Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End is Your Friend

This is the end, my friend. It's a line we all know, and it brings with it a certain sense of doom, but the end of the world may actually be a good thing.

First of all, it's not happening. Experts have weighed in on the Mayan Calendar debate and their consensus is that the end of a long cycle does not mean the end of the world. It's pretty likely we will all be around, at least for a little while longer.

Second of all, it's good to think about the world on a larger scale and to think of our lives in a realistic manner. We are not going to live forever. We should not live like we are going to live forever. Thinking about ourselves as mortal beings with a limited time on earth should force us to think about the harder questions: what does our life mean? What do we want out of it? How do we want to be remembered? Who do we love?

Most of us are consumed with a routine lifestyle where our ambitions don't take us much beyond what we want to have for lunch that day. We worry about inconsequential and material things like the size of our tv or whether or not it's a good time to buy a car. We put off the things that we desire the most, sometime shelving our dreams for another day that never comes. We put off being with the people that we value the most or telling them just how important they are, assuming that they either already know, or that we will have plenty of time to tell them later. We take everything important for granted.

And then something happens that temporarily jolts us out of this mindframe. A doomsday prophecy, a natural disaster, or something horrific like a shooting. Sometimes the incidents are closer to home, as we survive accidents, fires, or other dangerous times. Those are the times that we have to face our mortality and ourselves.

It's a good time to take a moment and ask ourselves those questions we generally try to avoid. What do we truly want? What is holding us back? What are we afraid of? Are any of our fears real or do they belong to someone else? What is the worst that can happen? We're all on the clock; our time is coming at some point. What do we need to do to make that time worthwhile?

If asking these questions makes you feel uncomfortable or unsettled, that's also a good thing. Fear is not always your enemy; sometimes, it's your friend.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's just a joke

With the controversy still raging over the tragic consequences of a prank pulled by two Australian DJs personating the Queen for information on Kate Middleton's pregnancy, it's probably time to re-visit the ethics of pranking in general. It doesn't appear to be a matter of just a joke anymore.

First, consider that pranking is a very popular reality television model which people generally enjoy. From classic Just for Laughs Gags in Canada to Punk'd celebrity prank moments, pranking for entertainment purposes is a huge trend, with the internet and social media just making it easier. Pranks are also getting more elaborate, and let's face it, mean and crazy. Sometimes, they're even dangerous, putting unsuspecting people into potentially life-threatening situations, scaring the hell out of them- and then having a good laugh at them later.

The good clean fun of Just for Laughs Gags don't spark the same amount of controversy because they're usually obvious. Dogs driving the mail truck, or guys in gorilla suits in trees throwing bananas at unsuspecting people in the park- these are good for a giggle. The pranks that are borderline are the ones meant to illicit strong reactions from them, either by scaring or angering them or putting them in an awkward position. Even if that position or those emotions are staged, the effect it has on people are generally real.

Aside from embarassment, the potential to inflict real harm on people through pranks in a very public forum has increased. It's hard to justify how this form of media has become so popular in an age where people are increasingly sensitive to issues like bullying and political correctedness. We are contradicting ourselves when we say that we want to protect people from being socially polarized when we do exactly that by exploiting their fears and emotions for entertainment.

In fairness, it is not possible to fully understand the potential consequences of our actions. What some of us consider to be a harmless prank, others consider to be something more serious- provocation, for example, or intent to harm. We need to be mindful of these things when we set people up.

And perhaps we should re-think these shows and their so-called entertainment value. While some people think it's hysterical to scare the living daylights out of people by temporarily disabling elevators or putting spiders on them, it can be traumatic for prank victims. And as always, we only hear prank reprimands when they're already gone too far or if they have dire, unexpected outcomes. We should not only think before we act, we should think before we laugh.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Parenthood part 2

Nick Crews' bitterly disappointed letter to his three children was so riveting, why not try to visualize a child's bitterly disappointed letter to their parents?

For full effect, see full letter here:

Dear Father Dearest (and presumably Mum too if she's around),

I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense my siblings feel the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of boring lectures and domestic choredom. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have success or an achievement or a REALISTIC plan to cease your relentless judging of others. I don't want to see others burdened any more with your miserable statements- it's not as if they ever asked of your opinion in the first place- far less re-iterated. So I ask you to spare others further unhappiness. If you think that I have been unfair in what I have said, by all means try to persuade me to change my mind. But you won't do it by simply whinging and saying you're always right. You'll have to come up with meatheaded reasons to demolish my points and build a case for yourself. If that isn't possible or you simply can't be bothered, then the case should be put to rest.

We are constantly regaled with chapter and verse of the happy, successful lives of the families of your friends and relatives. I wonder if you realise how we feel — constantly being compared to the so-called perfect children of others who have built up careers in the more desirable, money-making professions. We don't ask for your sympathy or understanding — we know what a collossal disappointment it is to not be a part of society's driven, its' winners. Having done our best — probably misguidedly — to win spelling bees and science trophies with our feeble minds and lop-sided baking soda volcanoes, we naturally hoped that it would result in a cold half smile of appreciation or a goood old fashioned loving jab on the chin.

It is obvious that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment the two of you has in your own way dished out to us. We are seeing the miserable death throes of familial love through constant guilt mongering and episodes of intermittent self pity.

I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.


Parenthood Is Not For Everyone

If you're tired of smarmy Hallmark style made for tv parent loving television, does the internet have a treat for you: an email message from a bitterly disappointed retired British nuclear submarine commander Nick Crews has just gone viral.

The full text can be found online. It is a unique and delicious medley of condescension, judgement, acidic social commentary of the old school variety, self-pity and self-congratulation, all in one. There is sufficient stuffy language to go above and beyond regular chiding or finger-wagging and goes all out for a no-holds barred 'you are what's wrong with society today' one-two kick to it.

To summarize, Father Dearest's main issue with his offspring is primarily with their underachievement in the professional world and their domestic ineptitude. There is an allusion to several marriages near the end of the letter, which is probably where the domestic ineptitude comes from, so it doesn't appear to be a reference to their ability to fold napkins.

The biggest concern, of course, is for the grandchildren, the precious offspring of their seemingly less cherished offspring- it appears that the love of one's fruit of the loins skips a generation and goes directly to the next group. It is the opinion of Father Dearest, and Mum too, because presumably he speaks for her as well, no doubt a sign of the domestic non-ineptitude that he possesses, that they are not providing properly for their futures.

Father Dearest takes particular offense at not being consulted in the decision making process of his children's lives, which is by no means to blame for the poor quality of the decisions taken- at one point, he describes their events as copulation-driven- and how his unsolicited advice is not taken. He also doesn't want to hear more 'whinges and tidings of more rotten news', while he goes on to whinge of his own situation of not being able to brag to his friends about his children. It seems that whinging is a popular family activity, but Father Dearest will not tolerate it in others no more than he would tolerate one of them joining in on his Solitaire game.

Father Dearest is bitterly disappointed at having gone to such great expense to educate his three children who have apparently accomplished nothing worth mentioning at a garden party. Such a pity.

There are probably parents of children with meth labs in nurseries who have less disappointed parents than this.

Many of us have been fed with the idea that parental love is unconditional; that, as long as we tried to be as good as we possibly could, as long as we were law-abiding and healthy, we would be loved and accepted by our family. Like having your head held under icy water, this new take on parenthood is somewhat refreshing. And it reinforces that idea that parenthood may not be for everyone.

Children of the world owe a debt to Nick Crews today. We can all be happy and rejoice that he's not our father.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

TV Fall 2012 reviews so far

With the NHL lockout and a lot of new time on my hands, I've decided to reconnect with an old friend of mine: television. It hasn't been an altogether smooth experience. Let's begin with a few observations:

The Outdoor Life Network OLN: do any of these shows take place outside anymore? What's with the people fighting over storage space? How does this qualify as outdoorsy? Wasn't this network famous for hunting, fishing and other outdoor manly type ventures that you could ironically watch from the comfort of your own home?

The History Channel: does anything on this channel occur in the past? Because that's traditionally where history is placed. This channel took a lot of flack for being the 'Hitler Channel' because it used to play Nazi documentaries ad nauseum, which was a great ratings grabber, but something of a narrow view on history. It appears that the channel has decided to do away with this altogether and go straight to shows that look like they should be on OLN: trucking, commercial fishing, dangerous professions. The new motto is that History will be made. But the point is that history HAS been made and generally, a network entirely devoted to history should focus on the past.

The Learning Channel (TLC): it seems like this channel exists so that it can 'learn ya'. And not in the strictest educational sense, or else the educational system is in way more trouble than I initially feared. The home network of reality series on polygamists, Amish, unusually large families and midgets is maybe learning us something but the lesson always seems to be that people can be pretty different yet the same. Unfortunately, the sameness has less to do with the good things we're capable of and more with our pettiness and silliness. And if anyone thinks that Honey Boo Boo is here to learn us something good, I think I hear the hoofs of one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse approaching- or at least I hope.

Ok, so tv has gotten a little weird. Some of their channels are a bit less than perfectly named. There are a ton of maudlin new shows on the air which likely won't last more than a season because their silly weak premises are all things that we've seen before, cheeky doctors who can't manage their personal lives, sexy dramas about people in dangerous professions and dysfunctional sweet families. Yawn. But there are a few worth watching in all this:

Person of Interest (this is a must-see): This compelling drama asks many philosophical and moral questions about security, surveillance and vigilante justice. It also probes into fundamental questions about human nature, like our inherent goodness or badness, and the secret around 'the machine' is worthy of any sci-fi enthusiast's half-skewed vision of a bleak future. The machine has almost become a character in this series, opening it up to more questions. It also features a fair amount of ass-kicking from a man in a suit. The only possible flaw in this series is that it over-promises and under-delivers, something it has been able to avoid so far, but could be a potential pitfall in the future.

Elementary: the frenetic energy of the new Sherlock Holmes makes his brilliant deductions irritating and fascinating all at the same time. Arrogant, insensitive and utterly devoted to finding out the truth, the audience is thankful to have the calm female Watson on the scene. The costume choices for the new Watson seem absolutely determined to remove Lucy Liu's former sex bomb status by disguising her as one of New York City's bag ladies. No matter. It works and the tension/chemistry of the two main characters which has always been played on between two male leads is promising with one male and a female- but we expect things to stay platonic, just the same.

Vegas: Anyone who's enjoyed watching John Wayne films with dad is going to like this series. The mix of cowboys and gangsters is irresistible and fun to watch. The feel of the era is a little all over the place. It claims to be 1960s, but some of those gangsters look more 1930s and those kitschy showgirls aren't helping any. There aren't a lot of surprises and you will probably find yourself calling everyone a wise guy afterwards, but you could do a whole lot worse.

666 Park Avenue: It's interesting, but there are many potential pitfalls in this show. The naive young couple who moves into the Drake Hotel to become full-time live-in concierges are entirely uninteresting, so the audience gets to watch interesting things happen to them. The young woman's boundless curiosity is seemingly never counterbalanced by a healthy fear for her life as she explores the mysteries of the world's creepiest laundry room. The basement lit by a single light bulb on a string is usually fair warning that something horrific is about to happen. And horrific, unexplainable things do happen in this show. The potential pitfall of this show will happen if they try too hard to explain everything. There's a supernatural quality to this show that appears more kitschy than fascinating at times, yet works because of the creepy authority of Terry O'Quinn. But remember, even he couldn't save Lost.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Not So Revolutionary

The much-anticipated new J. J. Abrams television series 'Revolution' does not deserve its grandiose title by a long shot. The show's premise is great; a world gone dark, the total loss of electricity and the fate of a planet reduced to a pre-industrial agricultural world. A major blow to the pride of civilizations grown soft and dependent on trivialities and luxuries, too busy to look up from their phones to realize that they've lost their strongest asset: adaptability. The philosophical, moral implications are huge. There's more than enough material in there to cover endless seasons of questions, not just on the premise, but on the foundations of civilization, their rise and fall, our relationship with technology and our connection to the earth that sustains us.

The show was bursting with potential. And then it aired.

The premiere was more than disappointing. It was annoying. It's hard to know where to begin: the wooden acting, the predictable writing, the cheesy fight sequences, the stilted attempt at a 'story', the lack of chemistry between everyone in the cast, or the way it overpromised on its superb premise to underdeliver with all of the aforementioned.

Let's start with the starry-eyed optimism of what appears to be the main character, Charlie. She's a young woman who seems to believe in the inherent goodness of people and remembers a time when electricity still existed before her not-so-bad-looking life on a farm. Her father was one of the few people to understand the blackout and appears to have a clue from that time on how to get the power back. So ends the life of the most interesting person on the show, as he gets shot in the pilot within minutes of it starting. As for Charlie, you would expect that someone who had witnessed what was probably a traumatic shift for humankind, would be a little, well, harder.

As a matter of fact, this is one of the main problems with the show. You would expect a show with such a dark premise to be, well, darker. In a post-apocalyptic world gone dark, you would expect that there would be chaos, violence, blood, harrowing tales of human survival. Instead, you have this watered down, family friendly drama where everyone looks ridiculously clean and the dialogue is the only thing stiffer than the acting. There are no emotional connections formed with any of the characters, with the exception of a mild affection for the soft-bellied former Google tech wizard who can't fight, or the mild respect for the bad ass black dude who rocks the militia.

The attempts at 'romance' between Charlie and the militia man who, for some reason, can't stop himself from saving her multiple times despite the fact that he's tracking her as some sort of enemy of the state, are pathetic. The very fact that she needs so much saving is also a contributor to the annoyance factor. J.J.Abrams brought us such strong female characters as Sidney in 'Alias' and Kate in 'Lost' and then with this production, delivers a character who needs to get saved in the pilot-twice.

The attempts at creating family drama are even worse. Two episodes in, I couldn't care less whether or not they save her asthmatic brother. I'm also not sure why Miles even bothers with his little family, unless living has suddenly become boring. Apparently he's the family bad ass, but even he can't resist the doe eyes of his niece.

The show's format breaks down roughly into this: 20 minutes of boring drama, 10 minutes of fighting, 20 more minutes of boring drama, and 10 minutes on the actual conspiracy story which is of some flickering interest to the viewer. Unfortunately, the conspiracy story is not going to be enough. After suffering through two episodes of periodically yelling at characters and saying their lines with them because the script was so trite, I couldn't care less why the world went dark. Maybe someone spilled coke on the switchboard. Maybe someone at Apple got pissed off. Maybe it's the Russians. In any case, this is a series that deserves to stay in the dark.

Monday, September 17, 2012

NHL Lockout- plan B?

Now that the NHL lockout has become official, it's time for us fans to have a little fun at the expense of the players and consider some plan Bs for NHL players across the league.

Watching It: Dustin Byfuglien has been getting some flack for a little weight gain over the summer. He probably now knows how Jessica Simpson feels after the high-waisted jeans fiasco. Maybe it's time for the two of them to team up for Weight Watchers? Simpson's making a cool $4 million on her deal to shed the baby weight- Byfuglien's lockout weight deal should clock in at half of that. That's more than he makes playing hockey and all he has to do is eat lettuce. Not a bad deal.

The Battle of the Roses: Dion Phaneuf has gotten engaged over the summer to Elisha Cuthbert, the kind of hockey royalty wedding that could be splashed all over People. With so much time on his hands, could Phaneuf move on to become the worst Bridezilla we've ever seen? Somehow, the mental image of Phaneuf man-handling florists and terrorizing bakers seems all too possible.

Mad Hatter at the Tea Party: Tim Thomas was way ahead of the curve; he said no to this season before it even looked like a lockout year. He's taking a year off to devote to his personal matters, like his family and the Tea Party. He looks to be a shoe-in for Mad Hatter status, especially with that stache. If I was Alice, I would run like hell.

Staying at Home: Zach Parise and new BFF Ryan Suter both wanted to spend more time close to home. Wish granted.

Have some great ideas of your own? Why not shout it out on Twitter at #NHLLockoutplanB?

How the NHL Lockout is Like the Public Service

True statement: Hockey fans who will never see a million dollars in their lifetime find it difficult to understand the trials and tribulations of billionnaire owners locking out millionnaire players. Very true. But when you think about the reactions from the public, the NHL lockout is not that different from the public service wage cuts and hiring freezes that were recently in the news in Canada.

Consider these parellels: the public service, as a whole, is viewed from the outside as a place of privilege. Lots of job security, excellent wages, competitive working conditions, enviable holidays and various types of leave for family, medical and other. Which was why when the cuts and freezes were implemented, very few people outside the public service had any sympathy. No matter how unfair it was to ask employees to give up benefits or do more work with less people, the public perception was always the same: boo hoo.

This situation does mirror the NHLPA. While it is unfair to ask the players to concede millions of dollars in a revenue-sharing plan which already benefits the owners, instead of focusing on that aspect, the public only chooses to see the dollar signs, the likes of which they will never see.

Context is important. Just as a low wage earner with no job security jeers at the public servant who makes 6 figures and can never be fired, so does the NHL fan look at the players with their millions and figure that it's no big deal. When you're already in a privileged place, it's difficult for people to sympathize when you lose some of the privileges that you already have. We call this the 'suck it up princess' theory.

In a bargaining process, there's always a certain amount of give and take. The public service fought hard to not have a wage freeze, although the government argued fiscal responsibility and administrative efficiencies. The public service argued for jobs protection and cost of living. The rest of the public mostly sided with the government in this public relations battle, most with the image useless desk jockeys surfing the net. Both the public service in Canada and the NHLPA were called overpaid bums. It's a funny thing to have in common, but there it is.

The NHL board of commissioners, much like the Canadian government, is claiming that it overpays its employees. The job cuts spoke loudly and clearly: we pay public servants too much money, just as Bettman claims that the NHL pays its players too much money. It was always a question of money. Painting its employees as greedy in the media was the weapon of choice for both groups. Another thing in common.

How did the public relations war end for the government and public service? The public service was cut drastically, to cheers from many less fortunate parts of the country. Cheers that may die down as essential services slow or disappear completely without ressources. How will it end for the NHL and NHLPA? So far, feelings are pretty mixed. But like the public service cuts, nobody ended up feeling very happy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Practical Schooling?

Can schools be more practical? This is probably not going to cause the same kind of debate as the question of whether or not they should be more practical. For the most part, it was understood for many young Canadians that school would teach them the building blocks of education, that they would get the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, to prepare them for more complicated matters later, such as philosophy, psychology and engineering, depending on their choice of future career path. All the practical things in life were to be taught at home: how to brush your teeth, fry an egg, table manners, social graces, what to say and wear in front of grandma. But it seems like these things are less obvious or are being forgotten as we microwave dinner and stare at phones. So is there a place for schools to step in?

Leaving the whole question of obligations aside, it is no doubt that society would benefit largely from schools offering more practical curriculum that not only teaches charts and dates, but also teaches fundamentals of life. Perhaps the notion that these things should be learned at home is outdated, part of a fundamental social and religious ideal that is no longer relevant. Perhaps, also, the notion that they can be learned at school is an acknowledgement of the fact that not all homes are the same.

If schools are meant to give children a real chance at a good life, arming them with the tools they need to succeed, why not teach them practical things and good habits they can use over a lifetime? Here are some of the topics that schools could include to help students in a more practical way:

1- Economics: This is not a topic that needs to be left for post-secondary. The basics of economics goes well beyond basic math and should include theory as well as personal economics. Personal economics includes how to create a budget, how to budget for university, the value of savings and investments and the perils of credit. It's not riveting stuff, but it's also not rocket science. You can't spend what you don't have and you can't borrow money without a reasonable plan to pay it back. Simple.

2- Social Media etiquette: Etiquette is quickly becoming an antiquated concept, but it is not limited to how to behave at a tea party. Etiquette are the basic, unwritten social rules of how to behave in a manner that is respectful, appropriate and as unobtrusive as possible. Anyone reading this post knows hundreds of people who could use social media etiquette- a quick scroll on Twitter will show tons of potential recruits. This course should look at the potential pitfalls and implications of social media and how freedom of expression and right to privacy may not be what we assume them to be. This course can also include smart use of social media, for the savvy would-be entrepreneur, even if that entrepreneur is a teenage babysitter.

3- Physical education and nutrition: We all hear the news about obesity rates and diabetes. Nothing will change if we don't teach good habits, and this type of course is not effective without nutrition, since the two go hand-in-hand. Physical education is not about playing dodgeball. It should be about basic fitness (how many kids can do 20 push ups? Seriously? How many?) and a reasonable diet that includes water and food that doesn't come from a can. This is the best preventative method when it comes to healthy habits and healthy adults.

4- World religions and diversity: It is not enough to just teach children about their own religion or their own community. The world is a small place and diversity is a great thing. It teaches us about ourselves and opens up a world of possibilities in food, fashion, flavours and festivals. More children will travel the world for experience, work or pleasure. They should be given the tools early on to adapt to new places and given a taste of what awaits them in a future of endless possibilities.

These are just four examples of simple ways we can boost education for children. While it's highly encouraged that parents should do this themselves, it's not always possible in our time-crunched world. But if we're really committed to helping children and empowering them for the future, we should at least consider it.

Dad: Boss and Owner

In some households, dad is boss. In one Ontario household, the dad is not happy with just being the boss; he insists that he owns his kids. In a fight with the Ontario school board on the right to pull his children from courses that may be out of line with his traditional Christian beliefs, the most appalling aspect of this case is the man's following statement (taken from Yahoo):

"My children are my own. I own them. They don't belong to the school board."

Well, this statement is 50% right- the school board definitely does not own his children. On the other hand, this statement of 'I own them' is much more problematic. First, there's the creepy Bates-like mentality of saying such a thing, a statement which is sure to resonate with his children later on in life, as they feel the full weight of his expectations. Second, the very fact of owning anything removes all sense of autonomy or self-awareness of that thing. This is not a problem when the thing in question is a flat screen television. Yeah, you own that thing. It's more troubling when the thing is a human being.

Humans are linked- they are not owned, they are not property. The semantics in this case matter a whole lot. The television doesnt't require you to respect it or its opinions. The television doesn't grow up, mature or have a deep-rooted need to find its own way in life. People should not be equated with things or with ownership of any kind; this attitude and this language is repressive.

The whole matter of what he perceives as his right to pull his children from classes, or be made aware ahead of time what's in the course material is only noteworthy when you consider that by the virtue of his language, this is a father with a few control issues.

And as such, his children are probably the ones who could benefit the most from seeing different perspectives on life. Human rights comes to mind.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Politics go OMG!

Prince Harry's butt is back in the news- but this time, it's in danger. And we don't mean the wrath of the Queen or the voracity of the celebrity media; the Taliban has claimed publicly that it will do everything in its power to destroy Prince Harry, third in the line to the British throne.

The Taliban has probably chosen Prince Harry as a symbol of the occupying Western forces and his recent Vegas escapade photos have probably only fuelled the notion of Western excess and lack of morals. Even without the symbolism, Prince Harry is a well-known public figure in the media, a highly recognizable target, should he get hit. It would be a media field day if they were successful.

It begs the question whether or not someone as high profile as Prince Harry should even be involved in a secret military mission. He's been pulled from duty before for this reason, stating that his presence actually created a greater danger for his comrades. While the military is committed to protecting, as best as they can, all of its soldiers, and Harry is a professional within it, it's hard to believe that this isn't a similar case.

On the other hand, the whole situation is somewhat baffling. Yes, there is symbolism in taking down a crown prince from the United Kingdom, a symbol of enduring monarchy, but let's face it, Prince Harry is better known as a celebrity. He's a bad boy known for partying it up, while his clean as a thistle older brother is known as the heir, while he jokingly refers to himself as the spare. His life of extreme privilege and hard partying is not that far off from the Kanye Wests of the world. Could it be that the Taliban needs media?

What should be a political threat actually looks more like a publicity stunt. It's like the Taliban is playing for air time, regardless of how it comes. This is the kind of news that could show up on OMG and TMZ in addition to CNN and Fox News. Maybe the Taliban understands that the worst of the infidels watch and follow those shows. Perhaps this is just a logical expansion of their *target* demographic. *pun so intended.

Maybe the Taliban is coming of age. Maybe their next step is a Twitter account. Can't you just see it? Tell me you haven't thought of it. Deny that you're thinking about it right now. And you would Follow it, wouldn't you?

Or else...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Way We Iz- Part 3

This is part of a 3 part series on why the present is better- in some ways. It follows up the previous 3 part series on why the past is better- just to keep it equally confusing for all. That’s democracy.


Selfishness is a double-edged sword, but it does have its advantages, the least of which is the fact that it's better for you. Seriously, being selfish at the right time is not only a good thing for the person directly involved, it is actually better for the whole of society.

This might sound like a line straight from the conservative mouth, but backtracking a bit on the C word, let's consider the context of how selfishness helps. In the past, we've been taught to be the kind of people we should be and not necessarily the kind of person we are. On the whole, this has meant obedient, diligent, careful, conformist and nice. Nice hasn't always gotten us very far. Nice has made us follow our parents career paths instead of our own, marry the person who everyone else likes, buy the house in the up and coming neighbourhood that is still a bit rough on the edges and be decent, law-abiding upstanding (yawn!)- citizens.

This kind of nice happens to a lot of people, without them even knowing it. But a bit of selfish can pull people out of these life situations once the person is brave enough to stop and ask themselves: What do I want? and then finding out what needs to be done to get that.

Now, selfishness has taken off recently as a concept and is probably on the verge of disastrous as far as the next generation is concerned. This is not the kind of dialogue that you should be having with a five year old child who wants to constantly express their desire for ice cream. Selfishness is the right of the grown adult individual who has taken the time to consider their dreams and knows themselves to the extent where happiness and self-fulfillment are possible.

It's become completely normal for people to talk about 'me' time. It's that precious hour or so a day (depending on if they can get it!) where a person can do as they please. In a life that is constrained by obligations and responsibilities like work and bills, that 'me' time is precious and some experts even claim it's essential for our mental health. It can be as simple as taking a bath, a walk or a few minutes of silence with a glass of wine. The growing acceptance of the importance and value of me time is a sure testament to how far we've come in letting ourselves be a little selfish to make us better. Because a lot of people don't like the foul-tempered, impatient version of 'me' and a lot less are willing to become the bitter, unfulfilled version of 'me' that less inward people might have become.

Letting ourselves be a little bit selfish when our happiness is at stake is part of how we make ourselves and our world a bit better. And remember that I said 'a little' and that I put it in the context of self-fulfillment and happiness, not a desire for material things or the trampling of others in the pursuit of material wealth. Even though it can be a good thing, this is definitely a case of less is more.

The Way We Iz- Part 2

This is part of a 3 part series on why the present is better- in some ways. It follows up the previous 3 part series on why the past is better- just to keep it equally confusing for all. That’s democracy.


Tolerance. It was a long time coming and many will argue that it's not quite here yet. Others will be quick to tell you that we're losing it, with more and more people falling by way of the dark age. But the very fact that we consider intolerant times the dark age, and the very fact that it worries us as a society, is a good thing. It shows that we care and that we truly value it, and that kind of vigilance means that we're not likely to lose it.

In North America, there would have been a time not that long ago when the sight of homosexuals would have caused violence, moral outrage and ridicule. Indeed, we would not even have seen or heard of it for the most part. It was invisible, this so-called problem of homosexuality. The only times it was made visible to us was when something terrible happened, like a homosexual youth being beaten to death. It took a long time for anyone to even talk about it. But now, people are not only talking about it, they're celebrating it.

For some, it's possible to not only be open about their homosexuality, it has also become possible to live a full life like anyone else, free to marry who they choose and even to have kids. Gone is this ridiculous notion of a lifestyle choice where members of the homosexual community are seen as outsiders who don't have a desire for family and love. And it's not just homosexuals; transgendered people are also coming to the fore and being accepted for who they are and not how they were born.

It's a beautiful thing to see happy same sex couples with their children, living their dreams, full of love, part of their communities. Yes, it's true that they've become the topic of debate in the US elections and not everyone is quite as free as they could be across the continent. But they're no longer strange or invisible, even if they continue to divide people on the moral spectrum. And quite a few people in the educated populace believe that it's backwards to be opposed to them, which is an achievement in itself.

The hardest thing to change in life, and indeed, the last thing to change in humans, is attitudes towards something. The tide has changed largely in favour of rights and acceptance of same sex couples, something which would have been unthinkable not so long ago. Tolerance is progressive and we can only grow by it. Another great reason why this is a good time to be in, especially if you're homosexual, bisexual or transgendered.

The Way We Iz- Part 1

This is part of a 3 part series on why the present is better- in some ways. It follows up the previous 3 part series on why the past is better- just to keep it equally confusing for all. That’s democracy.

The World is Small

It was once believed that the world is flat. For the most part, people now know this not to be true. But one thing the world has become is a whole lot smaller.

There has never been a time in human history where travel, reaching out and existing virtually in almost every part of the globe at the same time has been possible. Back when cartographers were still figuring out what they thought was our flat planet, there would be vast sections with nothing on it, or pictures of dragons to show the mystery and possible magic of places unknown. Unfortunately, there aren't quite so many dragon maps as there used to be and even less unknown places. But it's fairly easy to get around.

We are incredibly fortunate to live in a time when travel is not just for the jet-setting half alcoholic businessmen who wear fedoras. Now, almost anyone with a middle income or the internet is capable of scoring a seat to travel somewhere in the world that once existed as just a dream. Maybe it's a country that they saw in a documentary or a National Geographic special, or maybe romantic movies in sun-soaked wine valleys; either way, travel, while still a dream for many, is closer to being a reality than it ever was.

Consider the strenuous voyages across the sea that one would have had to take not even a hundred years ago to get to new lands. Between the seasickness, homesickness and general monotony of a week spent on a ship, not to mention some pretty serious cabin fever, ship travel wasn't exactly a cruise. People were lucky to make it to their destination alive in some cases and there was always the fear that a major storm would make it a much shorter trip than anyone bargained for.

Would anyone in that seafaring age have believed us if we told them that now, almost anyone with a summer job in America can travel by plane to the place of their dreams? And it's not just travel which is making the world smaller. An online presence, social networking and virtual business is making it possible for people to connect all over the world, instantaneously. Now it's not uncommon to meet young people who have friends on every continent. And it's even more likely that as they get older, they will travel to meet those friends, or relocate a few times in their lives for work and life experiences. It's also very likely that they will meet the love of their lives while on the road- and maybe face some challenging decisions.

This is a world of possibilities that we are fortunate to have. In our lifetime, if we make world travel our priority, we can scale Mount Kilimanjaro, ride a camel in the desert towards the pyramids, barter for goods in Lebanon, visit the holy land of Jerusalem, surf in Australia and so much more. It's truly a small world.

The Way It Wuz- part 3

This is part of a 3 part series on why the past is better- in some ways. To be fair, it will be followed up by a 3 part series on why the present is better- just to keep it equally confusing for all. That's democracy.

Work For It

I love looking at old black and white photographs of grandparents back when they were young, standing proudly in front of their first home, their first car or cradling their first born child. There's something safe and simple about those photos, and they will always tell you that they didn't have much, but what they did have, they appreciated. Most of them moved into their first home with barely a stick of furniture, wrapping up towels and drinking root beer on overturned crates. They worked a lifetime to fill the house with furniture, photos, decorations and love. And they were proud of it.

Nobody expected to come into their adult life equipped with a fully furnished house, a new car, a barbecue and pool for friends. They would have laughed at the notion. Limited access to credit meant that everything had to be earned, slowly, over a period of time and if there simply wasn't enough for two things, then you had to choose one. Nobody was ashamed to have their friends over because their couch was old or their dining room set was only for 4 people instead of 6. And nobody was expected to live on the cover of a magazine in the perfect house with a gourmet kitchen.

This is not to say that the previous generation wanted less than the current one; it's just that they expected less. And they didn't expect to have it all overnight. They worked for everything and did it over time, often doing overtime to get what they wanted.

Now people are killing themselves to get the things that they believe they have to have, taking out loans, putting things on credit, living way beyond their means. Guess what middle class- nobody has ever died by not having a dining room set in the dining room. Your neighbours aren't judging you for the state of your couch- they're probably too busy thinking about their own couch. It's really not all that bad.

A lot of people still work hard, it's their expectations that should be kept in check. They should expect to work years to have a home full of wonderful things like their parents had, they should expect to have to make choices with their money and maybe forego a few vacations instead of running into debt. And they should set a good example for the kids as well.

It was not that long ago that kids would dream of Christmas all year round so that they could finally get that one toy they desperately wanted, being extra good in December, brushing their teeth without being told and not fighting with their brother. But now, you can barely see the bottom of the Christmas tree which is literally buried in piles of presents which are forgotten as quickly as they're opened in favour of yet more presents.

The old saying 'a penny saved is a penny earned'is meant to show the value of self-restraint when it comes to finances. But the more important lesson is that the things we work for are the things that we truly appreciate.

The Way it Wuz- part 2

This is part of a 3 part series on why the past is better- in some ways. To be fair, it will be followed up by a 3 part series on why the present is better- just to keep it equally confusing for all. That's democracy.


Community is not a word that you hear much these days, unless it's used in the religious or suburban context. But it is something that we all need to survive. Humans were not made to live alone; indeed, it would be almost impossible for the species to survive that way, given that we need not just contact, but help. If you stop to think about who you would call if you had an accident at home or fell terribly ill, who comes to mind? It's usually family and rightly so. The sharing of genes is a good prerequisite for help, part of the preservation of the species. But what about those people who aren't lucky enough to have family, or those who don't have them nearby? This is where community comes in.

In the past, people could rely on religious communities, people from their church, to help them out. Floods of neighbours came over, armed with pies and casseroles when someone fell seriously ill or lost a family member. Some people now have community groups located in their neighbourhoods, not linked by religion, but geographical proximity and shared lifestyles. But outside of that, there's less and less community in the western world, and even, within it.

It's natural to think of family in a crisis, but maybe it's time to expand on that, if possible. More and more people don't have the luxury of staying all in one place, surrounded by family and other support units. These other support units actually need to exist in real neighbourhoods. It's time to bring back the concept of the good neighbour, the neighbourhood watch, the welcome wagon. Neighbours need to be more than that awkward hello at the mail box while you flip through your junk mail pamphlets. People need to actually get involved with each other, help each other and get involved in a type of community.

With the rise in condo living, less and less people are feeling attached to their neighbourhoods. Indeed, when these groups get together, it's often because there's a problem. The first time that I met my own neighbours in my condo building, it wasn't at a reception over food and drink; it was a town hall style meeting where we discussed vandalism on our common areas. Needless to say, it wasn't quite the meet and greet with the neighbours that I was expecting.

It's probably time we took an interest in one another, and not the creepy, staring into each other's windows with binoculars kind. We should reach out, talk and get to know each other and not stare directly ahead at the elevator buttons in silence when we meet. We won't have the communities of the church groups of yesteryear, but at least we'll exist in the eyes of our neighbours.

The Way it Wuz- Part 1

This is part of a 3 part series on why the past is better- in some ways. To be fair, it will be followed up by a 3 part series on why the present is better- just to keep it equally confusing for all. That's democracy.


I attended a funeral today for a lovely lady who passed away in her eighties who had been married to the love of her life for over 60 years. They had been together even longer; her beloved husband stated to me at the wake that his only regret was not having proposed sooner to his lady love. The priest at the Church stated that this was the kind of marriage we could barely imagine given the times these days and he was absolutely right. While we still joke about the old ball and chain today, most marriages are starting to look more like cell phone contracts, full of features, defects and limited terms.

The famous 7 year itch has now been reduced by experts to 3 years and some countries have introduced 'trial' marriages, where a couple is wed for 2 years and is then allowed to separate without the inconvenience of a divorce (the union type is only recognized for 2-3 years, or in terms set out by the individuals- convenient.) 1 in 5 relationships start online, as do 1 in 5 affairs (ahem- figures are so similar, could there possibly be a correlation?) Official divorce rates are holding steady at 1 in 4, but none of us would be surprised to see that number jump right up.

Coincidentally, as more marriages fall apart, the wedding industry continues to rake it in, becoming a billion dollar juggernaut. Could it be that people are taking weddings more seriously than the institution of marriage? That, instead of going to couples counselling to figure out how they'll deal with family and money, instead of taking marriage courses like those offered for free by most churches, could it be that couples are spending more time picking out linens and colour coordinating napkins to silverware than actually considering how their future will be?

It strikes me as no surprise that the long-lasting couples from yesteryear are the ones who didn't have extravagant parties or huge gowns to celebrate their union. They were grounded, more often than not, having a ceremony in someone's basement and having friends bring over food. Part of it was a sign of the times; they simply couldn't afford an over the top party, but there was also no expectation that the simple fact of committing themselves to each other should turn into a pageant.

Let's face it; pageants are distracting. They steal attention away from the more important matters, like what the couple expects for their future, how they plan to overcome adversity, what would happen if there was a crisis, what their values are and how they align. A wedding lasts a day, but a marriage is supposed to last a lifetime and no amount of balloons or bonbons is going to make up for a couple who doesn't talk things through beforehand.

All you really need for a wedding to happen is two people in love, an officiant or religious leader, a piece of paper and a witness. It's not more complicated than that. A wedding can be a great occasion to celebrate with friends and family, but it's far from the most important thing.

This is not to rain on the wedding parade. People are entitled to have the kind of day they've always dreamed about and there's no problem with mixing a little fantasy in there or even a bit of extravagance. But people should consider that when they get engaged, the most important thing to remember is that it's an honour to be asked to share a person's life with them and they should do it because they can't imagine their future without them, not because it's the right time in life or because the ring is huge. And when it's time to plan a wedding, they should keep in mind that a wedding only requires love and consent, not the 3 ring triple tiered circus it has become.

In the past, marriage is forever and weddings are simple. I hope a handful of people in the world get to have that kind of love.

The post is dedicated to Lois and Bill Boucher, two halves of a whole, married for 61 years and only separated by her death.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Struggle for Independence

I think I finally know how parents with teenagers feel.

The Quebec provincial elections will take place in a matter of days, and the media is overripe with editorials, opinions, commentaries, letters to the editor and a whole lot of controversy, on both sides of the debate. There has been an undercurrent of Us vs Them with Quebec and Canada taking distinct sides and exchanging accusations of being portrayed unfairly.

The French media accuses the English media of downplaying the real issues or focusing on the stories that make them look like 'rednecks' or racists. The English media questions the relevance of Quebec politics to Canada and vice versa; some wonder whether or not the debate should really take place, while yet other members of the English media appear to be pleading the case for Canada, asking that the country not be torn apart by language or culture.

And yet, instead of a rich ideological debate about history, culture and identity, all I can think about is how parents feel when they're faced with a strong-willed teenager, angrily demanding their independence when they're not even eligible to apply for their own car insurance.

Think of it like this: you have a beautiful child with a mind of their own. They have distinct opinions and a fiery temperment. You love them for those qualities; it's part of what makes them unique, part of what makes them who they are. And yet these same qualities cause all the rifts between you, the fights that often result in slamming of doors and breaking down into tears. They want to leave, but they don't have the means. You don't have the heart to let them go and you don't want them to undergo hardship when they do.

Then one day, they turn around and demand that you give them everything they need to live on their own. They want the car, the couch, the tv, a few months rent, whatever was put into their education or savings funds for the future. They also don't want you to be involved in any of the decisions they will now be making for their future, even though you will continue to indirectly fund them.

As the parent, you're aghast. You don't know where all this comes from. There's the emotional turmoil of being cut out of your child's life, the bewilderment at the anger directed at you after all you've done for them in their lifetime, the balking at the sudden entitlement for this young person to continue to live at your expense as if you're a chequing acount. You debate, you reason, you cajole, you cry. The demands remain the same.

And it goes on. The door slamming, the tears, the frustration, the demands, the inability to understand each other once more. After awhile, the argument gets stale. It's always the same. You don't want to have it anymore. You're tired. You just want to go to bed.

Then one day, you wake up and it's over. You're through fighting. You come to a final compromise and your child finally leaves, maybe with a few concessions, maybe fewer than they wanted. As they leave, you're filled with a sense of concern, muted by the fact that you must respect the choices of others, that you must trust them to find their own way in life. You know that you will always be there for them, if they fall on hard times, if they come back because they've run out of money or need to do laundry.

Perhaps you don't believe that they will make it out there, but it no longer matters, because choices have been made. The child also leaves with a feeling of relief, free to become their own person, but knowing in their heart that this home is where they will come back, if things should go terribly wrong.

It's with this feeling that I watch the Quebec debate unfold. Editorials have stated that Canada is not relevant to Quebec. Perhaps the feeling is more mutual than I would have ever thought. I'm still concerned about Quebec and love what they bring to Canadian culture (poutine, the Habs, French style, joie de vivre). I would be sad to see them leave. But independence is an issue that has risen to the forefront and is not going away anytime soon. Maybe it's finally time to cut the cord.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Today In News- August 30, 2012

Here's a rundown on some of the great headlines/ stories of today, as found on various sources:

1-Yahoo- Bizarre two-faced cat has Web divided- 'some are wondering if it's too good to be true.' Yes, because when I woke up this morning, I said to myself, please God, please, just let the world have a two-faced cat. It's all I wish for.

2- Puck Daddy Original- 'Massive Ideological Hurdle' in NHL Labour talks- what are Bettman and Fehr doing, debating the existence of God? Your 'ideological hurdle' looks as complicated as the Jersey Shore series cancellation. Both sides want too much money. Pretty simple if you ask the rest of us.

3- Various sources and Twitter- Rob Ford's niece gives out useful tips for avoiding sexual assault to women, including not dressing like a whore. This kind of mentality from the era before women's rights should probably go by the wayside, like Ms. Ford's early career in lingerie football.

4- The sandwich celebrates its 250th birthday. Way to go sandwich!

5- Yahoo again- In India, a man opened up a clothing line named Hitler and has claimed that he didn't know who Hitler was until after his line was already launched. My guess is that all of his hate mail should be directed to his home address, which is probably 'under a rock somewhere.'

Friday, August 10, 2012

Attacking the Vulnerable

Toronto has been plagued this summer with a series of unfortunate incidents, ranging from shootings to random acts of unnecessary cruelty to its least fortunate citizens. The latest is a video which has been posted online that features young men urinating on a sleeping homeless man. It's not the first time that homeless people have been victims to street assaults by young people and it won't likely be the last; but the very fact that some have considered it acceptable to film these acts and then post them online for entertainment is sickening and shameful.

When did we think it was okay to behave in such a shameless manner towards the least fortunate in our society? When did we think it was okay to immortalize these base acts and post them online for other peoples benefit? When did we suddenly get interested in watching them online?

It is true that society will be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable people. The homeless are easy targets. They have very little recourse to protection and their lives are daily struggles for existence. Many of them have mental health issues which our health care system has been unable or unwilling to effectively treat; others are addicts with no rehabilitative programs to turn to. Society has already failed them once; it continues to do so when they're ill-treated for no good reason in public.

It may be too much to ask for compassion or help from the general public. But surely these people deserve basic respect and civility? Why should others feel entitled to treat them as animals or objects of ridicule in the street? Have we regressed so severely as a society that we need to be taught, once again, how to treat each other humanely?

It's probably no good to suggest that people who witness these acts should help or intervene. They will likely also be made victims by ignorant, vile bullies who enjoy the suffering of others. Hate and fear are strong. Doing the right thing always seems to have consequences that doing the wrong things do not.

There are days that test my faith in humankind. This is one of them.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cuddly Capitalism

A 29-year-old New York woman has opened up a 'snuggery' in her home, a place where clients can come snuggle her for $60 an hour. Jackie Samuel states that science has proven the health benefits of non-sexual human contact and that she is prepared to offer a safe, relaxing environment where clients can come and snuggle with her, thereby filling a need in society for calm and affection.

The cynic in me wonders if this is more than just cuddly capitalism. Health benefits aside, is there not something odd about cuddling with a complete stranger and paying them? The picture that accompanies this story shows a young woman lying on a couch in a clean white linen shift dress that makes her look like she's recently escaped an Amish community. The look on her face is no doubt meant to be inviting and kind, but one can't help feeling a bit creeped out that she's snuggling lots of strangers for a living. A living that could be quite profitable at a staggering rate of $60 an hour.

Consider the fact that snuggling requires no special talent, no matter what kids say about mommy and daddy being the best snugglers in the universe. It really just requires arms. Perhaps the rate is so high because a willingness to invite strangers to one's homes and arms is a pretty big deal. So it sort of amounts to danger pay or general discomfort pay. Fair enough.

Which then makes us flip the question around: what would drive a person to PAY a person for this 'service'? Have we really come to the point in society where we're so starved for human contact and attention that we are willing to pay for it? People have been paying for the sexual kind for years. But basic comfort? Basic 'I've had a bad day' sort of syndrome? In the past, would we not have learned to just handle things? Stiff upper lip, rolling with the punches, all that stuff?

Let's consider some alternatives and their pros and cons:

A teddy bear. Pros: it's warm, soft, sometimes it comes with memories. Cons: it's not a person, but it's also not a stranger. Cost: probably around $50 and no hourly rate.

A massage. Pros: The health benefits of this one have also been proven and it's covered through most health insurance plans. Cons: it still sort of amounts to paying a stranger to touch you, but at least it's medical. Cost: $50-$100 an hour minus the creepiness factor.

A drink. Pros: it makes us all feel better as a general rule. We can do it with strangers and not feel creepy or get too close, although we may want to later on. Cons: unless you're an alcoholic, there really are none. Cost: a tab and a cab.

You can take from this what you like. But I'm not a doctor after all. Then again, neither is the woman who runs the 'Snuggery.'

Friday, July 6, 2012

No more Sexy Imports

New immigration laws in Canada have called for the immediate removal of temporary foreign workers linked to the sex trade. This move has been received with disdain from Tim Bambrinos, the president of the adult entertainment association of Canada, who claims that foreign-born strippers are being treated unfairly.

It's nice that foreign-born strippers with temporary foreign work visas are being supported by such a prestigious, upstanding individual. Especially when you consider how he speaks about them (taken from Yahoo!):

Begin quote exactly as found on website: "People who come to the clubs because they want to see something exotic. It's like when you go to the zoo you don't want to see the squirrels and the chipmunks and the raccoons fighting you want to see some exotic animals and that's the same demand here," he said. End quote.

Comparing the club with the zoo definitely makes you realize that you're dealing with a real classy joint that doesn't need domestic mongrels. Fair enough. Zoos simply aren't zoos without exotic creatures far removed from their hospitable natural climates who are trapped, drugged, transported and then caged. It doesn't matter that their fate is then to be pointed at or abused by oodles of oglers; it's what the zoo needs in order to be a profitable institution. And ultimately, the President of this association is defending their bottom line.

He furthers his point with this follow up statement:

Begin quote "It's's an attraction. People want to see in Canada something different, something exciting, something that's not indigenous to our area." End quote.

Yes, it's such a relief to know that we're putting the 'exotic' back into the term 'exotic dancer.' The true beauty of a multicultural society is equal opportunity for all races to bump and grind for audiences.

On a more serious note, however, he does express concern about the potential danger to these workers:

Begin quote "They're going to be lured underground. They're going to be more susceptible and driven into more precarious and dangerous situations." End quote.

That may be true, but this has been the reality for just about every category of temporary foreign worker in Canada. Many of them are living precariously and even dangerously, subject to abuse and threats. While the threat of this is very real, it's abundantly clear that women's rights are not the top of the agenda for this spokesperson; especially since he sees them as animals in a zoo.

Begin quote: Lambrinos insists the strippers aren't taking these changes lying down. End quote.

We're guessing that they won't. They will probably take it lying down, sitting up, and all sorts of ways.

Only The Charming Survive

It used to be that only the strong survive. But with shifting career dynamics and an increased tendency towards client service-oriented professions, it appears that the new skill to survive is not so much strength, but charm.

With the exception of the public service, job security is practically non-existent. In fact, it's not even desired by the new generation of workers; most young people want and expect to change jobs every 2-3 years, and in some cases, will also change cities. They are more virtual, more mobile and their focus is not security and wealth, but the elusive quality of happiness and loving what they do. Some look for more meaning, while others look for more fun, and others look for maximum mobility so that they can globetrot while picking up a paycheque instead of a back pack.

The good news is that they have plenty of options. The shift from robotic assembly line style professions means that there is more freedom to provide special services that a machine cannot; from the barista who sprinkles just the right amount of cinnamon into your dolce latte to the personal trainer who helps you get to the ideal weight, specialized client-service oriented professions are on the rise. The potential rewards include flexibility, adaptability and the all-important being your own boss.

The potential pitfalls? Low wages, no security, high risk, and potentially, crippling debt. But here's the difference maker: charm. The ability to sell yourself and be a true entrepreneur. The more that a person can talk themselves up and their skills, the bigger their potential revenue. While it's a well-known fact that people who present themselves better at interviews are more likely to get jobs, the charm factor can be the difference between wage slave and savvy businessperson. Smart use of social media and the old-fashioned recruiting in person can result in a far more lucrative and satisfying career than a 9 to 5 desk job.

While it's important to be able to actually deliver on the promised service, it appears that the promise is just as important now as the service itself. While parents used to tell their children to become doctors and lawyers, nowadays, more parents are telling their children to learn a trade so that they can't be fired. Trade school or law school, we should all add one more to the list: charm school. An old-fashioned meet and greet means a lot more than it used to and we should all be ready with a smile and some confidence.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Hate Yoga

This is personal. Yes, I hate yoga. It's one of those things that I try to explain to people and somewhere in the process of doing so, I sputter with rage, at which point, the person listening usually stops in order to dismiss me as a nonsensical anti-inner peace doofus. So here goes my final attempt to clarify my position without the rage part.

First, yoga as a philosophy and yoga as we know it today are two very different things. The original yoga philosophy dates back millions of years ago with Buddhist monks in Nepal. It's the simplified notion known today as mind over matter, but its practice is much more complex and painful. The principle is that your mind and spirit should be able to overcome any and all outlying forces surrounding it, and through this practice, find inner peace outside of your physical self. This is the principle of walking over hot coals without feeling pain, staying warm in a snowstorm with no jacket, staying cold in sweltering heat with no shade. It's endurance. It's overcoming outside forces through inner strength and discipline. This philosophy accepts pain as a natural and powerful force and encourages pain to be a part of one's daily life.

This has absolutely nothing to do with stretching or pretending to be a tree. Stretching, breathing, tree-posing are all good for you in their own way. But they are not yoga. The yoga that we know today has been whittled down, simplified, and packaged as part of a lifestyle brand. This lifestyle brand doesn't come cheap; it requires expensive top of line ethical clothing, large expensive studios, and weekly commitments to classes, classes and more classes.

Yoga brands have managed to create a need in society. This need has been spurred on by the idea of our hectic lifestyles and how disconnected we are from ourselves and nature. This is a need that could be met by simply taking a walk outside with your cell phone turned off. It doesn't require studio space, an instructor, a fancy mat made of bamboo, $80 seaweed pants, soft music and organic tea. Finding the disconnect is a choice and it's a matter of not allowing society pressure you into thinking you need things you don't or that you need to live a life you don't want to live.

Perhaps the most ironic part of this is the fact that many yogies tend to believe that they are doing just that by taking up yoga: making a choice to disconnect and reconnect with their inner self. But by buying into the yoga lifestyle which has been marketed so well to the public, you are not living an alternative life, you are conforming to exactly what the brands want you to do. And it's a lucrative business. So lucrative, in fact, that yoga has celebrity endorsements and has been seen as a hallmark of an ideal, vibrant California cool lifestyle. And that's another source of my frustration with it.

This isn't to say that the quest for inner peace is silly or useless. This is just to say that the yoga brand is probably not the best vehicle for achieving it. If inner peace comes truly from within, turn everything off for a few hours and reflect quietly. You might be surprised at what comes to you. And it won't be seaweed pants.

The Rich Bitches of Metropolis

There is an explosion of reality tv shows based around the lives of the rich and notorious of the world. There are the famous for being famous ones, like the Kardashians. There are the ones that claim to be 'real' with titles like the Real Housewives of something or other, with their latest addition in Vancouver, Canada, much to the country's shame. Then there are the ones that cater to awful cultural stereotypes of the stinking rich like Shahs of Sunset.

Their common thread is that everyone in these shows are just awful. Petty, vapid, dim-witted and downright mean are just a few of their key characteristics. They ride in limos, wear obnoxious clothing, drink profusely and go to lavish events. For some viewers, it's a whole new world that they can only imagine, an occasion to take a peak behind the velvet rope. For others, they delight in the spectacle of Chardonnay throwing and verbal abuse slung out by mean-spirited and often drunk rivals.

Our fascination as a society with the rich is an enduring tradition which hasn't changed much since the days the plebes created farces of the rich in public theaters. It's also been thought that the rich were naturally different than everyone else, depending on which side of the Fitzgerald-Hemingway debate you're on. Fitzgerald: the rich are very different from you and I. Hemingway: yes. They have more money.

In North American culture, the rich represent an ideal, one which is thought to be accessible to all through hard work and smarts. This principle is quickly eroding in the face of inheritance, entitlement, celebrity for the sake of celebrity and the ever-increasing gap between the very rich and the very poor. There is a point in every civilization's history when the rich move away from being the top of the social pyramid which contributes largely to the whole of society to a parasitic, useless class which produces little and takes too much. This large gap is usually one of the first tipping points of the breakdown of civilization into decline.

So while the majority of us delight in seeing the rich auto-destruct on prime time television, we should be careful to consider what this actually means for our civilization. We think we're witnessing the top 1% eat each other; but they're taking us with them.

Art Lesson

There has been an outpouring of shock and rage over the burning of a $100,000 Birkin bag for the sake of 'art' by Tyler Shields and his girlfriend, Francesca Eastwood. If that last name sounds familiar, it's because Francesca is the daughter of Clint Eastwood, a well-known artist in his own right for having acted and directed in great films. Sadly, he has not made an effort to educate his own daughter on what makes art, or else she wouldn't have agreed to participate in such a silly venture.

The argument that is being used by her boyfriend artist is that material wealth is worthless and destructible and by destroying it himself, he is demonstrating this point to the masses. It's a sort of 'everything burns, nothing lasts' art philosophy that can be used, intelligently enough, to demonstrate our own mortality. The impermanence of people and things within the world, etc.

Here's the main problem with this artistic statement: it's not art to destroy. It's art to de-construct, it's art to re-configure, but it is not art to destroy things. In fact, the very premise of art is to create something, something out of nothing, that is indicative of skill, perception, reflection and often hard work. Art is supposed to teach us something about ourselves or serve as a mirror reflection of our society in a way that is subtle, disturbing or even skewed. Any idiot can light something on fire and burn it.

Assuming that Shields is a true artist and believes in his message, there are other ways to bring this point to the world. It's difficult, however, to believe anything he might want to say on this subject, considering that he is viewing it from a perch of unbelievable privilege. With a famous girlfriend and access to God knows how many riches, Shields is far from being an objective source of a rather simplistic message.

There is no originality in destruction of expensive things for the sake of art. There is no originality in the message that material wealth, like life, like beauty, is fleeting in this world. Shields could put his considerable resources towards something important in his self-development and his career. He could take that $100,000 and put himself through art school. He needs it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuning Out?

People don't tune in weekly to shows anymore. It's the simple reality. As the networks reveal which shows are getting the axe and continue to spin more tried and trite reworks of past successes and spinoffs, it's clear that tv is not what it used to be. There was a time, and it wasn't quite that long ago, when people would tune in every week to one particular show. You couldn't move them from that couch on Monday between 7-8. You didn't even answer the phone. TV was kind of a big deal.

But people don't schedule their lives around tv much anymore. There's so much other stuff to do and On Demand as well as time shifting has made it possible for us to watch when we want to, rather than when it's on. Downloading and internet tv are also popular options. It's not just the time commitment that becomes the issue, but the choice.

Reality tv is ratings gold and for many reasons: it's cheap, gossip-worthy, and doesn't require a large emotional or neurological investment. Drama is often too involved and too, well, dramatic. Comedy is rarely funny. The threat of the axe also deters us from loving shows too much. And then there are the shows themselves.

Let's use the example of one of this year's most compelling dramas, Awake. Awake is a highly intelligent drama about an LA-based detective who loses his wife or son in an accident and is living 2 parallel realities in which each is alive. The 2 realities are so clearly separate that he has a different police partner and a different psychologist in each. The show's first few episodes were breathtakingly captivating. It made you tremble for more and wonder so hard that your brain hurt.

But here are the problems with the show:

It's almost too smart for its own good- Let's admit it. The premise is gimmicky and faulty because in order for the show to work, the premise has to work everytime, which means that the character can't ever commit to 1 reality. While this is compelling on the surface, it's utterly unrewarding to the viewer, because they will never get close to the 'truth'. The search for the truth is what keeps us interested in the show; but getting there will destroy the show, much in the same way that romantic tension keeps shows alive until the two main characters actually get together.

Grieving is a bad storyline- There's only so much grieving that viewers will watch before it overwhelms them. By not allowing the story to advance much beyond 'mom misses son' and 'son misses mom' while 'dad misses both', makes all the characters fall flat. An emotional connection is nearly impossible with either son or mother, made all the more complicated by the fact that the detective is not close to either. He is the absentee father, mostly at work on a case, rather than at home bonded to his family. His bonds with both seem superficial and only his grief for them seems real. It's not good viewing.

One of these things just doesn't belong- There are 2 stories competing for Detective Britton's attention right now, the grieving one in which he might become a grandparent or move, and the second much more interesting one of the police force's conspiracy to kill him. The problem is that they are almost incompatible. The news of the show's cancellation next season seems to have prompted the creators to concentrate on the police conspiracy, leaving both crash victims out of the storyline. The show, if it gets picked up again by an interested fanbase, will have to decide which it's going to be: family drama or police drama.

Which brings us back to the problems with tv. If a series is going to demand a high level of emotional investment and tolerance for non-answers from its viewers, at some point, it has to offer a reward. Remember LOST? Beyond two brilliant seasons, LOST was an epic disappointment, confusing viewers, story spinning out of control and finally losing all credibility with a cryptic and inane finale. Viewers don't want to ride that ride anymore.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tax the Fat

The old motto used to be 'tax the rich.' It would be nice if that motto still stood. But a new motto appears to be taking its place, which is that of 'tax the fat.' The argument is much simpler to make to the public. There's an obesity problem in North America and this represents a serious pulic health issue, therefore, taxes should be imposed on the sale of fatty items, in the same vein as the taxes imposed on tobacco products and alcohol. But one look at the numbers on this issue makes it much less clear.

A study conducted in American middle schools indicated by the numbers that the increase in sales of fatty foods in schools did not result in an increase in obesity among the students. The results were so surprising to a team of scientists that they initially believed their results were wrong and delayed publication of their findings. It seems that other factors, such as neighbourhoods and home life, may be a bigger contributor to shaping eating habits and healthy attitudes.

Similar research supports this notion. What happens in the home and the attitudes towards one's health and body may be more important than the availability of junk food. Research also points to the fact that messaging is ineffective within the home if it's not supported by action; 'do as I say and not as I do' has never been a good parenting model. Just as education is often affected by parents (those with higher degrees are more likely to have children with higher degrees), health is also learned and best learned through real life examples.

The lesson here may be that if children are going to do better, their parents must do better. It is up to them to provide good healthy habits. Their children are not the 'victims' of slick marketing by food companies. Health is all about choices and while education can go a certain way, as well as limited access, it is ultimately up to us to decide what we consume or don't consume. A 20% tax on junk food won't stop determined midnight hamburger runs. Taxation on tobacco is generally ineffective in curbing smoking; it will be much the same for pop and chips.

Junk food alone is not the enemy of good health. It's attitudes and lifestyle choice. By showing people the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle, people will be more inclined to improve themselves rather than through taxation and shaming. The benefits are numerous: improved sleep, strength, stamina, increased energy levels, better concentration, boosted ego and just looking great in clothes.

If the government wants more effective policies for public health than taxation, it need look no further than simple and cost-effective solutions. Bring gym class back to schools. Bring back the milk program for children. Let nutritionists into the schools with Canada's Health Guide. Build more community centres with active programming like dance classes and basketball. Subsidize local farming. It could all be so simple.

A Job's a Job?

The Canadian government, in the midst of massive cuts to federal programs and layoffs of the public service, is introducing changes to its Employment Insurance policies which would force those who are on EI to take jobs that they may otherwise refuse. The government is attempting to re-define the rights of workers on EI; the rights of the productive, middle-income earners who turn the national economy, freshly released from their secure, steady employment by the same government looking to make efficiencies. This basically means that the government has cut the economy off at its knees by taking employment away from the most consistent sources of consumer revenue; average Canadians.

Instead, these well-educated and experienced workers will be asked to fill regional labour gaps in jobs that they would refuse based on their high skill set, low wages or unacceptable working conditions. The Finance Minister has stated that a job is a job and that people should do what needs to be done, using his own example of driving cabs and refereeing hockey to get by in his youth.

While it's refreshing to see people acknowledge that all forms of employment are respectable, it glosses over the fact that it's not always acceptable. Young professionals who are not eligible for early retirement packages are being squeezed out of their positions so that the government can save millions on what it considers public service ineffiencies. Among these savings are pensions and benefits for workers, the kind of security that only the public service offers in exchange for office work.

The days of the plum jobs are gone, with no benefits or security to speak of. That much has been made clear through this round of cuts and with the general feeling around the world, with fragile economies and austerity measures. While this may be a simple fact of life, is it really a better option to force people into jobs that they don't want?

Forget the fact that these jobs are often sweaty, uncomfortable, physically taxing, exhausting and don't even begin to pay the bills. There's a reason they are hard to fill. Filling in labour gaps with forced employees is never a good business model. Production and morale levels will be low; logic states that return on investment will be low as a result. This measure will hurt instead of help the current labour market by filling it with bitter overqualified workers who can no longer afford their mortgages.

And let's not forget another essential point: forced labour is, by definition, slavery. Government-mandated participation in the labour market of its choice is coming pretty close to that mark.

Monday, May 14, 2012

This time, it's personal

A Canada Post Corporation employee has been relieved of their duties as a sorter due to some angry and derogatory comments made about the management of her organization on Facebook. The Union is appealing the decision on the basis that the employee should not have been fired suddenly due to her years of service with the organization, while the members of management affected have each taken a leave of absence to deal with the stress and trauma of being called out online. The employee is unrepentant, stating that it was management who drove her to make the comments because of the toxic work environment that they had created.

While most of us know that Facebook is a public social media service which is readily accessible to all, we also know that it can and will be held against us. Whether it's friendly blackmail of you at that party where you've had a few too many or the bad stuff that you say about your ex, the stuff on the internet is free game and you must be careful what you post.

The case of this woman is pretty clear. She abused her management through social networking and her rants were public. She wrote herself a one way ticket out of her job and pleading ignorance will not do her any good, especially to a tech-savvy young generation of people who know the pitfalls and joys of cyberculture all too well. But it does raise an interesting and important question: just how do you divide the line between your personal and your private life? Your life online is more public than you think, and it's not just reputations that can get stained, but jobs can get lost too.

And it's not just the jobs we have, but future employment as well. Apparently, more and more employers are checking their prospective employees on Facebook and Twitter as well as other social media sites. While they cannot force the employee to give them access, they can search and view pages that may belong to you and are not intended for professional purposes.

So how much of our online profile is fair game? Is it fair for prospective employees to check on intangible qualities, like my recreational preferences or the fact that I might have a cute dog? Will employers see an opportunity to peak into the lives of their employees and check if they're family-oriented or listen to rap music? Will it allow them to discriminate based on lifestyle choices?

The honest answer is that it will. The follow up question is whether or not it should. Your social media profile should not factor into a decision about your employability or your character. Employees should not be obligated to disclose their social media information to their employer or 'Friend' them.

And on the flipside? Less may be more when it comes to your online footprint with social media.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Oh the Humanities!

There is a lot of talk about the Quebec university students who are protesting the proposed tuition hikes. A lot of the talk has centered around the violence committed by protesters, who have mostly been revealed as anarchists taking advantage of an opportunity for chaos, rather than students protesting for a cause. Other discussions have centered around the basic economics of the issue which have broken down the proposed changes to somewhere around a few hundred dollars or roughly $6 a day. The attention has grown to international levels and has sparked debates on everything from education rights, social justice, Quebec, Quebec vs Canada, violence, police, and politics.

In Canada, it's safe to say that the majority of people believe the following: violence is wrong, Quebec is unique, some students are passive social justice advocates, the changes to the tuition rates are a question of economics but some people want to fight on principle. Fair enough.

What isn't safe to say is that either side is justified in judging each other. On the one hand, the Quebec students may be out of touch with the fiscal reality and the larger social context of what's happening in the world outside of Quebec. They may be kicking up a lot of proverbial dust for very little benefit when that time could be better used to find employment to make up the difference in their already low education rates. On the other hand, they have a right to feel that education is a social justice issue and to fight for the principle of keeping education affordable and accessible to all. A few dollars today may mean a few thousand dollars tomorrow. Point well taken.

But there is something unsettling about the way the students are being criticized over what appears to be an issue of dollars and cents. Out of touch? Maybe. Too passionate to see that their cause is tiny? Probably also true. Movement to protest out of proportion to the possible outcome? Yes.

This statement, however, does not fall into the category of appropriate criticism(Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail, Quebec University students are in for a shock):

"The truth is, the education they’re getting is overpriced at any cost. The protesters do not include accounting, science and engineering students, who have better things to do than hurl projectiles at police. They’re the sociology, anthropology, philosophy, arts, and victim-studies students, whose degrees are increasingly worthless in a world that increasingly demands hard skills. The world will not be kind to them. They’re the baristas of tomorrow and they don’t even know it, because the adults in their lives have sheltered them and encouraged their mass flight from reality."

First, not all protestor are hurling projectiles at police. Some of them are marching peacefully in the streets and shouting slogans. Not illegal by any means and not something to be reproached. Second, the blatant attack on the social sciences and humanities is just offensive. Worthless? Who uses a word like worthless to describe education which is supposed to be a pillar of civilization, one of those things that separates us from gorillas? As a 'journalist', most people are taught to be sensitive to language, as the use of words has an enormous effect on people. 'Worthless' should not be used lightly.

It's also hard to surmise from this article with my small minded humanities based brain what a hard skill is. It is likely that hard skill and tangible outcome go together, much like engineers make machines and science people make cures and stuff like that. What a slap in the face to the thousands of people who dedicate their lives to exploring fundamental questions of existence, society and humans in general. The pursuit of meaning may be outdated to some, but if that question gets perenially lost in the pursuit of more practical things like gadgets, not only will we understand less about what we do, but we will understand a lot less about why we do it.

I get that the students are out of touch, probably expect too much and are probably fighting for very little. I get that it may seem ridiculous to some people. Wente doesn't mince her words and am I against that? Hell no! But the mean-spirited notion that there are people out there with worthless degrees just because they prefer thought and reflection to numbers and machines is wrong. The day that we lose those people is the day we become the numbers and machines. The notion has already made some of us insensitive.

Friday, April 13, 2012

From F-U to Big F

North Korea put the international community on its heels earlier this week with the news that they were going to launch a satellite to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of their fearless leader. While they innocently claimed that it was a weather satellite, the rest of the world had its own ideas of what the test was for. USA was particularly concerned, with the intention of suspending a food aid program to North Korea in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear programs, while neighbouring Asian nations were more concerned about the safety of their citizens.

While there's been much ado about the test, including some scientists revealing that North Korea's geographical reality poses a logistic problem for the launch, the regime has remained defiant. Faced with obstacles ranging from political to scientific, the regime stayed true to its plan and vision, eschewing international concern and basic geography. And the end result? They failed.

It has a certain poetic quality to it, and yet, a mitigated amount of hilarity. It's kind of like the teenager who decides he's leaving home and decides he will defiantly take the family car with him, despite the fact that he has no plans and no insurance or license and is very likely to be grounded for life. Maybe he can't even drive. The truly important thing is that he gets to leave. Then, faced with all the potential consequences of his actions, and amid calls to reason from friends and family, he sets off on his quest, only to run out of gas two blocks down the street.

North Korea is not going to be so easily discouraged. They will keep testing and they will keep working on their projects, some of which may or may not include the destruction of its neighbours, South Korea for example, or ones a little farther away, like the USA. They will probably continue to play innocent and make it seem like they're very interested in weather. They will probably recklessly continue to defy and nudge the international community like the kid who loses it one day in the playground and chucks a marble at the biggest kid in school.

The international community is going to have to keep watching North Korea and keep issuing warnings when it steps over the line. But for today, it looks like they might have foiled their own evil plan.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hear No Evil

A Greek reporter was pelted with eggs and yogourt by a group of protesters on the air who had issue with his invited guest. It turns out that the guest in question was a neo-Nazi and member of a highly controversial nationalist party with anti-immigration viewpoints. While it's laudable that the protesters came out to express their views, they might have done more harm than good.

On the one hand, they didn't target the right person. The invited guest was not the victim of the food fight, the host of the show was. He put on a brave front, allowing the attack to happen with little resistance and then quietly walked off set. Their attack would have been more successful and arguably more fun to watch had they had the right person.

On the other hand, nobody got a chance to hear what the guest might have had to say. While it's always dangerous to give a platform to the extremists and pro-hate groups, it might be even more dangerous to cover our ears and pretend that they don't exist. Part of being able to combat evil is to know it; denial and ignorance has rarely taught us anything. Ironically, ignorance is the very thing that is used by pro-hate groups when they defend their views.

Years back, there were groups that wanted to ban Mein Kampf by Hitler because of its views. Regretably, this document is a piece of history, and should serve as a warning to future generations of the dangers of hate and violence. It does not propagate more hate if we're smart in our approach and educate people properly on the importance of tolerance. If you're going to fight a problem, you need to know what you're fighting against.

Pro-hate groups will do themselves in by their arguments, which are often entirely intellectually void and unsupported by things like science and reason. They should not be given a long leash to say and do whatever they want, but we should be aware of them and why they're wrong.

Stripping America's Rights

Getting caught with your pants down is going to take on a whole new meaning in the States, as the Supreme Court has decided that all arrested suspects may be subject to a strip search, even for a minor offense. Since the laws change from State to State, this could be for something as simple as forgetting to put on your seatbelt or some traffic violation of sorts. The argument is that this move is not excessive, since most criminals who perpetrate major crimes also commit minor crimes, sometimes on the way to committing major crimes. Which means that the seatbelt forgetting driver may also be a bomber in disguise and the only way to know, is to empower the police with the right to strip them down for explosives.

It's a spurious logic at best, considering that most of us don't think of our underwear as the primary place to hide explosives. 'Down there' should really be all about cottony softness and, on special occasions, lacey naughtiness. That's in consideration of the fact that most of us are normal.

But for that whacked out small percentage of crazies who are bent on wreaking havoc, it's really worth compromising the rights and decency of thousands of innocent citizens. After all, what is a strip search or false arrest or mistaken arrest followed by a strip search? Is it anything more than an 'inconvenience'? When you think of all the spectacular plots that will be overthrown, all the haters of America with their schemes foiled, will you really mind that cool breeze? That's the cool breeze of freedom, friends.

Yes, many people are arrested these days and sometimes, it's a mistake. The mistake could be something as simple as not being born white. It happens. Or the mistake could be someone not actually committing a crime. It also happens. But it appears that the American Supreme Court believes that the real crime is not protecting the country by subjecting people to humiliation and unnecessary fearmongering.

It was probably really difficult of them to uphold the basic principle of being considered innocent until proven guilty. By considering everyone guilty first, it's a real time saver for everyone involved in the legal process. Too bad that they exist to uphold the very principles that they're now violating.