Sunday, November 06, 2022

Breaking Down The Breakdown

 I've said some uncharitable things about the Premier of Ontario. 

I have been far too kind.

-----------

There once was a time -- it wasn't all that long ago, really -- when our society lived by certain norms. If a judge rendered a verdict, you could appeal it, eventually up to the highest judges in the land (if you had almost unlimited funds, of course, and that's part of why our norms are breaking down)...and if you were rebuffed there, you were S.O.L. 

There was a time -- and this was just a few years ago -- when if you lost an election, you went back to your party and brainstormed what policies might win you the next one. 

There was a time when, in the exceeding rare event that a politician, let alone the spouse of one, was attacked by a home invader, the country would almost without exception and regardless of politics rally around the people most closely affected. 

There was a time here in Canada where the idea that thousands of people might occupy a city for a month, terrorizing residents 24/7 and breaking innumerable laws in the process, would never have even been thinkable, let alone garnered widespread ardent support.

There was a time in Canada when we had this quaint thing called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It wasn't a perfect document: contrary to extremely popular belief, Canadians have no Constitutional property rights, for instance. But it was the law of the land, to be superseded only in times of grave emergency, and most Canadians (the ones who even knew it existed, anyway) had few beefs with it. Certainly nobody outside Québec would ever consider overriding it.  (I don't want to get into why Québec is a special case, as it's completely outside the topic of this blog.) 

Time marches on. Catabolic collapse continues apace. One of the inevitable facets of civilizational decline is an erosion of social, political, and judicial norms. You are starting to see this play out at present. In the United States, the Supreme Court has gone rogue and intends to erase the last sixty years of progressive victories for women and minorities; there is a very real risk that if it follows through, more than half the population of the country will lose faith in it. A question to ponder: what happens when a majority of people decide the Supreme Court in their country is full of ka-ka?

There were sixty two court challenges seeking to overturn the last election in the United States. Sixty one of them failed; only one verdict could be considered a tiny victory for the insurrectionists. Those guardrails held, for the time being.  Completely unhinged conspiracy theories still circulate, thanks to a hermetically sealed conservative echo chamber impervious to challenge.

That same echo chamber has amplified ludicrous and offensive statements about the attack on Paul Pelosi (no, I'm not linking that toxic slime: if you don't trust me, go find it yourself). A third of the country seems to find a fractured skull hilarious. Given that fact, increasing political violence is assured.

Neither the sore loser of the last American election nor the lucky winner of the last Ontario election had anything resembling a coherent platform. Just empty slogans, because both the  American Republicans and the Ontario Conservatives have no wish whatsoever to govern, only to rule. 

The so-called "Freedom Convoy" that occupied Ottawa earlier this year spun its own web of lies about what it was and what it stood for. I'm still wondering how people luxuriating in a hot tub drinking donated beer can in any way be referred to as "oppressed", but they and their supporters insist we live in a "fascist tyranny". They want to "fuck Trudeau" (must be the hair)  but are virulently opposed to "man dates". Methinks they are very confused. 

Now let's talk about the monstrous authoritarian power grab that Doug Ford, the Premier of Ontario, is trying to get away with. It's a bloody big deal: international news, in fact, because governments outside of banana republics simply do not act this way. 

Let's first clarify that this education workers' strike is fully legal. Or at least it was, until the government declared otherwise. The government has spun this as concern for students, who have faced unprecedented chaos since March of 2020. I do get that, and I sympathize with parents and students. That said, the unprecedented chaos affected educational workers too. As one protest sign rightly noted, "our working conditions are their learning conditions."

I know some of my readers probably still look at compensation for teachers -- for what they very erroneously believe is a six hour day in a ten month year. (I always ask people: if you think teaching is such a cushy job, why aren't you a teacher? I've asked probably close to a hundred people that over the years, and I have yet to receive even an attempt at an answer.)

But this strike is not a teachers' strike. 

These are educational assistants, librarians, janitors...and they make, on average,  $39,000 a year. That may seem reasonable to you, until you consider the average one bedroom rental pushes $30,000 a year in many cities. You may say well, I don't make that much and I'm not getting a fucking raise. It's one of many strange blind spots people have been conditioned into having: it's always they make too much, never I don't make enough, and the one thing that tends to at least help make sure you DO make enough -- it's called a UNION -- is spit on by the same people who bitch about unionized people making money. Don't like it? Unionize. 

So anyway. Union in a legal strike position. Demanding, at first, an 11.3% wage increase, and of course the media seized on that. Outrageous! How dare they demand so much money?  Greedy little fucks! Don't they realize that figure, um, wait a second, barely covers inflation? Uh...shit, I just shot myself in the foot.

I hear you getting restive again. I haven't had a raise in five years. Do you have a union? No? Ahem.

The thing is, I have no problem if you disagree with the strike. It's a free country, after all, or at least for now. Even if you are vehemently opposed to strike action from education workers, you should still shudder at how far the government is going on this. They have invoked something called the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution. For people who fall asleep at the very notion of politics, please wake up for this, because the notwithstanding clause is meant for times of massive civil unrest or disaster. It suspends your Charter rights as a Canadian citizen, overriding sections 2 and 7-15 of that document. Wanna know what's in those sections? Oh, nothing much. Just your rights to

  • freedom of religion, thought and expression;
  • life, liberty and security of your person
  • freedom of movement, including the right not to be arbitrarily imprisoned
  • and oh, you can't use a court or a legislature to challenge any of this. Ever.
But hey, you can still vote. This will be in effect until the government drops it or is tossed out in a constitutionally guaranteed election. Our next one of those will be in 2026. Maybe in 2026 the next majority government elected by 18.1% of voters will be less diabolical.

(You read that right: Ford was elected to a majority government by just 18.1% of those of voting age. You millions of Ontarians who did not vote, this is YOUR doing as much as it is Doug Ford's. 

Let me please simplify this into one sentence for those in the back. THESE PEOPLE WHO ARE STRIKING NOW HAVE ALMOST NO HUMAN RIGHTS, AND NO WAY TO GET THEM BACK WITHOUT TOTAL CAPITULATION.

Even if you hate these people, do you hate them THAT much? And if the government is allowed to get away with this, who's next? I have opinions regarding Doug Ford. Is there a point in my future where those opinions might not be legally permitted to be expressed? That sounds crazy, but until it happened, I would have said this was crazy.

Crazy, but expected. We are deep into what Robert Heinlein called "The Crazy Years", and I'm afraid we have a long way to go. I can assure you the people will eventually win this war of many, many battles. History proves it. But the victory may well feel Pyrrhic, because the forces of business as usual will not give up easily, and they will, given the chance, strip us of all that is right and good in the world. 

In the meantime,  there is strength in solidarity. The union involved here is being supplemented by other, more powerful unions across the land. CUPE is calling for a general strike starting a week tomorrow. There hasn't been one of those in Canada since  the infamous Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. That was crushed, incidentally, after 40 days. It achieved nothing in the short term, but it did unite workers across the country into prolonged activism.

Let me tell you something, and please remember it.

There are many of us and few of them. They have all the power of the State behind them, and they intend to use it. We have our own power: a power much, much greater than theirs. We must only choose to exercise it ourselves. 

I have no idea what's coming over the next little while in Ontario. I'd like to think Ford will back down: he's a bully, and he's threatened to use that notwithstanding clause already, before a court granted his wish anyway. Remember: that clause makes whatever the government does unchallengeable. 

There is one clause stronger than what Ford invoked, called disallowance. It hasn't been used since 1943 and legal experts doubt it would survive a court challenge today. I don't expect Trudeau to go that far. His father might have, but Justin doesn't have Pierre's steel. 

Too bad. 

Buckle up, Ontario. And let's stand together.




 









Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Exacting Payment

 I should be an old hand with these accreditations by now. I've been through five of them: order support tier one; chat; order support tier one again; order support tier two three days later (and oh, was THAT an ordeal)....now payments.

I was never anxious before exams in school. Ever. But directly tie my result on an exam to my ability to earn money and yeah, butterflies. Butterflies the size of cement mixers. 

You get two chances to pass these things, three if they really like you. They like you if you contribute in class and if you are seen to be making an actual effort to learn. I always ensure they like me. Just in case I need that third pitch. I did need a second attempt with one of these accreditations, and it's not like you get to pick the task you get. If it's something that would tax a tenured agent, they won't expect you to take that task for accreditation....but you'll still have to work it (with all the help you need) and wait for another. 

Second attempts are beyond stressful. Avoid avoid avoid, as in a void you might be falling into if you fail twice. I do not want to have to go back to working for a living, you know?  

We have 60 new payments agents between two classes, and only one accreditor most of the time. You're given thirty minutes to complete a task -- they can extend it to 45, again, if they like you -- but any task that could possibly take that long is deemed too difficult. So if you're taking that long...don't take that long.

As usual with these, I wanted to go somewhere smack dab in the middle of the class. As usual, I didn't get my request in fast enough and ended up towards the end. This was fine, I thought. I had worked a mix of tasks, and right now in the mornings we're getting a lot of the same task, called a C61. That was at the top of my list of ideal tasks to draw for testing, and I figured I'd get to go midmorning today, on the second day of accreditation.

It ended up being 12:30 PM.

We're working from home (another reason I wanted to keep this job). My Webex training room-mate had already passed yesterday, so he took no tasks this morning at all: he was there solely as my first layer of support. They did this because if all the newly accredited agents took tasks, the wait time between them would be such that the students left to pass would have to wait and wait and wait to get the chance. 

Practice practice C61 C61 C61...hope I get this and not some random task out of left field. 

Task comes in. I have barely enough time to register I have something called a P05 that I had never seen before when I was suddenly in a different Webex room with...who the eff are you  OH SHIT IT'S GO TIME AND I'VE NEVER EVEN SEEN THIS TASK....

deep breath

archive through my head to retrieve any information I know about a P05 before I go to the procedural documents

and suddenly I was back in grade 13 taking my final English exam. Our teacher that year fell gravely ill over the Christmas break; we had a sub for the rest of the year. We were told that NOTHING from September through December would show up on that final, on the grounds we'd already had a midterm. 

I will never, never forget striding into the library where they held that exam, sitting confidently about to turn over my paper and begin, when I heard gasps and profanities all around me, the loudest from my soon-to-be-best friend Jason. A guy down the row from Jay got up from his carrel, pushed it over with a clatter, and stormed out, never to be seen again.

Well, this oughta be interesting.

I turned the paper over.

EVERYTHING on the exam was stuff we had learned from September to December. 

As you know, I was bullied pretty badly from grades four to eight, encompassing three schools, one of them twice. One of their favourite torments involved stealing or desecrating my notebooks.   So after awhile I stopped taking notes at all. Instead I would sit with my head down on the desk, appearing for all the world to be asleep, and concentrate...hard. Teachers learned to put up with this quirk after one of them slammed a ruler down on my desk, millimetres from my head. First, I struggled not to shit myself. Then, I regurgitated everything the teacher had said for the last half hour in elegant point form, adding in some outside knowledge because why not. 

That teacher lost his mind. He grabbed me and practically threw me out of the classroom. I was sent to the office for the first and only time in my scholastic career for being a smartass. I asked the VP: "what was I supposed to do, give him the wrong answers?" and explained why I didn't take notes. I was never bothered (for that) again.

And that's how I aced that exam. I learned later I got the only A+; the rest of my class appealed and had the exam graded on a curve.  Thank you, bullies.

_______

I performed a less intensive version of that for just a minute today, while I gathered myself. We'd only had six days of class and practice, and it was the last six days, so I didn't have to go into a trance and time travel like I did in grade thirteen English. I took about three deep breaths and scoured my mind for P05. 

Nothing. But wait.

Somebody had said -- on the second day of class -- that tasks ending in 05 were "timeouts", and they were ridiculously easy to fix. Go into one screen in SAP, uncheck something, back out and save the order, and that's it. 

I couldn't believe my luck when Cynthia said "if you want, I can test you on this task you just got."

I want.

You know I passed, right? I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't. I'm not going to ratchet up suspense. That's cheap, and while I'm easy, I am NOT cheap.

Look up P05 in our compendium of how-do-I-do-this. Open the first document that pops up and skim through it so I understand exactly what's going on, chattering the whole time because I'm still nervous as hell, even though my mind archive had assured me I was golden.

Notice the PR doc doesn't mention notes. Recall -- it would have been hard not to -- that we must document everything we do in SAP, even if it's nothing. Put in exactly what I did and what happened when I did it, finishing with "closing"...and closed the task. Took maybe three minutes. Could have taken 30 seconds if I was only being tested on getting it done as quickly as possible. They want to see you work through those PRs. They want to know you know how to find instructions, not just follow them. 

Cynthia: "okay, just so you can relax, you passed with 100%." 

Oddly, that didn't help me relax. For two or three hours afterwards, my guts were roiling worse than they had been this morning. I felt like I'd cheated: the task was waaaay too easy. There are much, much more difficult tasks, and I'd better see as many of them as possible in the next three days because after that the training wheels come off.

I find out my new schedule tomorrow, hopefully, and it's almost certainly going to suck. On my last shift bid, I was ranked fifth of 54 agents, and got a great schedule, 10:15 am to 6:45 pm, Monday to Friday. This time I'm 48th out of 103. Why the drop? I was still being ranked strictly on my order support standings. But the 40 tenured payments agents are ahead of all of us. I can console myself that I'm really top ten, still, but that doesn't help me get a decent shift in this bid.

Call centers. Almost all of them have bids like this. If you don't like that, you're free to go back to retail, where your schedule can change every week.

We'll see what I get, and whether anybody else wants it. In the meantime, I am now something I never imagined I would ever be: a payments specialist.


Sunday, October 09, 2022

Autumnal Adventure

 We'd been looking forward to this little road trek for nearly as long, and nearly as much, as the bigger trek we did in July. Fall colours, baby. Ontario isn't quite as world famous as, say, New England for colour, but I think it should be. 

Let me warn you first off that the previous paragraph, while not hyped in any way, will have little supporting evidence in this blog.  Which isn't to say we didn't have a lovely time. You should know by now that we can do that anywhere.

A long while back, I'd bought Ron Brown's BACKROADS OF ONTARIO. It contains 23 excursions, and one of them caught our eye almost immediately, called "Valleys and Cuestas" (a cuesta being a ridge with one gentle and one steep slope). Part of the 90km tour passes through areas we've been to before and know fairly well; much of it was going to be new to us.

Ken should probably read these things a little more closely before he gets all excited and starts us at the end of the tour, the capstone, the Beaver Valley. Kathy and I have been here before, but not in fall. 

We found a rest area with no view and the Epping - John Muir Lookout, with a view that maybe lacks autmnal pop, but is nevertheless gorgeous: 



I apologize, sincerely: the best shots of the Beaver Valley would have caused a wreck.


John Muir (1838-1914)  is very famous in conservation circles.  A born wanderer, he spent time in many places on the globe, and played a significant role in the introduction of America's National Parks system. But before that, he lived here in Ontario, near Meaford. 

Muir's biographer, Robert Burcher, said that in order to capture Muir's spirit, he had to learn to "go slow, saunter and be present". If that doesn't describe a Kathy and Ken road trek, I'm not sure what does. (Kathy does put her lead foot away on road treks. Honest, she does.)

This is a place that demands a few moments pause. Although you can see modern farm equipment trundling around in a few distant places, you can't  hear it, which suits me just fine and proves, if any further proof was needed, that I belong in a different time, a time before people learned to hate silence. 

I feel a sense of solidarity with everyone else who has gazed upon this view. Especially those from long ago, like Muir, who walked most of what we now call the Bruce Trail, communing with Nature the whole way.

We walked along the path to the left of the lookout -- Kathy tells me it extends a fair distance, "longer than you think" -- and something about the forest here felt almost magical to me.


I feel a little silly sharing pictures like this, because -- I mean, here are some trees. I don't know if you can feel what I felt looking at this. I'm not sure I can even put it into words. For me, the forest felt alive, which of course it was and is, but -- on some other levels as well? Like there was a presence here. Calming and soothing, but with a subtle ominous undertone. We live in peace. Why can't you?

The knots in the trees felt like eyes, regarding us. Warmly but sternly, if that makes any sense. 



Moving along before you think I've lost my marbles. (Can you be said to lose something you never had in the first place?)

We had some delicious and inflation-busting chicken Caesar wraps, along with veggies and sausage and cheese (oh my) lovingly prepared by Kathy. Then we discovered that if we wanted to complete the tour, we'd have to ditch Gertie the GPS lady and do it old-school. 

My, has Google spoiled us and how.

To be fair, Ron Brown's maps in this book are less helpful than they could be. He doesn't even bother to name the roads on the map, in many cases, leaving you scouring the text, cross referencing the map, cross referencing your eyes, and then remembering too late that you started this tour at the end and so all the directions are backwards. We ended up forgoing the planned route from this point on.

 Because we were close by,  we went to Thornbury.  We  were here last summer and kind of fell in love with this charming lakeside village. We had hoped to see the salmon running. I'm guessing the posse of fisher-people had caught them all. There had to be thirty cast members scattered along both banks, precariously balancing on stones. Kathy warned me not to get too close in case somebody's cast went awry. Cue Margaret Atwood:

You fit into me
Like a hook into an eye
A fish hook
An open eye




I think we might be back up here in the Spring, when it looks like it's a busier place fishwise. It was a whole hell of a lot busier peoplewise than the last time we were here. 

Back to the Bridge of Kindness. Can't get enough of this view. 




It was COLD here. 

I used to be a dairy/frozen guy, and cold never, ever bothered me before. I would routinely spend upwards of an hour in a walk-in freezer, temp -40 plus, or rather minus, windchills, clad in only a T-shirt (okay, smartass, pants and shoes too). Kathy chided and chastised me for refusing to bring a coat along. Stubborn me.  "It's going to be like 9 degrees. A sweater will do me just fine," I said, and Kathy tut-tutted and asked if she could say "I told you so" when I announced how freaking COLD it was.

Hon:

You told me so.

The wind just cuts off the Bay here. 


Kathy, dressed for the season:









































(shiver)

(not cold anymore)

So glad to have gotten the shot from the bridge behind Kathy here, the Bay in all its glory:

We tried to meet up with the trek we were supposed to be on, but between Ron Brown's less-than-stellar descriptions, my own directional ambivalence, and Gertie the Google GPS lady being drunk as a skunk, we had no luck.

Dad: is it an offence under the Highway Traffic Act if your navigating machine is drunk? Damned thing wanted to take us into the heart of Collingwood. That was NOT where we wanted to go and not where we told her to take us. Eventually we told HER where to go.

It only occurs to me now what the issue was. The next stop on the tour was a little hamlet named Banks. And Gertie, bless her heart, wanted to take us to the nearest bank.

Kathy wanted a turkey dinner, but didn't want to cook one. I can't blame her there: turkey is yummy, but it's a hell of a lot of work. And expense, these days. So we meandered our way to Anna Mae's in Millbank, which has been my favourite place to eat out since I first ate there. Pulled the same schtick that first time I had previously done At The Crossroads (R.I.P.)...when I was paying, they asked me how everything was and I lowered my voice and put on an air of supreme indignation. "I'm really quite angry," I said, and the hostess blanched a little. "I'm sorry, what was wrong and how can we make it right?"
"What's WRONG," I said with feeling, "is that I have been WASTING MY MONEY eating at OTHER restaurants for YEARS." And smiled.
But I meant it At The Crossroads and I for damn sure mean it for Anna Mae's. The prices here remain more than reasonable. Full meal: potato soup, turkey dinner with fixins, and their to-die-for raspberry cheesecake: $20.65. And easily worth half that again.

As you'd expect, it was busy. We were told the wait for a table was 55-65 minutes, and ended up seated at roughly the forty minute mark. I wouldn't wait that long for a table at many other places. But (a) this one's worth the wait and (b) the nearest pale comparison was practically 40 minutes away anyway. Millbank is kind of in the middle of nowhere.
The bakery was even busier, the day before Thanksgiving. I wanted to bring something back for Jade but it was picked clean. 

Home again, jiggety jog.

Morning.

There are four places Kathy knew of to break a fast in Woodstock. Three of them she'd been to, with varying results. The fourth, right downtown, is The Barnyard (menu link, no website). Formerly the Olympic, this place is a Woodstock institution Kathy missed only because it used to serve Greek food. Apparently the last remnants of that will be gone with the next iteration of the menu, and the prices will of course go up, but I DEFY you to find a place that will serve you two eggs, homefries and toast for $6.50 anymore. GOOD homefries, too. Prices like this make me seriously wonder how much of the inflation monster is really real. If you can afford to serve decent food at this prices, the places selling the same food at twice the price have some 'splaining to do.

The time came to take me back to Waterloo, but we didn't want to end the day just yet, so we moseyed our way there using a route Kathy had never taken before (which honestly kind of surprised me). Sorry for the lack of photos. "Look at that stand of trees!", we'd exclaim time after time, and now I'm on the Food Network. "Look at all this delicious food, God, you wouldn't believe how it tastes, I'm just smacking my lips here. Oh, you want some? Make it yourself! Bye now!"

I'll stop now. Only two more stops anyway, and I have a PICTURE of one of them: Abraham Erb's Grist Mill, where the city of Waterloo began in 1816. (This is a replica built on site in 1998.) 

Gotta get running water into these treks somewhere...

Last stop of the day was Holy Shakes. Eva and Mark and I dishskipped from this place about a month ago on a celebratory day, and that experience was memorable enough I wanted Kathy to share it. 

 It's made (and priced) for celebrations. Extravagant and rich in more than one way: they serve you your message milkshake in a bottle you get to keep. My "Berry Dreams" shake had a slice of (heavenly) strawberry shortcake balanced ON TOP OF IT. 

Kathy is vanilla all the way when it comes to shakes and she went way outside her comfort zone to try a KitKat (smile) Cinnamon Toast Crunch milkshake that she said she'd have again sometime.  Honestly, people, this is not your run-after-the-mill standard milkshake place. The creations here are really impressive, and damned tasty.

It's Thanksgiving. I give thanks for this beautiful province, and for the chance to see it. I give thanks for good food, good conversation, and good navigating in the hopes that thanking it in advance might bring it to me.  I give thanks for all the love in my life. And I give thanks to you for reading.










Sunday, September 25, 2022

Guest Blog: Eva: I'm Off Slaying Demons

Hey, you.  Been a long while since I logged into Facebook.   I will offer a genuine apology, but I mean that in the "defense" sense and not the "I messed up" sense. I'm truly sorry -- and not sorry enough to come back.  Settle in.   Imma get personal.

I’ve long since abandoned a belief in the Christian God.  My personal philosophy is that whatever you believe in is true.   For you.   So essentially I believe in a Christian God for Christians along with a heaven and a hell, if you're one of those Christians who believes in hell. If you believe in the Buddha, I'm clapping one hand with you. There's a meme that goes around Facebook periodically -- Ken always tells me, because I could have written it. It's about the Grim Reaper, and how he gets a bad rap that's totally undeserved. All that guy does is guide you to your afterlife. It's not like he kills you or anything. He's the H.R. of the Beyond. "Okay, Joshua, says here you were a Christian. Heaven's three doors down on the -- wait, Catholic. FOUR doors down on the right." "Maureen, agnostic, eh? C'mon in here and have a seat, we'll discuss your options."

Do you understand what I mean?  I believe that my essence,  my soul if you will, will be released to the universe when  I  die. I’ll understand things I never thought about.  I'll be able to do things I can't do in this life. To be able to let go and forgive. To be at peace.  To go anywhere in the universe with the power of a thought.

I used to believe in God and when my aunt  died in an accident it started to shake my faith. I had a boyfriend at the time, a man I thought I'd marry, and he went off and married the Church instead, so then I didn't just disbelieve in faith, I was almost jealous of it. I ended up leaving the Church, and David.

 Fast forward to the day I started  on a job that I ended up loving for a little over 10 years.   This  goes somewhere,  I promise.   Anyway,  I met this beautiful,  shy, sensitive young woman named Erin.   I grew a bit close to her, close enough that I remember her first date with the man she would later marry and have babies with.    We grew apart when I left,  and then reconnected through LinkedIn and of course Facebook.   Not "meeting in person" close, but catch up every once in a while close.   I watched her announce her babies.  vicariously revelling in her accomplishments.

And one day she announced her breast cancer diagnosis.   

She fought like a wildcat to beat it.  Ran marathons,  the whole nine yards.   Then she started to get headaches.   They didn’t post much after that.  

The last time I logged into Facebook I saw it was her birthday.   And right under her birthday notice was her obituary.   And I snapped.   She left behind her young family.   I couldn’t take  one more minute of the whole thing.   

_____________________________

Next month my Durga tattoo will finally be finished. Durga is a Hindu warrior goddess I deeply respect and identify with. Ken will have a blog up with pictures and meanings, but for now, let's just say Durga is a demon slayer. I had to earn her, and earning her took half a lifetime and many demons slain myself. 

Most of you know I have disabilities.   Not going to go into it.  But I’m happier not going on social media.   Happier not worrying about it.   I already give far too much attention to what is in my head. Like another meme Ken told me about says, "face your demons, but don't go demon hunting." No offence to my friends here, but Facebook itself is a demon, and it's not MY demon. 

So I don’t log in.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t love you.   I do.  I’m doing OK.  Durga's helping me. 


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Representation and Cultural Appropriation

To the readers who share my whiteness: have you ever been somewhere where you were the visible minority?

It's only happened to me once, on a band trip to Toronto back in high school. (Other high schools got to see Vienna, or at least New York: we got the oh-so-exotic metropolis of Toronto.)

Except it was exotic. We were almost the only white people in the auditorium. 

I was more of a racist back then. I still am, of course: nearly all of us are, because if you're white, the structures and protocols of society are there to benefit you and suppress every other voice, and it's a lifetime's work digging out all of your racism. I feel like this is a very big difference between left and right: we here on the left know we still have a lot of work to do. People on the right reject the entire (obvious) premise that society is designed for white people. They go further: they call anything designed to address racial disparities racist on its face. I always tell people I AGREE that hiring, for instance, should be done on merit. I just dispute the deeply entrenched idea that whiteness, cisness, straightness, and maleness constitute four separate qualifications.

Let me tell you how racist I was. For many, many years, I thought Black people were dirty. Maybe not all of them, but how could you tell? Dirt is dark. Dark skin is dark. I actually thought that if I shook hands with a Black person, there was no telling what kind of filth might end up on my hands. I held this belief from earliest childhood all the well into adulthood. It's a stupid belief to have: not many people out there go out in public dirty, no matter their skin colour, and a moment's thought would have told me that. Also that dirt probably looks different against dark skin and would in any event be visible as a change in texture, even if nothing else. But why think? It's easier to just say Black people are dirty. 

Gay people, too. You put your dick where? IN the shit? EWWWWWWWWWWWW.  Never mind that many gay men never engage in anal sex; never mind that MORE straight people do (because there are more straight people)...and, well, by the time I got to try that out myself with a willing partner and enjoy it immensely, I'd internalized the first two points. But by then I was no longer homophobic. Having your best friend come out to you really does change your thought process on the subject. Or at least it should. It did for me.

I've only met two trans or nonbinary people that I know of. There are several more on the periphery of my life. Asking the two I know closely enough to feel comfortable asking...I found out both knew their inner world didn't match their outer gender pretty much immediately...well before I knew, for instance, that I was straight. And I knew that in grade one. Alison Edmed was the first girl I kissed. (She was also the first woman not my mother who saw me naked. Have to say I'm pretty impressed in hindsight with the way my mom handled that: Alison came to my door while I was in the bath upstairs, and she then managed to bolt up and open the bathroom door, my mom in tow. I don't remember a scene, so Mom must have defused that awkward situation fairly effortlessly). 

And of course i have met and loved many women in my life, "in so many different ways", as Jesus Christ Superstar has it. I have watched as women close to me are ignored, mistreated, and abused, by man after man after man, and by the world men made. 

REPRESENTATION

I am enough of an odd duck that I rarely, and I do mean RARELY, find people who agree with me on anything I consider important. It's especially disconcerting to think you've found a community of like-minded people only to discover they're actually  fundamentally different from you in some entirely unforeseen way. And that's only a tiny, tiny window into what it's like to never SEE yourself outside of a mirror.

Think about that. Really think about it. Our whiteness is so deeply ingrained it never even comes into conscious notice until confronted with someone who isn't. It seems more than a little silly to think this isn't true for people of other races: that, for instance, someone's blackness can't possibly be just as deeply ingrained. Except that blackness gets called out all over the place: "flesh colour" crayons and bandages which look NOTHING like your flesh; the white people you interact with have no least clue about the life you live or the thoughts in your head. You are Other. No matter what you read, or what movie you see, the hero or heroine doesn't resemble you. The lesson sticks over time: you can't possibly be a hero, you're not white enough. Or male enough. Or straight enough.  Or cis enough.

Jesus Christ, if He actually existed, was not white. Thanks, perhaps ironically, to a transgendered preacher of my acquaintance, the inevitable whiteness of Jesus depictions DOESN'T bother me. That transgendered preacher schooled me on Black Jesus, also Ireland's Ginger Jesus. If there were a race of polka-dotted Christians, Jesus would be knocking on the Polka Dot Door and when you opened it you'd find Polka Dot Jesus. Turns out people feel more comfortable worshipping a God they created in their own image. (Ahem.)

I'm okay with your God matching you. I'm not okay when nobody else does. 

Watch little Black girls seeing Halle Bailey's portrayal of Ariel, The Little Mermaid. Watch the smile as they see something they've never been able to imagine: themselves, on screen. White people can do this without coherent thought: for up to an hour after any decent movie I see, I'm wielding an imaginary camera and thinking about myself playing the lead. Much harder to do that when nobody like you exists in the movie at all. 

Representation matters. It tells people THEY matter. With every person like you on screen, you feel more and more like your story is worth the telling. That's a powerful feeling. Its absence is a powerless feeling I can't help but think eventually grinds you down. If you have a problem with a Black mermaid, may I gently remind you that (a) mermaids don't exist and (b) the original story was written by a gay man to his crush. It's queer self-insertion. And what with all the stuff Mr. Potato Head keeps up his butt, I don't think he's quite the conservative hero you'd make him out to be.

If you think I'm cuckoo -- and you're willing to put some effort in -- I invite you to join forums full of people who are of a different race, gender, or sexuality. DON'T PARTICIPATE in the forums unless you are addressed directly. That's not why you're there: you have a myriad of other places for participation. Instead, simply observe. Watch the interactions and consider the subjects raised, and the points of view on those subjects you've like as not never heard.  Do it for a year and you'll INEVITABLY find yourself less racist, less homophobic, less misogynist, less transphobic. I've recently begun this exercise and it's already opened my eyes several times. 


CULTURAL APPROPRIATION

...is, quite simply, something I struggle with. I think of cultural appropriation as (inevitably distorted, and often very deliberately so) representation of a group of people by a person in a more powerful group. But I confess I have little patience for people who go out of their way to be offended by a natural process.

When people with different points of view come together, there will ALWAYS be some giving and taking. You can use either America's melting pot or Canada's cultural mosaic: either model takes the best of a myriad of cultures. So long as it's done respectfully, I don't see the harm, and I've noticed more than one Black person saying the same. 

An example of 'cultural appropriation' I find flatly ridiculous: enjoying the food of a culture that is not your own. Yes, I have actually heard some people state that this is "fetishization".

Spare me.

If history is written by the winners (no longer a sure bet when anybody can write a history and have it go viral)...cookbooks are usually written by the losers. In North America it's hard to find African cuisine that isn't Ethiopian, for example. This is because the majority of African immigrants to this continent in the 1980s were Ethiopian refugees fleeing famine and war. They brought their food with them, and now anybody can enjoy it. Same thing happened with Vietnamese food, which is overwhelmingly from Saigon, a place many people were uprooted out of. "Indian" food is almost always Punjabi; they are a persecuted minority in India to this day. Life would be a lot less flavourful without these culinary contributions and I'm going to enjoy any of them I choose without shame. Don't @ me or I'll eat you, too. 

Rock music is fundamentally Black music. So is jazz. These are gifts to the wider culture and they should be recognized and cherished as such. Reserve your opprobrium for those who don't treat other people/cultures with respect. It should be easy to spot the difference.

I swear, some people are out to ensure the only character in a story you write must be YOU, otherwise it's invalid and (add some withering, sanctimonious pronouncement of cultural heresy and blasphemy). This is insane. Stephen King's first hero was a heroine: Carrie White. Tabitha King rescued the first draft of Carrie from the wastebasket where her husband had thrown it, promised to help him with a woman's perspective, and launched a career unprecedented in horror and nearly everywhere else besides. I've read a whole lot of reviews of Carrie and not one of them castigates King for writing characters who are women.  Even though some of the women in the novel are downright ugly and evil. There's also a woman named Sue Snell who does something so selfless it made me cry. I, a teenage guy, couldn't possibly relate to Carrie White and her first agonizing period, but I for damn sure could relate to the bullying she faced because of it. Bullying is universal in this society. It's nearly impossible to "be a success", for our cultural values of success, without engaging in it habitually. 

I read a story about women and I learned a lot. I've since read stories with transgendered protagonists, gay protagonists, and heroes and villains from cultures I do not know. Hell, I read speculative fiction, and the best of that invents cultures out of (hopefully not entirely) white cloth. It's important to listen to voices you've spent centuries trying to drown out. Listen...listen...never stop listening...but after you have spent A LONG TIME listening, if you're able to write someone who isn't just like you and do it with respect and compassion...I fail to see the harm. 

I used a word near the top of this blog that is considered problematic: "exotic". Dictionary definition: "Originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country". What part of that is racist, please? The idea that there are, in fact, distant, "foreign" countries? Isn't that a pure-d fact? I've always heard that word as a compliment. But then, complimenting someone of a different race can actually get you called racist nowadays. I begin to sympathize somewhat with the Right's contention that everything is racist, if you can't even compliment someone of another race.

I'd like to get to a world where people concentrate on our shared humanity. I feel like endlessly accentuating everything that separates us, and attacking each other for trying to climb or tunnel under the walls...that can't be the way to get there. 



 








Thursday, September 08, 2022

Queen Eliizabeth II

I'm tired, I have a crazy work day waiting for me in the morning, and this is the last thing I wanted to do tonight.

Which is why I'm doing it. Pretty sure Her Royal Highness did things every day when she was tired and feeling out of sorts, and it's that spirit of relentless duty I honour in this writing. 

Let me get this out of the way first, please.

I disagree, to put it mildly, with calling anybody "Highness", for the simple reason is it makes everyone else "Your Lowness". And if we're going to have royalty, if it's absolutely essential for some reason, it should be based on accomplishment, not bloodline. I can think of some scientists that should qualify. Also some poets. 

I reserve a special antipathy towards British royalty, largely based on how it has treated outsiders who aspired to its ranks (see: Diana, Princess of Wales; also Meghan. Duchess of Sussex). And yet I feel that Queen Elizabeth embodied her position so well, so steadily, and for so long, it's hard not to feel that something has snapped. A cable, perhaps, of the sort that holds the world up. 

That sounds grandiloquent to apply to any one human being, even the one we in Canada knew as "Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Canada and of Her other realms and territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith". (In other nations, she carried different but similar titles; such were her wishes.) An even loftier styling. And yet: in the eyes of hundreds of millions worldwide, she lived up to that loftiness. 

Seventy years. SEVENTY YEARS. 

That's a long time to be in the public eye. That's a long time to represent an entire country. Longer than anyone in that country's history. It's especially impressive when you consider what Elizabeth presided over, which was the last gasps of empire all the way up to Brexit.

Empires don't generally die peacefully. The fact this one did is in no small measure the Queen's doing, and for that alone she has my eternal respect. People in what used to be British colonies have a very different view, of course, and they're entitled to it, but something really must be said for overseeing decolonization on a grand scale. There's a long way to go: Britain stole $45 TRILLION from India alone. But the British Empire, arguably the most wicked institution of the past three centuries, is no longer even a paper tiger. 

And she wasn't supposed to be Queen at all. 

If her uncle hadn't abdicated, she never would have seen the throne. For me, this is another mark of respect: this woman wasn't born to power and didn't choose it; she had it thrust upon her, and responded more than admirably. But even before that happened, she served her country honourably in World War II, earning the rank of Junior Commander in the Women's Auxiliary Territory Service, repairing and rebuilding engines in military conveyances and by all accounts revelling in something well out of standard Royal protocol. Reports indicate she loved getting dirt under her nails and showing it off to her friends, and somehow I don't think of it as "slumming" in her case. 

She was extremely protective of those in her inner circle. One of her final acts was to pay out £12 million of taxpayer moneys to a woman her son trafficked for sex. Again...complicated legacy. The same woman who oversaw the end of empire ruled over several morally questionable exercises, most notably in Northern Ireland. I'm inclined, against my usual run of thinking, to forgive her for this: heavy is the head that wears the crown, and all that. I'm likewise hostile over Diana, but even I recognize just how fraught that whole "crowded" marriage was. The Queen didn't exactly distinguish herself there, but what a gawdawful situation for all involved. And Meghan? Yeah, I'm really not happy with what I know of how she was treated -- but the most I can knowingly blame the Queen for is not putting a stop to it.

All of this in service to the Family. Which is not the same without her.

Oh, The Firm will carry on carrying on, of course: it is, after all, British. But it doesn't seem as firm, today, with Charles in charge. He's a divisive character all by himself; his Queen Consort remains divisive to many. 

Two things about that. One, protocol states Camilla should be PRINCESS Consort, not Queen Consort. Camilla herself insisted that's what she should be called. But she was overruled by the Queen herself, and that should tell you all you need know about Camilla's earned place in the family. Two, I will not tolerate abuse of Camilla from anyone, especially if it's based on her appearance. I get that her rival was almost universally adored (almost); I ALSO get that Charles and Camilla should have married fifty years ago. Andrew Parker-Bowles attended the wedding of Charles and Camilla: that should also tell you something. I think if you have questions about somebody's marriage dynamics and you can't ask them, you should maybe forget you have questions. 

I'm not a fan of Charles personally: he has some very strong opinions I very strongly disagree with, and there's that weird factoid that he's had two men, paid by the State, to dress him every morning, ironing his shoelaces and even squeezing toothpaste on to his toothbrush. That to me screams "royalty" in a way his mother never, ever did. 

One formidable woman did all she was capable of to reconcile royalty and modernity; her son is the sort to drag it backwards. It's hard not to feel some trepidation at the future, with a sense the Queen bowed out just as life is about to get terribly rocky for her closest subjects. But I can't blame her for that, either. Not after a lifetime of devoted service to a country, to an idea, to an ideal.

RIP Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor. God rest the Queen. 


Monday, September 05, 2022

I Could Be A Contender

We need a Universal Basic Income (UBI).

To counter the inevitable the fuck we do from the people who loved their own suffering so much they delight in spreading it around: (a) we'd save money implementing a single program over the myriad of interacting programs that barely function today; (b) studies have shown the employment rate actually goes UP for anyone who isn't a stay-at-home parent or a student; (c) the crime rate goes down; (d) health improves; (e) the community benefits; what the (f) is wrong with you?

I've explained my take on how it would work before. Briefly, it would cover your costs of exactly two things: shelter and food. And the food isn't foie gras and truffles, but neither is it ramen and pocket lint. The shelter isn't the Ritz and neither is it a cardboard box. It goes to everyone, with a dollar for dollar tax clawback as your income rises above the threshold that covers food and shelter. 

If you're still waffling, consider: all this would do is reset society's gross class imbalance to where it was in about 1960. We're not trying to create utopia here. We're trying to reclaim what was stolen from us.

Oh, adding to the above list of good reasons for a UBI: (Gee), I'd have a hell of an easier time making something not of myself, but of my modest skills.

____________

While writing is probably the best and most marketable of my talents....that's not saying much. The kinds of things I'm most comfortable writing come at the end of a writer's career, not before the beginning; collections of essays and memoirs that only spark people's interest if they know the doofus writing them. I've written more than a few things I'm very proud of, and none of them really fit into any imaginable market. Maybe that's not true, but it feels that way. 

Friends have suggested I acquire accounts on every social media service going, so I can share my original content to -- that part's unclear.  Behold my new Instagram and Twitter accounts, where I replicate what already exists on Facebook so that the few people who have seen it in one place can see it in another? Audience, audience, anyone got an audience? After twelve years I still have fewer than 100 friends on Facebook; after a year of everything I've shared there being completely open to the entire world, I have the same 24 followers I had before. I still live with a secret dream that somebody will randomly read something I wrote  and show it to a friend who shows it to another, who shows it to another and ten degrees down the line, "we'd like to publish this". I'm pretty sure this is the writer's equivalent of being struck by lightning while holding a clutch of winning tickets to different lotteries. But the alternative seems to be a neverending slushpile. 

I see columns in the New York Times and the Washington Post that I know I can match. I'm sorry if that sounds cocky, but I feel it to be true. As I said before, I lack the credentials (and the money to obtain them) as well as the reputation (and the ability to enhance and amplify it). I feel like you have to be an extrovert's extrovert to be successful as a writer. You need to be persistently extroverted, not to mention incredibly thick skinned to handle all the you suck that you'll inevitably hear. It should be a lesson to me, every time some author is rejected eleventy squillion times before writing a best seller. I should learn from it that the gatekeepers are fallible. Instead I wonder how to tailor my writing to appeal to them, decide in doing so I will lose my own voice, and oh, yes, I'll take each and every rejection personally because how do you not? How do you hear you suck over and over again without agreeing? 

 I asked a couple of writer friends I know to look at a couple of pieces I wrote: never heard back, which of course means I suck so badly that they don't want to tell me. (Right?) This is where my mind still goes and it's pretty clear I need to work on that before I even start. 

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

A while back I saw ads on Facebook for "FilthyRichWriter.com". I don't want to be filthy rich, but I would like to be able to call myself a writer, and so I looked at it. It looks plausible. It doesn't seem like a scam: it doesn't promise easy or quick; quite the reverse, actually. But the site is extensive and looks like it gives actual resources. 

How it defines copywriting really speaks to me. It's about connection. You're connecting a person to a solution, which means making a connection with both the person and the solution and then bringing it all together.  

Oh, do I see problems and solutions in the world. Oh, do I value connection and seek it everywhere. 

I can do this. I don't know how, yet, but I can learn.

I'm about to hit crazy season at work. It's not so much the time commitment as the energy commitment I'm unwilling to give right now, because at the end of the kinds of shifts that are coming, I simply do not have the spoons. But I'm going to give this a shot, and I want people to hold me to this. 









Saturday, August 27, 2022

A Tarnished Idol

 I was talking with a former housemate of mine named Remi about Costco. 

I love Costco. It's far and away the cheapest place to get anything to do with dairy, any sort of pharmaceutical,  and indeed many other things. The cashiers are almost all what I think of as Sue-level: Sue being a former colleague of mine at Price Chopper who could probably win national bagging championships. 

I love Costco so much I was actually kind of relieved to hear from Remi, who used to work at the membership desk, that their practices at that desk are "predatory".

Walmart's like that. If you're a Walmart cashier, you are also a credit card ambassador, and given the number of self-checkouts in any Walmart, I'd have to suggest that's the much more important job. Don't keep your numbers up? At Walmart, that would result in fewer scheduled shifts (read: fewer opportunities to get your numbers up).

Remi called Costco "capitalism done less wrong", and I'd have to agree with that. Maximum profit margin of 30% on anything in the store. The best wage in the industry by a country mile. You can get a  big beefy hotdog and pop at Costco for less than a third the price Blue Mountain wanted me to pay for just the pop. Their average employee retention is more than three times the length of any comparable retailer. 

...and their membership desk is apparently a big giant turd in the ointment. 

Somehow, I feel better knowing this about Costco. It's not like I was stupid enough to think it was perfect there, but now I know it isn't, so my admiration for the place feels like it's on more solid ground. I think it's important to find at least one flaw in something you adore: otherwise, you've probably got a blind spot. 

N.B.: I said find at least one flaw in something you adore. That goes triple for people. If you blindly admire a person, you're like as not in a cult. But. But. BUT. 

 As Dan Savage says in this video,  

"There is no settling down without some settling for. There is no long-term relationship not just putting up with your partner’s flaws, but accepting them and then pretending they aren’t there. We like to call it in my house “paying the price of admission.”

The key is to see people as perfectly imperfect. With some classes of imperfections this can be difficult. 

________

My friend Jason got me into reading James Howard Kunstler many, many years ago. He was my introduction into the world as it is, not the world we like to believe we're in. He was the first person I read to outright state our civilization is in catabolic collapse. He laid out his case in The Long Emergency, a seminal work in its field. It's still worth reading, because it was written long before Kunstler lost his mind.

There's no softer way to put this. Kunstler, who had never so much as intimated his political views for many years, very suddenly started doing nothing but shouting his political views...and they were rotten. MAGAty, you might say. His blog, called Clusterfuck Nation, used to be a clean, well lit space on the internet where people talked civilly about the set of interconnected crises we are currently facing and have yet to face. Then, seemingly overnight, everything wrong in the world was the fault of transgendered and nonbinary people and their "enablers".  I ran off screaming into the night. Wasn't the first author I abandoned, probably won't be the last. Luckily -- or at least I consider it so -- through Kunstler I learned about, and began to follow, John Michael Greer. 

Greer is a fellow traveller in the doomosphere, and he's intellectually leagues and leagues above Kunstler. What made Greer initially attractive to me was that he would always post not just about what's wrong, but about how it might be made right, or at least righter. (Greer taught me the difference between a problem and a predicament: the former is solvable, the latter isn't, and if you try to solve a predicament you will invariably make it worse.)

Greer does share with Kunstler a deep, deep distrust of the 'elite'. Far too often, per Greer, people sally forth out of their halls of academia and are surprised, then dismayed, to find out the abstractions they learned in school dissolve upon contact with the real world. Then, because they're human monkeys, they fall into the monkey trap and double down.

You want examples.

Here's one: The rapid decline and fall of Target Canada. This is the Titanic of business stories, and in its own way just as fascinating. Murphy was an optimist in this place: even things you'd think couldn't possibly go wrong went wrong. Most of it out of misplaced hubris by a bunch of MBAs with zero big box store experience. 

We're all being told to buy electric cars to solve the fossil fuel crisis. Never mind that the manufacture of these cars can easily be argued to be more environmentally destructive, never mind the lack of charging infrastructure, and don't you dare ask what happens to the electrical grid when everybody has to plug in. The People Who Matter say that This Is The Way, and to question them is environmental blasphemy, you fossil fuel fossil.

(Pity I won't be around -- I don't think -- when both modes of transport become uneconomical. It'll be a real blast to see the intelligentsia scratching their heads then, I'll tell you. Actually, by then I expect many of them to be hanging from lamp posts, but we'll let that be.)

I don't like how the word 'elite' has been so thoroughly co-opted. It's supposed to mean the best of the best. In common parlance today, it's more likely to mean someone in a position of power with a narrow, self-absorbed, and above all self-serving attitude on everything. Plus condescension at anyone who is clearly too unwashed to even contemplate the Lofty Heights. Let's never forget that.

More 'elites' behaving badly: look no further than Boris "Lockdowns for thee and not for me" Johnson. Or Doug Ford, or Justin Trudeau, for that matter. The corruption and hypocrisy does span the political spectrum, and while I will argue until I'm blue in the face that once side is a lot more dangerous, I can't deny how every instance of Those In Power living by different rules only pours gasoline on the "burn it all down" people.

Remember how we were told sanctions against Russia would drive the country to its knees? How's that working out for you? Everything the West did to hurt Russia richocheted back on us. Not so much us here in North America, at least not yet, but if you live in Britain, you will soon be in a world of hurt. Other sources state their "reasonable worst case scenario" is much more "reasonable" than "worst case".  The 80% electricity rise is baked in at this point. The brownouts and blackouts? We'll see. 

And yes, we will be dealing with this in Canada and the U.S. eventually. I'm tears-of-relief lucky to live where I do: this year we've had derechos and tornadoes and drought, but we still have crops in the ground. Many of Britain's will fail this year. Same throughout Europe, same in China. China's largest freshwater lake just dried up. Rivers in France have done the same. I highly doubt the West will stay united against Russia when the economic forces we unleashed start seriously biting our butts and chomping our cheeks. And I can't say as I blame them.

Again, please understand: I think Putin is a menace among menaces and the war in Ukraine is a monstrosity. I'd love to see nothing more than Russia driven out of Ukraine and the Crimea both. But -- ahem -- this is important.

America is not the only country that gets to act in its perceived national interest. And let's please not insist that America, of all nations, has pursued those interests blamelessly!

Back to Kunstler, who I long ago abandoned, and Greer, who has recently crossed a bridge too far with me. Both of them are "burn it all down" people. The difference is what's seeded after the fire recedes. For Kunstler, it's people like the lamentably unlate, decidedly unlamented Mustard Misanthrope who recently infested the White  House. For Greer, it's people much closer to the land, political views unimportant, but a mix desired. Monocultures kill biomes and they don't help societies much either. 

The thing you have to get about Greer. I've been following the man for more than a decade and at this point (or at least at this point two weeks ago) I'd have to say I was a follower. I have quoted and linked Greer more than most sources put together, and I've done it without shame, even though some of what he writes is...esoteric. Out of the mainstream. I believe the common term is nucking futs, or something like that. He's an astrologer, among many other things, for instance. I have nothing but contempt for newspaper horoscopes but I also recognize astrology has a history that spans millennia, has accepted methods of practice, and...let's just say the guy's made enough predictions using astrological methods that came true...it's hard not to at least keep the ol' braingate maybe not open, but at least unlocked. 

He's an operative mage -- the older, much older word for 'magician' that really means 'wise one'. He is fluent in many streams of magical thought, and I highly recommend examining that world with a mind as open as you can make it. What you'll often find is a different nomenclature than you're used to saying...what amounts to the same thing you're used to hearing. So once you get past the weird words and really look at the concepts underneath...you might be surprised. 

If it all means the same, why have differences

That's a fair question that's well beyond the scope of this already bloated blog, which is Ken's way of ducking the fair question. Seriously folks, I can answer it, but it'll involve three blogs worth of sidetracks and while I like bronzed men as much as the next fellow, there is such a thing as too many tan gents. The shorthand, oversimplified and vastly insufficient answer would involve asking people of different religious faiths to explain why they believe they do, and especially why their religious rituals take the form they do. You'll find the rituals vary widely but the goals are always broadly similar, and the same is true of magic. 

Anyway. Some of Greer's track record: he predicted the correct winner of the 2016 election the instant that winner announced its candidacy, and never wavered in that prediction. He did not predict the Tangerine Tyrant would win another term, but he did suggest it would be a lot closer than the polls were saying. Greer likewise predicted Brexit, of which he is a staunch supporter -- but he would tell you the methods used to attain it were predictable, wrong, and wrongly predictable. Greer firmly believes, and I have come to agree with him, that nearly every nation on the planet will eventually balkanize. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say Scotland's gonna be the first to do it. 

Most importantly, Greer keeps his eye on the past for clues to the present and future. There is this tendency to think the ancients, and really anyone up until the current generation, were all stupid dumbfucks. This is, needless to say, dumbfuckery of the purest sort. No, the ancients didn't have everything right, either -- and that knee-jerk invocation of a binary is one of Greer's most common points, we all do it, often without meaning to -- but nor did they have everything wrong. Can you imagine what Socratic Greeks would make of political "debate" today?

But two weeks ago Greer started talking about covid vaccines.

He believes they are dangerous. He believes -- no, he KNOWS -- that they've killed 20,000 Americans, that they've done absolutely nothing to stop the spread of the disease, and....sigh.

Worse, he went and produced what at first glance seemed to be a well thought out, well sourced refutation of the claim that the covid vaccines are safe and effective.

I have lost friends over the vaccine.

One of them was a nurse, and to me a nurse that shuns vaccines is akin to a cop that hands out alcohol at every traffic stop. Another was a dear friend of long standing whom I unforgivably lashed out at over her refusal to get vaccinated. A third threw his lot in with the "Freedom" (sic) Convoy that desecrated Ottawa for a month, and nope, sorry, I can't run away fast enough from that bullshit. 

Now here's a man I damn near idolize saying the vaccines are unsafe and ineffective.

So I dug into his sources. Worth a look, right? Didn't take ten seconds before I saw AstraZenica mentioned five times, and right away I had a sinking feeling in my gut, the feeling like Greer was racing behind Kunstler and trying hard to overtake him on the Paranoid Parkway. 

AstraZenica was found, very quickly I might add, to have about ten times the adverse effects of Moderna and Pfizer. Because people can't math, "ten times" sounds terrifying. We're still talking a minuscule percentage, but it was an order of magnitude higher than they expected.

Can anyone find AstraZenica vaccine in 2022?

Nope, because it was yanked. So while of course you can include any adverse effects the AstraZenica vaccine produced, it's disingenuous in the extreme to suggest Pfizer and Moderna are equivalent. 

And while yes, 3000 people died after vaccination, literallty anything could have killed them: drowning, lightning strike, car crash... 

I didn't even have to go to the trouble, really, of looking at the sources. If what Greer claims is true is actually true, it's unprecedented in all history. You're taking about a conspiracy theory involving millions of people. You're looking at governments worldwide voluntarily shutting down their economies, crippling their tax bases, mandating a vaccine that kills people? Seriously? 

Greer also calls the vaccine 'experimental' and claims it wasn't sufficiently tested. There are many people who believe this, and it's not really their fault since the media, always eager to manufacture controversy, has reported it that way. In reality, human testing of an mRna vaccine began in 2015, and even if it DID only take eight months to develop, that number is utterly useless. What really matters is the number of person-hours. And of course Google won't readily spit that information out, but it was a worldwide collaborative effort and I'm willing to state more person-hours went into this than into any other vaccine in the history of vaccines. 

I'm not impressed with Greer. This is very uncharacteristic of him. He's usually the person straightening other people's thoughts, and to find his so...mistaken and misguided on something was an eye opener.

But you know, having your eyes open is usually a good thing. Keeps you from running into loyalty traps.

It's possible, even likely, that I haven't been bringing enough critical attention to bear on Greer. In my own meek defence, I must insist that he has rarely steered me wrong before, and never deliberately so. This makes it a blessing, really, to discover a weak spot in the man's thinking. It humanizes him for me...and makes me cautious to accept further pronouncements without blinking.

A tarnished idol reminds you idolatry is a sin -- or if you don't like religious terminology, an error -- for a reason. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

I Coulda Been A Contender

I've written so many posts examining and lamenting what I can't help but think is people's predominant thought of me, which is "what a waste". 

It feels cocky and arrogant to even publicly postulate. I really don't like drawing attention to my meagre skills and talents, particularly when it's obvious to all and sundry I haven't done fuck-all with any of them. It's even more mystifying, to you and to me, why I don't just, oh, I dunno, DO SOMETHING.  

Every time I sit down to write something fictional, my mind slams shut and locks. Nope, nope, not today. What's that? A glimmer of an IDEA? Let's start building it. How? Fuck if I know, that's your job.  And the idea doesn't so much shatter as vaporize. 

Nonfiction? Sure, if I could find a topic I'm interested enough about. You get much longer than a good meaty blog and that's all I have to say about that. Then I have to fantasize that other people will be sufficiently interested in whatever I have to say to invest money and time. I'm grateful enough people read these blogs. My average view count lately is in the thirties. While I'm undoubtedly and supremely grateful to those who choose to view my spewings, that view count suggests there aren't many of you.

I can insist until I'm bluefaced that I've no interest in the rat race, because even if you win that thing, you're still a rat. I even believe myself, most of the time. And then I think to myself I want to see Scotland. I want to see Vesuvius. I want to see Hawaii. Those things cost money, in quantities it will take years to save for to achieve even one of those goals. 

I'm fifty years old. The time to make goals like these was thirty years ago.

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

This is not new, of course. Something like this takes root in earliest childhood and spreads. You're forgiven not knowing an answer to what do you want to be when you grow up?...but only for a while. My earliest answer to that question was a child's hero-worship: I wanted to be a cop like Dad. My parents loved me very much but hated each other at least as much, and so even though I was never abused in any way, home never felt safe to me. In a child's way, I wanted to be a safe place anyone could go to when things looked bad. That's a cop. (Tellingly, I had yet to meet anyone of colour who could give me another perspective on that: Black mothers tell their kids to run from police, not to.)

I knew how fucked up my eyes were early on. How could I not? I had to sit at the front of every classroom just to have a hope of reading the board. Vision was the sense I least trusted and often completely discarded. 

Cops need vision. Kinda goes without saying. 

But I didn't want glasses, oh, how I didn't want glasses. In the 1980s only Nerds and Geeks and Quads wore glasses. (That last stands for 'quadriplegic': it was a commonly applied epithet.) I was acutely aware that my differences from human boys would provoke bullies, but I'd be damned if I was going to call attention to them visibly. If that meant I couldn't see for shit, so what. Seeing's shit, I said.

So then I got glasses, because even though I thought seeing was shit,  nobody else seemed to share that opinion. And home instantly  became the only safe place for me outside the classroom. Even inside the classroom I wasn't fully spared from anything that could be shielded from a teacher's eyes. I got spit on and randomly rabbit-punched. I got nasty notes passed to me, many of them inviting me to suk my cock you FAGGOT. They didn't like it much when I noted the irony in me being called a FAGGOT while being ordered to perform a sex act on another man. But in a neat maneuver that nicely foreshadows today's political climate, that jab never seemed to land. I know you are, but what am I?

The glasses mostly fixed my eyes, but they didn't do much for my brain.

It took experiments for Eva to believe this, but it's true. I don't see things where they are. I see things a few inches from where they are, and so fast moving things like baseballs thrown at my head usually went exactly where they were thrown, to the mass hilarity of all and sundry. I've adapted insofar as I can, but nothing will ever convince me I'm not holding something level even as it splashes or slithers. This rises to the level of a handicap only when it comes to driving a car. I can't tell where I end and the road starts and believe you me, you don't want me to try. Not with you in the same postal code. 

So yeah. Complicating factors. Probably not insurmountable, but if you have always felt small and insignificant, molehills look like mountains and mountains look like fuck this.

I took that English degree in pursuit of who knows what. An easy path, probably: English was a subject I could ace without coherent thought, unlike, say, math. I will never, ever forget somebody posing the adult version of "what do you want to be when you grow up?" in first year university. "What are you doing with that degree? I guess you'll be a teacher, then."

Vomit.

I actually think I'd be a fair teacher...to kids who want to learn. Most don't, and my job would be to get them to anyway, and mountain mountain fuck this. It sounds horrible, but I'd rather admit my shittiness than spray air freshener and hope you don't smell it. But if you don't want to be in my classroom, hey, cool, don't bother. Seriously. You don't want me, I don't want you. Deal? Deal.

So I wouldn't last long there.

I investigated becoming a Unitarian minister. This career path checks a lot of boxes. I'd be writing juicy, meaty spiritual blogs every week and performing them. I'd be helping people, and thus making a real mark in the world. I'd be around music and love and light and where I wasn't, I could give my own. 

...and it costs. A lot. And would involve significant time in the U.S., which quite simply is not happening. 

Through university, I told myself I'd be a newspaper columnist. All these years on, I know it's a job I could do, excel at, and find some measure of satisfaction in.  I got 97% on a Media Studies paper -- about Jurassic Park and whether or not it was suitable for children (I argued it was),  and the prof wrote in shiny red letters: "Have you ever considered writing for the media?"

I had.

So I went to that prof's office and had a long discussion. It's fair to say that conversation had as much to do with my abandonment of university and the utter derailment I made of my life thereafter as the internet that I was hopelessly caught in. You see, I was told that the only reliable way to my preferred career destination was to be a reporter for a few years.

I'd rather teach a class of juvenile delinquents calculus. And math and I do not mix. 

I have foundational, ethical qualms about reporters. Always have. Most of what the world considers "news" I consider meaningless chaff. And whenever real news hits, it's always the reporter interviewing the wailing widow. "Mrs. Sonsnuffedit, how do you feel about your son's tragic death in that fire?" 

"Well, Mr. Action Seven, hikes steel-toed boot into balls THIS would be how it feels, only worse. Fuck off and do it now."

So I put career ambitions away. I at first was defiant, but over time I grew mostly serene about it. The thing is, yes I would like to be making that $100K USD annual salary that provides all you really need to live and some modest luxuries to boot.  But no, I don't want to be in a position where I have power over people to do it. I don't believe in power over. It's probably my most idealistic belief, but I am a creature of ideas and ideals and this is who I am. 

I believe in power with.

I believe in love.

Which is all well and good but it tends not to keep the lights on.

Now I'm looking back, and the legal thrillers I'm reading have convinced me what I really should have done was put my big boy pants on, burn the computer labs at school down (without being caught), finish that English degree, and use it as a stepping stone to a law degree. English is actually one of the degrees law schools look for,

It'd have to be criminal law: civil law is so civil it's boring and family law would burn me out in short order. Next choice: prosecution or defence? Easy. I would have been a prosecutor. I do understand that even monsters need defence and that defence has to be top notch because otherwise the State has a way of not doing its homework, and if you don't hold the State, which has all the power, to rigid standards, soon you'll have none. But--but I couldn't live with myself getting a child murderer off, you know? Or even reducing the sentence. 

But oh how I would love building cases against criminals and seeing them through. And I just KNOW I'd be a crackerjack courtroom presence. I can sway juries with words and emotions and more words. I know it.

Next life.

An old colleague and friend of mine has suggested I monetize my social media, and of course I reacted with horror: who'd pay for this stuff? The blogs that get the best response tend to be personal ones like this one...but those are my friends. My average view count is in the thirties, lately. Lost everybody after I stopped trying to jam polyamory down everybody's throats: I'm convinced they were sticking around for drama that doesn't exist out of proportion to any relationship drama you've experienced. What I have lost in readers, I have gained in mental health and familial calm. 

You see a pattern here, right? Suggestion, instant recital of all the ways that suggestion can't possibly work? Except these ways feel valid to me. I really can't stand reporters. Or apathetic and unruly students. Or asking anybody to pay for something that's been free for 18 years, and worth every penny you didn't pay for it. 

Next blog I'm going to mention an actual opportunity I have been investigating. There's only one block I can think of on it. It involves writing. And apparently can pay up to and beyond that comfortable standard of living I mentioned above. The block: a hell of a lot of hard work and ugh networking to get anywhere. Which would have to be done on top of the full time job I have already.









Saturday, August 06, 2022

My Own Impostor Syndrome

 In the last two weeks,

  • someone I have never met, whom I am unlikely to ever meet, sent me a pair of tickets to see Jake's Gift in November;
  • a friend made reference to "something divine" in me, and clarified that she wasn't using the word simply as a synonym for 'lovely' or some such. She meant actual 'Godlike' qualities, and I am so so so so so uncomfortable even relating this; it's not the first time
  • A friend actually said this: "Maybe with time we could all be more like you because we sure need to be" oh god the pressure please don't lay this on me and really, no, don't be more like me because I am a fraud.
There's a lot of talk about social media right now. About how we compare our outtakes and bloopers to the highlight reels that are everyone else's timelines. I can't help but think there's something to this, because many people do seem to treat Facebook as an ornament, a little pretty bauble to share and enhance the reputation. 

I didn't always live here, you know. For the first six years, I felt less than zero obligation to post every day, and for probably three of those years I was virtually unknowable, for all the lack of substance I posted. I didn't post pictures: at first I didn't know how, and once I did it still didn't appeal to me. Pictures alone usually don't. There's that babyish voice inside that insists picture books are for babies and none of the literary greats you revere wrote comic books and arrogant wrongheaded shit like that. But there's also suspicion: if you show me a picture, I'll wonder what's just outside its frame. You can, of course, likewise hide things and spotlight things with words: any writer worth anything at all knows umpteen ways of doing both. But with pictures it always feels more blatant..with moving pictures, even more so. 
Do you remember, back when TV "channels" were a thing, how some movies would be presented on your television as if you were in a movie theater? Except not really, because in every movie theater I've ever been in, the movie takes up the whole screen. On your TV, this "letterboxing" technique renders two thirds of your screen area unwatchable. And there were people who preferred this, who insisted it was the only right and proper way to watch a film. (Never a movie, always a film: these are the same people who never took a shit in their lives, but only evacuated their bowels). 

Anyway, for the first several years I was here, this place was Twitter to me. Today, Facebook asks "What's on your mind?" In days of yore, it said "Ken is..." and I always resented it for forcing me to start my sentence in the middle of the sentence.  I mean, look at the opening to this blog. It would never work on Facebook circa 2008.  I couldn't very well perpetrate something like "Ken is in the last two weeks:" and put it out there on my wall where people could see it and judge me for it. And yes, that thought went through my head every...single..time I thought about sharing something. Can I contort whatever it is I want to say into Facebook's one and only arbitrary status update format? If it presented any issues at all, I didn't bother. 

But as I got my bearings and found more and more friends, I began to notice something. Many people use Facebook as a kind of event recorder: today we went here, ate this, did that. Nothing wrong with that at all, of course. But few people seemed to be interested in deeper discussions, and their walls did feel somewhat antiseptic. It's not as if I'm in an all-fired rush to share all my biggest flaws, but when they pop up -- and they do -- it feels like a lie to hide them. 

I used to be a chronic liar, once. I lied because duh, the truth hurt. But my mom always used to say that I'd get in ten times more trouble with a lie than I would with an unpleasant truth. Mom was full of it on some things -- there is no reason whatsoever to wait half an hour after eating to swim -- but on this she was 100% right. I pledged to myself to tell the truth on social media, even when it made me look bad -- perhaps especially when it made me look bad. There are several good reasons for that. One, it's authentic. Fakeness just doesn't appeal to me: it never did. Cut the small talk. I want to know about your dreams, your fears, your proudest moments and your most embarrassing moments both. I want to know your thoughts on where you were before you were born and where you'll be after you die, if anywhere. You know, the real stuff. 
Two, being real opens you up to other real people, and there is no greater joy I've found. 
Three, it's easier to keep the story straight when there's only one story and it's true (or at least, true from your perspective: my dad once said that the number of sides in any story equals the number of people in the story plus the truth.)
And four, it just feels right to me to present myself as I am, warts and all. 

A word about reactions.

I have always had to convince people, over time, that I have no expectations. I have desires, sure, and when I'm not careful they can look for all the world like expectations, but they're not. This is true in things both large and small: you don't have to say I love you back if I say it to you and you don't have to "like" or respond to what I post. Would I love it if you did love me back, or if you did laugh at my silly pun and leave a nice comment? Of course I would. Anybody who says their Facebook wall is only for them is lying: nobody ever wakes up of a morning and say you know what? Everything I post today is going to lose me friends. Does that obligate you? Hell, no.

Of course I don't share everything.

I've ran this blog round and round in my head and I can't think of a way to prove what I'm about to write without severely compromising someone's privacy and mental well-being. So I think you're going to have to trust me when I say: I have been a jerk. More than once, to people very close to me who are no longer very close to me. I have hurt people, occasionally deliberately. In the heat of the moment I have said things I instantly regretted. On more than one occasion it's resulted in an immediate block. I especially lost myself in the pandemic, making strong and spurious judgments on the characters of all of those people not fully vaxed, and expressing those opinions in caustic and cutting terms. I would blame the stress we all lived under, but that wouldn't be the truth. Not really. You let Mental Sarcastic Bastard out of his hole and he relishes taking over, insulting people in the most withering terms, TAKE THAT YOU SCABROUS SHITGIBBON. Feeling of absolute moral righteousness. 

Not exactly "divine".

I try to be a good friend and because "friends" were imaginary to me for so long I'm still -- STILL -- at a loss as to how to do it, oftentimes. I share too much, then misread your surprise as criticism and share too little. Even with my closest friends, I often stop myself from reaching out because Ken again? Guy just talked to me last week, Jesus, get away fly! My head knows you're not thinking that. Hopes you're not thinking that. Imagines you might not be thinking that. Are you thinking that? Maybe you're thinking that.
Shit, I bet you're thinking that. Now what?
If you ever catch me thanking you for something utterly banal like listening to me, that's the thought process that prompted the thanks. I'm just so grateful that there's another human being in front of me (virtually or otherwise) who isn't going to punch me, insult me, or worst of all, turn their back on me and walk away. 

And yet people have walked away. Sometimes ran. For good reason.

You know who I think had something divine in him? Mr. Fred Rogers, that's who. Here's a man who lived much of his life in public and by absolutely all accounts he never acted anything less than loving to everyone he met, in person or at a distance. No matter how tired he was, no matter what was going wrong in his life that day. That's a man we could all do to be a bit more like. Not me. I'm just a large quivering network of flaws stitched together with the best of good intentions, is all I am.

Please. That's all I am. If I'm special, I'm no more special than you are.

I mean that.