Monthly Archives: April 2013

Anti-Duhmericanism

I have often been accused by my friends and family of being anti-American.  That I have a deep-seated hatred of our neighbours to the south.  And I will admit, there have been times that I have said or done things that may give that impression.  At the risk of alienating any readers that hail from the Red White and Blue, I have laughed at “ignorant American” jokes.  I’ve uttered “Bloody Americans” when something that the nation through sport, politics or culture, has offended my sensibilities.  I’ve rolled my eyes at the “USA! USA! Chants.  (not in that I find cheering for your nations team offensive or irritating, but that it’s paraded out from everything from the olympics, to dog shows.) I snort in disgust every time I hear an American politician talking about the US being the greatest nation in the world. (I don’t believe any nation deserves such a title.)

What I really attribute all of that to though, is the rivalry that two nations close in both proximity and culture will have for each other.  We endure the “do y’all live in igloos?” jokes, it’s only fair that they endure our semi-snide assertions that Americans don’t know what goes on outside of their own states.  We put up with being “Americas hat”, they can live down being called a bit arrogant, loud and obnoxious.

Because in all cases, it’s an untrue generalization.  Some Canadians actually do live in igloos.  And we are north of America, kind of hat like and all.  (We prefer toque.)  And much like that is generalized, you can find arrogant, obnoxious Americans who don’t know the first thing about anything outside of America.

This morning though, my “Bloody Americans” sense was tingling.  On reading the news that the Senate voted against gun control, I had but little choice to sigh in disgust.  It seems completely idiotic to me that in the light of all the bloodshed and misery that has befallen America in the form of firearms, that this is even a debate.  When children are dying from flying bullets, society MUST change.  It’s the only civilized direction that can be taken. I can’t tell you how good it feels to walk around in our cities, late at night, and not fear that someone wills shoot me because they think I’m a threat.

Now this is not a rant about gun control per se.  I have no interest in wading in to that argument, because the sides of the argument are so firmly entrenched in their paradigms that you’d sooner move Everest a few miles from where it stands, than change their minds. All of the statistics can be fudged, or made to seem like it supports either side with little effort, and little result.  Nor am I against ownership of Guns, Canadians own a great many firearms.

What raises my ire is that there is a certain segment of the population that does not value life outside of their own.  That feel that their rights trump any responsibilities they have to their fellow man, and that can mean either domestically, or internationally.  This is true of each nation, Canada bears the shame of having boorish, self-centred bigots that couldn’t care less if anyone else suffers or dies.  But it seems to me that it is a very large segment of the American population that feels this way. (estimated at about 49%, given the last election numbers.)

As I started with talking about gun control, I’ll continue on that vein first.  The opponents of gun control want you to believe that it strips them of their rights to regulate weapons available for the public.  That if it happens, they will be unable to defend themselves, their families, their possessions.  They even want you to believe that gun ownership PREVENTS deaths, instead of causes them.  (Which, if I may offer my less than humble opinion, is like saying more rain causes less puddles.)

But the real issue here, is that they are afraid.  Everyone is the bogey man, every one is a criminal looking to come and plunder, and kill and destroy.  Put aside the nonsense false bravado you hear from those advocates of concealed carry.  The average gun owner can NOT stop crime by drawing their weapons.  If anything, it only increases the chance of people being shot, to either horrific injury or death.  So many anecdotal stories get forwarded of  good-hearted gun wielding citizens coming to the rescue with their handgun, but the truth is it’s few and far between, and in almost most cases the one who starts shooting is the citizen, not the criminal.  I was disgusted by the mindless prattle of some of these gun enthusiasts who said that if they were there at Sandy Hook, or in the movie theater, that the only person to die would be the shooter, they would calmly draw, fire, and it would be over.  This is of course obtuse nonsense.  They live in fear of their countrymen, and believe that their life is more valuable than others.  that their possessions are worth the blood of a petty thief.

They point to the second amendment and prattle on about their rights, worshiping the founding fathers as if they are infallible Gods, that it wasn’t a product of their time and culture when it was written.  That it cannot be reviewed for modern times, by sensible people with sensible ideals.  They don’t mind using mindless bigotry and racism to make their points, and even believe their own nonsense.

And things do happen that can cause fear. The bombing of the Boston Marathon is tragic, and horrifying, and I sincerely hope they catch and crucify those who were responsible. The truth is though, gun ownership wouldn’t stop such an event. The record of citizens bearing arms stopping either mass shootings, or bombings, currently stands at zero.

It’s these same like-minded people who have no concern about the level of death and misery that wars have caused in the middle east.  When the Twin Towers were attacked, it marked one of the most heinous crimes against innocent civilians in modern times.  3000 dead, and for what?  Nothing more than Jingoistic hatred.  But for these people, the deaths of many times more Afghani and Iraqi innocents, is as meaningless to them as a foreign language.  I find myself wondering what ratio of value a civilian from the Middle East is, compared to the life of an American citizen.  Since in Iraq alone, it’s been estimated that upwards of 100 thousand innocents have died, you wonder if over 20-1 is an equitable trade-off.  Which doesn’t even include the Afghani men, women and children who had no part in either the terrorism, or the war.   How is a child laying dead in the streets of Kabul from an American bullet, compare to a child of the same age buried beneath the rubble of a collapsed skyscraper?

It’s these same like-minded people who sneer at universal health care, believing that nobody should get a handout, that the deadbeats should just take care of themselves. They preach about the horrors of socialism while so many leave disease untreated because they cannot afford it.

So it’s Anti-Duhmericanism that I can be accused of. The simple-minded bluster and prejudice of dangerously unenlightened people. It is to them that I direct my disdain, and dare I say it hope. Hope that they will join those in their communities, states, nations and neighbours, to find a better way. One where fear does not rule, paranoia is not prevalent, hatred is set aside.

And if you’ll allow me to skip the apology to those who read this and are deeply offended, I have no doubt that they wouldn’t be interested in what I have to say in the first place.


The Happiness Paradox

In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”

>smile

 I’ve given great thought to the matter of happiness.    Not in how to be happy, because as you’ll find in reading this, that’s a concept I find as fleeting as the taste of your favorite meal once it has been finished.  Nor, whether or not people deserve to be happy. We in Western civilization assume that it is a God-given and unalienable right to be happy.

But I challenge that assumption because I’m not certain that we have the foggiest notion of what happiness is.  In technical terms, it’s the release of chemicals in your brain that gives a pleasure response to pleasing stimulus.  So you could rightly say you are feeling happiness when eating chocolate (If chocolate is something that you enjoy)  The sound of a favorite piece of music.  Warmth when you’ve felt cold, the charms of a physical relationship with your lover.

But if we boil it down to merely a physical response, we invalidate it.  We would never say that someone addicted to mind altering drugs is “happy” when they are high, since it is likely profound unhappiness from which they escape by altering their mind with psychotropics or hallucinogenics.

No, it is none of these things that I ponder.  I find myself mulling over if any of us are truly happy based on the prominence that we assign it in our life.  Because it seems to me that happiness is momentary pause from life that can be dull, grinding, miserable, and sometimes outright horrifying.  It doesn’t seem to me that the default position for the human mind is happiness.  Which is why we consistently have to seek it.

There are some few that seem to be able to be happy in any given situation, or at least present that outwardly; it seems that nothing fazes them from happy-go-lucky.  But that is not the norm.  If you took pictures of someone candidly, while they were not engaged in pleasing situations, they would for all intents and purposes appear entirely blank.

http://www.turismo.intoscana.it/allthingstuscany/tuscanyarts/author/tuscanyarts/

Image – Thomas Ruff – Tuscany arts

Devoid of feeling.  Lacking the depth of emotion that we employ to communicate happiness, sadness, anger, anguish or love.  Little more than a breathing mannequin.  And perhaps this is the way it has to be, perhaps we are unable to maintain emotional output at all times, it would burn us out.

If you had of asked my daughter if she was happy, she would have responded that clearly she was not.  The depression sapped that away from her.  But still she found moments where she laughed, smiled, or was touched by the love of family and friends.  Happiness was not the sum of the things that she was given that made her smile.  Nor was depression for her the destruction of all things that could do that.  But for her, feeling happy fed her depression.  In an odd paradox, happiness and pleasure were catalysts to a deepening darkness. A place in herself where she felt no worthiness of happiness, in a world where she perceived the unhappiness of others.  A false smile pasted on her face, because the real ones hurt her deeply.

If we are frank with ourselves, we can realize that if we remove the items from our lives that make us happy, we won’t be happy.  It’s why we are forever chasing the things that we think will make us happy.  It fades easily back to our state of numb indifference.  Even the winner of the lottery is happiest at the moment of finding out they won, it’s all downhill from there.

This is not meant to be nothing more than a pessimistic rant.  Because can I say that I am happy?  Yes.  I have a beautiful and loving wife.  I have health, good employment.  I have a few dear friends that actually care about me, and I would walk over hot coals for them to see them happy.  I have good memories of my daughter, I have humour and laughter.  But at the same time, I can say am I happy? No.  I’ve lost one of two most important people in my life.  I struggle with the disease that afflicts my wife.  So many things have not turned out as we envisioned.  I have days that are humorless and drab, and even with the best of friends, you can only see them so much, only be so much a part of their happiness.

So perhaps we should stop wondering if people are happy or not.  Perhaps we should stop confusing dashes of joy with happiness, and realize that happiness isn’t a trait in and of itself.  It’s a sum of the things in our life, and we must strive for it.  Happiness is the moments we can glean from life, and those we can give to others as possible.  Happiness and sadness can co-exist, intertwined.

I leave you with a video, because the words of the poem I quoted makes everything I’ve written in this post meaningless noise by comparison.  they both hurt me and compel me at the same time. It is coupled with one of my favorite pieces of melancholy music, and it fits it perfectly.

Strive to be happy.  And more importantly, strive to help others be.


I am Pi

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A few days ago, my wife and I took in the Life of Pi.  I went in to watching the movie with some reservations, as I am first and foremost a reader, so I am usually disappointed with the movie adaptations.  I am also a notorious movie snob, to the detriment of my enjoyment, and to the patience of friends and family who must endure my overly critical commentary.  I was heavily mistaken in this case however, as Life of Pi was one of the best films that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  Although this post is not a movie review, I have to give praise to Yann Martel for writing a truly engaging and spellbinding book, and applaud Ang Lee for a beautiful interpretation of it for the big screen.  I also offer that if you have not watched it, this may contain minor spoilers.

Perhaps one of the reasons that I enjoyed the movie so much beyond the fact that I found the novel to be thought-provoking, is that I identify strongly with the character.  I feel no shame in the fact that I had to hold back tears in the movie theater.  So many powerful moments stunningly depicted, all striking home.  Now that doesn’t mean that I’ve ever been in a shipwreck, unless you count the time that I sank a canoe at the cottage.  No, I haven’t been adrift in the Pacific ocean in a life boat with nothing for company but a sea-sick tiger.  But the Life of Pi was a story about symbolism, wasn’t it?  In that, I can honestly say that I am Piscine Molitor Patel.

I could talk about how he was teased by students, how he questioned everything his parents told him, how he looked for more out of life than what was placed in front of him.  But those are matters mostly of my deep past, and when the past calls, it usually doesn’t have anything new to say. What I identify with is his journey.

Because I’ve spent time adrift at sea.  I’ve been surrounded with emptiness, and struggled to come to grips with it.

I’ve hung suspended underwater, watching my ship sink, and wondered whether or not breathing in the water would be preferable to fighting my way to the life boat.

shipwreck

But continue on I did.  Continue on I must.  For as Pi discovered, despite losing what he thought was his all, life remained worth fighting for.  Against the sea, against the storm, and against the tiger.  I had my own tiger to fight.  It stalked me relentlessly.  It consumed every moment of my time and energy for over a year and a half, and only got more hungry and ferocious as time passed.  I speak of course, of my daughter’s mental illness.  I know it would seem to be more appropriate to call that her tiger, and not mine.  But to her, it was the hyena.  Craven, brutish, tearing at her.  For me, it was the tiger.  It was the insurmountable creature that forced me to fight back, from a tiny raft.  Surrounded by sharks and uncertainty, storms and fear.   I tried the ferocious approach, I tried to fight the Hyena off, and make the tiger cower.

I tried to reason with it, blow the whistle softly or loudly depending on the situation,  tried even to make the tigers presence a normal part of life adrift.  This is where the story differs.  Pi fought the tiger and won.  I fought it and lost.  And I watched my ship sink after my time in the lifeboat, instead of the other way around.  But oh, the things that Pi endured, that feel so much like my story.

Terrible loss.  Immobilizing fear.  Moments of hope dashed by deeper moments of hopelessness as the boat drifted further and further.  Feelings of despair, tossed by the waves, which showed no care or mercy.  I too, have thrown my hands up and screamed to the universe “you’ve taken everything, what more do you want!”

And now I find myself at the end of my time in the lifeboat.  Just like Pi, trying to recover from a harrowing journey, and not knowing exactly how to do it.  Convalescing in a hospital, with nothing but vivid memories of shipwreck and loss.  And as strange as it seems, a sense of loss of the tiger as well.  Because you see, when my daughter left us, the tiger left us too.  And as I also lie exhausted on the beach,  I realize that the tiger, for all the pain it caused, for the terror it inspired, also left me without looking back. Without ceremony or farewell.

The thing that was the sole focus of my life, my fears for so long, was gone in to the forest.  And I was spent.  I am sure that Pi missed his family terribly, as I miss my child.  But in a strange way, we both miss the tiger.  The creature that gave us purpose to fight.

I am Pi.


Caveat emptor!

You are a gullible idiot.  Well, to be more accurate, we all are.  Ok, let’s narrow that down even further.  Most of the world BELIEVES we are.

Perhaps you’re one of the few that isn’t gullible.  That can discern truth in every case.  Maybe you aren’t fooled when you see $49.99 printed on a red sticker for those jeans you want to buy. You immediately say in your head “that’s just retail garbage. It’s 50 bucks. They ain’t fooling me.  (As a side note, don’t say that out loud while shopping alone.   You WILL appear insane, particularly after you buy the jeans anyway.)

I only had to buy 70,000 things to save this much!

I only had to buy 70,000 things to save this much!

The steady stream of obfuscation, outright lies, and nonsense is thrown at us all day every day though, and we’re expected to believe it.  In our consumerism, in our entertainment, in our education… systemic bull-shitting,  And we’re not just talking about politicians here.  We as a democratic society have already figured out that they’re six degrees south of personal injury lawyers on the honesty scale.

The lies start innocently enough.  And they come from our most trusted sources… Mom and Dad!  You know all the well-intentioned falsehoods that start there.  You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.  Don’t sit too close to the TV, your eyes will turn square.  If you keep making that face, it will stick for life!  Be good or Santa won’t bring you any presents.

You didn't eat your broccoli on March 13th. You're screwed this year, kid.

You didn’t eat your broccoli on March 13th. You’re screwed this year, kid.

I think the collective psyche of middle class children with parents that can afford the gifts, turn out just fine when they discoverer Santa’s a jolly fat lie. It’s the rare individual that spends their days in the fetal position weeping about St. Nick being nothing more than a conspiracy.  I find myself wondering however, if that’s where we get the proclivity to swallow nonsense.  And because of our general sense that it’s ok to lie to us… they do.

Wait!  Who are “they?”  Who is it that’s lying to us and think they can get away with it! The nerve of them! Tell me who it is so I can send a strongly worded letter!  (Sorry, that’s Canadian mentality.  If you are from the United States, substitute “so I can shoot them.”)

Signed, a concerned consumer.

Signed, a concerned consumer.

The answer to that though, is pretty much everybody.  Anyone who wants a piece of your time, money, or resources.  People who want you to believe that you are getting what you expect, or are getting everything you think you should.

Moving forward from the dastardly dishonesty of our parental units, take a look at school.  They say they are teaching us life skills that we’ll need to make it big in adulthood, preparing us for all the ins and outs of being a productive member of society. And we do learn some valuable things in school.  But how much isn’t really that honest?  Beyond the basics of education, what is it that they teach us that is essential to life?  Sure, if you have a particular career path in sciences, or physical education, or any number of jobs that have a specific prerequisite of knowledge, those courses make sense.  You need to know about Nuclear reactions to be a nuclear safety inspector, regardless of what The Simpsons tell you.  But does the weedy kid who has zero interest in becoming an athlete really need physical education?  Does the aspiring writer really need the advanced science curriculum?  And I don’t think there is pretty much anyone who would say that they have needed to use everything from calculus in their every day life.

I assure you, you'll also need theoretical physics.  In German.

I assure you, you’ll also need theoretical physics. In German.

But now you’re an adult.  You’ve run the gauntlet of higher education, and you are out there making every day decisions. Your highly educated self is savvy and shrewd, right?  Nobody can dare pull the wool over your eyes.

Unless, of course, you go grocery shopping.  All the delicious foods you buy, and you save money, AND make the healthy choices!  You fill your cart full of tasty treats that will do nothing but keep you in the pink of health.

Damn.  You’re being lied to.  Saving money?  Hardly.  You’re buying less with your money as every year passes.  Companies are shrinking portions, but leaving the packaging the same.  So that stuff you bought for 4 bucks last year, is actually costing you more based on unit pricing.  You are getting less for your money, and as a result have to buy more to make up for it.  But you’re still getting the healthy choices by choosing the right products!  You have that going for you!

Sorry, no.  All the wording on the packages is entirely meaningless when it comes to health.  Cereals claiming to be “part of a balanced breakfast?”  Only true if sugar is part of a balanced breakfast.  When they picture the bowl of cereal along with toast, and fruit and a glass of milk… they are not telling you that the breakfast is just as balanced, and far healthier, without the cereal in the first place.  “Contains 9 essential minerals and vitamins!”  That’s the claim of Boy-ar-dee, Heinz and so many canned meals.  What they are not telling you is it’s because they are basically grinding up vitamins to put in their otherwise nutritionally useless slop. And this doesn’t address the even more nonsense claims like “new and improved” which is a study in contradiction.  Everything you are throwing in your cart is an obfuscated mess of quarter-truths and outright fabrication.

New and improved, contains the same minerals and vitamins with natural flavours that will cure astigmatism and maybe make your mother love you more.

New and improved, contains the same minerals and vitamins with natural flavours that will cure astigmatism and maybe make your mother love you more.

But don’t stop at the grocery store.  You are bombarded with lies about every single thing that you could possibly buy to enrich your otherwise dull and meaningless life.  Without these wonder products, it’s a miracle you drag your sorry carcass out of bed every day! I mean you’ve got:

Beer that makes you popular with women (Sorry ladies, as far as beer goes you are arm accessories for slightly befuddled douche-monkeys.)

Cars that make you experience life at a state of euphoria as soon as you get behind the wheel.

Cleaning products that will make you enjoy mopping and scrubbing to the point of orgasm.

I always wondered why her floors were always so spotlessly clean!

I always wondered why her floors were always so spotlessly clean!

None of it is true. It’s just manure-marketing to get your money.  So you defend against that.  They won’t get my money!  I’ll be very careful.  I’ll read the ingredients, I’ll shop the deals, I’ll make sure none of the outright lies affect me, I just won’t buy it.

But then you find out that it’s not just about your money.  It’s about your attention.  It’s about your adherence and loyalty too.  What you watch, what you read.

How?  Entertainment, news, internet.  All lying to you.

You watch reality TV, right?  At least you’re probably part of the 96% of the population with a TV and a spare hour or two that does.  It’s all manufactured.  There are so many different ways they set it up and influence it to list here.  But they have you swallowing dramatic twists, turns and events, that didn’t really happen.  Selective splicing of footage, planting people as participants, having producers decide outcomes.  It has all the writing and directing of a regular old TV show, under the banner of “reality.”  And it couldn’t be less real if they tried.

But that’s just TV.  The News is far more insidious.  They don’t want you to read the news.  They want you to be shocked, scared, panicked an sensationalized.  How do they do this?   Weasel words.  They say things that make you think every thing that comes out of their slimy fib-holes is truth.

A great example:  “Some people say.” They aren’t lying.  they can say it truthfully, because you know who said it?  the producers.  So technically, if the statement is “some people say that ” it’s both true and false at the same time.  Ditto for “studies have indicated” and “Some are concerned that…”

all dishonesty to sell the story to us.

Some studies indicate that some people believe Donald Trump has magnifcient hair.  Pictured:  The entire study focus group.

Some studies indicate that some people believe Donald Trump has magnificent hair. Pictured: The entire study focus group.

You cannot realistically get through the day without people lying to you.  But there is a solution.  You can buy my book.  It has 1001 tips and tricks to avoid being fleeced by the charlatans that would steal your time, money, and attention.  It’s only $29.99, and it contains essential methods to use!

Would I lie to you?