Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nein Kiss!

A German etiquette group has called for an end to kissing in the workplace and has called the kiss greeting a form of 'terrorism.' It also claimed that the act of leaning into a person to kiss them on the cheek in a cordial manner to be a violation of the 'socially defined distance zone' or the SDDZ. In the past, I believe that the old name for this zone was something like the Berlin Wall.

While I heartily agree that kissing in the workplace is uncomfortable and inappropriate and that a ban should be put in place, I must protest the terrorism charge. It really seems to me that this is a trivialization of the word terrorism, as it deals with something that is clearly not a very serious issue.

In terms of the amber alert on terror, a kiss on the cheek doesn't even measure up to topaz level. It doesn't cause violence to my person, strike fear in my heart, incapacitate the highest levels of government or pose a threat to my democratic principles, unless you count the right to remain distant. This is really a pretty minor issue that has more to do with social and personal preference than a threat to the civilized world.

It's not even a particularly alarming moral issue. Kissing in the workplace is one thing, but a peck on the cheek, or pecking, is benign. I highly doubt that any person, even the most socially awkward of us, will ever run screaming from a peck on the cheek and lock themselves in a bomb shelter for 40 years while eating Spam. A terrorist attack might incite that kind of drastic action- a peck on the cheek should not.

It may be that the Germans take their etiquette, moral order and personal space a lot more seriously than the rest of the industrialized world. That's all fine and dandy. But they could definitely afford to use a little tact and common sense and come up with a better way to describe the inappropriateness of workplace kissing.

Inappropriate, for example, would be the right word to use to make their point. This would be an appropriate use of the word inappropriate. Perplexing may also apply, uncomfortable, awkward, socially inacceptable- all of these will do. But unless someone's bombed something- don't use terror.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Keep It On

A story about a woman who took her top off at a beer festival in Toronto is getting some surprising support from many commentators who have stated that the woman is well within her rights and that the sexualization of breasts is an outmoded concept. While it's legal in the province of Ontario, Canada to be topless in public, and not just down to the bra, but right down to the nipples, one fact remains: it's still not a good idea.

Take the example of the woman at the beer festival. The woman's friend dared her to take off her top. She accepted the dare and stripped to her bra. A security officer then came up to her and asked her to put her top back on. This is not an unreasonable request. Consider the point of view of the security officer. His job is to make sure that people are safe at this alcohol-fuelled outdoor event. As we all know, people tend to be a little less themselves and a little less behaved when they drink at large outdoor gatherings focused on beer. His train of thought probably went something like this:

I have to keep these people safe while they drink. It's best that they're not provoked or that they don't get too excited. Womens' boobs tend to excite men. Large groups of men are drinking right now in the vicinity of this woman's boobs. This might lead to trouble and I'm the one responsible to keep the order. Maybe I should be preventative and ask her to cover herself up. Don't want any trouble happening.

There's not a single sexist thought in that process. And yet commentators jumped on the idea that this was sexist move. Some people even claim that it's not her problem if boobs excite men, it's their issue.

True. But while something may be perfectly legal, such as walking across the street without looking both ways, and while the fact that a car may not notice that you didn't look both ways and that it's the car's problem and not yours, neither one of these things equate to good idea.

Let's look at the so-called feminist argument that a woman's body shouldn't be overly sexualized and that society should get over the exposure of women's breasts. While it's true that it's a natural part of the human body and people shouldn't be offended by it, there are basic rules about how to behave in public and those rules are called society and living together in harmony. While it's also true that farting is a natural bodily function, we still consider it rude to be doing it in public.

Then there's the whole rights issue, as if the right to bare oneself falls into the line of the right to bear arms. Going topless is not a form of expression, no matter how hot your body is or how strong your belief in the fact that your body is a work of art. There are just some circumstances in life in which clothing is not an option. Attending a public event is one of those.

So leaving aside any potential issues with morality and public decency, going topless as a woman is quite simply not a good idea. Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should.

President Bourne

Michael Moore is a smart man. But even smart people can say stupid things. When Moore recently expressed support for Hollywood actor Matt Damon to run for President in 2012, it made me cringe, on the one hand because I imagined all the backlash from the right wing pundits who are going to jump up and down like screaming monkeys and claim that he's a nutbar, but on the other hand, because they wouldn't be wrong on this one.

There are just so many things wrong with this idea. There are the simple logistics: Matt Damon has no experience, has never held an elected office or passed a bill of law, and as far as politician age goes, he's a toddler. Not exactly the right stuff to run for the highest political office in the country.

Then there are the issues that he's spoken out against, like standardized testing. Yes, standardized testing. Not health reform or foreign policy. Almost anyone with basic education will tell you that standardized testing is out-moded and generally useless when assessing the capacity of students.

It doesn't take a public administration degree to figure that out and it doesn't take a whole lot of courage to speak out against this particular issue. How is he going to fare when the issue turns to the Middle East, abortion, gun control or fiscal policy? Speaking out against testing for school children is one thing; speaking out on these vital and controversial issues is another.

This is not to say that he's not a nice guy who has principles and intelligence. It just takes a lot more than that to run a country.

Then there's the ridiculous side of this debate. Anyone who's seen the Bourne Trilogy is going to have images in their heads of Jason Bourne, US President, holding cabinet meetings and then drop kicking the policy advisors who don't agree with his ideas. I can just picture him doing crazy martial arts moves and yelling emphatically

"You-support-better-learning-for-students!" chopping with his wrist to emphasize each word.

Not to mention all the Team America fans gathering at political rallies to yell out Matt-Da-Mon! just for the sheer fun of it.

And you know who his first advisor is going to be when he's elected into office? His childhood best friend, of course, the acting-impaired Ben Affleck. His job would be to verbally break down any wayward pussy footing cabinet ministers that are wasting their time. I can just see him addressing the House:

"You f*!@ing pussies need to get your s$!t together. Not for your goddamn selves or your idiot electorate. You need to get your f*!@ing s$!t together for America! For America you motherf*!@ers! Don't you sit and look at me in that dumb ass way, you know bloody damn well what I'm talking about! You suits wouldn't have lasted a day in my hood! Boston yo! We would have run your sorry asses out of town on day one! Now are you going to vote or aren't you??? I don't got all day, assholes! I got other places to be and more people to kick around."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Get Some Writers

Hollywood needs to read the memo which states that audiences are sick of remakes. Upon hearing that the classic coming of age love story Dirty Dancing is going to be remade, I immediately had the same reaction as when I hear that liver and onions are about to be served. It's bad enough that Hollywood is cranking out superhero franchise after superhero franchise, re-casting them with different actors in an effort to find the magic box office formula, as well as creating endless amounts of sequels for movies that worked well the first time, the LAST thing we need at the moment is another remake.

Footloose and Fame and all the other classic 80s films are all getting a makeover. And while it's nice for a new generation to see these films, why not just show them these films? How does it improve Footloose to have Zac Efron in it? Does it make the film any better than the original? No.

The problem is when Hollywood gives classic films a face lift, it often forgets to inject it with the same heart or character. Star Wars, anyone? All the CG in the world can't make up for robotic acting performances or bad writing. The original Star Wars at least had charm and well-developed characters. Who cares if that alien is a trash can with aluminum foil feet? We still wanted Luke, Leia and Han to be safe.

Hollywood- get some writers. Get some original ideas for a change. Stop borrowing from the past. Take a few risks. While audiences continue to eat up superhero films, it's also because we've been given very little else to choose from. Movies provide an escape for us, but they also should provide a new experience- not an old one wrapped up in a new format.

And while we're on the topic, stop making Mission Impossible films with Tom Cruise. The franchise worked once when it was new and clever. Now it's getting old and repetitive, like its highly predictable star who's made a career out of talking intensely and running while pumping both arms.

This doesn't mean that we want to see a lot of art house drama. A well done blockbuster is just as good as a well done period piece. It just means that audiences need a change.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Paging the Pimple Doctor

A story broke out recently (pardon the pun) regarding Kim Kardashian and her psoriasis. In it, the reality star revealed that she had recently been diagnosed with this condition which has no cure and reveals itself in the form of blotches on your skin. She was devastated at the news, stating that her whole career is centered around her beauty and how the press has a field day whenever she gains a pound, so they would not likely be so forgiving of her skin condition.

While it's a shame that Kim Kardashian's sudden realization that a career built on beauty may be put into jeopardy, psoriasis websites, scientists, dermatologists and support groups have jumped on the opportunity to shed some light on this important skin condition. Realizing the potential of a sexy spokesperson, one website in particular, psoriasis cure now, is taking advantage of this news piece to create awareness of this disease.

For Kim, she must have known at the age of 30, that her reign as a beauty queen able to live completely off an infamous bum profile would have to come to an end one day. It may be time to go to college or invest in a career that is not entirely rump dependent.

For those who suffer from various forms of psoriasis, this skin disease, while uncomfortable and uncurable, is not deadly. Scientists have developed creams and other treatments to assist people with this condition, in the full knowledge that having bad skin can make you unhappy and less confident. But while it's highly laudable that some people feel strongly that awareness and support should go towards this issue, I think a lot of scientists are focused more on other things, such as, oh I don't know, cancer.

The psoriasis cure now website fully acknowledges that this disease will not put Kim Kardashian in the ugly pile, but they're happy to have her as their latest poster child, seeing as their last one, Ben Franklin, wasn't generating the type of web traffic that he used to.

Psoriasis, like its cousin diseases eczema, are uncomfortable and do impact the quality of life for those who suffer with them. But it is not debilitating as the website seems to indicate. There is no strong research evidence to link it to dangerous diseases or underlying conditions. It is also not traumatic, as the website describes it.

Let's call it like we see it and say that a rash is a rash and people should get over it, sufferers and onlookers alike. And work on other important things, like
that skin cancer.

To see the website:

Little Girl, Big Controversy

There's a big controversy online about the appearance of a 10 year old model on the cover of French Vogue, dressed up in glamourous clothes, sexual poses and fully done up with makeup. While some parents groups are saying that this is sending the wrong message out to children, others have simply called the images creepy. But I think that people are forgetting the real point of this whole debate: marketing.

Leaving aside the pedophilia argument and all that stuff about how children should be allowed to be children, you have to look at this from the point of view from those who are pioneering this new field of fashion: marketers. With all the talk about recessions and bad economy, people just aren't snapping up glamour goods at the same rate as they were back in the good old days. This has made it increasingly difficult for corporations to take advantage of the frivolous or insecure tendencies of most adults with disposable income.

But market research has indicated that an ever-increasing and ever-younger group of consumers does have money to spend on themselves, as shown by the hugely popular Twilight series which has grown the 'tween' market. Not only is this segment of the population playing a larger role in growing social media and feeding into the tween economy of vampire love books, they can also be targeted for glamour goods.

The added value of this young demographic is that they're already insecure. With the awkward transition years of puberty and changing hormone levels, the marketers don't have to go to the trouble of creating insecurities to exploit; they just have to exploit them.

So you see, the real victims here aren't the children about to lose their childhood or the growing threat of pedophiles lusting after them online. The real victims, as they often are, are the marketers. They're just trying to turn their lives around in a bad economy so that they can go back to posting billion dollar profits by reminding people that they're inadequate unless they buy their products.

The image of the glammed up 10 year old for me was a stark reminder of what it is that people in the industry see every time they build a new magazine cover. Yes, they sell you glamour, a lifestyle, a fantasy that you can't possibly live up to or ever expect to experience in your lifetime. But the bottom line is that they see you as a product. A sum total of the brand name that you wear or the things that you can afford to buy. It's something which seems less obvious and less insiduous when you see adult models. But the image of the young child reminded me that we're all being exploited and that's the bare truth. It just took a child to remind me of that all important fact.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

So Smart He's Dumb

A Swedish man has been arrested after trying to split atoms in his kitchen. He claimed that he was only doing it as a hobby to see if it was possible, but when he verified with Sweden's Radiation Authority, they responded by sending police. The greatest line to come out of this story is the following:

"Although he says police didn't detect dangerous levels of radiation in his apartment, he now acknowledges the project wasn't such a good idea."

Wasn't such a good idea? Considering that he may have caused a mini Hiroshima in his own kitchen? While it's highly acknowledged that hindsight is 50/50 and that there are those ideas that seem better to us at the time than in the future, you have to wonder how someone smart enough to figure out atom splitting in his spare time would be dumb enough to endanger himself in his own home.

It makes me think of other brilliant minds who have evaporated due to their staggering brilliance within their field and their complete lack of common sense in reality. Or the two philosophy students who argue the probability of traversing time and space, only to get lost on the way to the cafeteria.

It's funny how human beings can simultaneously be so smart and so dumb at the same time. While this home scientist may have had the best of intentions, and may have been motivated by sheer curiosity, he didn't take into account the issue of his personal safety, the safety of those living nearby, the legality of his actions or the fact that his online blog about atom splitting may have been deemed potentially dangerous.

I'm sure that this man has read the papers at some point in his life and realizes that the world is somewhat concerned about this thing called terrorism? And that home terrorist may be interested in learning about atom splitting for a very different reason?

Hopefully, he will have smarter legal counsel on his side if he comes to trial. One who will tell him that science experiments should be left to scientists in labs.

All in the Genes

It turns out that there is no secret to long life. A study conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University has found that many people 100 years or older are no more healthy than the rest of us. Surprisingly, it's not the vitamin-popping health fanatics who are outliving the rest of us, but quite a few smokers, drinkers and those without a gym membership.

It appears that longevity is due mostly to good genes, proving once again that life's not fair and that it's better in life to be lucky than to be good. Those living to a ripe old age are probably the genetically blessed and not everyone within their line is going to be the same. It's about as scientific as the toss of a dime.

But that's no excuse to slack off the diet, exercise and good habits. There's more than enough research out there to show that even mild improvements to eating habits and exercise regimes are beneficial in the long term, regardless of your genes or build. The researchers are also quick to point out that those over 100 generally grew up in a generation with no obesity and a much more physical lifestyle that included more walking and less car dependence. Which makes perfect sense.

It's funny that we live in a society which is health and image obsessed, and yet, we're not more healthy than the generations past. It's probably because our health obsession is more closely linked to image and marketing than most of us think. And it might also be that our chosen lifestyle of cars, work and constant screen time is killing us, despite our desire to take the latest omega something or other. One doesn't balance out the other.

And it may also be because generations past have not been obsessed with health. They were mostly happy to just live their lives and work hard. They didn't sweat the small stuff or read a hundred contradictory studies that said one thing was healthy one week and then not healthy the next (eggs anyone?). Quite frankly, I think previous generations were more relaxed and a heck of a lot less confused.

We should really take a page out of their book and go back to the basics: walk places, eat moderately and nurture our relationships.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Get unplugged

A 20-year old gamer has died from a blood clot brought on by sitting for a long period of time in front of his console in one position in Sheffield. While it's shocking to hear that a perfectly healthy young person with no underlying medical condition could die of just sitting down for too long, it's even more shocking to hear that this sort of death has happened before, particularly in Asia, where gamers have died from spending 15 hours or more in front of a game without taking a break.

The family of the young man has since taken up an awareness campaign to educate people to take breaks during gaming. Microsoft, which manufactures Xbox, has added their two cents with a recommendation that "gamers take breaks to exercise as well as make time for other pursuits."

Like living a life perhaps?

While it's highly laudable that the young man's famiy has raised this awareness campaign, you have to ask yourself: why didn't the family intervene? The father of the deceased young man says his son would play up to 12 hours a day. While he can't be blamed for his son's choices, why was there no effort to curb his habits?

It's a well-known fact that habits are learned. There are no better determinants of your future health and well-being than the lifestyle of your parents. Active parents tend to have active children, while parents with coach potato lifestyles tend to have coach potato children. Parents can talk at children until they're blue in the face, but it's their actions that have the real impact.

Leaving aside the issue of this particular case, it seems that there's an apparent common sense gap with today's parents and the generation that came before them. Most of us grew up with parents who fought us at the dinner table every night over some unwanted vegetable or who actually unplugged the tv and told us to go outside and get some fresh air. Surely those Participaction ads weren't just to annoy us. They were made to educate us in their overly peppy way, informing us of how many minutes of activity that we needed in a day and how many vegetable servings we should have. That's what all the Body Break nonsense of the 90s was about.

Since then, Participaction has come back to Canadian airwaves, dispelling the notion that we're active enough and letting us know that kids need 60 minutes of exercise a day. Some people would say that this standard is impossible to achieve with everyone's busy lifestyles.

But if a gamer can find 12 hours a day to play Halo online, why can't they find one single hour to go for a walk or bike ride?

In the past, families were encouraged to go out together and be active. That was also the time when families used to sit down and eat a meal together, another dying family tradition. Instead, people are constantly online or working. Screen time, meaning any time spent in front of a computer, tv, console or Blackberry, is quickly taking over all of our lives. It's making us work harder, longer and spend less time actually interacting with people- real people, not Facebook or Twitter people.

Years back, this kind of awareness campaign would not have been necessary because it wasn't such an issue. People were less plugged in, technology was more expensive, and families were busy being families with an actual family life, eating dinners and taking bike rides. But technology is slowly robbing us of these things and it seems like it's taking common sense down with it.

It's time for people to take back control of their lives and unplug for awhile. Turn everything off- tv, cell phones, computers, game consoles- and just learn to be. Learn to be together, to be active, to be interactive. An online life might be a great escape from reality- but in order for it to work, you have to have a reality to escape from.