Saturday, January 08, 2022

Why It's So Bad


 


I'd like to talk about the world we find ourselves in as the Year Of Are Bored 2022 begins. On the surface, it is depressing and frightening. But the biggest reason it's the way it is goes all but unmentioned in media analysis -- and deconstructing it might offer some clues as to the deeper reasons we are all depressed and shellshocked.(Please listen to this Carlin routine if you haven't heard it...it's a side channel, but the man makes some very astute observations in it.) More importantly, we might begin to grasp a way out.

The obvious first. We are two years into a global pandemic. The current wave, as we've all been informed over and over again, is generally milder in outcome but extremely contagious, yielding a situation that at first glance seems rather strange: businesses are shut down, hospitals are bursting at the seams, and the joints of society are aching badly, all for something that -- for those of us who are vaccinated, at any rate -- can be classed, at worst, as a serious nuisance. 

I in no way mean to minimize your suffering, please understand. But it's still true that many people who get covid never even realize it, and many others are mildly to moderately sick, in the manner of a cold or a flu. And others still do end up hospitalized, ventilated and even dead -- a very few in the latter category were even double or triple vaxxed, because breakthrough infection is a thing and so is vaccine escape. But you, you're sitting on your ass coughing a little and sniffling a little and thinking they shut everything down for this? Seriously?

That disconnect is fuelling all manner of deeply unhelpful conspiracy thinking: but then, everything is doing that just lately, because no matter how cynical we get there always appears a politician or other member of the so-called "elite' to show us we're not being cynical enough. Lockdowns for thee and not for me. The pandemic is ongoing when it comes to leisure but over when it comes to labour ("get back to work!").  Businesses classed as "essential" based on how much money they donated to the ruling party in the last year. Absolutely nothing done to furnish our threadbare health care system with desperately needed resources. People know bullshit when they smell it, but they have this awful tendency to assume that where there's bullshit, it's all bullshit. 

The distrust is, quite frankly, doing more than the virus to tear society apart. A lot more. Distrust curdles into hatred easily under the right conditions and these are the friggin' IDEAL conditions. 

Are we not better than this? Did we not face, and face down, much greater challenges in the recent history of our species? 

To take something in the same school, if not at all in the same class: the so-called Spanish Flu. (It originated in Kansas; the only reason we call it Spanish is that Spain had one of the few honest presses of the time.) That monster makes covid-19 seem like a mother's forehead kiss: by some estimates it laid a QUARTER of Europe to rest. Yet European society didn't entirely collapse even though it had just been beset with the most brutal war our species has fought before or since. 

Why is that? Why is it one society was so resilient and ours feels like it's collapsing in slow motion under dramatically less strain?

The answer is sobering: in our unending rush for the newest, best gadget, we have complexified our world beyond anyone's comprehension and largely forgotten what makes human society work: simplicity and community. What most of us call "community" now depends on a suite of technologies the average human being has no hope of understanding -- and it's a poor substitute for what came before, if you ask me. 

Look at this map of covid-19 cases. There are a few anomalies one way or another -- I'm curious to know what Japan's doing so well -- but by and large, the countries most affected by covid are First World nations. Africa, again with some exceptions, seems to be coping a good deal better than we are. Why is that? I'm not sure, but I think a fair postulate has to do with the way life is lived in the Third World. You're outside a lot more. You're generally not obligated to hop into a car if you need anything away from home. And most notably, your entire existence is not spent gripping supply chains. 

I'm not scared of the virus in and of itself. But I'm terrified of what it's doing to loosen those chains that hold our way of life together. 

You take a majority of truck drivers off the road because they're sick -- or because they're sick and tired of being treated like nobodies, which is a kind of sickness we don't often acknowledge --  and suddenly store shelves are bare and city dwellers who think their groceries come from Sobeys or Publix or Asda are going hungry in what we've always been told is the "richest" society in human history. Any city is just two days from mass rioting, you know.

Add in random ecological catastrophes here, there and everywhere (every last one of which is exacerbated or caused by the complexity of our world), and getting shit from A to B suddenly involves an unplanned detour through C, D, F, and Z-prime. This wouldn't be such a big deal if we'd designed our system with flexibility. But in the name of efficiency (read: greater profits), we've structured everything such that any jolt is much more disruptive than it need be. Worse, money talks even louder right now than normally. Walmart's supply issues aren't half as bad as Joe Schmo's because Walmart has its own fleet of container ships and can simply drop a billion dollars whenever it needs a port to unload them. 

Our world is too complicated. We've raised 'self-reliance' to be the highest of virtues without understand that not a one of us stands alone, or can. We've introduced all kinds of technology to insulate us from each other. (Insulate: from the Latin insulare, "to make into an island"). But we all know no man -- no human -- is an island. 

My challenge to everyone this year: look for ways to (a) simplify your life and (b) reconnect (or simply connect) with people around you, in a way that is safe, of course.  Because there is the distinct possibility of everything simplifying itself a great deal within our lifetimes. If that happens, we either stand together or fall, apart. 






Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Who Is Shaking The Snow Globe?


 

One year ago tomorrow, the President of the United States incited a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the election he handily lost. On that day, five people died; 138 police officers sustained injuries (four would die in the coming months); excrement was smeared on the walls. The rioters racked up millions of dollars in damages. Panic buttons were ripped out of the offices of several members of Congress. A makeshift gallows was erected; chants of "Hang Mike Pence" rang through the air. The President watched all of this on television, ignoring increasingly desperate pleas (including from his own daughter) to call "his people" off. 

This is all established fact. Much of it was shown on television screens the world over. Which is to say it never happened. What I've just told you -- and what you've likely seen yourself -- has been variously dismissed as "a tourist visit", as American patriots peacefully protesting a "stolen" election, as a false flag operation spearheaded by BLM and antifa, and ultimately as nothing worth mentioning, let alone investigating. 

Two years ago today I first heard about the virus that would soon be called covid-19. We're up to (at least) five and a half million deaths worldwide and counting, including well over eight hundred thousand in the United States alone (30,452 deaths in Canada so far). Besides the deaths, hundreds of thousands of people have been essentially disabled by what is being called "long COVID": a suite of baffling and debilitating symptoms that persist for months (years? forever?) after the patient leaves hospital. The virus has strained world health care very close to a breaking point, with millions of health care professionals simply walking off the job due to burnout and abuse from management and patients, the very people whose lives they are saving. The lockdowns meant to mitigate the virus have taken an untold and unimaginable toll on mental health, financial health, and children's schooling. 

The vaccines against this virus, brought into being by the historically unprecedented singleminded focus of millions of minds, should rightly be viewed as modern day miracles. Instead, they've been politicized. About ten percent of Canadians and thirty percent of Americans adamantly refuse to get vaccinated: many more in each country do quietly get their shots but act for all the world as if the vaccine is some vast governmental conspiracy. And they are very loud about it.

We are, at most, five years away from the partial or total collapse (it's impossible to know which) of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. If the collapse is total, scientists believe world sea levels would rise by 25 inches in the space of a week. The toll from this would dwarf anything in human history.

Thwaites is only one waiting disaster (and it will happen soon, there is absolutely nothing to be done to stop it). Lake Mead, upon which twenty five million people depend for water and many millions more depend for electricity, is at 34% capacity and falling fast: if current trends hold, the Hoover Dam will cease providing electricity by 2030, triggering a cascading collapse of the power grid in the western United States. I don't need to tell you what happens to Phoenix, Arizona (one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, for some inexplicable reason) when (not if) it loses access to both water and electricity. Grim doesn't even begin to describe it. Perhaps the only saving grace (?!) is that nobody need worry about millions of Phoenicians descending upon their city because they'll all be dead. But then again, "their" city isn't likely to be in much better shape. 

But there are still millions who dismiss climate change as a hoax, and probably a billion more who recognize it's happening but don't care on account of how they imagine they'll be dead before it gets really bad.  They're wrong: it's getting really bad now, and it will very soon be about as unignorable as the comet in Don't Look Up after it hit Earth's atmosphere. And of course the people who really matter see it as just one more way to make money, or at best, an incentive to make as much money right NOW as possible.

Humans. Ain't we grand?

I want to talk about what links these three things together, because far too much time is spent simply demonizing the people who think T---- won, or that covid-19 is "a cold", or that climate change is a liberal cash grab. I have done more than my share of demonizing of these people myself. 

__________________

In one strange sense, the conspiracists are right. Not in the sense they think, but there are shadowy forces at work shaping media narratives (always two of them, the better to play one side against the other). There's a very good reason so many people believe government is totally corrupt, independent of any corruption that may or may not actually exist. The reason is that "They" believe that too. To Them, government is corrupt inasmuch as it can't be wholly appropriated. 

Who are They, Ken, you tinfoil-hatted nut? Betcha can't tell me who "They" are.

Indeed I can.

The entities doing this are the hyper-wealthy Victor Frankensteins who have created amoral monsters called "corporations" and convinced the most important of the governments they own to call these monsters "people" and give them the rights of people. Or in reality more rights than any number of people.

The extent to which a government can be trusted is inversely proportional to the extent to which it has allowed corporations to infect its operation. That's not to say there aren't upstanding, morally unassailable people high up in (a very few) corporations, nor that there aren't villains aplenty in government all on its own. But companies, the huge ones at any rate,  are legally sanctioned mobs, and mobs have minds of their own. The yammering mind of a corpomob  has room for only one single character, repeated over and over: 

$

And they chase that character as doggedly as a zombie after brains (which corporations could really use themselves, come to think of it.)

Now, I want to hasten to say I'm not throwing babies out with my bathwater. I still firmly believe a government can be a force for great good in the world: really, one of the larger collective forces we've found for the purpose. And that even with corporate infection, governments can and do good things for their citizens. But when governments are wholly owned by sociopaths who think money is the Life Force? You'd be a fool to think such governments really care about you or anyone like you. Oh, and by the way? When I say "like" you, I mean not just the guy in the next pew but also the Black man you hurled that racial slur at, the gay guy you mocked in high school, "that uppity bitch" at work, and that Muslim guy you secretly think is a terrorist. Those people are just like you and I  to the forces running our society off a cliff. We're all poor. Disposable. Supremely unimportant. 

I mean, think of ants. Can you tell an ant from its granddaddy or its sister? Of course you can't, they're just ants, you step on them every day without even noticing. That's us. We're all ants to them. 

Okay, maybe we're a little bit more than ants. We're definitely sources of entertainment. How much fun it must be to watch the ants slaughter each other over differences you couldn't notice if you tried, but which your media amp up at every opportunity?

There is actually a "Deep State", but it's not some cabal of child-eating Satanists. It is, instead, what John Michael Greer calls "the forces of BAU", for Business As Usual,  and they have every bit the unholy grip on world governments that QAnon believes of its delusion. The donor class must be appeased at all costs. 

BAU is the reason American hospital patients are called "clients" and treated like criminals. BAU is the reason your grandfather raised a family on a single wage class income (including buying a house) but now it takes three wage earners to even approach his buying power. BAU is why here in Ontario, we are forced to go to work while sick with covid-19. And BAU is behind every form of climate change denial, including some you might not recognize as such. All those commercials exhorting you to do your part? Oh, don't get me wrong, it doesn't hurt. But so long as 100 companies and the U.S, military (which is the military arm of some of those companies)  are responsible for 80% of global emissions...whatever you do as an individual is virtually worthless. Climate change isn't a liberal cash grab...but it sure is a cash grab for BAU. 

Historically,  BAU extracts as much as it can from any society, until one way or another change comes. Either the elite sucks the polity entirely dry -- or there is a revolution. 

We are very nearly sucked dry, you know.

I'd ask you, the next time you're confronted with a MAGA type screaming about Jewish space lasers, an antivaxxer who is completely positive the vaccines give you covid, or a guy who can look at twelve hundred people cooking to death and shrug his shoulders....I'd ask you to see all of these people not as monsters, but as victims. And I'd ask you to consider who the real monsters are. 


Sunday, January 02, 2022

Welcome to The Proofing Drawer

 Welcome to The Proofing Drawer.

This is the next iteration of The Breadbin, a blog I began in May of 2004. Rather than start an entirely new blog, I've decided that I would keep The Breadbin as a site name for simplicity and continuity.

I won't disown anything I've written. But I can do better. Have done better, actually, before I allowed the pandemic and assorted other stressors to dictate my immediate response to all manner of provocation--not just provocation, either. This morning one of my Facebook friends posted that she sat down at her work computer in her home office, logged in, checked her breaks for today and discovered she "had a stat holiday". I stared at that in disbelief and steadily mounting irritation that has never been far away over the past two years. It's New Year's Day, how the HELL did you not know it was a holiday? How is that even POSSIBLE? WHY WOULD YOU ADMIT THAT PUBLICLY?

I didn't say anything, but I for damn sure thought it. And then a much louder thought-voice intruded and said 

ken why do you care

...and I sat there confused for another minute, my totally righteous and completely inappropriate anger falling apart.  Yeah, Ken, why do you care? There's obviously a lot you don't know here. Maybe this person had been told they were going to work today. Some workplaces can force you to work stat holidays if they fall on part of your workweek. I'm sure if you thought about this a little longer, calmly, rationally, like a sane individual, you'd come up with many other possible reasons why someone might not know they had a day off today. But you didn't stop to think of even one. Instead you got all upset...over what, exactly?  How is this in any way important? To anyone, least of all you? Is this going to matter in five years? Of course not, it doesn't concern you at all NOW and you'll have forgotten it completely in five days. Be happy for her, she got a day off she wasn't expecting. 

Deep breath.

Have I told you I often forget to breathe? I do, especially under physical strain. But I mean it more here in a metaphorical sense. Where I could take ten or twenty seconds before responding -- by which time I will probably decide the correct course of action is to stay silent -- instead I blurt out, internally or even externally, a thought that does NOTHING constructive.

This is not new. But it's gotten stronger rather than weaker over the past, oh, about four years. Why? Fear, of course.

I will respectfully maintain that if you can look out at the world right now and not be afraid...well, the charitable explanation is that you're privy to information I don't have.  The voice of 2020 would phrase it this way: ARE YOU FUCKING BLIND YOU DIMWITTED TWAT?!?!?

Not helpful.

There is a time and a place and especially a manner in which it is appropriate to express fear. Lashing out at people who are just as, or more, afraid than you are is definitely not the time, place, or manner.  

There are millions of people who appear to be not just ignorant of the pickle we're in, but who seem to relish pickles and who are in fact cultivating entire cucumber gardens to pickle. I used to think I could reach these people. I'm no longer sure they have any interest in being reached. 

You know what? It doesn't matter. Because the only way to effectively fight such people is to build your own community dedicated to the opposite ideals theirs has. I KNOW this: I've written it several times before. It is oh so easy to get caught up in the dramas -- and all that does is give them the attention they crave. 

There is a part of me that will forever be in grade school, trying to figure out the best way to deal with the latest bully in what seemed like an endless string of them. Adults are full of suggestions on this topic. Ignore him. That doesn't work: he just does something worse and worse until you're bleeding, with yet another pair of glasses shattered (I'm sure my parents loved the sudden $800 bill that recurred four or five times over the space of seven years). Get an authority figure. Sure, okay, and the bully might even be punished, but that will just make him meaner and he'll be waiting for me after school. Maybe he'll get lucky and kill me.

Fight back. Yeah, right. I'll get pummelled, either right away or later on when he recruits ten friends.

If there's another option, I didn't know it then and don't know it now. No, wait, there is one more alternative. Stay away from the watering holes where the lions congregate. Put more bluntly, that means making a serious effort not to go looking for fights -- and since that's not possible online where you post cat pictures and somebody says what a pussy "Justine" "Turdo" is --  when I do find myself in a fight, I can choose to respond kindly and with compassion.

Can I? Yes, I can. If I keep in front of me at all times the very simple equation, so simple it really ought to be common sense: if you add hate to hate, you get more hate. I mean, that's kinda obvious, no?

I had a long talk with a family member back before Christmas. He is a self described "proud asshole" and he'd kill me if I outed him here with what I'm about to say. 

He's gruff, he's tough, he's every inch a redneck -- and he's also fiercely intelligent,  a phenomenal teacher, and NOT a shallow thinker at all. So he'll come out with some opinion -- and boy does he have them -- that sounds problematic, even outright offensive, and if you (deep breath) don't react to that and actually ask him to explain himself, he's likely to surprise you with his reasoning. It turns out that at root, many of those opinions aren't half as offensive as they come out -- or at least shouldn't be. Could he clean himself up? Sure, and maybe he should. But could I in turn not hold so tight to my own orthodoxy and realize that we're actually not far apart at all? To maybe find out that he really just feels people are so focused on divisions that they've forgotten they'll all human beings, and that he calls that out viciously because he finds it offensive? Yeah, I can. I did. 

I used to do this a lot more easily and often. No excuses, nothing that can be construed as a defence of the indefensible. I found I could still do it on that family visit, I found that (of course) it turned what could have been an ugly confrontation into a fruitful meeting of the minds, and you know what? There's too much ugliness in the world just now to go trying to add to it.

A colleague said something to me the other day that I need to crochet into a sampler and pin up on the wall in front of me. "I find assuming best intent is good for my mental health".

I asked people to do that with me, because my intent is nearly always good even though I butcher the delivery sometimes. The least I can do is the same in return. Sometimes I can't see where the good intent might be coming from, and in those cases I can politely ask. If it turns out the intent is bad, well, there's another meme for that. (There's a meme for everything):


I can likewise do a lot more to ensure I'm not delivering the liver and onions to the prime rib table. Or vice versa.  (Liver and onions, blecccccchhhhh.) 

(My mother loved liver and onions. And I love(d) her. What's so bad about liver and onions? I may detest them but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be classed as food.)

Little reminders of what business calls "best practice" are everywhere. I post them all the time. But somehow they go whoooosh when someone tells me my mother should have swallowed me, that I'm just a piece of fecal dandruff,  that I'm a stupid liberal, above all that I'm not sincere.

Well, here's the thing. Online bullies are different from real world ones. In the real world, you have to get past them to be home safe. Online, all you have to do is change sites. Or turn the computer off. The people who call me a stupid liberal don't know who I am and also don't know what the word 'liberal' even means, so their taunt is semantically null. And as for sincerity, well, that's in woefully short supply from so many quarters nowadays that it's probably easier for some to assume it's not there. I don't know any of these people. I don't need to care what they think of me. I certainly don't need to defend my words with more words. Actions do that so much better.

This blog is going to be about the lessons I have learned and am learning, among other things. I can't promise fake positivity because I'm not a fake person, and I believe the darkness needs to be confronted. But it can be only be done with light.

Thank you for reading, and welcome. 






Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Ghost says 'Boo!'

(boo: from the Latin for 'I alarm') 

His name was Kieron.

I don't even remember anymore how it was we became friends, probably because it happened so quickly and naturally, with zero effort on my part. That's beyond rare in my life even now and back then, at the tender age of eighteen, it felt portentous. 

In fact, it felt like nothing so much as falling in love.

I reflected on that in my diary at the time, and not a week later my parents delicately raised the question of whether their son might be a homosexual. (Delicately: "Are you a homosexual?!") I can't prove they read my diary, but the timing was awfully suspicious. Not that I would have cared if they had. As you've doubtless noticed, I'm not ashamed of what I share. Now you know that predates social media.

But the question was alarming. I was still rather homophobic at the time -- and all those mocking taunting schoolyard voices  would rise every now and again like a wave of neural indigestion: faggot gaylord cocksucking butt-puncher fudge-packer. I'd heard them all and many like them daily, almost hourly, from grades four through eight. On the question of Kenny Breadner's sexuality, my peers had decided that for me long before. And never mind that I spent my every night ravishing dreamy versions of every girl who so much as smiled at me over those years: that didn't signify.

Now here are my parents wondering if I'm gay. It kind of forces you to consider the question.

I had written about a "warm feeling" that had "started in my chest and suffused my entire body" after seeing a movie with Kieron. And yes, I know how that sounds. But I felt it, and strongly, and that had to be acknowledged and examined. I'd even written, immediately after that confession, that I had never had a sexual thought about him, and if my parents did read that they either ignored it or dismissed it as "he doth protest too much". 

I get that a lot.

It wasn't too long after when Kieron and I spent some time at my dad's place -- the only male friend of mine to this day who has had that honour. Yes, we shared a bed. No, we didn't share anything else but a wrestling match (and I know how that sounds, too, it sure sounded suggestive to my other set of parents downstairs). You can believe me or not, your choice. But I don't lie about stuff this personal and important. 

Here, let me muddy the waters even further with honesty. If Kieron had confessed to me that he was gay and further that he was attracted to me, I loved the guy enough that I would have given that some serious consideration and likely experimentation. I did so not four years later with another very close male friend, and determined that (a) I'm straight; (b) I could certainly appear bent in certain contexts. In this time and place us putatively straight men aren't usually given the tools to properly process love when it shows up for another man. It's kind of odd when you think about it, since it's also true that when it comes to women, straight guys tend to have less than zero trouble compartmentalizing sex and love. There's the woman you fuck, and the woman you marry, and for some reason I have NEVER understood those are different women for many. But as soon as a guy so much as hints at love of a male friend, they must be catamites and sodomites and just plain icky mites. Bizarre. I'm not quite alone in thinking so: I have one dear pal who regularly informs me he loves me, and I love him back, and I know him to be straighter than a ruler. I've never once thought of him in a sexual or romantic context. 

Anyway, back to Kieron, who also never intimated homosexuality or attraction to me, but whose relationship with me was intimate nevertheless. I felt like he was the first person in my personal history who really understood me. That's a powerful feeling, right there. We were close. I can't say what it is to have a brother, but when I think the word, I think Kieron. 

I haven't seen him or heard from him since my wedding night in 2000. 

He'd actually vanished from my life well before that, or perhaps 'vanished' is too strong a word: "faded" might be better. And oh god did that hurt, because he wouldn't explain himself. I would have much rather heard something like "you know what, Ken, I have come to realize you're actually a giant douchebag and I want nothing more to do with you". But he didn't say anything even remotely like that.  He just got more and more distant until I couldn't see him anymore, for reasons known (I hope) only to him.

Agony. I felt like I  had to be responsible for this in some way, and his obstinate refusal to tell me how was its own proof. 

We're a storytelling species. Perhaps there are others: for all we know, corvids have an oral history to make a bard weep. But we have a way of making up stories about everything, and then living as if those stories are true. I fall into that trap even now, on some of my more arduous adventures in overthinking. 

Maybe Kieron never came to think of me as a giant douchebag. There are many other reasons people get 'ghosted', after all.

Maybe Kieron was going through something so awful he couldn't share it with anyone, even me. The thought of that stings, of course -- there's nothing I could think of that I would have judged him for, at least without a whole hell of a lot of listening first, but maybe he didn't know that.

Or maybe he had gone through something so awful that it changed him. I know more than one person like that. I attended the funeral of a man  who was, to put it mildly, a right prick (really there to support his son and daughter-in-law) only to hear over and over in eulogies that 'before the accident' you couldn't have found a more generous and caring man. Hearing that rewired my brain a tad.

Maybe Kieron was just too busy. Actually, that's likely: he threw himself at university life with a will, seeming to want to explore it all. He changed his major three times in three years, eventually settling into pre-med (and we all know just how many milliseconds of free time that program grants you). Still, that hurts, when a solid dollop of previous free time got allocated your way. But let's add in a related reason: he outgrew me.

This is, I suspect, the most common personal reason to get ghosted. By which I mean, when there is a personal reason, it's quite likely that one. How do you tell somebody that without insulting the hell out of them? If there's an answer to that, I don't know it. Out of respect for the friendship that was, you don't end it dramatically. Instead you just let it...fade away on its own.

I don't want to make everything All About Me, but nor do I want to ignore the distinct possibility that I did  say or do something so crazily offensive that Kieron could no longer abide me. If so, I can't think what it might have been, and I spent days thinking about it, but Christ knows I can and often do miss how my words and actions can play out in real life where ideals aren't ideal. I felt, very intensely, like he owed me some kind of explanation, or if not me, at least the friendship, but is that true, really? We were still practically kids. Or at least I was. 

I don't think it was me, if only because Kieron made one more appearance in my life, nearly a decade later. My friend Jen -- she stood by my side in the wedding party, might have been my best man if best women were a thing -- somehow tracked him down and convinced him to come. For one night it was as if he'd never gone away, but a wedding night is not the time to get into deep philosophical questions on abandonment. I told him, more than truthfully, that I was overjoyed to see him and left it at that. He said the same and did the same. And after that night he vanished, never to be seen or heard from again. I of course asked Jen how she had found him, and her answer was rather vague. At any rate it felt presumptuous to even attempt contact, and so I didn't. But even now I wonder.

There are three occasions of which I can state with certainty I was responsible for my friend ghosting me. Both times I snapped and said something unforgivable: once I was blocked instantly and the other time a very close and warm friendship freeze-dried into something much less comfortable. All three occasions took place in the last five years, and both times I sat there stunned not at the consequences, but at the hateful, hurtful thing that had spilled out of me. Why did I say that? I didn't even mean that. Fuck.

I said three and enumerated two. I can't think of how to tell the third, even in the most general terms,  without severely compromising someone's privacy.  I've hurt her badly enough as it is. 

For a guy who spends his life in reflection, it can take an unconscionably long time to come up with the right words, and if the knee jerks in just the right way, they never get the chance because entirely wrong words spill out instead. Some things can't be unsaid. It took a long time for me to learn that little sour nugget, but learn it I have. Self-flagellation isn't attractive, either. I've had to settle for saying yes, I know what I said and did; no, I don't know why (although I dearly wish I did); yes, I know how much I hurt you, because I hurt myself  very badly hurting you;  and no, I will never do such a thing again. That was with the one person who gave me the chance to say such. Did she believe me? Who knows.  Finding myself in a position to say such three different times with three very different fuckups in yeah, about three years... it makes me wonder sometimes if I can believe myself. 

Yet another friend  -- again, very recently -- was doing a very Kieronesque slow fade out of my life and saying the same nothings about it. Everything was always "fine", but increasingly never fine enough to elaborate. Weekly discussions because monthly check ins became why are you even still my friend since you never contact me. Goddamnit that hurts. It catapults me right back to high school -- or to toddlerhood. 

Eventually I unfriended her.

Two days later I got a message from her thanking me for years of friendship and saying she understood. A part of me has been crying over that message since it was sent. 

I'm going to say this once more, not by way of excuse but by way of simple, earnest regret. There was a period there where I became a ghost of myself. A scary, spiteful poltergeist, horribly uncharacteristic (no: the true horror was considering that maybe this was in fact the real me...) 

It wasn't and isn't, but that didn't stop me from being hateful and hurtful more than once. Much more than once. A veritable host of people and events have conspired to pull me back from a precipice of fear, rage and disgust, and I have vowed to myself never again  to approach the edge of that cliff. I think it fair, I hope it fair enough to say that if I'm ever again the cause of my own ghosting, it will be the furthest thing from deliberate. 

Thank you for reading. 







Sunday, October 17, 2021

ART YOU SHOULD EXPERIENCE: AMOUR (2012)

 You know how people say Schindler's List is a hard movie, but a necessary movie? A film people need to see, even though it's tough to sit through?

Yeah. Like that.

The subject matter couldn't be more different between the two masterpieces, and yet they share a...gravity. You don't watch either movie for the lolz. In reviews of both works you'll find words like "unflinching" and "powerful". One is a deeply human distillation of hope amidst terrifying inhumanity you pray to your god you'll never experience; the other is a profoundly human treatise on love in the middle of the terror that waits for us all.

I had to watch a movie for one of my French classes. Most of my classmates chose comedies. Comedy is a hit and miss genre for me since so much of it exploits people's pain, which I do not, can not, find funny. If I'm going to watch something in which people suffer -- and contrary to popular belief, I don't shy away from that -- I only ask that the suffering be treated...honestly. Not played for laughs, not...played...at all. That's my issue with the more bloodthirsty horror flicks: the tone of them often strikes me as playful, gratuitous, cartoonish,  and that disgusts me.

Amour won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2013. It was nominated for FIVE Oscars -- Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Haneke), Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film (it won the latter). My Google-fu is failing me, but I don't think any other non-English movie has scored so many nominations. At least until Parasite.

Riva, in particular, should have won. I say that before checking who did (Jennifer Lawrence). No disrespect to Jennifer, she's one of my favourite actresses, but watching Riva play Anne Laurent, you forget you're reading subtitles. You forget you're watching a movie. You forget this is an actress at all. This is your mother, your grandma. Eventually, this could well be you. 

Anne and her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant, himself a legend of French cinema turning in a capstone of a performance)  are in their eighties. Both piano teachers, they live a sedate life in a Paris flat. One morning, Anne suffers a stroke at the breakfast table, freezing in front of her husband, only coming around as he's about to go for help.  She has surgery to repair a partially blocked carotid, but something goes wrong and she's confined to a wheelchair. She makes Georges promise not to take her back to the hospital or put her in a home, and so he becomes her caretaker. She has a second stroke, becomes demented and incapable of speech, and Georges soldiers on, eventually breaking down and hiring nurses. There is friction between Georges and their daughter, Eva, who can't understand why Georges won't put Anne in care.  

I won't spoil what comes next. Suffice it to say that in its way, this is one of the most gripping cinematic experiences I have ever had. Of course, part of it was because my stepdad was caring for my mother in much the same way at the time, but I don't think the personal connection is at all necessary to be utterly transfixed by the performances and the steadily mounting dread. 

Typical of European films, this movie takes its time to unspool, with a paucity of dialogue (in French, with English subs) and camerawork that forces you to pay attention. Its silences, its juxtaposition of warmth and coldness, love and death, all of it pulls you in and...changes you, in the manner only the best art can. 

I can not stress enough that this is not an easy movie to watch. You will cry, if you are at all human. But I can also promise you than if you watch Amour, you will never, ever forget it. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Porn

 ADULTS ONLY

Very interesting piece in the New York Times about porn, the problems and perils of. It sounds as if the lewd and licentious pendulum is starting to swing back towards more healthy and above all complete depictions of sex.

You don't need me to tell you porn is everywhere. You also probably don't need me to tell you that porn and sex are very loosely related, that pornography bequeaths a wide and ruinous variety of completely unrealistic expectations on many of its viewers of any gender, or that nearly every participant in a porn shoot is being objectified, or that women in porn are not just objectified but outright abused. Given this, you might wonder why it is that our society is soaked in pornography.

The writer of this article contends, and I agree, that it's because men gleefully co-opted  the 'sex positive' feminism. Hey, all we ever wanted to do was fuck 'em, and now we've convinced them that they're less of a woman if they don't do what we want! Better yet, we've gotten other women to tell them that!

This article is about sex positivity. I have a complicated relationship with the term: I'm enthusiastically positive about real sex, that being sex that is about people rather than their poles and holes--but if you hang out on the internet long enough, you will be told that this is actually very sex negative, that sex positivity involves a total embrace of any act, no matter how outré, performed on or by anyone of any gender involving any number of other participants of any gender on short, or no, notice.

That's not sex. That's porn.

The sex positivity movement was born out of laudable ideals. You might recall Dworkin's dictum that all sex is rape. This was not a tremendously popular view even when it was current, but it had a fair bit of influence on culture...until it didn't. You'd think a radical feminist would understand women a wee bit better: that women have sexual desires and experience sexual pleasure; that women can actually be the aggressors in sexual encounters; that in real sex -- as opposed to, well, porn -- women are equal and very willing participants. 

So women protested, and third wave feminism was about, among other things, sexual empowerment of women. Wonderful. Except most pornography is still produced by men, and nearly all pornography, including lesbian porn, is produced FOR men. 

From the article:

Feminism is supposed to ease some of the dissonance between what women want and what they feel they’re supposed to want. Sex-positive feminism was able to do that for women who felt hemmed in by sexual taboos and pressured to deny their own turn-ons. But today it seems less relevant to women who feel brutalized by the expectation that they’ll be open to anything.

This is how you get a guy choking a woman on their first date. This is how you get a man who just sticks it in, pumps for a while, comes, and then leaves, because hello?  it's obviously over. This is how you get deeply unsatisfied women who went out in search of their own orgasms only to find themselves dating men who don't know women can have orgasms. 

What, in short, has dropped out of sex? All semblance of emotion.

If you watch porn, it's one of the first things you realize. There's no emotion. It's all performative: positions are predicated not on comfort but on visibility. This is especially true when more than two people are involved. Check out the train position they inevitably arrange themselves into. The groans and screams are cloyingly fake. I mean, I'm sure there are screamers out there -- I've even heard a couple in real life, from rooms and houses adjacent to mine -- but I assure you no woman starts shrieking the instant you touch her with your Magic Dingus. 

Here's some more things that distinguish porn from sex.

PORN: There is no or very little foreplay.

SEX: while quickies are a thing and can be accomplished without foreplay when both parties agree to that, in most cases women require attention be paid to some parts of their body (and mind) before they're ready for the act. Incidentally, this can be true of men, too. (My apologies for the cisnormative nature of this post: I'm simply not qualified to write on trans sex.)

PORN: Anal sex is utterly banal, not just done without introduction but done after PIV sex and in many cases before oral sex. 

SEX: Some women adore anal sex. Others absolutely detest it. Even for the women who enjoy it, it takes preparation and usually copious amounts of lubrication. Going from anus to vagina virtually guarantees a nasty infection; going from ass to mouth is...well, ask yourself how you'd feel if it was your ass and your mouth a dick was going into.***

PORN: Semen goes wherever the man wants it to go.

SEX: Semen goes wherever the woman wants it to go.

PORN: Kissing is as rare as unicorn teeth.

SEX: Very much enhanced by kissing.

And the biggest, most profound and ugly difference:

PORN: Consent is assumed. To anything. (Have you EVER seen porn where one party asked if they could do something? EVER?)

SEX: Consent is absolutely vital, not just to PIV sex but to any new act.

***That's something I've found many men just don't do, is imagine what sex might feel like for their partner.  Again and again I flash on what a woman who really loved sex once told me: "You've got an itch in your ear. You put your finger in there and give it a good scratch. Now, what feels better, your finger or your ear?" I've never forgotten that. 

I have long wondered about gay porn.

Yes, I've watched gay porn. Not because I'm gay, or bi, but because I was curious what porn would look like if it was completely male. It looks pretty similar to straight porn, actually, which shouldn't be a surprise because straight porn is pretty much completely male, too, no matter how many women are in it.  No emotion, certainly no affection. If there is gentle gay porn, I haven't found it. It's all hyper-aggressive pounding. I find myself wondering if this is a gay ideal or a male ideal: just get your rocks off in the nearest hole as quickly and violently as possible and then get on with your day. I don't know. It's certainly not my ideal. I get more pleasure out of giving pleasure than anything else. But gay porn is still porn: no emotion and no consent. 

ow here's the thing.

If you are in a sexual relationship of some duration, straight, gay or anything in between, certain activities can be consented to ahead of time. You might, for instance, have blanket permission to have sex with your sleeping partner. It is necessary to revisit even the most blanket permissions from time to time, because comfort levels change. Consent will also be easier to obtain with closeness: you'll have a better (though never foolproof!) idea what what your partner is okay with, what s/he is more than okay with, and what is off the table for now or forever. I have that talk before sex happens. At the risk of TMI, I'm good giving and game so long as it doesn't involve any of six things:

  • inflicting pain
  • receiving pain
  • inflicting degradation
  • being degraded
  • former food
  • anything sentient but non-human, or formerly human.

New activities open up as your explore each other's fantasies and some of those activities might end up well beyond first date (or first sexual encounter) territory. THAT'S where I look to porn: to enhance an already established and loving sex life. I take what I see in porn and add love to it I have a very limited subset of porn I enjoy. For some reason most of it is German, but what all of it has in common is enthusiastic participation from all parties involved -- especially the woman or women. Any coercion and I deflate. Any fake moaning and I'm out of there. 

Even the most vanilla porn is actually sexually advanced in that you don't see that explicit consent. But of course people don't see it that way. They see sex acts depicted, ergo, they think this is what sex is. Not just sex: good sex, the best sex.  I mean, porn stars, some of them, are PROFESSIONALS. Wouldn't you want to do sex the way the "pros" do it?

The answer is no, you don't. Because even if you're an exhibitionist, there's more to sex than theatre. A lot more, as it turns out. 

Count me glad...overjoyed...that women are rejecting the 'anything goes' ethos in favour of something that serves them better. But as this pendulum shift gathers speed, I do worry about the male reaction. Not just from the incels and guys whose little heads do all their thinking, either. It's not just that men don't see women as fully human: many of them can't. I read something in the Atlantic a few years back from a young man that made me simultaneously weep and shake in my boots: 

"We hook up because we have no social skills. We have no social skills because we hook up". 

This is why I say the overwhelming emphasis on pornography in our world, and the misplaced assumptions it, ahem, engenders...that's not just harming women. It's really doing a number on men, too. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Canadian Federal Election Blog, 2021

I wasn't going to write this blog.

I promised it back at the beginning of the campaign...and then the campaign happened, and it was even uglier than I expected it to be. I've been saying for years that we are no better than the United States when it comes to political trends: we're just two or three electoral terms behind them. It's a lonely drum I've been beating: Canada has long had a massive inferiority complex masquerading as a superiority complex about the United States. (You don't think it's an inferiority complex? Watch how the media reports any American celebrity venturing into the Arctic tundra wasteland. Do you like us? How do you like us? Please like us!)

As I have been bloviating on Facebook, the ugliness -- of the political landscape around the world;  of the climate catastrophe that, by some accounts, will see us all dead by 2050; of an economic system that worships the most exploitative and obscenely moneyed individuals and excuses their every fault, while trodding on regular every day people with an increasingly heavy boot; and and most definitely permeating everything about the pandemic...has been tremendously disheartening and enraging. I have allowed it to infect me, and I'm trying to root the infection out by disowning the ugliness wherever I can. 

That's difficult, and it's only going to become more so as the world deteriorates. I'm trying to figure out how to stand up against hatred, bigotry and ignorance without becoming a hateful ignorant bigot myself. The thing is, if I don't stand up for my beliefs, I am accepting, condoning and encouraging monsters. That makes me a monster just as surely.

“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”  --John Stuart Mill

Many people claim they're not political. They're fooling themselves: everyone interacts with politics hundreds of times each and every day. You can't get out of bed without benefitting or suffering from a whole bunch of political decisions. The engine in your car is profoundly political -- see "Who Killed the Electric Car?" for details. The fact you need a car at all is also profoundly political. Elsewhere in the world, cities are built for people, not cars. You can easily walk to your local grocer and for greater distances there is cheap and ubiquitous public transportation. But here in North America, car companies didn't see any profit in that urban model, and more importantly they were allowed to dictate policy. That's why it takes four times longer to get anywhere by bus -- and why your busmates are largely the dregs of society. 

Oh, and if you have children? Your school's efforts to teach them that people who don't look like them are just as worthy of respect as they are came about because of political will. If you live in a place where announcing you're gay or nonbinary gets you expelled --  that's likewise a political decision. 

And I probably don't need to tell you about the politics men play with women's bodies. I will never understand women who tacitly accept this, because I don't, and I'm a man. Stand up for yourselves, women. You are not incubators. 

The ancient Greeks had a word for people who let politics wash over them without actively engaging: idios, "private". If that word looks awfully close to an English word, yup, that's how the Greeks felt about such people.

I don't. In a way I admire them: their lives look blissfully unencumbered from here.  But I don't understand them, because politics has become more about morality than philosophy, and while you may find the minutiae of politics dull and inscrutable, the words and behaviours of political actors should register, one way or another.  

Consider one of the election slogan of the "People's Party of Canada": "It's okay to be White!"

Now, if you are an idios, you might wonder what's wrong with that statement. Of course it's okay to be White -- who ever said it wasn't? Well, the answer is nobody, but many people don't believe that. This slogan, and its close kin "White Lives Matter", never entered the language until someone had the colossal gall to suggest that maybe police should stop murdering Black people for no reason, bragging about it, and going completely unpunished for it. Hell, despite clear video evidence of cold-blooded murder, there are still many people who think the Derek Chauvin verdict was a miscarriage of justice. Gotta keep those n*ggers down. 

That, too, is politics. Ugly politics, to be sure, but the real McCoy. 

But no, caring about Black people is a threat to White people, by some mechanism I don't understand.  I see White fragility everywhere lately. 'WE'RE BECOMING A MINORITY IN OUR OWN COUNTRY!!!!!" ... to which I respond  so what's so bad about that? Do we treat minorities poorly, or something?

Ahem.

To summarize this introduction. Everything is political, your politics are a clue to your morals, and do we let immoral people win by ignoring them?

_____________________

I'm not sure why Justin Trudeau called this election. I'm not sure he's sure. That's maybe the only thing the NDP and the Conservatives agree on, that there was no need for an election. But we've got one, and so on with the show.

And it is a show. I won't argue you there. I understand why cynics disengage from the process when political promises are usually so much hot air. A really good example of one comes from Trudeau himself: electoral reform.

Now, if you don't give two shits about politics, the topic of electoral ref--see, you're already asleep. Gentle question: is one of the reasons you're politically ambivalent because you don't think your vote matters? I get that. Oh, do I get that. Because in many cases, you're right. Under Canada's archaic electoral system, called "first past the post" (FPTP), the winner of any election is not the party with the most votes but the party with the most seats. Let's take my seat, or riding,  as an example. It's currently Liberal, and considered a "Liberal safe" riding. If the polls hold,  the Liberals will get 44.8% of the votes in my riding: the next closest party, the Conservatives, will get 25.7%.

The practical upshot of this is that unless you vote Liberal in this riding, you are wasting your time. Your vote for any other party will of course be counted -- we're not the United States -- but fat lot of good that will do when so many others around you are voting one way.  The same is of course true for many Conservative safe ridings, among them Kathy's and my father's. Voting anything but Conservative in Parry Sound District or Oxford County is throwing your vote away.

It gets worse because it's not just a local issue. Seats are distributed by population. It's not partisan the way it is to our south: our elections are governed (as all elections everywhere should be) by an apolitical body. But in a way it's very partisan because have you seen how many seats there are in the Greater Toronto Area? I'll tell you how many there are. There are almost enough. Show really well in Toronto and you probably win the country.

Toronto is a city. Liberals show well in urban populations the world over.  So Toronto can go a long ways towards deciding an election all on its own. And trust me, Conservative ridings do not like this one little bit. I wouldn't either, were I them. The entire province of Alberta, but for a couple of urban ridings, votes Conservative without fail. They feel alienated, and as much as I disdain their politics, I can't say I blame them one littler bit for that. 

So I have largely been concentrating on the Liberals (who fancy themselves "Canada's Natural Governing Party" with typical arrogance) and the Conservatives, who have devolved over my lifetime from a party I regularly voted for into something I wouldn't vote for with a gun to my head. The Canadian political landscape regularly flips between the two parties (and in my province, we seem to like to elect the opposite of whatever party is currently ruling nationally).

But there are other parties here. And at least one of them, my political home, polls better than any third party in modern U.S. history (while never well enough to win anything, federally). 

Current polling suggests this election will change nothing: another Liberal minority. (Apolitical friends, feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph; American friends, by all means read on if you wish). Minority governments are different in origin but very similar in effect to, say, a Democratic President and House with a Republican Senate. The only difference is that there's still some faint notion of the common good up here, so parties work together a little more easily. Majority governments are not something I trust even if "my" party has the majority, because they confer far too much power. Picture a Democratic President with a supermajority of Democrats controlling both houses and you'd be about halfway to as much domestic power as a Canadian PM with a majority enjoys. It's practically a dictatorship: the only check such a PM has is the Supreme Court. Incidentally, our leaders are elected by their parties, not by ordinary electors. This doesn't entirely negate a cult of personality -- our current PM's father had a pretty potent one -- but it does tend to blunt it. Oh, and we don't tend to elect celebrities, either. I think that might be because to be a Canadian celebrity you have to make it in the U.S. (inferiority complex, remember) and thus you're a sellout. We're complicated. 

There are four other parties that will garner 3% or more of the vote, besides the Libs and Cons. In projected order of popularity, from most popular to least:

  • The New Democratic Party (NDP), led by Jagmeet Singh, the first person of colour to lead a federal party in Canada. Current projection: 19.5%, 34 seats, plus or minus 17. 
Always the bridesmaid, or an usher, federally at least. The best the NDP can hope for is to hold the balance of power in a Liberal minority, as they do right now. This ensures the Liberals have to pay attention to NDP priorities, which happen to be mine. Platform here.
I like Singh. Not as much as I liked Jack Layton, the former NDP leader who died on us shortly after I voted for someone for the first time in my life. But it's because of Jagmeet Singh that I got to keep my home during the pandemic.  And if the guy I elect has to be religious, I'll go with a Sikh seven times a week and six times on Saturday. Sikhism isn't about telling you you're going to hell and I'm going to heaven, or making gays and women second class citizens. Sikhism is about community service. A politician who genuinely believes in giving to his community? Singh me up! They are not perfect, but "voting isn't marriage, it's public transport. You're not waiting for "the one" who's absolutely perfect: you're getting the bus, and if there isn't one to your destination, you don't not travel- you take the one going closest." I have no idea who wrote that. I wish I did. 

  • The Bloc Québécois, led by Yves-François Blanchet
I am including this party for the sake of completeness. It shouldn't be allowed to exist. 
That is NOT an anti-Québécois sentiment. Provincially, I would not just expect a Bloc but possibly vote for it, if I lived there.
I don't, so I can't vote for them -- because they only run in Québec ridings. Why this is allowed is a mystery: federal parties, to my way of thinking, ought to be required to run a candidate in every riding nationwide. 
As can be surmised, this party is for what it deems are its province's interests -- and nothing else. They house the Québec separatists, who fantasize about leaving Canada (what would happen to the indigenous population, the Canadian military bases, and the anglophones is unclear like any pipe dream). 

  • The People's Party of Canada, led by Maxime Bernier.
I am not going to link their platform. Google it if you must.
If Covid-19 hadn't happened, the newest federal party we have might have disbanded by now. It came about because its leader almost became leader of the federal Conservatives (in my darkest, darkest nightmare, he tries again and wins). Maxime decided the problem was that the Conservatives weren't extreme enough, and so he founded the People's Party, a catch-all haven for craziness of all kinds. 

They aren't going to win anything, but they are polling much better than they did last election....because they're the anti-lockdown, anti-mask, anti-vaccine party. Many people are voting for them for this reason alone.
I am refraining from launching into a diatribe against such people out of fidelity to my real values. I have decided that if they do gain popularity, I will fight them every legal way I can, and if they ever gain power, I will leave this country as quickly as possible because (a) I will no longer recognize it,  (b) nor wish to, and (c) I would be very, very tempted to go extralegal. That's how I feel about these people: they are an existential threat to everything I hold dear. It's not enough to deny science, you see. You must also deny the basic humanity of anyone who doesn't look like you. As I once said on Facebook, if that's the People's Party, I'm not a people. I can -- barely -- stomach you voting for the Conservatives if you have to. But if you are a People's Party of Canada supporter, the very best thing you can do is quietly sever all contact with me, forever.

I should put "led" in quotes, because Annamie has done precious little of that. Last I looked, she hadn't even left Toronto. For all I said about Toronto singlehandedly electing governments, you have to admit it's a novel strategy when your object is supposedly to gain recognition.
It's sad that the Greens must still gain recognition. Given what's going on with the climate, they should be in power. They are miles and miles and MILES away from that: they're currently polling nationally at 3.4% and are slated to take one, maybe two seats. One of the ridings adjacent to mine is in a statistical three way tie between the Greens, the Cons and the NDP: by all accounts, the guy running for the Greens, Mike Morrice, should be leading the national party. 
I have voted Green provincially, but federally it's  beyond pointless until we get a fair electoral system. 

Saving the titans for last:
  • The Conservative Party of Canada, led by Erin O'Toole (platform here)
Erin has tried to campaign closer to the center than Conservatives usually do. Or maybe it's that Bernier has out-crazied him. Take that platform with an ocean of salt, because O'Toole has flip-flopped on pretty much all of it. And then there's the matter of that slogan, "Securing the Future". That's lifted from the 14 words, the most popular white supremacist credo in the world. In my experience, Conservatives don't care for the future one bit. They vastly prefer the past, when women were barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and those uppity minorities knew their place. I'm also not a fan of their economic policies, which benefit the rich at the expense of the rest of us.
If you strip all the emotion I'm sorry I put in there, though, you're left with a party that wants to conserve -- and I beg you to look at what "business as usual" has done and is doing to our world. 

I feel that the Conservatives are the People's Party with legitimacy, and it really scares me.
  • Finally (whew) the Liberal Party of Canada led by Justin Trudeau. Platform here (pdf)
The question must be asked of any incumbent party, why are you making promises when you've been in power the last four years? You have suddenly noticed housing is a problem, have you? After he reneged on the biggest reason I voted for him, I don't trust him one bit and quite frankly, I'm sick of him. He really is your quintessential liberal: he'll say all the right things about caring, but when push comes to shove, money talks and bullshit walks. I'd rather deal with Conservatives: at least they're honest about their intentions. 

There are six competing and very, very different visions for this country. Please pick one. I know voting feels stupid and it seems awfully symbolic. But it's the only way we can make our voices even heard.



Monday, September 06, 2021

Road Trekkin': The Sequel

 This time we went southeast.

The idea, as usual,  was to stay away from crowds. I'm not scared of C19 for the moment but still feel prudence is called for when things get sardine-y. Besides, quite frankly, neither of us like crowds overmuch. Kathy grew up where the only traffic jams came at harvest-time and I just plain detest so many competing energies mashed together. It being a holiday weekend here, we set ourselves a bit of a challenge.

Niagara Falls was right out. I've heard from multiple people it's as if there was never a pandemic at all there and you have to suck your gut in to turn around. But there are lots of places around Niagara that are off the water-eroded path.

About the only place we'd determined to hit -- Beamsville Fish and Chips in Welland, highly recommended by our friend Sue -- wasn't open. That possibility hadn't so much as considered crossing our minds...what sort of  restaurant is closed on any part of the last long weekend of the summer? (They were going to open at 4 pm; it was noon; we wanted to see more than just Welland today; we'll have to go back someday. Sue reports it's worth it. 

The Canal! I rode the length of it on one of then-future PM Paul Martin's company's ships back in grade seven or eight and I haven't been anywhere near the canal since. We got to the Lock 8 Mellanby Park just in time to catch the Maria G. Valletta moving down the Canal at about a tenth the speed of smell: considerably slower than a walking pace. 






Lunch was at the South Coast Cookhouse, which was worlds better than its surroundings. Crystal Beach was once a booming little town with an amusement park that operated from 1888-1989. The beach itself is lovely; the town around it has seen much better days. Many of the businesses are boarded up, and those that aren't look dingy and dilapidated. But the restaurant was open, and partly open to the air. A very good lunch. 

From Welland, we wandered along the seashore lakeshore. Quite frankly, Lake Erie doesn't hold a candle to Lake Huron: the water in Erie is brown rather than blue, scummy rather than crystal clear, and rankly redolent of dead fish. It also doesn't have anything like the shoreline Huron boasts. Huron, and especially the "sixth Great Lake", Georgian Bay, is just worlds cleaner in every respect. 

We tried to get to the Port Abino Lighthouse, but it was Covided up tight. (It's hard for me to understand, honestly. Obviously it's up to any business whether to open or not, but I can't think what excuse a tourist attraction needs to STAY CLOSED when so many businesses have closed forever.) 

Not to be deterred, we found another lighthouse one town to the west, where the Grand River empties at Port Maitland:




A wee bit of a hike. It was almost, but not quite, windy enough for whitecaps. I would not advise going anywhere near this pier in a serious storm: you'll get swept off. 

Behind the lighthouse, land's end: 

The water looks almost Huronical...
                    
Next stop, Port Dover. We double-dated with Jade and Darien minigolfing here a few years back, and Kathy was relishing the chance to kick my butt again...but it was waaay too peopley...we didn't even slow down.

One of the best things about Kathy and Ken days like this: we're easy. I was disappointed not to get to try that Beamsville fish and chips, and Kathy was disappointed not to see the Port Abino Lighthouse, but "disappointment", contrary to popular belief, need not have any sort of emotional attachment to it. The way I look at it, this is yet another of those words that needs a hyphen. We had an appointment (even if it wasn't written down anywhere) and we got "dis-appointed". There's always something around the next bend, and often for every thing you were looking forward to and missed out on, there's something you never suspected that turns out to be a highlight.

Behold, Lynne River Falls, which is not in our Waterfalls of Ontario book:

I hear running water...hey hon, they're playing our song!



From Port Dover we wandered back home, stopping only to pick up two small pizzas from the best pizza joint in the known universe, Woodstock Pizza and Pasta. For the first time in my life, I chose not to finish a small pizza. This is significant because I have utterly routinely eaten a medium by myself and on many occasions have done the same with a large. 

Noom refuses to allow me to pay in instalments, or lower their price, so I'm doing this on my own. I have two friends who have recently lost a large amount of weight (and Kathy has lost as well), so I am motivated. Tomorrow, weather permitting (it won't), I'm going to start walking.

Back to the weekend. We got home, ate pizza, sat down to watch a mutual favourite movie -- Contact, with Jodie Foster. It holds up wonderfully, and I had fun teasing out similar lines and mannerisms between S.R. Haddon, the reclusive billionaire, and another character Foster would share screen time with named Dr. Hannibal Lecter. ("Clever girl", says Haddon, and whereas most people would immediately think velociraptor, I filled in the next line from Silence of the Lambs: "You're so close to the way you're going to catch him." 

Then I lost the cat.

We were going to go out, brave the bees and mosquitos, and indulge in some coolers on the deck. Luna wanted to be on, or even more improperly, under, the deck as well, and it took an hour of teamwork, cajoling, failed bribes, and quick reflexes from Kathy to finally snag her and put her back inside where she belongs.

Today we went to Southside Park to feed the ducks. We knew not to bring bread but didn't know what else might bring them waddling (maybe some grapes? Naw. Quoth the Google, corn, oats and rice. The Google neglected to inform us that corn is crack cocaine for ducks while oats and rice are, respectively, kale and brussels sprouts. Oh, they'll eat it if they have to, but....

....the gentleman behind us had corn.

They ignored us with haughty dignity as they congregated in search of The Good Stuff. 


That's maybe half of them. Maybe. Ducks, cobra chickens (Canada geese) and a family of swans that crashed the party. Honk honk. 

More running water!

Another lovely weekend. Next on the docket is a trip up the Escarpment to see the fall colours. Thank you, hon, for the journey. It means the world, and so do you. 💜




Wednesday, August 18, 2021

A Belief Is Not A Fact

I said this on Facebook recently:

From now on, before I engage in any argument either online or off, I'm going to ask one question: "What evidence might it take for you to change your position?" I suspect that nine times out of ten I won't get an answer, or I'll get something patently ridiculous. I'll walk away, content to let the other person think they "won".

...and was immediately asked why I feel the need to win. 

I put "win" in quotes for a reason. I should have put "argument" in quotes, too.  Because what goes on on the internet these days is anything but argument: it's almost always just pointless screaming, ad hominem attacks, and piles and piles of logical fallacies. We desperately need a required course or two in rhetoric and critical thinking. It should, in fact, be the entire focus of school curricula. Critical thinking and empathy ought to be the whole purpose of an education -- the information is very much secondary.

What I was trying to say was that I'm content to let people think they "won" a game I refuse to play. 

I will no longer engage with people who can't support their positions without those ad hominem attacks or logical fallacies. As Hitchens says, "that which can be asserted without evidence can be refuted without evidence".  Or indeed, simply ignored. 

Let's take one topic that is, for some ridiculous reason, extremely touchy: the Covid-19 vaccines. Obligatory blahblahblah: people who are allergic, or who have some other condition that contraindicates innoculation, you're not my target audience here. 

I confess to a great deal of impatience with the vaccine-hesitant, at this late date. There have been over four billion shots administered worldwide, but let's use the Canadian numbers current as of August 6, 2021: 50, 204, 577 doses administered vs 12,006 reported adverse effects. Note that of those 12,006 adverse effects - a whopping 0.024% of all shots given - most of them aren't serious. The "serious side effects": 

  • Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (clotting, low platelet levels): 76 cases -- 56 of which involve AstraZeneca which isn't even given anymore, so 20 cases
  • Myocarditis/pericarditis (inflammation of, respectively, the heart muscle and the heart lining): 607 cases 
  • Capillary leak: two cases, both AstraZeneca
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome: 58 cases. Of these, 27 were AstraZeneca (0.96 cases per 100,000 doses); 22 were Pfizer-BioNtech (0.06 cases per 100,000 doses); 9 were Moderna (0.2 cases per 100,000 doses). The AZ number here IS actually higher than they expected, which is a big reason it's been pulled. But even that "high" number is infinitesimally low.
There are more categories much less severe. But they add to that 12,006. Out of FIFTY MILLION. 

All of this information is easily accessible. You can also very easily find a breakdown of cases/hospitalizations/deaths by vaccine status: simply put, your chances are dying fully vaxxed are not zero, but damned near.  So what is it? "I don't know what's in it"? You don't know "what's in" most of the pills you take and food you eat, so that can't be it. "It's experimental"? Yeah, they've been working on it for EIGHTEEN YEARS. 

How can they have been doing that when Covid-19 happened in, duh, 2019? Gotcha!

Not so fast. Do you remember the full name of this virus? That's right, it's SARS-CoV-2: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Now you may ask yourself, why 2? And I will answer: Sars CoV-1 hit at the end of 2003 and killed  774 people. That's a tiny number -- the current coronavirus has killed at least four and a half million -- but the reason SARS-1 scared the almighty shit out of the world medical establishment was its lethality: 9.6%. If Covid-19 had that lethality, instead of four and a half million deaths we'd have well over 19 million. With tens of millions yet to come in the Third World, because the First World is hogging all the vaccines. Less than 2% of some African countries are vaccinated: but hey, since when has Africa had actual people in it? Since never, as far as North America and Europe are concerned.

Aside.

Yes, this bothers me. A lot. And a certain class of people belittles me for it online and calls it "virtue signalling" -- two words I simply loathe to see next to each other. I've given some thought to it, and I think we get accused of "virtue signalling" in cases where the evil we're protesting is too large for us to affect it in any meaningful way, and yet we feel we must protest it. This behaviour is bewildering to the sort of people who use "social justice warrior" as a pejorative, as if fighting for social justice is somehow wrong. What does it mean to care for something you can't change in any way? Pointless, right?

And as for the anti-vaxxers, the conspiracy theorists, the plague rats: these are one class of people I'm no longer going to engage with. You can't change their minds and they'd better not try to change mine. Does this make me closed-minded? Think hard before you suggest it does.

Dropping that and picking up a generalized worldview. 

"I'm saying that even if you disagree with their reasons, they nonetheless have reasons" to believe as they do, said my friend, and I'd like to deconstruct both their sources and their rationales. 

"Because Mommy and Daddy did" is not a valid reason to believe anything. You aren't them. Neither is "because it says so in this holy text". Holy texts say a lot of things and not one believer actually believes all of them. I should hasten to say that "because my political party does" is also, in and of itself, a pretty poor rationale for belief. 

 There are two valid reasons to believe something. One is because people who have studied the topic believe the same. The second is lived experience -- and yes, science has a hell of a time grappling with lived experience, which is one of several reasons many people don't trust scientists--one of the only half-decent reasons.

How many times have you heard "the plural of anecdote is not data"? What a neat and efficient way to gaslight the fuck out of somebody. "MSG has no effect on human digestive systems" is a perfect example. Science insists on this no matter how many millions of people experience cramping and diarrhea after ingesting it. They'll even go so far as to suggest you're racist because you bitch and whine after eating MSG-laced Chinese food, but don't even notice all the other "white" foods you eat that are similarly loaded with MSG--discounting those, again, who ingest MSG and suffer no matter what it's in.  Scientists take note: avoid certainties and simply suggest "MSG has adverse affects on a subset of the population, and we're not sure why yet."

So no, it's not cut and dry. But all the same, I'd trust someone who has spent years studying a topic over a random YouTube video with unsourced claims you can't even verify. Yes, it's important to see who funded a study, because a few "scientists" are actually paid shills. But very, very few -- and let's see what we can do about Occam's bushy beard, I'd suggest that it's likely the shills have the position that's contrary to the majority. You can always find a few people who will say smoking is beneficial and cures the common cold if you bribe them hard enough. Our problem is that we've given these people visibility and validation. 


"You might think those reasons are crazy, but they might think your reasons for thinking the way you do are crazy, too. Who are you to say to them, you need to change over to my way of view because it's the right one?"

In some cases, I'm the guy with the right answer. If someone comes up to me and tells me 2+2=5, then whatever reasons they have for believing that are crazy and their "point of view" is invalid. You don't get to have a point of view over a fact. A fact is true regardless of what you think or how you feel about it. And no, you don't get to say 2+2=5 for extremely large values of 2, that's not how it works either.

It is a fact that the Covid-19 vaccines are virtually harmless and strongly effective. You're free to feel, of course, that the risk is not worth it -- and I'm free to tell you that if you believe that, your understanding of probability is nonexistent. And then you'll feel belittled and mocked and I get that this is not helpful, but when I keep banging my head against the implacable wall of "we don't know what's in it it's too rushed BUT MAH RIGHTS wah wah wah" I seriously don't know how not to snap.

It is a fact that the climate is changing; it's another fact that we're causing it; it's a third fact that more than a hundred species of plants and animals are going extinct each and every day. You don't get to have an opinion on this, either. It just is. You can have an opinion on what to do about it, and I suppose "nothing" is one nihilistic option. It's not one I can accept for that same pesky humane reason that I'd prefer to minimize mass death and immiseration given a chance. You wouldn't? That says something supremely unflattering about you. 

It is a fact that explicit and comprehensive sexual education in schools directly leads to a dramatic decrease in: abortions, teenage pregnancies, rapes, and STIs. Yet people who claim to be viscerally against those four things are also against sex ed. So I feel no compunction calling these people out and saying they support abortion, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and rape. And then I have to ask them why -- and not a one of them can answer. To a man and women (shockingly, there are women who think this way), they simply dismiss the facts and go on braying that two and two are five. Walk away -- and hope like hell these people don't have children and can't influence somebody else's. 

I do wonder how this correlates to a religious upbringing. It seems to me that many religious people are very prone to confuse belief with fact. Not all, of course: Judaism is very much a questioning faith; the Jesuits question everything, and hell, one of my favourite UU hymns is called "To Question Truly Is An Answer". But the kind of received literally from On High "wisdom" religion promotes -- well, it's easy not to question it. Feels like blasphemy to dare to question Almighty God -- or more pertinently, the kiddy-diddler who claims to speak for Him. And to be fair, religious people often view science with skepticism because science does the same with them and can be viciously condescending at it. Nobody responds well to condescension. 

Let's talk about some other beliefs some people think are facts.  Like, say, that [insert several juicy racial slurs] shouldn't be allowed to marry white people. Or that it should be legal to fire and evict those nasty homosexuals.  Or that women should be made reproductive slaves to men, which is what happens when you outlaw abortion.  Or that six people should not have more wealth than six billion people. Views like that are crazy, dangerous and not to be tolerated. 

The Right calls me a hypocrite for this...I call for tolerance but won't tolerate intolerance. This is absurd on its face: you're saying I'm calling for love and won't accept hatred. You're right! Bravo!

Now. Perhaps you believe that gay people are people, that the entire idea of "mixed-race" marriages is ridiculous because there is only one human race, and so on. This is what the "All Lives Matter" crowd says to make themselves look less odious, forgetting that straight pride parades weren't a thing before gay pride parades, that "all lives matter" didn't show up before someone dared to ask that Blacks have a voice and a place at the table. But let's say you're somebody who actually does believe that black people are people. 

WHY WOULD YOU VOTE FOR PEOPLE WHO DON'T?

The only reason I can think of is that you see some more pressing personal reason to do so...and in this case my bet is lower taxes. This means you tolerate bigotry for selfish reasons. At least own up to it. 

I don't feel that it should be my job to bring people back to reality. Especially when they don't want to come.