Tuesday, June 5, 2012

You can't choose what you're famous for in life.

I don't know who the hell Dave Kellett is, but he said that.

Apparently, this is his work.

Lisa Marie Presley recently released an album.  I've heard one track, and I liked it.  And what I've heard about the album is positive.  Jakob Dylan was and is in a band called the Wallflowers.  Back in the 90s, they released Bringing Down the Horse which contained "One Headlight" and "6th Avenue Heartache", and they contributed a pretty bitchin' cover of a David Bowie tune to the Godzilla soundtrack.  Ziggy and Damien Marley are fairly accomplished musicians in their own right; Damian has three Grammys under his belt, and contributed to the "supergroup" SuperHeavy last year, and Ziggy has released around 20 albums.  Julian Lennon has released six albums to date, and has had at least one major hit with "Too Late for Goodbyes".

These are extreme examples, to be sure.  The success of their parents can't help but eclipse the success of these children, unless they go into another field (one of Bob's sons, Rohan, played pro football), or change the game completely (thus far I can think of no examples).  The phenomenon seems largely limited to music, though.  I can't think of any famous writers whose kid(s) tried their hand and succeeded less.  Actors often succeed as much or more than their parents (Kate Hudson's done all right.  And I'm sure that Lon Chaney Sr. was quite proud of Lon Jr.)  Politics is also fond of heredity, even in democracy (I still can't believe the success of the Bushes.)  And athletics actually seems to foster (usually) father-son relationships.  Particularly baseball (see Griffeys and Ripkens).

A notable (possible) exception to this rule is Norah Jones.  Ravi Shankar is a legend, and it looks like Norah's on track to be as well.

I'm not planning on weeping for the offspring of musical legends.  I suspect their childhoods are hard, certainly harder than mine was, for several reasons: familial instability, travel, drug abuse, and the media spotlight.  But there are compensations.  Being shockingly wealthy, for instance.  Or, if you choose to pursue music, you already know producers and musicians and writers and journalists and executives and other people who are likely willing to give you a chance.

But it's interesting to note the parallels between the children of legends and their careers and the careers of legends after the legend is over.  Damian Marley is a successful musician, by any measure.  He has had commercial and critical success, and he has the respect of other legendary musicians.  But he will never be his father.  Wings is a successful band by any measure.  They have had critical and commercial success (as well as an Academy Award nomination).  But Wings will never be the Beatles.

Having famous parents is clearly a double-edged sword.  Breaking into the arts is easier, but the comparisons will not favour you.

Politics is the only safe place to follow in you parents' footsteps.  But even that's not a sure thing.  Look at the Skywalkers.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A cult is a religion with no political power.

That's Thomas Wolfe.

Michael Coren and Christina Blizzard may not quite be liars, but their columns this week wouldn't recognise accuracy if they passed it on the street. This is not exactly new.  They thrive more on indignation than accuracy.

They do get one or two things right.  First, homosexuality is not the leading cause of bullying in schools.  It's body image.  This would be more important if the Minister of Education were claiming anything different.  I don't think many are bullied for their religion.  If they are, Catholics would be way down on the list.  Particularly middle aged Catholic converts.  Second, the Ontario government has no business telling the Catholic Church what it can and can't believe.  If the government were telling the church to stop preaching hate against the LGBT community, I'd stand beside Michael Coren in condemning this.

So even the things they do get right, they manage to get wrong.

It's true that the government has introduced legislation dictating that Gay Straight Alliances be allowed.  But that's the end of it.  The government has no control over the pulpit, and the church ought to have no control over Queen's Park.

This is a symptom of a much larger problem in Canada (though not uniformly).  The BNA guaranteed Christian religious minorities a provincial-run religious school system.  In what is now Ontario, Catholics were given schools.  In Quebec, Protestants were protected.  I'm sure this seemed like a good idea at the time, but it wasn't.  It's an especially bad idea now.

I have no problem with the Catholic church saying whatever it wants about gay kids (although any claims to a moral high ground when it comes to sex seem disingenuous at best).  It can say that God hates them and they're going to hell.  It can say that they are abominations.  It  can say that they are choosing to be bullied and persecuted.  It's nonsense, but so is the rest of their doctrine.

Publicly funded schools, however, can't say that.  I don't think that private schools should be able to, either, but I understand that they can.  Publicly funded schools are accountable to the public.  The public has decided that gay is okay.  Our schools should reflect that.  Catholic educators in Ontario need to decide which is more important: the catechism or the money.  They can't have both.

This is not a question of religious freedom.  When Coren and Blizzard say so, they are lying.  This is a question of funding, and of gay rights (read: human rights).

The solution is obvious.  The only question is whether Ontario's politicians or bishops will be brave enough to implement it.

Friday, June 1, 2012


You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.

The world is a scary place.  It's dirty, loud, sexy, overwhelming and violent.  It has always been violent.  It will always be violent.  Nature is violent, and as much as we'd like to separate ourselves from it, and kill it off around us, we are part of nature, and are ourselves violent.

We are not, however, getting more violent.  In fact, in the West, the stats would argue that we are getting less violent.

Despite internet videos showing a dude killing and dismembering another dude, and then mailing pieces of this dude about the nation, despite a couple kidnapping and killing a little girl, despite a guy eating bath salts and then a human face, the world is not getting any more scary.  And I think we need to keep calm and carry on.

I agree that this Magnotta thing is gross, gruesome, gory and ghastly.  I agree that the Tori Stafford thing was horrible, horrifying, harrowing and hideous. (I've got my alliteration hat on today.)  But, to quote the Barenaked Ladies, Everything Old is New Again.  There is nothing new under the sun.

We need to get a grip.  Horrible killings are not that uncommon.  City squares in Saudi Arabia have drains in the centre to assist in cleanup after public beheadings.  Drug dealers have given us the Columbian necktie.  Landmines are designed not to kill troops, but to maim them, because caring for injured troops drains military resources.  The US, who are ostensibly supposed to be the Good Guys, gave us Gitmo and used waterboarding liberally.

Horrible killings are not new.  We've worked hard to come up with really great ways to kill each other.  Creative, innovative ways, to make dying take a long time, and be really painful while it's happening.  And while the internet is fairly new, finding ways to share how nasty we are is not.  We've all seen medieval woodcuts depicting the Inquisition, or hell.  If they had had google images during the Dark Ages, they'd have passed these scenes around:
Look, I'm not saying these events aren't horrible.  I'm not saying they're not scary.  I'm not saying don't be offended.  But we really nead to dial this public hysteria back a little bit.  Most of us are grownups.  We can handle this.  And panicky horror is not the way forward.  I doubt we'll ever be rid of the lizard brain that makes us violent.  I don't think we'll evolve past being horrible to each other.  At root, we are primates.  Smart, hairless, languange- and tool-using, but primates still.  And primates are animals.  But we can be better to each other.  We can be humane, as well as human.  "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?" as Browning put it.

At root, I have faith in us.  Sure, we invented Zyklon B, jeggings and lolcats.  But we also came up with sonnets, calculus, pecan pie, soccer and The Blues.  We have found amazing ways to be horrible to each other, and amazing ways to justify it, but we also have humanism, justified with or without faith.

Magnotta is a monster.  But he's not that exceptional.  He's sick.  I don't even think he's evil.  And even if he is, evil is banal.  It's common.  And it's natural.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What is food to one, is to others bitter poison.

My sources tell me that's Lucretius.

Canada got a visitor earlier this week from the UN.  He had some harsh things to say about Canada's food supply, poverty, and obesity.  Nothing he said strikes me as unreasonable.  Many Canadians eat bad food, many Canadians are poor, and many Canadians are overweight.

Canada's Strong Stable Majority Conservative Government© was pretty fucking pissed about this "snooty Harvard-educated multi-professor of judicial fantasizing" coming by and offering his two cents (which may have to become five cents, as we are phasing out the penny).  To be fair, these were not the words of our Strong Stable Majority Conservative Government©, but rather the words of a journalist with Sun media. (Go ahead and read the whole article.  It's quite awesome in its staggering arrogance, indignation, and chutzpah.) Our government was much more reasoned in its response from Heritage Minister (are poverty, food security and obesity part of his portfolio?) Jason Kenny:

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called it a waste of UN money to investigate developed countries like Canada.
“It would be our hope that the contributions we make to the United Nations are used to help starving people in developing countries, not to give lectures to wealthy and developed countries like Canada,” he told reporters. “I think this is a discredit to the United Nations.”
Kenney dismissed De Schutter’s mission as a political exercise, saying the UN’s own figures rank Canada as one of the best developed countries in the world. (Toronto Star)
I guess that being a developed country means that obviously things are peachy keen here in the Great White North, under our Strong Stable Majority Conservative Government©, and, as much as they might be loathe to admit it, they probably under Canada's Previous Corrupt Cronyistic Secretive Adscam Liberal Government.  That there is nary an overweight person to be seen.  That we don't have any poor people, and even if we did, they'd eat like kings.  That it's not hard to afford good, healthy, nutritious food on a budget.  That this kind of nonsense is an insult to Canada's Strong Stable Majority Conservative Government©.

In my humble opinion, the fact that Canada is a developed country does not make these sins of indifference nonexistent.  They make them worse.  We are relatively wealthy.  We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources.  We are big, and temperate, and have more fresh water than any other nation.  And we still have poverty and food insecurity.  We are investing our wealth not in people, but somewhere else (gazebos, maybe, or imaginary jets, or luxury hotels, or overseas, or wherever the hell our money is going).  We are paving over our natural resources, growing suburbs on our farmland and box stores in our orchards.  In countries torn by war, or famine, or drought, or disease, this kind of thing is regrettable, but understandable.  Our stance should not be righteous indignation, but rather humility and an admission that we can do more, and are letting each other down.

A friend of mine said that the response to this report revealed the CPC as "irredeemable".  She's probably right, although I think it's worse than that.  Whatever they are, they're horrible, horrible people.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

This is what a feminist looks like.

I have the same shirt.  Except mine is obviously much (much) bigger.

I don't really look like a feminist.  Not what you'd expect, anyway.  Not all the time.  First of all, I'm a man.  Also, I'm a big man.  Also, I'm a big man with a shaved head.  Not typical.

Unless you see me with my daughters.  Then, maybe, I look like a feminist.

It wasn't my daughters that made me a feminist, though.  I've considered myself one for a long time.  Maybe part of it is liberal guilt.  If so, I'm okay with that.  It puts me on the side of the proverbial angels, so you should be, too.  But it doesn't take being the father of girls to recognise that women have, historically, and figuratively, be screwed.  Or that they still are, figuratively, screwed.  Or that something ought to be done about it.  Or that *I* can do something about it.  Is that liberal guilt?

It doesn't take being the father of daughters to realise that whatever progress women have made and will make is a) not universal (I'm looking at you in particular, Saudi Arabia, but you are not alone), and b) not safe and c) not certain.  Here, in the west, the right to contraception is still debatable. Here, in the west, the inviolability of a woman's body is still being negotiated.  Here, in Canada, women are not allowed to protect themselves if they are vulnerable because they are a sex worker.  And here, in Canada, we are still trying to figure out not whether or not a woman should have an abortion, but whether or not the option should be available.

Let me deal with the obvious.  If you want to prevent abortions, which you probably should want to do, then the best way is to provide women (and men) with sex education and access to affordable contraception.  And since women will still get abortions even if they're illegal, and you are actually concerned about people, and not about punishing sexually active women, then abortions should be safe, and therefore legal.

And since prostitution is commonly called the world's oldest profession, then it's safe to say that prohibition isn't working, and again, if you want to protect women, rather than punish them, then sex work should be safe, and therefore legal.

But beyond that, no matter what you believe about women, or about sex, or about abortions, if you believe in, as much as is possible, freedom, then you are, and ought to call yourself, a feminist.

Freedom is a small, trashy, flashy and overused word.  I hate to use it, because hateful men like to throw it about.  And they lie about it.  And they use it when they mean something else.But the idea is a good one, when considered, and reasoned.  What I mean by it is self-determination, as much as is reasonable.  And self-determination is what I want for all people.  And for my daughters, in particular.

The world is a harsh and ugly place, full of hateful and ugly people.  A gamed system has ensured we'll compete with each other rather than cooperate (and that's something I will address later, if you're good).  It has made sure that we'll take any advantage we can, and exploit the disadvantages of others.  In the past, sadly, being a woman has been a disadvantage when it came to self-determination.  In many places, it still is.  And here men (and women) are trying to make it so again. 

Life for my girls, for all girls, will be hard enough.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Introverts and God

I was just listening to Tapestry on CBC on my way home.  It's an episode about introverts and the religious tradition, and now.  If you want to, you can listent to it here.  It's about 25 minutes in when they get to what I'm talking about.

What they talked about was the fairly modern evangelical tradition and its emphasis on the salesmanship of spreading the gospel.  It's tough for introverts, they say, who are evangelicals, because it's hard to go out and sell Christ to someone, and to close the deal, and to share your testimony.  And there's a great emphasis on all of that, and introverts most likely aren't as successful as extroverts.

And Mary pointed out that it's odd, because really, all the great religious figures, and not just christian ones, were often solitary.  And there's a great religious tradition of religious figures being quiet and alone.  Jesus went into the desert.  Buddha went into the woods.  Moses went into the desert.  Joe Smith went into a cave.  L. Ron Hubbard went into his office.

Well, Mary, I just want to say that I don't think it's odd at all.  And the explanation is very simple.

Those religious figures used/needed solitude to uncover truth, to find the answers, to speak to god (or whatever), and to provide lessons to bring back to others.  Evangelicals think they have the answers.  They don't need 'em.  They don't need thinkers.  They need salesmen.  And there's the disconnect.

Maybe it's one of the reasons I find evangelicals so distasteful.  There's no contemplation anymore.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Prejudice is opinion without judgement.

That's Voltaire.

Trayvon Martin was not a saint.

I suppose it seems obvious.  It is obvious.  However, here I am, a liberal, saying it.  Some on the right would have you believe that we're already petitioning the pope to have the requisite miracles documented.  He was not a saint.  I know hardly anything about the kid, but I know that he was sometimes rude, sometimes disobeyed his parents, was mean to his siblings, and he didn't always do his homework.  He was not always a good kid.

I don't know much about this.  Here's what I know for sure: a kid walking back from the store was shot by a man with a history of probable mental illness, and the police in the community decided it was likely self-defense.

This shouldn't have become politicised, but it did.  We should not be lining up along ideological lines on this situation, but we are.  A kid got shot by a man, and the "lefties" are blaming the man who shot him, and the "righties" are blaming the kid who got shot.

What are they blaming Martin for?  A bunch of things: wearing a hoodie, being in the wrong neighbourhood at the wrong time, hiding his hands, even attacking the man with the gun.  What's Zimmerman being blamed for?  Shooting an unarmed kid.

Obviously, since this has become a political issue, the blame and the dialogue has expanded.  People are wearing hoodies in solidarity, and columnists (I suppose including myself now, though I have no column) have expended billions of pixels in commenting (as is their wont).

My favourite columnist is no exception.

The most important thing that Michael Coren says about the Trayvon Martin brouhaha doesn't come until the last paragraph.  However, I feel I should bring it to your attention first:
I have no idea whether Trayvon Martin was a victim or an instigator...

He has no idea, but he is willing to side with those who claim he's an instigator.

A few days ago, I wrote about ad hominem attacks.  I said that when you insulted others, you were essentially admitting your argument was weak.  Today's Coren column is exceptional in one regard.  He doesn't bother being subtle in insulting who he perceives as his opponents:
  • Let’s try to make this as simple as possible, even for liberals. (translation: liberals are stupid)
  • ...the usual race pimps and inverted racists, such as Al Sharpton (Al Sharpton is a racist)
  • ...the increasingly hysterical and exploitative President Barack Obama (Obama is exploiting a dead kid when asked in a press conference for comment)

I find it very hard to talk about Michael Coren without resorting to these kind of attacks.  His writing gets under my skin.  He frequently insults atheists, liberals, environmentalists, and pacifists.  I am all of those.  It feels like he's insulted me first, so it's fair to lash back.  But once again, if I do, he wins.

His opinions are odious.  His writing is often weak and rambling.  He tends to substitute venom for passion.  His research is sporadic.  His examples are sometimes misleading and dishonest.  He's fond of inequal comparisons (such as pointing out that Shawn Tyson killed some people, so Trayvon Martin was clearly dangerous).  His views on history are questionable.  He likes to insult people who disagree with him.  His behaviour and writing are also achingly parochial and tribal (I'm not a fan of Islam or Protestantism, but I also don't have the arrogance to claim that my brand of monotheism is obviously right and good), insulting other faiths with impunity, especially Islam.

The rest of his column is what you'd expect from Coren: inflammatory, derogatory, revisionistic, and trying to be clever in labelling those who cry racism as racists.   Oddly, he tries to call liberals racists without actually calling us racists.  It seems an odd place to draw the line.  But I don't claim to understand him.

Please note:  I did not once insult the man.  I've staked out my small piece of the moral high ground.

Said moral high ground is slippery with the mud that others fling at us.  The gutter that surrounds us is slimy and provides ample ammunition to those that would have us join them there.  Please, let's watch our footing.