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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.

That's T.S. Eliot, who, as an English student and English teacher, I feel should have stuck to Cats.

It's also not very kind, but there it is.  The unvarnished truth.

Guess what I did today.  I gave up.

Terry Goodkind beat me.  It took eight books (yes, eight books), but eventually I just ran out.  The idea that I had at least three more books (turns out there are eleven books, plus a prequel, in the series) was just too much.  I just couldn't take any more.

It's harsh.  And Terry, and fans of Terry, I'm sorry.  You failed.  You tried admirably, but you failed.  But more importantly, you were failed by others.

You had an editor.  You should have fired him/her.  This was the person who should have said, "Terry, you're repeating yourself.  Terry, you're too wordy here.  Terry, you used the word mud in eight consecutive sentences here.  Either use a pronoun or a synonym."

You had a publisher.  You should have found a new one.  One who would have asked you to cut a couple thousand words (or more, way more) from your books because then they'd have cost less to print and they still could have charged eight or ten or twelve bucks for the same paperback.

You had fans.  They should have been discriminating.  Fantasy readers aren't idiots.  Most of them recognise good writing.  They read well-written fantasy.  They read well-written sci-fi.  They read well-written newspapers, magazines, comic books, horror, biographies, YA fiction, romance, classics, poetry, etc. etc. etc.  They should have know that what you were doing was stilted and awkward.  They should have known better.

You had guys like me.  Guys who were going to stick it out from sheer perverse stubbornness.  And really, I should have known better.  I knew those books weren't going to get any better.  I knew that your habits would only get worse.  I knew that what had seemingly worked for you would be ingrained by now.  You'd had plenty of positive feedback.

Now.  My excuses.  I didn't pay for these audiobooks.  I *gasp* stole them.  Sorta.  I downloaded them from a piracy site.  I had nothing invested in them except my bandwidth.  So why did I take it so far?  Stubbornness.  Also, I listened to them at work.  My time was already spoken for.  I wasn't wasting it by listening to this crap.  And the attention I was giving to these books wasn't much, and what I was giving wasn't valuable.  I could also drop out and get back in without having felt that I'd missed anything.  I don't feel that way listening to the Game of Thrones, or James Bond, or The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Universe.

Terry, it's been a slice.  I appreciate all you've done for me (which, admittedly, is very little).  Write something else.  Get a new editor.  I'd be happy to give you another shot.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Argument from Intimidation is a confession of intellectual impotence.

That's Ayn Rand.  Yeah, that Ayn Rand.  The one who fled Stalinist Russia and became a sort of proto-libertarian.

However, in this, I think, she's right.

It might be because it's not an original idea: a Chinese proverb apparently says, "He who strikes the first blow admits he's lost the argument."  Joseph Farrell, a contemporary of Rand's, said, "If you go in for argument, take care of your temper. Your logic, if you have any, will take care of itself."

They all essentially argue against the ad hominem attack.  Name calling being the first, and most juvenile step, and progressing sometimes as far as violence.   Most of you know that ad hominem means "at the man".  And it does, essentially, mean that you have lost the argument.  Because you are no longer arguing.  You're fighting.  You are no longer trying to convince your opponent.  You are bullying.

The immediate inspiration for this is the comment threads on the columnists of Sun News.  Now, if you don't already know, if you haven't read my other blog, I am not a fan of Sun Media.  It is... well, you know what it is.  If you don't, here's a link.  What I can say without devolving into ad hominem attacks myself is that they seem to spend an awful lot of time bitching about the CBC.  (Today they must all be creaming their tighty-whities, knowing that the government has cut CBC's funding, thereby weakening their "competition".)

What upset me was the comments from the probable "lefties" on the site.  My people.  The people who are fans of human rights, worriers about climate change, supporters of the idea of community, and believers in progress.  They didn't even bother to refute what the columnist had written.  They didn't talk about his arguments (which were specious), or about his evidence (which was non-existent), or even of the structure of his column (which introduced extraneous subjects and then almost used them as evidence, but didn't really).  This is what they said:


To be fair, the commenter wouldn't convince anyone of anything.  We simply don't think that way. We know what we know, and we're not likely to change our mind based on anything as ephemeral as evidence, or reason, or logic, or a well-crafted argument.  We accept what bolsters our opinions, and disregard the rest.  Makes sense.

However, that doesn't mean we stop trying.  Seriously.  And lefties?  We're winning.  We ended slavery.  We got votes for women.  We got gay rights.  We got lead out of gasoline.  We stopped the residential schools.  We got the weekend.  We stopped child labour.  We wrangled several flawed but working democracies.  We got gay marriage.  We got interracial marriage.  We ended segregation.

We're kicking ass.

And I had thought that part of the reason that we were kicking so much ass is that we were using reason and logic to wear the other side down.  And maybe it's because we are.  We don't have to resort to name calling because we're winning.

And we all know Godwin's Law, and maybe you've heard about my corollary (found here).  In fact, McKenzie's Law was based on my experience that the other side tended to Godwin before we did.

But maybe it's not true.

Are we just as bad as they are?  I'm prepared to accept it if we are.  I'd rather we weren't.  We're winning.  And we're winning because we're right.

And hey, I'm not saying don't get angry.  Angry fuelled the marches in the Civil Rights movement.  Angry got the US the Nineteenth Amendment.  Angry started the Stonewall Riots.  Angry, paired with righteous, wins.  The problem with angry is that it can get away with you.  And when you're too angry, you can lose focus, lose your capacity for reason, and you become a monkey flinging poo at another monkey.

Let's try not to be monkeys.

Today's budget day.  It's been a hard few years for liberals.  A hard dozen budgets or so.  The UK, the Eurozone, Greece, Italy, the US, Canada, Ontario, BC... they've all equated austerity with prosperity.  They've all decided that less government means more everything else (and on some things, like inequality, poverty, crime, they're probably right).  If we want to let them claw back some of the progress we've made on many issues (just as they're doing in the states with reproductive rights, or here in Canada with environmental protection, or they're doing in the UK with social programs), then we can go ahead and call them fascist, or children, or bullies, or evil.  Once we do that, they know we're not arguing anymore.

We're fighting, and they're winning.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I always finish the book.

Always.  (Well, almost)

When I was in high school, I was assigned Wuthering Heights.  Tried to read it twice.  Failed twice.  Later, as an ESL teacher, two of my students decided that they wanted to read Wuthering Heights. Having never read it, and working full time as a house painter while I taught, I had no time (nor inclination) to read this book. So I downloaded an audiobook, and finally made it through the damn thing.

I always finish the book.  Always.

Incidentally, those kids hated the book as much as I and decided to read something else.  Frankenstein, if I recall correctly.  I wasn't mad.  I had finally finished the book.

I also always finish the series.  Almost always.  I read all the Narnia books though they were preachy and predictable and derivative and fond of deus ex machina and general suckiness.  But I finished the fuckers.

I'm reading Westerfeld's Leviathan books.  Loved Pullmans Golden Compass books.  Read the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy every five years or so.  Also read all the Night Watch Books.  And Encyclopedia Brown when I was a kid.  You get the picture.

There have been exceptions.  Some quite surprising: Clive Barker, for instance.  Others make sense: history books, philosophy texts, collections of short stories, collections of essays.  These are books I dip into, or take what I need, or read until I'm exhausted or angry.  And eventually, I finish most of them.

One of the best things about my job is its solitude (Stay with me. I know what I'm doing.)  When I get to work, I say good morning, assess my situation, and turn on my iPod.  On an ideal day, that good morning is the last thing I say to anyone until the family gets home at night.  I listen to a lot of music, a lot of podcasts, occasional radio drama, and a lot of audiobooks.

I've listened to some great stuff while driving: Ian Fleming, George R. R. Martin, Douglas Adams, and Tina Fey, for instance.  Librivox, the library and occasional piracy has been good to me.

I've also listened to some crap.  And I don't know why.

I can't fucking stop.  And I don't know why.

Terry Goodkind is not a bad storyteller. His story is fairly compelling, and some of his characters are admirable and interesting.  His villains are not one-dimensional.  His heroes are not completely virtuous.

But holy shit this guy needs a competent editor.

I'm not saying I'm great or that my writing is flawless.  And I clearly understand the uses of the narrative devices of repetition and parallel structure.  And I admit that I am prone to rambling and diversions.

Goodkind is prone to repetition and unnecessary explanation.  His characters stumble to deduce the obvious and to accept the evident.  The protagonists are as sneaky as four-year-olds, and still manage to outsmart the bad guys (who seem incapable of understanding that good guys are ever sneaky).  The dialogue is usually stilted and speechy, with characters launching into great monologues in the middle of arguments, while the others sit mute.  They also repeat themselves, ask rhetorical questions (over and over), and explain to each other things that they should already understand (which is, I know, a less obvious way to explain it to the dimmer reader).  The jokes are weak and prissy, even among soldiers.  And everyone seems to be a prude, which irritates me more than even I can understand.

Furthermore, Goodkind is preachy and prone to clumsy allegory.  The bad guys in these books, the Imperial Order, are clearly communists, which seems a silly bogeyman even to a guy who has read/listened to all the James Bond books two or three times each.

And I can't fucking stop listening to these terrible, terrible books.  And I can't understand why.

Part of it, I'm sure, is the story, which as I said is not bad.  But most of it, I suspect, is stubbornness.  I'm not going to let these books, these wooden characters, this juvenile prose, and this goofy conservative narrator beat me.

Because, goddamn it, I always finish the book.


(This has been an experiment.  I've written this on my phone while my computer was otherwise occupied.  I apologise for formatting irregularities and spelling mistakes or typos.)

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Your music sucks.

But so does mine.

I walked into work today (or yesterday, I can't remember; every day is more or less the same anyway), and the radio was playing.  I didn't recognise the tune.  I didn't like it.  And I felt all smug and superior about how top 40 pop music these days is all focus-grouped and over-processed, collaborative, derivative garbage.

In short, I was my dad.  Or your dad.  Or any grumpy old bastard lamenting the decline of Western Civilisation.  There has never been a Golden Age, people.  There were no Good Old Days.  They just sucked differently.

And let's be honest.  Today's top 40 radio pop does suck.  But so did my top 40 radio pop.  And so did your top 40 radio pop.  So does all top 40 radio pop.

It's all (with notable exceptions that I'm sure would populate my comment thread if anyone actually read this, and having read it, commented) designed to sell. Engineered to get into your head.  Written, not to express some deep philosophical point, a moving and compelling argument, or a fundamental truth, but to move records/tapes/discs/downloads.

It's called the music industry for a reason.

It isn't the failure to recognise this that makes us feel so superior.  We know that the music industry is a money machine, designed to take ours and redistribute it to promoters, managers, producers, and occasionally writers and performers.  But what we seem to think is that it's much worse than it used to be. That it's more commercial.  That what we had was somehow purer.  As were our cartoons, our video games, or comic books, and movies.  But it seems to me that lamenting quality of modern pop music while rhapsodising about the Monkees or waxing poetic about Whitney Houston or Heavy D disingenuous at best, and more probably somewhat severe cognitive dissonance.

So, yeah, the music that was playing when I walked into work today (or yesterday), did suck, and it was interchangeable with virtually all other pop music being produced today, and it's not surprising that Beyoncé sounds like Kelly Clarkson, or that Niki Minaj and Lady Gaga (happy birthday, by the way) seem to spend more time on image than writing.

It has always been this way.  Take it from a guy who owned Kris Kross's album.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

White Male Privilege

I tweeted yesterday about white male privilege, and how it makes me feel.  Full disclosure: I am white, I am male, I am straight (and I am also tall).  I am also middle class, North American, and Canadian.  I've got a lot of things going for me.

So in the future, when I complain, I want you all to keep that in mind.

My privileged status is on my mind a lot these days.  It's relatively easy to be a straight white male these days, as it has been throughout much of history (aside from the sometimes acute existential angst), whereas I wouldn't want to be a woman in the US, a poor person anywhere, a kid on a reservation in Northern Ontario, a queer in Uganda, or a black kid in Florida.

Nobody looks twice when I buy condoms; no one is trying to strip me of my right to buy them.  I never have to try to find something to eat; I have to decide what I'm going to eat.  I had a little mold in my ventilation ducts; I hired a company to come and clean them.  I have always wanted to have sex with women; no one ever tried to fix me with "corrective rape".  I own four or five hooded sweatshirts; I have never been considered a threat because of them.

I feel like I cheated, sometimes.  I, as Chris Rock once pointed out, had a four-hundred-year head start.  And it wasn't anything I did.  It was a quirk of genetics, geography, and history that I wound up where I am.  And knowing that I didn't do anything to earn this makes me feel queasy.  I try to understand what it's like to not be me.  I love and am loved by women (including two daughters) and gay men (my brother and his husband).  Maybe that's why I hate to see what other white straight men are doing.  I've been immersed in other cultures (however briefly), and have felt like a stranger.  Maybe that's why I hate to see minorities or immigrants abused.  I have seen women cross the street to avoid me at night.  Maybe that's why it hurts to see harmless people treated like criminals or animals.

I'm not apologising.  That's condescending.  I'm not complaining.  That's disingenuous.  I'm not confessing.  That's foolish.

It's not easy to be a guy like me: white, straight, tall, male.  But it's a hell of a lot easier to be a guy like me than it is to be a woman, or African, or gay, or African American, or a hundred other things that aren't straight, white or male.

I just wanted to let you know that I know that.

Friday, March 23, 2012


As I write this, the New Democratic Party of Canada is counting the first ballot in the leadership race to succeed the dearly departed late lamented Jack Layton (PBUH). I have no dog in this race (I wanted to type "I have no dog in this horse", and I don't have one of those, either), and because the NDP is Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, I wish all candidates the best of luck, and may the best woman/man win.

There are seven people jostling for this position.  That's right.  Seven.  Seven candidates for the leadership. Seven people want to succeed Jack as the leader of the NDP.  That boggles my mind.

Not that seven people want to be the leader of the opposition.  That doesn't surprise me at all.  The job comes with some modest perks, including a residence and increased face time in front of the media (actually, I think that might be about it for the perkiness of the posittion).  What I find particularly bemusing is that seven people want to succeed Jack Layton as leader.

I know that the NDP needs capable leadership.  Possibly now more than ever.  It is a crucial time not only for the party, but also for the country.  We need a strong opposition.  Right.  Fucking.  Now.  The Tories seem determined to Godwin themselves all over the place, and while I know the federal Liberals have had their share of scandals, the Tories are taking skeeviness to new heretofore-undreamt-of-in-Canada heights (or depths).  It's the job of the Opposition to take the ruling party to task (as much as you can whe the majority rules like Palpatine), remind Canadians when the leading party lies, cheats, steals, or breaks any other rules of law, good conduct, good taste, or even the decalogue, and to offer amendments and options that can promptly and comtemptuously be ignored.  And it may seem like a great time to take over the NDP.  They are no longer the third party.  The Orange Crush crushed the Bloc (which I, for one, was a bit sad to see).  They have a bumper crop of young, attractive, intelligent and seemingly capable MPs.  The Tories are odious and the Liberals are rudderless.  Why the fuck wouldn't you want to be the leader of the NDP?

Zombiejack.  That's why.

Zombiejack was at first an ill-advised and largely tasteless hashtag I threw into my twitter feed.  It seemed funny, and then it seemed appalling, and then it just seemed like no one would notice anyway, so I left it.  But the more I thought about it, it seemed appropriate.  I thought about the ghost of Jack haunting the convention, but that's not really true.  Ghosts are fondly remembered (unless they're haunting or possessing little kids, and if Jack's doing that, he needs to cut it the fuck out) benign presences that can infuse a gathering with nostalgia, fondness, and fraternity (except when they're scary, and I can't see Jack ghosting that way).

The Dippers are working Jack pretty hard.  Granted, he's kind of a martyr.  And he wrote a hell of a goodbye.  And he was obviously the most important leader the "far left" has had in Canada since St. Tommy Douglas (PBUH).  And I know why everyone is talking about him.  His ideals, his talents, his ability to unite the party and earn the respect and admiration of those who didn't believe in him or support him: all admirable qualities.  But really, the poor bastard is dead.  Let him lie.  They're working him like a resurrected Haitian Zombi.  And that's why he's Zombiejack.

So, setting all that aside for a second, I don't understand why anyone would want to follow Jack onstage.  There is no way that any of these people can live up to what he did, who he was, and his exit.  The guy led the party to Opposition status and then fucking died of cancer!  How can anyone follow that?!  And seriously, he was Jack Fucking Layton!  I never voted NDP federally.  I didn't like the party.  I didn't like their platform.  I didn't like their tactics.  I didn't like their message.  I didn't even really like Jack Layton.  But I trusted him.  I trusted that he believed in what he was saying, and that he thought he really had the best plan for Canada.  I don't believe the other leaders the same way.  I trusted Jack.  The only other party leader I've ever trusted is Elizabeth May, and I know her.  I've had dinner with her.  I met her kid.  She was  a reference for me when I was looking for work.

Listen to me.  I'm jaded and cynical and mean, and I trusted Jack Layton.

So, obviously, someone has to lead the party.  And clearly there would have to be a couple of people who want the job.  Acclamation just wouldn't sell the same way, you know?  But seriously, seven of you?  Are you mad?

Here's where I give advice.  Stop talking about Jack Layton.  You're not doing yourselves, your party, the left or the nation any good by (and I apologise for this metaphor) beating that dead horse.  Jack cannot lead you anymore, and he can't be the nice, intelligent, articulate, compassionate, considerate and capable leader to put up against Harper.  Jack is dead, and Steve's untouchable, untaintable, and possibly immortal (he does have an inhuman quality about him, doesn't he?).  Please, remember Jack fondly, have a wake for him this weekend, toast his accomplishments, and then leave him the fuck alone.

Here's where I make predictions.  The new leader of the NDP cannot continue the meteoric rush of the last election.  Four years is too long to maintain that momentum.  So unless the Tories fuck up severely, and Harper loses the confidence of his own minions, and is brought down in a decidedly un-Harper-like splash of un-Harper-like accountability, we're stuck with these sketchy bastards for a few more years.  And under the relenting air war of the new Tory regime, the NDP cannot maintain that push forward.  I suspect that the near-messianic halo about Jack will cripple the next two leaders of the party.  This one won't likely survive the next election.  The one after that will still be too close to Jack to get out from under his shadow.  If the NDP survives the Conservative War Machine as an independent party, it won't be this person or their successor who can get the NDP back to where they are now, let alone improve their seat count.  And that, of course, discounts what the Liberals are going to do, and dismisses the possibility (because it's very slim, and I say this as a Green) of a Green surge.

I'm afraid to say it, but I think this New Democratic Party died with Jack.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


It has been nearly three years since I wrote anything longer than a tweet.

I have a million excuses, and you, if you are reading this, constant reader, don't want to hear them.  However, I've stopped making them.  So we can forget them.

If you're interested in finding out what I used to have to say, you can find it all here, though I warn you it's just as puerile and juvenile as most of the rest of the internet, full of the same jokes, same tropes, and many of the same bogeymen.

I didn't know how to start writing again.  And so I put it off for a few days.  And then I realised that the only way to start was just to fucking start.  I have no clear direction here, but I thought I might offer a little description of what I intend to do.

As with every other blog on the 'net, this is my blog (which is not to say that the other blogs are mine, but that they belong to someone) and I get to do with it as I please (as I recognise that many other bloggers aren't allowed to do, and for them I play the world's smallest violin).

What pleases me, first of all, is two spaces after a period.  I'm old school that way.  If that typographical quirk bothers you, keep on clickin', and find someone who learned to type on a computer keyboard.  I also like the oxford comma, know how to properly use a semicolon, and have a thing for the proper use of the apostrophe.  I used to be an English teacher.

Also what pleases me is reading and writing about politics.  Like many, I get angry by the antics of the right (and occasionally of the left), and I will ridicule them mercilessly for their ideas.  I try to avoid ad hominem attacks, but occasionally I slip.  Feel free to take me to task.

I am also pleased by my children (and just as often displeased), and I have a lot to say about them, what they've done for me (and to me), and how things have changed because of them.  When I last blogged, wee Mickie was two and an only child.  We now have a matching set, so if we get divorced, we can each have one.

I am usually displeased by religion, and therefore pleased to mock the faith of others.  Again, I try not to mock those of faith, but their beliefs are fair game.  One of McKenzie's laws is that "There is no such thing as blasphemy." (The other laws are that the quality of a movie is usually inversely proportional to the number of credited screenwriters, and a corollary of Godwin's law, that in any discussion of politics, the "conservative" will call the "liberal" a name--commie, pinko, glowtard, tree-hugger, feminazi, etc.--usually before the liberal will result to name-calling.)

I like sex.  Most people do, but I also like reading, thinking, talking, listening to podcasts, and now writing about it.  This blog will not be pornographic, but will occasionally be adult.

And finally, it pleases me to talk about movies, books, music, podcasts, television, occasionally video games, and popular culture in general.

So that's what you can expect.  Welcome, and thank you.  I hope you enjoy hearing my voice in your head.  I'm sure it will find plenty of company in there.