Monthly Archives: January 2011

Middle East Dancing


The Dance is on in Egypt, following a somewhat successful engagement in Tunisia last week.  The Dance does not involve men in colourful costumes and zithers, instead this Dance involves regular folks going into the street and demanding freedom.

Tunisia decided to start the Dance last week, with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali taking off with a ton and half of the gold from the Central Bank vaults.  Next door, President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt looked at the Jasmine Revolution and said “Ruh Roh!”  The news networks go wall to wall with the Crisis in Egypt and here we are.

Overthrowing dictatorships and striving for something resembling freedom is always a good thing for a country.  However, there is often a downside that the population sometimes overlooks in their well-intentioned zeal to be ‘free’, whatever the hell that means.  As an example, when Germany reunified, East and West in the 90’s, there was a stunning string of gaps between the two Germanys that you could tangibly see, even as an outsider.  The Osties were the equivalent of the local hillbillys, gawking at flush toilets and restaurants with blank-eyed incomprehension:  Such things were only the purview of the ruling class at the appropriate level of the Politburo.

Will the same happen in Tunisia or Egypt?  Of course it will, the disenfranchised suddenly having at least a half of one tenth of vote, will likely see the rise of niche political parties catering only to the newly franchised.  Expect the first ‘free’ ballot to be three meters long, listing 31 different parties. 

Economically, both Tunisia and Egypt will go into the shitter.  They don’t have far to fall, but that is to be expected, as the big multi-nationals like dealing with dictators:  The bureaucracy in a dictatorship gets simplified when all you have to do is deliver a suitcase of money to get the contract.  Using India as an example, ‘free’ bureaucracies take forever to decide to take a piss or a shit at lunch, then strike a Federal Commission to study the possibility of investigating the potential of establishing a Standing Committee with a complete terms of reference to consider taking a piss or a shit at lunch.  Things get done, but they take lifetimes in the free system. 

The real difficulty with the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are twofold.  One, the other Arab countries in the neighbourhood don’t really like the idea of people having votes, changing governments, personal freedom, untaxed flatbread or heaven’s forbid, acknowledging there’s some joint called Israel. 

The second problem is Israel.  To say that Israel is wrapped a little tight is January’s Understatement of the Month Club Feature Understatement.  With little provocation, or imagination, Israel could feel threatened by any number of curious turns of phrase or political orientations in the newly free countries that could easy escalate into the usual foaming hostility, live-fire exercises and bloodshed.

Which leaves us with a situation where we watch and wait to see what happens, hoping at the same time that the various participants don’t decide to kill each other.  

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The Off Button


There are joys to having a big pipe.  Media pipe we mean, as in a broadband network connection into this remarkable Internet-tube thing.  Conceptually, we have access to almost all the World’s Wisdom, more or less at our fingertips, a short search away.  This access isn’t only at our cumbersome desktops and laptops, our portable phones have been in on the game for years, gobbling up bandwidth, pulling down more of our collective wisdom to be used for the Good of Humankind.

With all these apps at our fingertips, literally, have we managed to do anything good with it?  Not particularly.  The Information Economy, whereby we would be freed from the tyranny of the assembly line. to pursue the best and the brightest uses of our minds, has become an ironic trope, trotted out by politicians every four or five years, funded for a week, then quietly outsourced somewhere less expensive, which means more profitable for someone else.  Emphatically not profitable for the guy who used to assemble instrument panel clusters at a factory, or his family.

Yes, we’ve gained speed.  Amber Alerts can tell us, within seconds, if a child is missing.  It hasn’t solved the problem of why the child was snatched in the first place, but at least we know about it in a big hurry.  You can download entire seasons of “Gilligan’s Island” and relive the zany antics of the Professor and Gilligan attempting to bring hot water to the Howell’s hut with bamboo pipes.  Conversely, in travelling to Wikipedia, you can see that the Periodic Table of Elements now has 118 entries, up from the usual 101.

Have we become more connected as a species, knowing the hopes and aspirations of our distant neighbours, are the same hopes and aspirations as ourselves?  Based on the vicious polarization we see daily, we’ll vote for a quiet No:  That didn’t quite work out as well as it was shown in the PowerPoint.  Nor do we have our own personal helicopters to fly to work every day.  The computer controlled highways that would whisk us from city to city have been placed on the back burner, much to the chagrin of the late Norman Bel Geddes

We do have incessant media, clamouring for our attention, driven to new heights of hysteria by the demanding monetary maw of marketers, determined to not only pick our pockets, but to hold us at gunpoint in front of the ATM, forcing us to open a line of credit from here to Saturn to feed the Beast.  You mean you don’t have more than four thousand friends actively following your every burp and blink on Twitter?  That is sooo 2007 that you must not actually exist as a viable life form.  That phone must be at least six months old, how can you actually stay in touch?  Were there ever apps for that dinosaur?

Taken as a whole, this massive aggregation of knowledge, opinion and discourse has produced exactly what?  We’re more isolated from each other with every mindless tweet, ill-considered status update, insular voice mail, misguided link and moronic text.  Learned folks, with more sociological skills than I, have looked at social networking, this hours’ meme and declared it madness.  But they have missed the core question:  What to do about it?

There are as best we can see, several things that can be done about our exponentially increasing isolation.  The first is to find the Off button.  Even this ancient Compaq iPAQ PocketPC on my desk has an Off button that kills it stone dead.  So does the smartphone, the computer, the TV, the media player and all the rest of these great gadgets:  There is some kind of button that disrupt its’ operation.

The follow on question becomes what to do if you deliberately, with malice of forethought, turn off the technology?  Will the economic engine grind to a sudden choking halt because you are not jacked into it in a state of perpetual hysteria? 

In a few minutes, after I post this, I intend to make a nice fire in the fireplace and look out the window for an hour or two.  It’s cold here, around –23 C (-9.4 F for the American readers, or effin’ cold) but the sun is shining brightly.  Smoke from the houses are rising in gentle plumes, waggling their white fingers at the sky while well-bundled neighbours crunch through squeaky stale snow to walk the dog in the nearby park.  I might even decided to read a book.

Let me know if the economy keeps going OK?  I’ll check back in a couple of hours.  Or, maybe not until Monday. 

Money For Nothing


In a complete breakdown of common sense, the Canadian Radio and Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC, the approximate equivalent of the US FCC) has determined that the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing” is unacceptable for play on Canadian radio stations.

Also known as the “I Want My MTV” song, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council says the song contravenes the human rights clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code.  At contention is the word ‘faggot’.

For those who don’t know the song, or who are not fans of Dire Straits, we’ve excerpted the lines of contention:

…See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup
Yeah buddy that’s his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot he’s a millionaire…

Lyrics are by Mark Knopfler ©1985

Yep, the word faggot is offensive.  Now consider this lyric:

Poppin, stoppin, hoppin like a rabbit
When I take the nina Ross ya know I gota ta have it
I lay back in the cut retain myself
Think about the shit, and I’m thinkin wealth
How can I makes my grip
And how should I make that nigga straight slip
Set trip, gotta get him for his grip
as i dip around the corner, now i’m on a-nother
mission, wishin, upon a star
Snoop Doggy Dogg with the caviar
In the back of the limo no demo, this is the real
Breakin niggaz down like Evander Holyfield, chill
to the next Episode
I make money, and I really don’t love hoes
Tell ya the truth, I swoop in the Coupe
I used to sell loot, I used to shoot hoops
But now I, make, hits, every single day
With, that nigga, the diggy Dr. Dre
So lay back in the cut, motherfucker ‘fore you get shot
It’s 1-8-7 on a motherfuckin cop
[Verse Two:]
Boy it’s gettin hot, yes indeed it is
Snoop Dogg on the mic i’m about as crazy as Biz
Markie, spark the, chronic bud real quick
And let me get into some fly gangsta shit
Yeah, I lay back, stay back in the cut
Niggaz try to play the D-O-G like a mutt
I got a little message, don’t try to see Snoop
I’m fin to fuck a bitch, what’s her name it’s Luke
You tried to see me, on the TV, youse a B.G.
D-O-double-G, yes I’ma O.G.
You can’t see my homey Dr. Dre
So what the fuck a nigga like you gotta say
Gotta take a trip to the MIA
And serve your ass with a motherfuckin AK
You, can’t, see, the D-O-double-G, cuz that be me
i’m servin um, swervin in the Coupe
The Lexus, flexes, from Long Beach to Texas
Sexist, hoes, they wanna get witht his
Cuz Snoop Dogg is the shit, beeeitch!

The Shiznit by Snoop Dogg © 1993

To summarize the potentially offensive things in Snoop Dogg’s song, we have, submitted for your approval:

Calling women ‘hoes’, a term of exceptional disrespect;

Using the N-word, frequently;

Plenty of swearing;

Inciting murder using a firearm, including inciting murder of a police officer;

Smoking ‘chronic’ a slang for marijuana;

Selling ‘loot’ a slang for stolen goods;

There really is no need to go on, is there?  Songs have had lyrics offensive to someone, since the beginning of recorded time.  We’re fairly certain there were Cro-Magnon minstrels who sang about the poor hunters and lousy gatherers the next village over and called them knuckle-draggers and turnip eaters.

Viewed through the narrowest, hypersensitive, most mean-spirited lens, there are very few things that cannot be taken as offensive by someone, be it language, behaviors, actions, words, deeds or even thoughts.  Even the Bible, in some chapters, can be taken as a violent, bloody, misogynist document that incites hatred.

How about this?  We agree that the following words, shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits, shouldn’t commonly be used in the media.  Yes, it’s George Carlin’s list.  Let’s try to keep those words to a minimum, especially in media that is readily accessible to children.

How about this as a follow on?  We remember that we have complete control of our computers, televisions, radios and media players.  There are power switches on all of them:  We are not forced to listen to, read, watch, or participate in media that we find objectionable. 

Please remember there are no black-hooded squads of thugs that hold 80 year old Aunt Hazel down and force her to watch “All-Anal Amateurs” or “The Next Iron Chef”  Sorry to break that little bubble. 

Believe it or not, you can actually opt out of media.  That includes this blog by the way. 

If you have been offended by this post, hey, sucks to be you.

   

Huckleberry Finn


We’ll warn you up front:  There will be use of the n-word.  If you want to skip over this posting, we understand.  But also understand we can’t reasonably be expected to debate the issue without using the terms under discussion.  We’re not pulling punches.

NewSouth Books is reprinting the classic Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  According to Publishers Weekly, this edition, edited by Alan Gribben of Auburn University, all 219 occurrences of the word ‘nigger’ will be replaced by ‘runaway slave’.  Also Twain’s use of the word ‘injun’ will be removed.  The reason nigger is being edited out is the reaction of school boards to teaching from a text that has nigger as a commonly used word by the central character, as written by Mark Twain.

Here’s the problem:  Twain wrote in the voice of the time and the characters.  Nigger and Injun were part of the common language of pre-Civil War America, the setting for Huck Finn.  The book itself was first published in America in 1885.

I’ll change to the first person here, as this is personal.  I’m a white guy and in my personal memory, black people have been hung from trees for no more a crime that being black. 

In my personal memory, as a nine year old, we dodged the Benton Harbor Race Riots in 1966 by four blocks, getting back home in time to see the coverage on TV.

Although I have used the word nigger to refer to a black person, I haven’t for many years.  That doesn’t make it right and I can’t apologize enough for it.  But I have made a very conscious decision to understand why we fall into those traps of racist stupidity through some rather deep personal examination and study.  Does that make it better?  No, but at least I am being honest. 

(If you’re the kind of person who believes this makes me an unrepentant Bull Connor-grade racist forever, then you’ve been educated beyond your intelligence.  I’ve deliberately and very consciously learned more about racism than you know.  You can kiss my pasty white ass.)

So, is the editing of the word nigger out of Huck Finn proper?  We’ll ask a parallel question instead.  Would it be proper to paint a bra and panties on Birth of Venus by Botticelli because some folks are offended with female nudity?  The answer is an emphatic no.  It is a classic work of art and defiling it to pander to those who object, to ‘protect’ us from a naked female form, is almost a sin of Biblical proportions.

Which means editing nigger from Huck Finn is also wrong.  It does perpetuate the use of a vile and hateful word, but that is also a chance for educators to explain the context and the history of the word.  It is also a chance for parents to become involved in the education of their children, by explaining that the word nigger does exist, what it means and why it is not an appropriate word for anyone to use, under any circumstances. 

Oh, sorry about that, I was assuming that parents have a lick of sense, the ability to communicate and the willingness to become educated about the entire issue of the word nigger.  Then, speak to their kids about it.  Foolish white guy!

Wall To Wall In Arizona


The Tucson Terror Killings, or whatever alliterative handle is being put on the shootings in Tucson less than a day ago is still going wall to wall on the cable news networks.  The bones of the story are simple enough:  Man shoots 20 or so folks at a Tucson Meet and Greet held by Congresswoman Gabrielle Griffords, killing six and wounding another thirteen.  Rep Griffords was shot through the head, but is expected to survive, while two of the six fatalities include a Federal judge and a nine year old kid. 

Those pesky little fact things are still a bit loose, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the media.  The same clips keep repeating every five minutes.  Every hour, the meat puppets solemnly intone the grave nature of the situation and every half hour some commentator gets 90 seconds to frown mightily into the camera about gun laws, political backlash, lack of moderate discussion and how the New Coke was ultimately responsible for Jared Lee Loughner walking up to the group with a couple of full 31-round clips for his hand gun.

The latest factoid was that the 9-year old victim, Christina Green, was born on 9-11-2001.  We’re waiting for some Truther website to claim that the shooter was determined to clean up the last of the 9-11 victims who might spill the beans about Tower 7, or other such hallucinatory nonsense.

What we’ve got in front of us, is the failure of our media to use their brains as anything other than a spacer to keep their ears from touching in the middle.  The essentials are intact: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.  Fair enough, the Why isn’t quite done, but that will come out in the next few days at regularly scheduled press conferences from the cops.

What we don’t need is the constant repetition of the same visuals, the same microfactoids and the same useless commentary that adds nothing to our understanding of what actually happened.  But, that’s what we’re getting.  The TV is off now and it might come back on around ten pm to see if there is any new information to add to the basic bones of the story.  We doubt it.

However, we do have a PVR of a couple of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations shows that will gleefully take up the time.  Watching Anthony eat a bear sphincter is much more entertaining than the mind-rot we’re seeing now, being passed off a news.

Falling Through The Holes


There have been two psychic wobbles to the week that make one stop.  The first was the story of the velvet-voiced homeless man who became an overnight sensation on YouTube.  Ted Williams by name, if you want to search up the the story, he was an ex-radio voice, family man, father and provider who got into some serious alcohol, drug and money problems.  He was discovered panhandling in Columbus, Ohio. 

The second was a patient at a local hospital.  My sweetie was in hospital for a couple of nights for some surgery and we inadvertently got to learn some of his story.  Homeless, issues with alcohol, drugs, a beat-down, concussion, found by the police and so on.

As children we’re always asked by well-meaning adults, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  As best we can tell, nobody has listed “Crack-head, homeless and sole occupant of Jane Doe grave at a municipal cemetery” as their response.  Very few have said “I want to be a victim of a serial killer Uncle Bob!”.  For that matter, we suspect that “Vagrant” is not on the top ten list of occupations for young children. 

Yet, every year, the various media run two line stories of someone who fell through the cracks, lost the thread and wound up somewhere bad.  Yes, a percentage is directly attributable to addictions, be it booze, pills or drugs.  Yes, there are some people who are not going to make it for thousands of other reasons, involving mental issues beyond their control, bad choices and sometimes simply being crushed by the wearying weight that can be Life. 

They are the disposable people.  They fall through the holes, either not knowing about ways out, or not wanting to be helped back up for whatever reason. 

We don’t give to mainstream charities.  We choose to direct our donation to a local place that has done good work with those with addiction problems, whose guests get a shot at coming back from the land of the disposable people.  Their success rate is good, their graduates seem mostly to be able to return to being contributing members of our Ship of Society.  Of our dollar, we’re comfortable that more than 95 cents goes directly to help.  The Board of Directors doesn’t have big desks, thick carpets and a cadre of professional fund-raisers strong-arming donors for more and more money:  That isn’t their way and we appreciate it.

The problem is that we, meaning the societal we, can’t help everyone who needs help, or who wants help.  There isn’t enough money and there aren’t enough facilities with the skilled people to give aid, assistance and compassionate care.  All we can do is turn our head away from trying to wrap our minds around the enormity of the problems.  We don’t look because we can’t look. 

It hurts too much to see someone who ten, twenty or forty years ago said “Airline Pilot!” or “Teacher!” when asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Life, although a game without guarantees, does occasionally reach up and kick you one.  This week, one looks like he may have made it back and one we’re fairly certain, isn’t going to make it.  In either case, they give us pause to be grateful. 

Today, I’m grateful.

2010 Lookback


The year that was certainly lived up to the hype.  It was.  Not it was Good.  Not it was Bad.  It had some highs and some lows

Low:  Adding top hat, junk shot and top kill to our language was the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill that threatened to end life in the entire Gulf of Mexico.  More than anything, the Deepwater Horizon shows us exactly how short the attention span of our media is.  As long as they had video of the oil and dispersant spray from the ocean floor, they had a story that could run wall to wall.  The well gets closed and suddenly the entire story ceases to exist. 

As far as we can tell from our media, the Gulf is perfectly normal now.  Nobody lost their livelihoods, no shrimp were harmed and there are no birds covered in goo being gently scrubbed with Dawn detergent. 

High:  Chilean miners.  A tidy little story that wrapped in 40 hours or so, harkening back to the early days of CNN and the Jessica McClure Baby Down The Well story from 1987.  At least this time the victims are old enough to do a proper press junket, even if they speak Chilean, so the PR fartcatchers can milk this for at least another years’ paydays.

Low:  Lohan in the jug, then rehab.  Anything Snooki.  Taylor Momsen.  Indistinguishable celebrities who have done nothing except appear on TMZ.com in a cell-phone video of them getting out of an SUV.  We have fortunately been spared shots of Betty White going commando at a premiere.

High:  Betty White.  Come on, you watched the SNL with Betty and then Jay-Z and Mr. Hudson killing Young Forever.  Even jaded bastards like me wanted to hold our Bic lighters high.  Betty rocks and has rocked it since the 50’s in the early days of live television.  That’s right, live television, without tape, without a net, without Autotune.

Low:  Autotune.  Without Autotune Taylor Swift would be one of the legions of Pennsylvania Bieber Fever teens in need of a day in the sun and a good meal.  Without Autotune, half of the artists on the radio today would be shot at dawn for crimes against music.  The other half simply have no idea how to cut it as a live performer.  Bieber, to his credit, does. 

High:  Michael Buble.  Now there’s a lad who probably ascribes to the Frank Sinatra mantra of give the customers their money’s worth and that he’s nothin’ but a barroom singer who got lucky.

Low:  Vampires are not real.  There are no shape shifting shirtless wonders coming to take you away from your mundane existence as a nail technician at a fourth-rate strip mall on the outskirts of a dreary Midwestern hub of unemployment and despair.  Give it up.

High: The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.  Although I do not want to hear Nicki Yanofsky sing “I Believe” again.  Ever.  How many people in Calgary does it take to change a light bulb?  Four, one to change the light bulb and three to say “We didn’t do it that way in ‘88”

Low:  Haiti was a tragedy before the earthquake, then fell over into a pile.  A few weeks ago, 45 locals were hacked to death by machete wielding crowds who were absolutely convinced that the cholera outbreak was the direct result of voodoo practitioners bringing the disease to the neighbourhoods.  Odd how those in power don’t seem to have problems with cholera, water, electricity or food.

High:  I’m still alive and I get to write some more.

Low:  I’m still alive and I get to write some more. 

Welcome to 2011.