical. Both stores have a solidly middle-class clientele, a far cry from the stereotypical 'trailer trash' Wal-Mart (and FreshCo, for that matter) customer base.  My Wal-Mart has two other peculiarities: As Supercenters go, it's quite small; and it's also one of five Canadian 'inbox' Supercenters, which for the customer means the grocery part of the store is front and center as you come in. (Most Wal-Marts keep their groceries towards the back of the store, "shielding" them with higher-margin general merchandise and clothing. Not in our store.)

Wal-Mart Canada pays its full timers a trifle below industry standard. Coming from a place which paid significantly above that standard, it's been something of an adjustment. There are, however, quite a few perks which many of my colleagues take for granted, but which are unique (or nearly so, in my experience) to Wal-Mart.

The biggest perk is the ten percent discount on virtually everything, immediately upon hire. You AND YOUR SPOUSE get ten percent off everything in your cart (virtual or real) so long as it isn't a clearance item. Ad-matched stuff included. It may not sound like much, but it adds up quickly. I think I have saved over two hundred dollars so far. By comparison, I saved the point equivalent of less than eighty dollars in three years of working for Sobeys: substantially less, when you consider just how much I had to overpay to buy some of the things I bought at Sobeys.

Other benefits (which, again, are sadly taken for granted by many) include free meals on stat holidays; popsicles and other treats seemingly whenever the mood strikes; a safety program which rewards accident-free days with successively more extravagant gestures (thirty days without associate or customer accident gets each employee a coupon for a free coffee and muffin at our McDonald's, and if we manage to go a year without such an issue we'll get a steak and lobster dinner catered by management...they almost made it one year, from what I heard).

But maybe the nicest thing about working for Wal-Mart is the recognition for a job well done. I have been both privately and publicly thanked, with real sincerity, more frequently in the short time I've been there than in the preceding fifteen years. I can only speak for my store, but at the same time it does seem to be imbued into the Wal-Mart culture: "Respect for the Individual" is a core value, and they live it there.

 They make a conscious effort at a diversified workforce: our associates are of all ages and every colour under the rainbow. Our backroom manager is female; as is about half our stocking crew on overnights. That's rare in retail, for reasons I've never really understood.

Only once have I been given more work than I could accomplish...and that was acknowledged before I started and my efforts were roundly praised afterwards (even though I felt terrible leaving the department in the state I had to leave it in). If I had been permitted to work straight through my shift, without breaks or lunch (as is -- cough, cough -- expected in more than a few other places) I might have actually got it all done. But you MUST take breaks at Wal-Mart. It's an absolute requirement, part of a health and safety focus that they take extremely seriously. You can trust your food hasn't been sitting outside the cold chain at Wal-Mart...not something I can say for other places. I miss not being able to listen to my music at night--that's part of the safety thing, they think I might not hear somebody coming by with a pallet, or the Zamboni cleaning the floors. (Wal-Mart doesn't contract out its floor cleaning: its own staff does it.)

Most of the assistant managers have spent some time on the night shift, as has my department manager, so there is a little more respect for what we have to deal with than I have found elsewhere. There is still some grumbling about days vs. nights "not doing anything", but grumbling is all it is. I've seen that fester into civil war.

I'm going to miss profit share this year (not eligible until I've been there twelve months) which is a real shame, because our store is going (growing) great gangbusters.

Okay, so those are the positives, from an employee perspective. There are a couple of negatives that are unique to Wal-Mart. I will keep them as diplomatic as I can.

One, the turnover on all shifts is ridiculous. This is partly generational (there are, sadly, more than a few younger people who seem surprised that they are expected to work at work)...but only partly, and Wal-Mart doesn't do much to mitigate it. My store hires in waves, three or four times a year. Each wave corrects what's been let to slip for lack of labour, and all runs well until attrition sets in; then, for a month or six weeks you're increasingly expected to do more with less until the next wave comes along.

I can't really tell what's worse, because other chains hire fewer people, pay them better, but give them crazy workloads all the time. From a business perspective, you want to keep your employees. Training costs money; training over and over again wastes it. For the customer...Wal-Mart simply needs more staff, I think we can all agree on that. An employee can be hard to find.

The other thing that's unique to Wal-Mart is paradoxical. In one sense, we are micromanaged to an absolutely crazy degree, and in another sense we are largely left to fend for ourselves. Every night, for some reason, we are reminded that we are to "zone" (face) the store, as if we didn't do that last night and every other night we've worked there (or anywhere else in retail). The maintenance crew is reminded at least three times each night that they have to pull empty pallets off the sales floor before the store opens, as if that wasn't a basic part of their job.
But if you want specific feedback on how you can improve your performance...good luck with that. I haven't even been told what expected performance is for my position, let alone where I stand, statistically, in relation to it. (I have a good idea, having been in charge of monitoring night crew performance in my previous job, but still...)

No, here's micromanagement for you: The break times at Wal-Mart are rigid, and it's my job to call them. 1 am break, 3am lunch, 5am break. Unless we're receiving a truck, there is maybe a minute or two leeway given, that's it. I didn't fully appreciate this when I started--I was used to not taking breaks at all, and if I had to, doing it when it was, you know, convenient--and my manager gave me crap for finishing off six cases of a frozen pallet before calling lunch. "I've got associates milling around here, they all know it's lunchtime, we're losing productivity, because you haven't called lunch."  
I stared at her. I couldn't help it.
"If they know it's lunchtime, why don't they just...GO PUNCH OUT FOR LUNCH?"
"Because you haven't called it."

I am not making that up.


I've been waiting now nearly two months to activate my Individual Development Plan and get my career going, and there never seems to be a good time to do it. I'm not allowed to stay after a shift, or come in on my night off, and there's too much to do on shift each night. Or my manager (the only one who can review my plan) is on holidays.  Or she's just too busy in some other part of the store. As soon as this current sale is over, I'm going to respectfully but forcefully demand we get it in gear. It's not that they don't want me advancing...it has something to do with that chronic understaffing problem I mentioned earlier.

Wal-Mart announces store sales and comp sales to last year twice a day...anyone who cares to listen will hear what, in every other chain I've worked in, is considered highly confidential information. This is intended as part of a team building exercise, to foster care in your own store. For most of us, it works. For some...really not. Just like the Wal-Mart cheer, which is almost universally hated online but which, viewed through the proper mental lens, is a great way to increase team spirit:



(We add our store slogan--"a foot in the city, a foot in the sticks" and also add, at the end, "Waddaya wanna be? ACCIDENT-FREE!")

I love leading this thing. It imparts sooo much energy.

______________

Their computer system looks like something out of the 1970s but it is immensely powerful, far beyond what other chains have. I can check whether another store has a given item using my handheld computer; I can also tell you where exactly that items is located in my backroom/cooler/freezer, to within three square feet. The annoying corollary: at other stores, if I bring a skid of overstock back to my cooler, the routine goes like this:

  • find an empty spot on the shelf
  • put an item in that spot
  • repeat as necessary
At Wal-Mart, I must

  • go get a printer and ensure it's loaded with blue label paper
  • turn it on 
  • wait for 3.6 eternities for it to boot up
  • log into my handheld
  • sync it to the printer by scanning a label on the reverse side of said printer (it often doesn't read properly so you have to log out of your handheld, log back in, repeat and perhaps enter the printer code, which looks something like ACA40DC50A, manually)
  • page through some menus to get to "Bin Merchandise" (shelves are called "bins" at Wal-Mart for some reason nobody has ever explained to me)
  • NOW find an empty space on a shelf
  • scan a label on the shelf corresponding to the "bin" I want to put the item in
  • scan the item itself (most of the dairy and frozen stuff has a label on the outside of the box, but you have to rip open cheese and a few other things to scan an individual unit)
  • print a label
  • mark on that label with a Sharpie marker the number of units in a box (even though it's already ON  the label!)
  • mark the expiry date in the upper right corner of the box you are "binning"
  • affix the label to the upper left corner
  • put the item away
  • repeat the last eight steps as necessary
Actually stocking something from the cooler doesn't require a printer, but God help you if you just grab it off the shelf and put it out, as I did my first night. You need that handheld and you have to "pick" your items out of the "bins"--scan the shelf code, scan the item, or alternatively pick from a list of what the computer thinks is needed, or create your own pick list.

What takes thirty seconds elsewhere might take closer to fifteen minutes at Wal-Mart. It's understandable out in the backroom proper, which seems to go for miles and which is three pallets high the whole way. But in my cooler, where I can at a glance see everything in it? Colossal waste of time.

That said, given proper data integrity (a problem anywhere computer systems exist), the system works remarkably well. I'd like to see more attention paid to out-of stocks--I've been trained to loathe "holes" on the sales floor--but I don't know as yet whether that's a computer failing, a personnel failing, or a little of both. I'm not encouraged to know this stuff. And I really want to. 

_______________



Some of the things I have berated Wal-Mart for in the past aren't viewed the same way when you work there. Anti-competitive practices are becoming de rigueur, for instance, in response especially to the fact that southern Ontario is one of the most competitive grocery markets on the entire planet. Much as you'd like to, you can't blame companies for taking every advantage they can manufacture.

Grocery chains are forever at war with their suppliers, trying to preserve a precarious balance between sales and margins. Because of sheer heft--Wal-Mart employs 2.2 million Canadians last I checked and serves, well, damn near everyone--they can and do set the market on many items.

I will grant you that Wal-Mart customer service is not where it needs to be. The same can be said of any generalist, really: how has your customer service been in Costco? Or Canadian Tire? Not to defend Wal-Mart here. During my training, when I was working days, I had an assistant manager actually chide me for taking a customer to an item she wanted...I was told I was supposed to just tell her what aisle it was in. I told that manager, as respectfully as I could, that I come from a customer service culture. She hasn't liked me much, since. Customer service is one of my strong suits and it's something I mean to fully mine when I finally get off graveyards in a year or two.

Labour: yes, they do pay pretty poorly below the level of store manager. I was making $20.03 an hour at Sobeys to do essentially the job I do now for a lot less.
Wal-Mart has a reputation of being viciously anti-union.  It's my contention that any workplace which treats its employees reasonably has no need of a union; the problem is that "reasonably" is subjective and in any case varies from store to store.  I would like to see a little bit of a pay boost to full time Wal-Mart staff in Canada, similar to what was granted in the United States last year. That's not just self-serving: I think the turnover merry-go-round would slow down with increased pay.

Many of the people there are wonderful: hard workers who are also friendly. I mean, I'm starting to actually make friends there, one of those things that still manages to surprise me every time it happens. They know I'm strange, and they accept me for it. Feels good.

In short, there's a lot to like and some things I can help to improve. And isn't that the ideal kind of job?






14 September, 2015

"He's Just A Kid..."

A 14 year old male is charged with arson, possession of an incendiary device and endangering human life after the Dollarama a couple of blocks from my home went up in flames the other day. The plaza housing this Dollarama was evacuated, surrounding streets were closed to traffic and area residents were told to keep their windows closed against billowing toxic smoke. (That store smelled poisonous as it was, I don't even want to imagine what it smelled like on fire.)

And some people think the 14-year-old should--well, yeah, I guess we have to punish him, but let's not be too harsh here because he didn't know any better.

Excuse me?

"Well, of course he would know fire is bad. But he probably had no idea of how fast the fire would spread".

Oh, okay. So he just wanted to set a little fire, maybe burn just one side of one aisle of the store. All righty, then.

"Healthy, well-adjusted 14-year-olds don't firebomb stores with people inside them."

No excrement, Mr. Holmes.

So  if he's not healthy and well-adjusted, we should adjust the penalty? Time off for abusive mother? Reduced fine due to absentee father?

And here's the thing. Yes, healthy, well-adjusted kids don't behave like this...to this degree. But supposedly healthy, allegedly well-adjusted MALE kids do enjoy destroying things. Destruction is celebrated in this culture for some reason. Watch Mythbusters: they get positively ebullient when they have a chance to blow something up. Hollywood blockbusters all too often involve wrecking buildings, cars, and anything else that might go boom real good. It's sickening...or at least I find it sickening.

Males, incidentally, comprise around ninety percent of arsonists. And eighty percent of drunk drivers, and 92% of serial killers, and 96% of child molesters...are we sensing a trend here?

Testosterone, supposedly. The real San Francisco treat. It seems to me like we can lay most of the world's problems at the feet of testosterone. I, apparently, didn't get much of it.


Meanwhile, we have this 14 year old kid.

Part of me wants to sit down with him, find out his five most favourite things in the world and burn them right in front of him. Part of me wants to fine his parents the full costs of fighting that fire. What I can not accept is this notion that he didn't know what he was doing. Maybe if he was seven. Maybe. Fourteen? He knew. He knew, and just didn't care.







12 September, 2015

Why I am so open about loving more

A couple of months ago, my father gently suggested to me that I am "too open" in my blogs about polyamory.  He was concerned that I was sharing details without permission, and to some degree that I was sharing details at all.

His first concern is unfounded. If a blog involves Eva in any substantive way, she reads it (or I read it to her)  before it goes live. In eleven years of blogging, she has yet to outright nix something, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times she has suggested that I reframe a sentence. I've been married to her longer than I have been blogging. I know her, and our, boundaries.
And when others have made, or will make, an appearance in these blogs, the same principle applies. Any details I share here have been vetted and okayed.

There really haven't been that many details. I certainly haven't written anything, nor will I write anything of a prurient nature. Which is one of the points I want to make here.

It niggled at me, what my father said to me. Was I too open in some way? I started paying closer attention to my readership numbers, and I noticed something interesting. My "poly"-themed blog entries always attract more attention than my other posts...but they are also  the least commented upon. Any polyamory-themed articles, comics or the like that I share on Facebook are likewise never remarked upon (whereas most of everything else I share gets "likes" and comments, sometimes in abundance.

At first I wasn't sure what to make of this. People are obviously interested...but are they uncomfortable?

What prompted this post was someone asking for advice in r/polyamory, the polyamory subreddit (group) on Reddit. He had told his parents he and his wife were poly six months previous; as is often the case, one parent took it well and one didn't. Now he, his wife and her boyfriend were hoping to visit his parents, overnight and they absolutely forbade his wife to bring up, let alone bring, her boyfriend.  The mother did not want any reminders whatsoever of nonmonogamy. All three of them felt judged and attack.

You'll probably be happy to know the group consensus was that they should get a hotel room: asking his parents to accept an unrelated stranger who embodies the very thing that bothers them so much, is "a bridge too far". I agree, for what it's worth. At the same time, reading this and other 'coming out' stories where the entrusted person is acutely uncomfortable with "all that bedroom stuff"...it made me recall our own coming out, and some of the reactions we after explaining "multiple committed relationships with the knowledge and consent of all involved". "Oh, so you're swingers, then", said one relative, and...um...no. Really not. I honestly don't think I could be a swinger: it strikes me as objectification. If everyone consents to being objectified, who am I to say boo about it? But it's not for me.

A couple of other people reacted as if I had just spilled the details of some wild orgy: discomfort and thinly-veiled distaste. I had done no such thing. My sex life with or without Eva, and her sex life with or without me, is none of anybody's business. But our other relationships are important.

That's one of the things I want to stress. that IT'S NOT ABOUT SEX. I'll keep saying it over and over again until people process it. Sex may indeed be a byproduct of polyamory, the same way it's a byproduct of a romantic monogamous relationship...but the relationship OUTSIDE the bedroom is central. Those parents weren't denying a sexual plaything when they said "not under my roof!" They were denying an entire relationship. Two of them, really, since the husband was close friends with his metamour.

Yesterday, Eva and I went grocery shopping. Such a mundane thing, and yet every time we go it's an echo of our first date. We enjoy shopping together. After that, I went to bed and she went and did some housework at her boyfriend's place. Again, mundane; again, nevertheless invested with love. Those two things were the highlights of her day. You'll note the lack of screaming orgasms, whips and chains and silk handkerchiefs. Not that I'd tell you if any of that was there, but in this case I can tell you it wasn't.

So one of the reasons I'm open about polyamory is because I want to dispel the misconceptions that we're hanging from the chandeliers. We love, just like you do. We just love more than one person at a time.

Some people were concerned about "keeping score", and the fact I haven't found a partner to "balance" Eva's. Admittedly, I was concerned with that too, at first. My efforts at finding a serious partner were halfhearted at best, though: I think everybody would agree I had a whole lot of self-work to get through before I could even think of going forward with that.

I have a fairly large number of girl friends (note the space between those two words). I'm reasonably certain each one knows about the space between those two words. Some of them I love very much, but for one reason or another (usually but not always the fact that they are in committed monogamous relationships), the space is and will be preserved.

It's yet another parallel that polyamory has with being gay. Gay people often fantasize about 'turning' their straight friends...and if they're smart, fantasizing is where it begins and ends. Gay or poly (or gay and poly!), you have to "date within your species." Any other course involves broken hearts and possibly other broken parts of the body.

Another reason I am open about "this poly thing" is related to the first one I gave. Poly is normal. It doesn't seem normal to people not living it, but there is nothing objectionable about it. It's not cheating, it's not hurting anyone, and done properly it's incredibly enriching. I want people to see this life being lived, in all its quotidian boringness, because I want people to recognize polyamory as a viable option. Not necessarily for themselves--you will NEVER see me saying "hey, you should be poly!" outside my imagination--but in general.

A third reason is because polyamory is important to me. It resonates so very deeply with me on an emotional level...but it also seems very logical to me. There's no reason, outside of social conditioning, why we place artificial and arbitrary limits on how and whom we love. Why is it that only things can be "too good not to share"? Why can't people be that way?

I'm not sure if the reason I field so few comments on this is because people are uncomfortable, or if they just don't know what to say. Maybe they think they'll say something wrong, and offend me. Hey, say it wrong. Then at least we have something to edit.



10 September, 2015

Kim Davis

Canada is not a perfect country. The cost of living is crazy compared to the United States; the internet speed is pathetic and we pay through the nose for it; we can't (legally) get half the media or many of the products that Americans take for granted.
We have racism in spades up here, towards aboriginals instead of blacks, but it's here. I'll refrain from political comment since people are well aware of my views and polls suggest the current government has less than six weeks left in power.

No, Canada is not perfect. But we have a few things going for us. Gay people have been able to marry here since 2004 and next to nobody cares. Even if, hypothetically, Kim Davis was a Canadian, she would have been quickly and quietly fired. That's because most of our municipal officials are hired, not elected. Political parties simply do not exist at the municipal level here. I believe this to be a good thing.

Religion in Canada is a private matter, which in my opinion is just as it should be. It is remarkable to me as a Canadian that the freedom to practice your own religion, as guaranteed in the American First Amendment, so often magically morphs into the freedom to make OTHERS practice your religion.

My beefs with organized religion are every bit as well known as my political views, and I won't repeat them here either. Suffice it to say that what is supposed to be a unifying force is almost always instead divisive.

When Kim Davis first reared her head, I sighed. Rather loudly. It was inevitable--preordained, you might say--that someone would take her stand, go to jail (read: be martyred) for it, and come out famous. I didn't imagine she'd look quite so much like Annie Wilkes from Misery, mind you.
As has been discussed ad nauseam, the logical thing to do when your religious beliefs suddenly conflict with your job is to find another job. Many county clerks did so in the wake of Obergefell. One county clerk's office in Tennessee lost its entire staff. I respect these people who have stood by their convictions without inconveniencing others.

Not quite as much as I ridicule their convictions, of course. I do understand that beliefs inform actions, and that Kim Davis was acting in good faith, as it were, to refuse to issue marriage licenses in Rowan County, Kentucky. But she and those like her who are so ardently against same-sex marriage are incredibly selective with their Bibles:



And yes, I'm fully aware there are other verses condemning homosexuality. You may be interested to know that the word commonly translated as 'homosexual' in the New Testament -- the Greek arsenokoitai, which even LOOKS like 'ass-coitus', is a word coined by Paul, or someone pretending to be Paul...it doesn't appear in any Greek manuscripts before 1 Timothy (which may itself have been the work of a second-century forger). In any event, it's far from settled as to what arsenokoitai actually means. We do know that Jesus never uttered a word about gay marriage or gay sex, and the religion, last I looked, is called Christianity, not Paulianity. Paul never even met Jesus except in a dream, and he doesn't seem to know much about his Lord and Saviour. How ironic, though, that Paul should be credited with this verse:

Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:2, NIV).

Kim Davis, take note.

 Exegesis is hard. Most Christians--most anythings--don't bother with critical examination of their holy texts: many don't even read them, beyond a few verses here and there.

You may wonder why I've made such an exhaustive study of this stuff. I'm not gay. But I have gay relatives and friends -- one of whom has been married almost as long as I have been. And it didn't escape my notice, back when I was a Christian, that many of that persuasion seem to be inordinately interested in three things: the beginning of the world, the end of the world, and sex, specifically gay sex. It seemed only fitting that I should determine my own opinion on these weighty matters.

(Briefly: I believe Genesis is a tribal creation myth, not universal; that neatly sidesteps all the facile 'who did Cain marry?' digs. I hold a Preterist view of Revelation, which is to say I believe its prophecies were fulfilled millennia ago. This last, Wikipedia informs me, is probably a product of my Catholic upbringing.)

And as to gay marriage?

There is no rational reason why two (or more, for that matter) consenting adults shouldn't be allowed to get married. There is no rational reason why anyone should feel threatened by same-sex marriage, or why the law that formerly made it illegal in the U.S.  was called the Defense of Marriage Act. There is no rational reason why Kim Davis -- four times married, adulterer, mother of twins conceived with her third husband while she was married to her first -- should be anyone's defender of the "sanctity" of marriage or anything else.

 But America is not a rational country. If it were, it wouldn't shrug off the weekly gun massacres, would it?

For better and worse, the United States of America is a nation based on emotion. "Energy in motion" is often a good thing, and always powerful: it has created the first global superpower, after all. But "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is a lovely sentiment until your happiness conflicts with somebody else's. Or worse, a whole class of somebody elses. Canada's unofficial motto is 'Peace, Order and Good Government", which is bland, boring...and rational. That's our national character.

Kim Davis has stirred a great deal of emotion, pro and con. I believe this was her intent, to a large degree. Stirring emotion in the United States can earn you a meal ticket for life, if you play your cards right. And she has, God love her (ahem). First, renounce your sinful ways (the public loves a redemption story). then take a moral stand on behalf of a group that believes it's persecuted because group membership is declining at the rate of more than one percentage point a year. (There is no authentic Christian persecution in a land where Christianity is still the dominant religion. There are only minorities seeking fair and equal treatment. But religious mindset is odd that way: it frames others as heathens and barbarians, and it manifests everywhere: politics, sports, musical tastes...)

At any rate, Davis has already become a celebrity.  Guest spots on Fox News await her, perhaps a full-fledged show. There will be at least one book written (probably ghostwritten) by her; there will be talk (if there hasn't been already) of her running for the Republican nomination in 2020. (I honestly haven't looked and don't care to). And she'll never have to work again, much less see any of those sinful gays. Uncloseted ones, at least.

Yep. Sure glad I live in Canada. Our government, as odious as I find it of late, at least hasn't seen fit to tie itself in knots over two people tying a knot.



07 September, 2015

Slut-Shaming

This blog was going to be one thing, and it turned into something else, presto-change-o, before I'd even finished researching it.

I was going to write a withering condemnation of those people who criticize women for exploring their sexuality. Then I actually sat down to read, and read up on, my source material...and I found myself mentally criticizing a woman, not for exploring her sexuality, but for how she went about doing it.

Here is a link to an article by Robin Rinaldi. She is a woman who wrote a memoir called The Wild Oats Project, about her year of open marriage. It should be noted that her open marriage has very little in common with my own. For one thing, she unilaterally initiated hers when her husband had a vasectomy (she had wanted children; he refused; she decided she'd have lovers instead, a leap of logic I don't quite understand).

She had at least twenty lovers over the course of that year, and from the sounds of it she had very little emotional attachment to any of them (though she tried to dress up her encounters as a journey towards "feminine empowerment"). Indeed, she had very little emotional attachment to anything, including herself, and she seems to have emerged from her year-long experiment more lost than she was going into it. Which is saying something.

Rinaldi couldn't bear to leave her husband, but she very much wanted to hurt him. He was, she writes, physically and emotionally lacking...and she goes into quite a lot of detail on that score. I feel bad for the guy, and I seriously wonder how they managed to last eighteen years. Needless to say, the marriage didn't see out the 19th year, though it is unclear whether all her extramarital sex or her attitude towards her marriage is more to blame.

In short, Robin Rinaldi is not even close to a role model for a new marital paradigm. I feel vaguely ill just reading reviews of her memoir: I think I'll give the actual manuscript a pass.

If she and her husband had discussed this at length before embarking on it; if her motives were more pure and had less to do with revenge for a life denied her; if she had concentrated as much on the "marriage" part as the "open" part...I'd be a lot more sympathetic to the hatred she has reaped online.

And she has reaped a LOT of hatred. Some of the emails and texts she has received:

filthy whore, I hope you caught the clap

you are one nasty skank ass. nothing but a cum dumpster. worthless with nothing to offer a man but a hole.

Sorry, @Robin_Rinaldi, in my world there is a word for “happily” married women who spend a year bedding many men and that word is #slut so how does it feel being a worthless degenerate? 

… hows it feel knowing your family line will die with you and you have no place in the world? hows it feel knowing you probably got herpes from the last 20th guy you slept with? its good youre already aging and your looks (which werent that great to begin with) are slooooowly fading away. soon youll be nothing but a whithered husk of a woman, sitting in your rocking chair unable to move without shit dripping down your ass, and wishing you had grandchildren to tell them about the time you were a total slut and made your beta weakling husband cry in his bed ... hope you get AIDS
That's ugly, isn't it?

Here's the thing, and it's the one overarching point she makes that I must defend, vigorously: women get emails and texts like this JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE WOMEN.  Never mind an open marriage: if you're a woman and you dare to say out loud that you enjoy sex with ONE partner,  the "slut" epithet will be sure to follow. If you are a woman and you suggest that women are not portrayed realistically or fairly in video games, you will get many, many rape and death threats and somebody will make a video game in which the object is to beat you up. If you are a woman, period, a man has probably called you a slut, a whore and a skank.

Geoffrey Chaucer used the word "sluttish"  to describe a slovenly MAN in 1386...but by 1402 the word "slutte" referred exclusively to a "dirty, untidy, or slovenly" woman. Kitchen maids often dirtied themselves in the course of their jobs, and so came to be called "sluts" (no pejorative): Samuel Pepys, in his Letters (1664),  said his maid Susan

"is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily, doing more service than both the others and deserves wages better.”

There is absolutely no sexual connotation to this usage at all. It persisted into the 1800s, and has all but died out today.

My etymological sources are screamingly silent on how a word that originally meant "ditty" or "ugly" woman should come to mean a woman with more than one sexual partner. It's one of those many self-evident "truths" that I don't quite get. Why should sex, which is intensely pleasurable, not to mention intensely spiritual, be something dirty or ugly?  Perhaps it has something to do with sexually transmitted diseases. It's worth noting here that Robin Rinaldi, in her year of living promiscuously, did not contract an STI. (And she's the kind of tell-all writer who would have told if she had.)

One of the iconic handbooks to open relationships is called The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. It defines a "slut' as "a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you." I like this meaning: I think it's a compliment, even high praise.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing 'dirty' about sex, even lots of sex, even with different partners--provided you take precautions of one kind or another. Safer sex is the number one rule or boundary in polyamorous relationships and it is all but ubiquitous in other forms of ethical nonmonogamy such as swinging. Poly relationships  may progress to a point of trust wherein the partners will 'fluid-bond', but that's not how they generally start out.

Of course there's the double standard: men who have sex with many woman are called 'studs' by other men...and the derogatory words that women use for them, "cad", "rake", and "womanizer", are nowhere near as strong as "slut". This is because men have been culturally conditioned into believing that (a) they must have regular sex and (b) doing so is exerting power and control over their female partners. Women, by contrast, are supposed to "lie there and think of England", because sex is a "marital duty" and nothing whatever to get excited about.

Bull.

In the 1990s, I  met, and loved, a couple of women who identified -- proudly -- as sluts. I'll never forget what one of them told me about the difference between male and female sexual pleasure. "You have an itch in your ear, and you stick your finger in there and give it a good scratch. Now, what feels better, your finger or your ear?"

Some day I'm going to write an essay on Can't Help But Fly (The Poly Song). There is more wisdom packed into this song than you'll find in many relationship books. For now, I'll just  cite this tiny snippet:

'cause there's no better way to love me than through honesty and trusting 
it's not indiscriminate fucking, it's indiscriminate loving

And 'indiscriminate loving' is NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. For either gender.




05 September, 2015

Divorce

I've been thinking a fair bit about divorce, lately.

Not mine, I hasten to add. Eva is every inch still the "wife of my days,
the companion of my journey,
the friend to my life",
as our vows predicted and affirmed she would be. But all around me relationships are either teetering or outright collapsing, and it's a heart-wrenching thing to watch.

I am a child of divorce myself: a bitter, acrimonious divorce far too personal to detail that happened when I was five years old. My mother kept exhaustive scrapbooks of the first seven years of my life; some of the stuff written in them for the year 1977 I can actually recall on my own, while other things are best viewed through the prism of a relationship dissolving in a house full of acid.

I still vividly recall thinking...no, knowing...that it was my fault. My five-year-old brain was certain that I was a VERY BAD BOY. I was repeatedly told, of course, that I hadn't done anything to cause this, so I decided if it wasn't something I did, it had to be something I was. Which was ever so much worse. Done things could be undone, even at five I knew that. Things that were...how could you make them...not be? Things that weren't, like my parents, together...how could you make them be, again? I didn't understand.

On some level, I think, I never did fully outgrow that perceived rejection, despite the best efforts of my mother AND father AND stepfather. I say this not to assign blame (there being none to assign): divorce was quite simply the only reasonable course of action for my parents and once I was old enough to really appreciate that, I became, and remain, IMMENSELY glad they took that course. And there is absolutely no reason, based on how I was treated during and after, for me to have internalized "rejection". Nevertheless, I think I did.

In my prepubescent and early teenage years I was rejected by virtually every one I came in contact with, and that was my doing, or rather my being,  to a very large degree. Once the 'nerd' label was affixed, I couldn't seem to peel it off, so I decided I would be the nerdiest nerd in all of nerdom. The god of geekery, the sultan of spaz, the...you get the picture. Why was I so nerdy? Well, to escape the drama playing out in my house when I was a little kid, I had two choices: I could go outside, or I could go upstairs, to my room where my books were. That was no contest. Outside was only one world. Each book was a world unto itself.

It all ties in.

Once I started to grow up -- way too late, considering I'm 43 now and I'm not entirely sure I've finished yet -- I gained a modicum of social grace and shed some of the shackles of the outcast. But I've always, always, been quick to feel rejected, unwanted, unneeded, unloved. Losing my job last year, for all my bluster about how I'm not my job, really sent that rejection-meter into the red zone. I mean, we're talking retail here. Retail, not rocket surgery.  I thought I was good at retail. ("It's a business decision", they told me. The store manager actually said "this is not because of anything you've done."

Yeah, right, I know how this goes.

That spiralled out. I suffered a very real, extremely painful rejection a couple of months later that took almost a year to get over, and since then I think everyone's been trying to walk on eggshells around me, which only breaks eggs. I had my own little pity-omelet going all year. Actually, an omelet that big is probably better called a full-fledged omel.

You'll be pleased to know I'm mostly quits with that thought pattern. I had an episode of it the other night and was right soundly rebuked for it...whereas even six weeks ago I would have taken the rebuke as its own rejection, this time I just shrugged, said to myself yeah, I guess I had that coming...and walked away.  I'm thinking at this point I can count on people to tell me when it's actually me, and if they don't, well...it isn't.

The pills really are helping, it's not my imagination. I was in a solid good mood all night last night. My step was light, I had a smile on my face that wouldn't go away, and I got a HELL of a lot of work done. I'm not naive enough to think it's all moonshine and rainbows from here on out, but I have noticed there is a floor to my lows, now. I don't sink near as low and when I do sink, my thoughts don't go into that corrosive loop that was so familiar and so exhausting.

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

Divorce, though.

I ran across a story in today's National Post--evidently a reprint from here--about "conscious uncoupling" and the rise of the "divorce selfie". (God, I hate even typing that word 'selfie', but it's a word that defines an age.)

TL;DR:

"In all those scenarios, couples have essentially reimagined what divorce is: neither a tragedy nor a failure nor a source of shame, in their minds, but a natural, amicable point of transition. In the process, of course, they’re reimagining what marriage is, as well: a partnership that, counter decades of Western thought, is not necessarily all-important, all-fulfilling or immutable. "

I am of two minds about this.

It's pointlessly antagonistic, almost in the way so many divorces are pointlessly antagonistic, to call this new trend "a celebration of failure". How many marriages do you know of that are just struggling along, without any joy or passion in them? Are those marriages "successful"? I'd say no, and I'd say it emphatically. It is very common in our society to equate longevity with success. Here's another perspective (click to embiggen):



Kudos to a couple who can separate amicably, being true to themselves and recognizing their life's paths no longer align.

Pity about the kids, though.

No matter how you spin it, divorce is hard on children. "Shared custody" isn't quite like being able to get a hug from Mommy in the living room and another from Daddy in the kitchen. From guilt to powerlessness to anger, the feelings kids go through mirror their parents' and are amplified, the way everything is when you're a child.  Which isn't to say parents with kids should not divorce; that's not what I am saying at all. But while you should never stay married "for the sake of the children", you should certainly make every effort to stay parents for their sake. Which means being civil when the kids are present. Which means not badmouthing the other parent to your kids ("you're just like your father!" was the worst epithet my mother could hurl at me, and it wasn't until I was 28 that I could give that 'insult' the response it deserved: "Thank you.") Which means making every effort to be in your kids' lives as much as you can. You may not owe your wife anything (beyond a hell of a lot of money, that is)...but you owe your kids. Big time. If you feel you don't...listen to this:



There is something to say for love, even after it has curdled. "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." And hold those kids tight.

02 September, 2015

Is Canada a Refuge, Still?

More than four million refugees of the Syrian civil war have fled their country since the civil war began five years ago. It's the largest movement of people since World War One, and Europe is overwhelmed. Greece alone has had more than 800,000 people seek asylum by some counts.
And things like this keep happening: getting out of the immediate chaos is only the first hurdle for refugees. All too often they either die in the attempt to seek a better life...or they're turned away.

I've been hearing for years about how Canada has a "moral obligation" to confront ISIS. Strangely, we don't seem to have any moral obligation to confront their handiwork.

I think we do. I think Canada should be taking as many of these refugees in as possible.

I still remember every minute of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics opening ceremonies. Do you remember this part?

"I came to Canada as a refugee. Forty-five years later,  for me, Canada is a refuge, still."
--Joe Schlesinger, testimonial, Pier 21 museum, Halifax

Bring this up online and the reaction is immediate, hateful, and grounded in delusion. Here's one example:

"we can't even support our own pensioners yet we'll take in tens of thousands of these people and give them housing and thousands of dollars per month"

This is flat wrong. Refugees get money based on provincial social assistance (welfare) rates--if they have no funds of their own--plus a one-time start-up grant that's capped at $905. (Source) Hardly 'thousands of dollars'.

It's sad, but not surprising. People tend to VASTLY overestimate the amount of money governments spend on things that do not directly benefit them. Foreign aid is a good example: When Americans were asked what percentage of the government budget goes to foreign aid, the median answer was around 25%. The reality? About 1%.

Think about that a minute.

The same thing holds true for welfare fraud. Everybody claims to know a guy who knows a guy living high on the hog on the state's dime, but the actual amount of welfare fraud in study after study is found to be between 1 and 3%.

How many refugees does Canada accept? The total is between ten and fourteen thousand a year...out of an estimated 16.7 million refugees, in a country with more than 34 million people and a declining birthrate. A drop in the ocean.

How we can stand idly by in the midst of a crisis like the one continuing to unfold in Syria utterly baffles me. It's not as if we don't have the space in this country. Or the money. Or the shared humanity.