Monday, November 29, 2010

Wikileaks? Put on Your Adult Diapers.

It would only come as a surprise to the egotistical Americans that Canada has a bit of an inferiority complex. Canadians are unimpressed. The complex they speak of comes from the fact that they think Canada piggy-backs on the coat-tails of their accomplishments and commitments. They feel we never really do anything because they only hear about our efforts and accomplishments when it is of interest to American readers; i.e. when it directly involves the U.S. I recall reading one anonymous person's comments about why should Americans give assistance to other countries when the U.S. was able to get itself out of trouble after hurricane Katrina, and another poster curb-stomping him with the fact that dozens of countries had given the U.S. charity, including Cuba, who is not on good terms with the U.S. to say the least. But that's exactly the American mind-set; If it didn't happen to us or because of us, no-one cares.

We've lived in the shadow of the Colossus for a while and it's tended to give us a bit of a "tiny-man" syndrome, but that doesn't mean we're embarrassed about it. Politicians are tripping over themselves to reassure everyone that it won't change the relationship we have with the states but all in all, who would care? We have kind of a Harry-Ron thing going on (I was going to use the Lone Ranger and Tonto, but I'm not quite sure what their dynamic is, to be honest). It's true Harry might be more famous and is definitely louder, but that doesn't mean we don't have our own hopes, dreams and goals, not to forget accomplishments. As one official has said however, "digging into diplomatic underwear is not a nice business". That's only true in two cases: 1) if you are expecting  balls and don't find any or 2) you are not expecting balls and find a really hairy pair.

The moral of the story? Nothing. This isn't going to change a damn thing. Because it doesn't really matter. Okay so some officials think some other officials are doofuses and weiners. It's not going to change how the countries interact, they've got policy for that. It might make for some awkward conversations, but that's hardly a country's concern and from the sound of it (Prince Andrew's colorful rant about foreigners that is apparently patriotic in the neurotic sense of the word) they've been having awkward conversations since someone noticed it makes you popular to be funny and it makes you funny to pick on the fat kid that wheezes. Canada is going to just keep on trucking in the semi-embarrassed, overly-polite, backstage fashion that we do, regardless of the fact that it makes the U.S. think we're sissies.

At least we're not Berlusconi, who had to tell everybody that he only throws dignified parties ("Seriously guys, c'mon! Totally classy!")and I am *dying* to find out what a "bunga bunga" party is... 

Copyright? More like Copy=wrong

Imagine this for a moment: that you are a baby, just a little tiny baby (Seasoned Readers can smell the emotional pandering coming from a mile away) and the federal government agency of copyright protection comes into your hospital room and says that you owe them a few hundred because you are probably, at some point in your life, going to violate some copyright laws by downloading something so you might as well pay them now. What would you say?
See this is a trick question because you are a baby so you are unlikely to do anything other than burble and soil yourself which is (full circle!) what most university students are going to do when the University of Alberta comes over to them to say that they have to fork over $45 a year because they might download a textbook at some point and the copyright hounds have decided we weren't paying them enough (current fee is around $4 and is allegedly paid by the university [the likelihood that they are flat-out paying it and not getting the money back by charging students for a "book fee" somewhere is so close to zero that they both get sick if one sneezes]).

For anyone who is not a student, the circle of textbooks looks like this: Pay an exorbitant fee to have the book, sell it back to the store for a grossly reduced amount (I have personally had over $200 worth of texts sell back for $7. I hate you too, English.) the store then turns around and sells that text for a disgustingly inflated figure to the next moron in line, and so the cycle continues, until the course spontaneously decides to stop using a text, thus leading to a "hot potato" sort of issue where you either find someone who is trying to save money by using the old edition of the text or try to convince yourself that you really wanted it as a reference thus filling your shelves with brightly colored heavy-ass books that look like they were puked on by an artistic geometric figure and are about as useful as geometric figure puke.

Sometimes, like in my sociology class, the prof will compile a bunch of journals and text excerpts, photo-copy them and distribute this bundle of fun to the students. There are two ways they can do this: one, informally, where the students literally just get a bunch of handouts, or two,  by having the copy-shop professionally produce a "course-pack" which is sold to students for roughly the same amount as a cheap text, but saves (theoretically) on the fees that the manufacturer pays the publisher and the writer. It's really this second option that the copyright puppies are heading after, insisting that the university is not paying enough for use of the materials within the book.

The textbook industry is sort of like Microsoft, except there isn't any organized Linux for cheap people to run to. They're offensively expensive and it's sort of confusing why. It cannot possible be that expensive to create them; for crying out loud the average cost of producing a hardcover seems to run around $2 (and that's from a self-publishing site. It seems pretty tough to get average costs of book production). Some students opt out of the circle of ridiculousness by finding the books in libraries and copying pertinent passages or, in the case of really dedicated students, the entire text, but employees tend to notice when you have to bring a packed lunch to the copy room, and tend to get quite annoyed... so here's the big change for now:

Effective Jan. 1, 2011, the required textbooks for a course can no longer be placed on reserve in the library or other resource room. Other required printed materials, such as journal articles, essays or chapters, may be placed on reserve but students may not copy them. These changes are a result of the fair dealing court decision and the fact that the university’s protection through Access Copyright will expire with the agreement. 

It's too early to tell how this will effect student's lives but given that I myself possess at least one journal article that I had to photocopy from a text in the library (paid over $1 a day for late fees before I noticed I could only have it for a week) it is not a stretch to say it's going to make life annoying for students who are strapped for cash. 

Worse, the copyright people are bringing up this kind of radical change now, a month before the current contract expires, so the University professors are scrambling to get copy-package orders in now before the price hikes. I'm not going to say it looks like the gas pumps during the oil crisis,but I did see a prof take a penknife with him to the copy store and I saw another one wearing a "Team Plato" shirt...

This whole issue is in direct opposition to things I have advocated earlier (the right to protect intellectual property) and I myself will likely argue the opposite point in later posts once I become a world-famous literati, beloved by millions, and sticking it to the un-learned masses in the form of exorbitant royalties, but it is almost starting to look like we are going to require some government regulation to keep textbook manufacturers from gouging us all.

Anyway, good luck finding out anything about this in the usual Edmonton newspapers. I heard about it on the radio and have been searching for the last hour online in the sad attempt to find anything about it. If I was doing a post on Fefe Dobson or how The Bieber doesn't want to date a female fan, I'd be all set, but about this issue that could actually effect people's lives? Hah. The only place it can be found is here on the University of Alberta's website.

Rexcycle, Reduce, Reuse

Edmonton. Home of the recycling nation. We never get rid of anything if we can help it. Take a look: We had scrapped the city center airport. Said it was over, closed it, gave the businesses, to whom we had contractual obligations, the legislative finger even though the whole issue damn near tore the city apart. Now we are going to pave that sucker over and race the Indy on it, another event Edmonton "broke up" with (read council's lips: No More Indy), but can't really bear to part with even though I hear we are technically losing money on it, some estimate to the tune of $12 million which is a pretty ugly song.
The Edmonton Expo bid was prematurely whacked by the feds, but we're still going to cobble together bits and pieces of it, build a cool new bridge, etc.I've heard criticism of the Expo revolving around how the bridge and various other municipal projects were not going to be done since they weren't included in our bid to the Expo committee, and there is criticism that the Mayor did not tell Edmontonians about that, but simply taking the plans off the bid proposal doesn't mean that they were going to be done; it just means they wouldn't be presented to the bid committee, but would rather be included in the "tour" when the evaluation group came to town ("Check out our sexy new bridge!")
MLA Sherman, kicked out of the conservatives over a health care issue, only to be re-born as an independent. Last election almost our whole council got recycled, for better or for worse, including the mayor that everyone groused about, who still won pretty handily. Seem we weren't mad enough to put him to waste.
Sure we didn't get into the Grey cup, but we're going to recycle the party and use it to steal  money from the rabid Riders fans, who honestly sound sort of like the Hun army from the reports I've heard on the radio and my goodness, didn't I hear about it on the radio. I'm pleased the whole spectacle is over since now I can hear about some actual news stories. Like cookies. 
Even Alberta's main source of income is recycled dinosaurs.
 The only place we really fail is with the arena; rather than try to revitalize the current Rexall place, we'd rather dump a bunch of money into building a whole new one. I can really only support this if they fill Rexall with water and have naval battles (Is this on the agenda? We should look into this.)

On a personal front, I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to alter my eating habits over the last little while to resemble a 100-mile diet, or at least more local fare, but up to this point it's been almost impossible to get out to the farmer's market for such avails. I'm pleased to read on the Avenue Homesteader website (read her post about washing garden vegetables in the washing machine with fluffy towels; funny and good advice) about the Alberta Avenue farmer's market on 93 street and 118th ave, which is apparently open year-round, so here's hoping for some local produce! I hear chard and garlic are both locally grown here in Edmonton.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Say Cheese

When I was a student the first time, there was a lucrative job opening working for the University of Alberta that I applied for, and gleefully obtained. For $14 an hour, I took my clothes off.
The university needed nude models for their art classes, and apparently there weren't enough people with mid-life crises that needed the positive reinforcement, so they hired me. What this means, that I periodically think about in varying degrees of embarrassment and pride, is that somewhere, in the world, there are nude paintings of me. Conceivably even in some student's portfolio.
Should the case ever occur where someone took a photo of me through my living room window in the same state of undress as the paintings, however, I'm not saying they wouldn't find a body just that the chalk outline would need to be done with spray-paint.

A couple of ladies who needed the money (Or hell, just liked doing it; why shouldn't they?) were working at a strip club in Toronto, but while taking their breaks on the roof that they believed was private, in costume, their photos were taken and, as with everything photographic now-a-days, was posted online with an accompanying piece. Many of the women have quit in response, especially since one girl is a student at a next-door university (although how she worked NEXT DOOR to the university and never expected any fellow students to come in is beyond me).

Apparently a copyright lawyer has voiced that in public no one has the right to privacy, but the nature of the roof is up for debate (seems there was a wall hiding most of the roof from the windows where the pictures were taken from). A pretty rough reading of the report seems to indicate that the case will be declared in favor of the photographer, who was "Stunned and embarrassed" by the article that ran with the pictures. Yes. Because he sat through an entire interview with a journalist but then did not expect them to publish it. Sure.

At the very least, I think the photographer should be charged with theft. Not to open the floodgate that anyone on the street who makes eye-contact with the ladies should pay a fee, but I  think if the girls are in "costume" since people pay a door fee to watch the show  it is a form of theft to enjoy the ladies in costume without paying anything. If Lime-wire is going to be shut down so people don't circulate the same music that is available for free on the radio, the parables seem comparable to me. It's all about the control of your "artistic creation", which for strippers includes their bodies.

As a professional photographer, I think the gentleman should have been better aware of the laws regarding picture usage, and consent. Plus, he's sitting in his office taking pictures of young ladies having a quiet smoke? Didn't feel the need to wander on over one day and say "Hi ladies! I'd like to take some pictures of you relaxing on the roof-top; anybody interested?" Perhaps the ones he wanted to see would have balked, but I'm willing to bet at least a couple would be up the stairs babbling about their "best side" so fast, there would just be the lingering smell of sequins in the air. To me, although it might be a minor point, it just smacks of that old notion that since they are "bad" or "loose" women, they don't have the right to control what happens to their bodies or visage. If this man was taking secret pictures of women in business suits having a smoke, the pictures would probably just develop as restraining orders, right there in the pan. ("Huh. Guess this one's overexposed..."). He defends himself by saying they were beautiful pictures, but this again just smells of a notion that I have run into a few times or more...

Ladies, put your hands up if you've even been walking around the street and a man, well-meaning I'm sure, has ordered you, with a dopey grin on his face, to "Smile!". Let's get all the rhetoric about how he means no harm, blah blah, out of the way and address the initial problem: No-one ever tells a man randomly to smile; it is an order reserved for women (I flatter myself by thinking attractive women), but no one knows why it is a woman's job to beautify the area with her smile. If I wanted to, and boy do I want to, I could certainly connect this to the notion of the Hajib. I cannot help but wonder if the notion that we have "the right" to view attractive women's faces compels bill 94 in some way. Let me put it this way: attractive women are not Geisha; they are not trained and should not be required to be living artwork just for the general public's viewing pleasure.

Oh yes, it's a complicated world out there, filled with photo-lenses; more and more we find ourselves in the public eye, on our best behavior. The ladies but also the photographer as we all point our microscopes at him to say, "Was that right?". It is really a tragedy that when we have achieved our greatest level of public photography and circulation, we have also hit the greatest low with regards to manners and etiquette.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

When we used to play "Bang Bang"

I have sat on this post for a while, because I was doing it for a Political Science paper, but I have the green light from my Professor to post it online.
An issue that has been getting a fair share of press time in Canada recently is the bill to eradicate the long-gun registry. The precise thrust of the debate that has raged, most recently coming to a head in a vote that was put to the House of Commons September 22nd, 2010, is whether the long-gun registry represents a substantial enough benefit to Canada to justify the rising cost of upkeep. This issue has particular import for Canadians not only because many Canadians own long-guns and many others believe it to be an invaluable tool for the police, both in crime prevention and investigation, but also because the annual net cost of the program is between $1 million and $3.6 million, not including the amount that is financed by gun-owners who are forced to pay fees simply to keep their personal guns. The other aspect of this debate is whether it actually provides personal security through the control of firearms, or whether it simply creates the illusion of such, by appealing to people’s emotions, rather than their rational sides. The final point that people raise when arguing the issue is whether or not it is actually an effective tool for the police to use; most police chiefs tend to support it (74% of officers reported a benefit from query searches prior to major operations; Canadian firearms program - survey, Canada Firearms Office, May 8, 2008), while the majority of rural citizens disagree (72% of Canadians responded to a survey that they did not believe the registry prevented crime; Canadian Firearms registry, Wikipedia, November 3, 2010).

    I do not support the gun registry because I believe it is a band-aid solution that lulls people into a false sense of security without considering the ramifications of the financial investment, when the same cost could provide the police with better tools to keep law and order, such as more strict gun legislation, better education for gun owners and handlers, or by simply being put into police forces across Canada to encourage hiring and promotions. Three things are necessary for a crime; motive, weapon, and opportunity. Since the registry does not do anything to deter the motivation, and the opportunity is variable depending on external factors, such as weather or location, the weapon becomes a factor dependant on opportunity and personal preference. In other words, if we outlawed guns, we would simply see an increase in knife violence, as is the case in Great Britain where guns are illegal except for police officers’ weapons, but people still commit violent crimes with knives, pipes, and even screwdrivers. This dissemination of the policy surrounding the long-gun registry demonstrates clearly how it is essentially unable to prevent crime.
    One of the arguments illustrating the ineffectiveness of the long-gun registry is the Mayerthorpe incident, the tragedy in the town of the same name where James Roszko took the lives of  four young mounties with rifles he had hidden on his premises.  The Police and townspeople were aware, in that small community, that the man possessed firearms, and this fact did not assist the mounties.  Mr. Roszko had been prohibited from legally possessing firearms, but this did not stop him from stock-piling weapons. One of the weapons that he used was registered to the grandfather of  Mr. Roszko’s accomplices, and it is often brought up that the registry brought police to the men that were later charged as accessories to the murders, but since the weapon had been reported stolen to the police, it could also have been traced through the usual police method of investigation.(Mayerthorpe Incident, Wikipedia, November 16, 2010). If the registry cannot be found to have a use in such a large, wide-scale investigation as Mayerthorpe, it is unlikely to assist in smaller, more variable situations. It is simply the nature of the registry that it cannot inherently prevent violent firearm crime.

    I  believe that the long-gun registry is only detracting money and attention away from initiatives that could be more effective. For example, the $3.5 million annual could, if spent on the police forces, create around 344 more officers, based on the average total cost of training, salary, and benefits per year, $101 742. (Crime control and Public Expenditure, The John Howard society,  September, 1995). Once the current “amnesty” for citizens who do not register their guns ends on May 2011, the registry will become an even bigger burden for the officers who are forced to waste their time on people who have failed to register their long-guns but present minimal threat to public safety.  These people might also become disgruntled if forced to give up their means of defence against robbers and wild animals.

     On the subject of police support,  a former president of the association of police chiefs went on record saying that the system was expensive but has proven itself to be an asset in police forces (Police chief issues statement on long-gun registry, Sudbury star, Frank J. Elsner, September 15, 2010). He continued on to say that officers relied on the registry to tell them whether or  not there were guns present  in the house before entering a domestic dispute situation. One of the most common examples cited by supporters of the long-gun registry is that the registry has decreased the rate of domestic homicides in Canada, but in fact it has been dropping since 1970, years before the registry was introduced, and only approximately 26% of spousal homicides (30% for female victims) involve a firearm (Statscan, August 21, 2009); 72% of the incidents involving a firearm involved a long-gun, (Statscan

     It is precisely these situations which reveal the danger in the registry. If officers become complacent when going into situations, believing there are no guns present, they run the risk of being blind-sided by a man with a gun. This could result in a much more harmful situation. Many people respond to this by pointing out that officers always assume there are firearms present, in which case we are left to wonder what good the registry does if the officers are alert equally at all times. There is also, given the two recent officer shootings in Alberta (Police kill Driftpile man, Edmonton Journal, Conal Pierse, November 21, 2010; Alberta serious incident response team investigating reserve shooting, Edmonton Journal, Conal Pierse and Mariam Ibrahim, November 17, 2010),the suggestion that officers entering a situation where they know guns are present, might be overly inclined to respond with higher levels of force than they would otherwise because they have been “psychologically primed” for a more serious incident . In fact, when one begins to look for statistics on officer support of the bill, completely contradictory numbers are indicated and backed by evidence, (Officer's survey finds 92% of police want gun registry scrapped, CSSA, Tony Bernardo, August 19, 2010; Canadian firearms program - survey, Canada Firearms Office, May 8, 2008)  so it is hard to say whether or not officers are in support of it at all.

    When considering the financial aspect of the registry we must consider that the initial cost of the gun registry was heavily over budget compared to any expectations, and the result is that most people feel it would be a waste of money to abandon it without seeing some fruition of the cost. This phenomenon where people feel they can glean some good out of lost resources if they just add a little more resources (Digging yourself out of a hole you’ve dug) is common in psychology but does not necessarily imply that it is correct; sometimes money spent is simply money wasted. The constant upkeep of the program is almost $4 million a year and during these times of economic hardship, every spare tax dollar must be carefully considered to maximize good. Consider the statistics behind the registry: it is accessed around 14,000 times a day (bringing the cost to a little over seventy five cents a search), but of those 14,000, only 530 are genuine searches (or about $414 worth of real concern) , the rest are automatic searches whenever a name or address is run (Canadian Firearms registry, Wikipedia, November 3, 2010). Within that 530 intentional searches, however, whenever a firearm sale is completed, it results in three separate searches: one for the buyer, the seller, and the registration number of the gun itself. Thus the complete traffic on the registry could be accounted for by 175 gun sales, and five genuine officers. Although this situation is unlikely, it does outline the absurdity of running a massive program for $4 million a year when the amortized benefit is equivalent to about $151 000.

    There is also the possibility that this illusion of public safety created by the long-gun registry is being brought up to entice voters to cast their ballot for the Liberals next election, the Liberals being the strongest supporters of the registry; implying  the conservatives care less about women, who are the supposed victims in most long-gun crimes, is a powerful fear tactic. The supporters of the long-gun registry have not been subtle in their manipulation of human emotions, pushing supporters such as an École Polytechnique massacre survivor into the limelight (the registry was the Liberal government’s response to the massacre), and allowing a Liberal MP from Newfoundland to tell the story of how his father committed suicide with a gun (Long-gun registry survives tight commons vote, Ottawa Bureau, Campion-Smith and Les Whittington, September 22, 2010). But people who do not support the long-gun have no such similar heart-wrenching stories. Their motivation is to ensure taxpayer’s money goes to an initiative that will work towards actually preventing crimes, in the fashion the registry claims to do, but in fact cannot. (Interestingly, the United States used Canada’s log-gun registry as an example of why it should not adopt a gun registering program, although its decision not to is widely attributed to the fact that the U.S. has more guns. (Canadian Firearms registry, Wikipedia, November 3, 2010) )
     The registry claims to prevent violence against battered women, but since there is no actual restriction on who can acquire a gun, this means that it will simply prevent a murderer from having a license, which does not intrinsically prevent them from having a gun or, indeed, any form of weapon. Rough estimates put the number of confiscated guns that are illegal and smuggled in through the United States between 70% and 97%, depending on the region of Canada the statistics are obtained from (The long-gun registry: Costs and crime statistics, Public Safety Canada, December 5, 2008). Many people argue that police could use the database to see if spouses involved in domestic disputes possess firearms, then go in and confiscate them, but Canadian officers have had the power to search property and seize weaponry that they believe may pose a threat to public safety since 1969, and this power is granted without regards to the gun registry. Even the Auditor General has said the registry seemed more concerned with filling licenses and registrations, and that:
“The Centre does not show how these activities help minimize risks to public safety with evidence-based outcomes such as reduced deaths, injuries and threats from firearms.”
(Bungled gun registry focus of Fraser’s report, Canwest News service,, May 17th, 2006)

    One further uncomfortable fact that we learn from the Mayerthrope incident is that Mr. Roszko possessed a list including the names, call signs, and cell-phone numbers of mounties working in several townships in Alberta. There is no suggestion that Mr. Roszko obtained the list from the registry but it raises questions about what he could have done with such information, and how dangerous knowledge can be in this society.  A noted computer consultant in fact proved to the Federal government that he could break into the registry system in under thirty minutes, and gained information such as names, addresses, and various details about the firearms contained therein. (Canadian Firearms registry, Wikipedia, November 3, 2010) It is one thing to keep firearms in one’s home, but it is quite another for the government to make a detailed list containing many convenient locations for criminals to acquire guns from, which are both inherently useful as well as valuable. There has already been one documented case of home invasion where it appears the house was “targeted” because it contained firearms, and people are concerned about more cases. If the registry cannot be properly secured, and the information cannot even be properly verified, so anyone with a basic understanding of computer hacking could wreck mischief and undermine the integrity of they system, then the registry becomes a source of harm for the government, and puts the lives of responsible gun-owners at risk.

    With these considerations in mind, its inability to prevent crime, irrelevance to domestic homicide cases, exorbitant cost, and privacy issues, it becomes clear that the long-gun registry, although well meaning, was a bad idea, and should be abandoned in favour of more effective crime prevention measures as soon as possible. Although doing so will likely cause a political backlash in the form of uninformed people who see only specific incidents rather than trends in crime statistics, sometimes it is necessary to do things that may seem unpleasant to make the right decision.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Edmonton EX-PO 2017

We lost the expo bid. Edmonton went up against some pretty high-class European cities and we didn't fail against them, we failed because our government gave up before we started to fight.
Now, I don't care one way or the other. There was only a snowball's chance in hell I was going to spend my hard earned (sitting on my butt) money on something like an Expo, but maybe it would have brought in some more publicity, who knows? Grey cup has sure packed our city to damn-near the brim with people; I hear all our hotels are booked solid, which might also be due to the fact that there was a recent high-rise fire, forcing the tenants to move temporarily to hotel and motel lodgings. But the whole point is neither here nor there.

The thing that concerns me, that raises my eyebrows, was why we were denied. Budget, of course, was cited. Edmonton had planned on putting up several million dollars, but would have required the federal government to add around $700 million to complete the picture. The idea had been criticized by the Canadian taxpayer's association, but a survey taken of Albertans revealed around 80% supported the idea.

After a year of planning and organizing, Edmonton put forth the bid proposal to the federal government, who administered a quick double-tap to the back of the idea's head, while the majority of Edmontonians stood around, speechless. Except for Stephen Mandel, who proceeded to blow his Mayoral top all over MLA Rona Ambrose, saying that he felt she was responsible for the failed proposal. Bless him for being a politician who isn't afraid to speak his mind, which is mercifully not preoccupied with cookies.

The reason given is that it was too much money on too risky a proposal, given our chaotic financial times, especially focusing on the variable security costs, but in the canned speech we were spoon-fed, the fact that we have the oil-sands was brought up multiple times. I can see one of two reasons for this; feeling the economic pinch over in Ontario, the Federals are pissed because we're just doing better over here thanks to the oil-sand's revenue, so they aren't going to give us any money (especially when I hear rumors that the amount we have waived in royalties to keep the oil companies here is about equal to the money we requested for the Expo bid, not that we could hamstring ourselves permanently just to support a one-time party. I'm not saying anything, I'm just saying) or two, the security risk could be increased by the recent bad-karma and negative publicity that's been thrown around regarding the oil-sands, and with more radicals moving into Canada, like the Parliament-scaling Greenpeace, it's possible they don't have enough of a handle on the situation to know whether we should be bringing pepper-spray, guns, or tanks, which doesn't really look very positive from a security standpoint ("Hey, guys, should we be nervous?") Don't we have some form of  Canadian Rumsfeld? Somewhere?

Anyway, doesn't matter. We can have a super party and then not invite them.

Front Page Glitter

Canadians, we reap what we sow.

Low voter turnout, largely apathetic public, and a citizenry that seems more concerned about who is staying on "dancing with the stars" than genuine politicians have lead us to the end where politicians and other public figures are becoming clowns just to catch our attention and keep us involved in the process. I think the next step is jingling keys in our faces while making kissy faces.

A key health care board-member who earns $700,000 shoos off the reporters buzzing around him like flies saying he doesn't want to answer questions because he's eating a cookie.

A Crown prosecutor who is viewing a case in which a mother is accused of beating her toddler to death, is accused of distracting the jury by making weird faces, putting the case at risk of being declared a "mistrial".

An elected MLA is removed from his party's caucus because he wrote an angry email about the state of the health care system in Alberta.

A girl is charged with four counts of fraud after she bilked caring people out of their money by claiming she had cancer and even plucking her eyelashes so she could pretend she was going through chemotherapy.

A local newspaper prints comments from YouTube as serious public reactions to a political controversy.

We had a municipal election in Edmonton where the majority of candidates won less than 5000 votes.

Correctional Services for Canada has handled documents for four inmates who are requesting sex-change operation funding when most non-criminal citizens can not get funding approved.

Our fair city spent hundreds of thousands preparing for our Expo 2017 bid, when the federal government pulls the rug out from under us, insisting they can't afford to help fund us.

Our Country was denied a position on the United Nation's security council, and now the position is up for grabs by a country that can't even stamp out internal dowry killings.

Randy Milholland does not believe in eating peanut butter with your fingers. 

Europe is dismayed that our federal government made changes to our national census, and says we had always been held up as the benchmark for impartial statistics keeping. First our peacekeeper status, then our dignity, and now our scientific sovereignty.

The better business bureau in B.C (say that three times fast) is accused of biased numbers, even though they are where Canadians turn to when treated unfairly by businesses, and sometimes seems like the last refuge against unbridled capitalism.

Is there no sacred cow we won't slaughter?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Look, Kids, a Genuine Government Straw-man!

The government of Canada and British Columbia have finally decided to move against the polygamist Mormon sect in Bountiful B.C with a court case aimed at deciding whether a law against polygamy would violate Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
How could anyone object to that?

The problem arises when they ask the question "is all polygamy illegal, or just unions involving minors or exploitation?" To answer this question they have put the Mormon sect on trial. A sect that is not only polygamist, but also involved in the exploitation of minors and women. The court cannot seriously expect to find a fair and balanced answer when it only puts one form of Polygamy forth to be evaluated. If you are running experiments to see if being male leads to being a murderer, and then only investigate murderers, of course you are going to find that being male causes murderous rages; proper scientific procedure requires the evaluation of all angles.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll state that polygamist sects creep me out. It seems when polygamy is tied to a religious belief, it produces some uncomfortable feelings that not even the show Big Love could thoroughly disavow me of, and does seem to correlate with the sexualization of minors. On the other hand, however, I have seen some polygamist relationships, and read "The Ethical Slut" (which should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to have any kind of relationship, Mono-, bi-, poly-, self-, etc. and is not just about being a slut, but also abstinence.) and when they are entered into with an open and loving mind, by healthy adults, then they certainly seem to work well for people.

I do believe we should decriminalize polygamy. However, we should continue to prosecute child molestation and prosecute even worse forcing children to enter into matrimony. In Canada, it is always legal to marry if you are over 18, but in most cases it is also legal to marry while underage with parental consent. I don't believe that children are ready, at that critical stage in their lives, to make the giant leap to formally include someone in the rest of their life, so help them God til death do them part, and I think it's ridiculous that parents would encourage that behavior. I also suspect that the sect is capitalizing on this law since in B.C, children 16-18 can get married with parental consent, and under 16 can get married with the consent of the supreme court or a county court.

Mr. Craig Jones has gone on record saying that the crimes in Bountiful are the "inevitable consequences of a polygamist society", but I disagree. They are the logical result of a set of beliefs that think women are good only for breeding and that there is no higher purpose than procreation. These beliefs combine with the fact that females are physically capable of reproducing as soon as they experience menses which is occurring earlier and earlier in each generation and results in the logical consequence; start having babies as soon as possible and keep going until you can't anymore. The women don't know they can aspire to more because they aren't formally taught and if there is no higher purpose than procreation, why bother waiting for things like emotional and mental maturity?

So let's first take care of things like making sure everyone has access to good education, prosecute child abuse, and then maybe we can create a society where consenting adults can enter into healthy polygamist relationships together.

Also, had to spend a few hours in an emergency room due to some cramps that were so bad I had Victor worried, but turned out to be nothing. Anyway, happy to report I was in and out in under four hours with excellent treatment, even though just coming in and claiming to be in pain usually gets a note on your chart about "drug-seeking behavior" and some stern questions. Now I'm totally willing to believe in Alberta's health care system! Also, I have the advice of a health-care professional that broccoli, red meat, and dark chocolate is good for cramps, so I have the green light to eat like a douche, fart like a man, and eat slabs of cow. Good days, good days.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

C is for Contention

When problems arise in close relationships, they usually look like something moronic. Every couple a story about their first fight, and chances are, it's something ridiculous. "He doesn't put the forks in the dishwasher right." "She doesn't change the toilet paper roll." "He/she was driving too [whatever]." The important thing in these arguments is seeing what they really are, underneath. It's not really about forks, it's about an equal division of labor in the house; it's not the toilet paper roll, it's selfishness or lack of concern for your partner; it's not your driving, it's where you are going. (Individual results may vary, proceed with caution) Woe be the partner who doesn't understand that when you trivialize the issue, saying it's just a fork, you are trivializing the bigger problem that your partner can't vocalize.

Cute advice, but I thought this was a political blog?
Right you are, Dear Reader, so here's the surprise: It's the same in the workplace. Your employees aren't really upset because there's no coffee in the break-room, they're feeling underpaid; They aren't really complaining about one more stop, they're complaining because they're feeling put upon, and overworked. It's not professional, but it's a reality. It's how people find ways to express their internal frustrations. Although it would be both unprofessional and a "career-limiting" move for health care workers to weigh in with their opinions about Mr. Duckett (who I hear was imported from Australia) I think it might be a pretty accurate gauge of how people feel.

So if Mr. Stephen Duckett thinks he's going to be canned for a cookie I think he's experiencing some misapprehensions, and should probably be cut off from watching scrubs, because that's not accurate, sir. If anything in this situation is going to be the nail in his career's coffin, it's going to be the people under him not supporting him. Rumor has it that health care workers are as frustrated as citizens are with the system; and who's surprised? It's a tough situation. No-one honestly believes that health-care workers are sitting around, gleeful that the emergency room is overstocked again. We know they're working their collective asses off, and it's just a heartbreak that the system can't do their efforts justice. Hopeful some of the new measure being up in place will do some good. Like Dr. Cox has said, it used to be the life being a doctor, but not anymore.

But the issue is Mr. Duckett's insensitivity. He has  gone on record saying that he was not intended to be the one talking to the media, that honor was given to a "senior physician", so it was not really his responsibility to be the bearer of the news, but perhaps he could have found a more tactful way to covey the message. We seem to expect all people who find themselves in higher ranking positions to be immediately aware of how to deal with the media and constant scrutiny, but there doesn't seem to be any reason why we expect this. Knowing how to romance the journal doesn't really imply a better ability to oversee the health care program. In fact, just assuming that because someone is charming means they have all the answers has gotten many people into trouble over the course of human history ("Thug say tree good for eating!Him has shiny hair! Me eat!"), so much so that frankness seems to be the exception and can occasionally be considered endearing to many. This does usually require that the person has supporters already, however.

Claiming, as some have, that Mr. Duckett is just a scapegoat, and that he didn't make the system, but simply worked within it, so he should not be punished for it's failure is much like saying since sociological forces create poverty, criminals shouldn't be punished for committing crimes; perhaps being able to not punish them for working within a faulty system would be the ideal, but we're so many light-years from the ideal that we can't even see it with a telescope.

By now, it's kind of a moot point, since Mr. Zwozdesky has warmed up his vocal cords, pulled the right strings, and issued the statement that:

 “I told him I thought those were inappropriate comments, I’m sure you regret you uttered them, and he said, ‘Yes.’ ”
but did he say it while your lips were moving? On the subject of giving him the old 'heave-ho' he asserted that,
“He’s in the role that he’s in right now, and I have to have a level of comfort and confidence in him that he can and will deliver. So we’re going to give him and everyone in the system a chance to do that.”
In other words, we'll be watching Mr. Duckett's career with bated breath, but you know if the new system fails, they've got their fall-boy already packed up.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I put the Lime in the Coconut?

This new survey has discovered that Canadians tend to use emergency rooms during the night to deal with things that could have been dealt with at a clinic if the services were available and this is putting stress on our emergency rooms with non-critical things. Frankly, the big shocker now is how people could have believed that illness stops just because the sun went down.

I've always felt that night workers and people who don't keep normal schedules are poorly serviced by the "day folk" in the form of terrible hours of operation and such things. Late night eating? Don't get me started. Banking? Hah. Even Grocery shopping to an extent is an affair that must be scheduled and executed with rigid precision. Perhaps it's exacerbated by the fact that I have become forced to schedule in bathroom times, and that I consider multitasking an art-form, so spontaneous excursions to pick up milk or what-have-you are "frowned upon" shall we say.

The report goes on to say we also suck at "landing a doctor's appointment the next day"; well, let me rock your socks with some anecdotal evidence! My sister went to the doctor quite recently, with her toddler and infant sons, and was told to make an appointment to come back, but when she spoke with the receptionist on her way out, was told they "didn't do appointments" which I think is just abysmal customer service. I think she should have held up the baby and said,  "This guy made an appointment to be born, I'm sure you can pencil in a note". Upon her return to the medical clinic they waited an excessively long amount of time (With a toddler and a baby, ANY time waiting should be too long, but they waited what would be a long time for a geriatric on Valium) and upon their entrance to the doctor he stated (taking his life loosely unless he's a certified self-surgeon) that they should have made an appointment. My sister, bless her patience, pointed out that they had tried, and the response they got. The doctor then told her the magic words were "Fast track appointment" instead of "appointment" which is so many levels of asinine stupidity that it could really demean all of us to list them (also cause my mommy to bake me a Sodium hydroxide cake when I get home for Christmas [The cake is a lye]) so now that she knows the secret code, hopefully this experience won't be repeated, but the point rings true, if they're going to be such dicks about allowing us to make doctor's appointments, of course we're going to be lousy at getting them.

I don't even have a doctor, to be honest, since my last one belted out about how I was suffering from Irritable bowel syndrome, and the stool was building up in my lower intestine (Is this also why he believes I have a stomach ulcer?) just because I mentioned some abdominal pain (Worst date ever. I wish I was kidding.), I have sort of drifted from doctor to doctor. Besides, my current town does not have any available doctors. I did try, when I graduated, to find a steady doctor, I really did. I went to the physician's website, looked for all general doctors that were taking new patients,  started by screening for geographic location, but eventually, just anything. Almost every single one, to a doctor, upon phoning (keep in mind I only phoned doctors that the site indicated were looking for patients) said that they were not, in fact, looking, were full booked, what was I thinking of, or were highly specialized (the website included an area for doctors to indicate that they specialized in whatever) and didn't take me at my word when I insisted that I really was a highly sentient sheep, what's that, oh yes, with licky end, so of course I fit his specialization.

Anyway, back to the point, we should start looking at making ourselves a 24 hour city, province or nation. I hear tell that over in the Center of the Universe they have many 24 hour amenities, but in Edmonton we might as well be practicing for air-raids, for all I can see at night. I have seriously been forced to do grocery shopping at a 24 hour London Drugs. If we began to incorporate some Non-Doctor doctor-ish options, perhaps we could ease the burden. True, it would require some pretty hefty regulations to ensure complete quality and would probably also take a while for people to adjust to considering other forms of care just as valid as doctors, but honestly, if he/she is gonna make me feel better, I don't really care if they call themselves Doctor, Nurse practitioner, or Lord-Llama of the Divine Ya-ya doctor-hood.

The last notion that we could possibly incorporate is a fine for misuse of the emergency room. "But wait! Remember when Vic was crippled by stomach pain and barfing? What if it had been a stomach bug instead of appendicitis?" Well, Dear Reader, we'd accept the possible risk of fine, but weighed it properly against the possibility that it could have been mundane (Not damn likely; Vic's way too sensitive about wasting food to give it back.) We don't want to encourage people to not come to the hospital, we just really want people to be sure it's important.

It's so old hat to whine about emergency wait-times that I'm sure there's going to be a Norman Rockwell painting about it offered for sale on a wine tray any day, but with the recent glut of stories designed to tug at people's heartstrings, we're re-paying attention to it, which just underscores how obnoxious the public consciousness is. We don't focus on numbers and statistics, we focus on the human, compelling tragic stories, which may not actually represent salient, real, or fixable problems. The major news medias are aware of this and boy do they ever capitalize on that. We don't want to hear about how more people die  from motor vehicle accidents, we want to hear about plane crashes. Spectacular ones. With puppies on board.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Feelin' like a Natural Woman

There's a hidden connection between two stories available on CBC's main website today, even though it may not look like it.

One covers how Canada has fallen in its standings with respect to equal treatment of women, ranking 20th in world in terms of women advancement, pay equality, and maternity benefits (Scrapping for example a $5 billion child-care initiative). There is even some allegation that senior officials have ties to anti-feminist organizations.

The other deals with a review of the Canadian agency that oversees artificial reproduction. It appears to be headed by a board of 6 directors, with one President, who is the contentious link in the chain. It's fantastic that women are leading this agency, even if I think it smells a little of anti-male sentiments, thus buying into the old sexist notions that "babies are womenfolk's work". However, what are we doing with it? We're proving the "haters" right by squabbling amongst ourselves.

There are two parts to the review; the first is a much needed financial review. Absolutely in any government agency when there is a suspicion of fiscal dishonesty, such as the allegations that the president was taking personal vacations on the agency's dime, have at it with the Auditors of Righteous Fury. No one pays me to take a vacation, I am certainly not paying taxes to send someone else on one.

The other issue is that the president is bullying people on the board. Bullying can be a serious allegation; remember what's-his-name chucking books at legislative aides? Hilarious on T.V maybe, but not something you want to see really happening. But when men are accused of bullying they are screaming, ranting, borderline-rabid maniacs. I don't think we should become like that, but don't waste my time saying she "flapped her hands at me" and that made you feel marginalized. If you felt like she dismissed your idea, either put up or shut up. If you don't have enough faith in your ideas to push them, why should the board have more faith?  Three people are reporting feeling bullied, two people are not. I notice it's hardly relevant now, since she has retired, and I also notice how that reinforces the stereotype that women will not confront people to their faces, but instead will wait until it's a passive aggressive move. (Could also be in consideration of not creating a hostile work environment)

The only place I'm torn is on the allegation that while struggling to remember the acronym LGBTQ (for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-gendered, Queer network) she referred to the network as BLT (which is a tasty sandwich) but she has insisted that it does not reflect her feelings towards the network or the people. I must confess, the acronym does not exactly roll off the tongue, and I myself have started to just kind of trail into random letters, but I know people that identify with this network, and in this climate, following a string of heartbreaking suicides by bullied LGBTQ individuals, we should be more sensitive to perceived slights against the organization.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

He Took his Vorpal Cell in Hand...

Oh Frabjous day; the new activist battle cry is here!
To join the ranks of such esteemed members as "Votes for Women", "Black Power" and "Make Love not War" is the line for our times:
"Don't touch my junk"

I'm not going to post the man's name here because he is obviously just another scum sucking twit looking for his fifteen minutes (Fifteen minutes that should rightly be mine) and it won't do to feed the enthusiasm, which  apparently now includes trendy apparel baring the slogan. I believe he is an attention-seeking mome because he recorded himself refusing, which means that he obviously prepared in advance. He was pulled aside for a random full-body scan, after he began recording of course, but it makes me wonder if it was really random, or if they picked up on his goofy expression as he thought "Boy, I'm really gonna pull a fast one on them!".

Consider: reading people's emotions may be the only safe-guard we have left. As Mr. Plambeck has pointed out, "There is a ridiculously common explosive that is ENTIRELY undetectable by every method currently used in airport security" so our best chance to stop this form of terrorism (every time I use that word I sigh) is to notice that dude is sure sweating a hell of a lot... Not that this method is particularly good, but it really hasn't been developed as much as it could be (then again I might be overly sympathetic to the method, given my psychology background).

When the man pitched a fit and refused a full body search he was given a refund on his ticket, but as he went to leave he was stopped by another airline officer who told him that he would run the risk of a $10,000 ticket and a lawsuit if he did not return to pass through security screening. A lot of people think this is overstepping their jurisdiction, but look at it this way; this guy would rather cancel his entire trip, inconveniencing his travel partners and suffering a partial refund just so he didn't have to let a security officer too close to his wee-wee area. You are damn right I'd be suspicious. That officer probably thought he was catching another terrorist (which I won't even bother to dissect the whole "terrorist plots everywhere" since I lack sufficient evidence to believe or disbelieve any news casts about such things [Isn't that funny, just a year ago I took news at it's word and now I can't believe a thing]) and I'm willing to put money on the fact that he was probably concerned, at least in the back of his mind, that the man he was confronting was going to knife him and detonate the 'port.

The cynic in me wonders if he simple balked because he didn't really want to go on a hunting trip with his father-in-law. He refused to go through a body scanner, and requested a whole body search instead, which is his right, but when the agent informed him that the agent would need to touch his groin area, the man shouted "Don't touch my junk!" See, he believes that since HE knows he isn't a criminal, we should just all SENSE it as well and let him pass unhindered to whatever destination he chooses. Perhaps he feels we should have psychics screening people at the gates now, "Hmm. Your aura is dark; I sense much fear in you. Please step this way, you are under arrest."

I hope everyone remembers the signs they put up in most establishments about how they reserve the right to refuse service; I feel these are relevant in this case. Dip-stick MaGee here does not have the damn right to fly on an airline. Flying is a privilege, and if you aren't going to party nice with the security people they aren't going to let you play in their sandbox. He was given a refund on his ticket price and as far as I'm concerned I don't care if he never flies again. No sweat off my ass. He can pitch a fit and stomp his feet all he wants, but if the airline wants to say they're only giving flights to people who can recite the entire pledge of allegiance backwards, What the hell are we going to do about it?

Some people say it's too much to have the security agent touch one's groin area, one person even likened the action to fondling, which in my personal opinion means he gets his jollies by imaging security people in much more sexual circumstances then they really occur in. I can not wait for the day when someone goes to the doctor and insists that the doctor diagnose him without touching him. "I'm really concerned about prostate cancer, Doc, but I'm not taking my pants off." Well, there's the door, sunny, don't let it hit your ass on the way out because it really costs too much to hire a defense lawyer for a door.

I notice, however, that none of the security guards are kicking up a fuss about how he recorded them, including sound, for public viewing on the Internet, without giving them the dignity of asking if they minded. Apparently since they work for "the man" they don't deserve rights. I can't record my own university lectures, and my workplace is not allowed to record sound, but this guy can do as he likes. He is even heard at one point to say he will submit to one kind of screening, but not the other. If only we all could define things the way we liked.
"Yes, I'll pay the parking ticket, but not the speeding ticket."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Easing the Youth's Burden of Proof

I'm going to start including a "trigger" warning for stories that I feel will really hit an uncomfortable or contentious note for people, since there are some topics that can really inflame people (sexual assault, sad stories involving kids, graphic murders, etc.) and it's worse when you aren't expecting it. Needless to say, this is one.
The leading line in the Canadian Press for a story you can read here about the age-of-consent laws runs thus:
"An increase in Canada's age of consent law from 14 to 16 was supposed to protect teens from sexual exploitation, but a new study suggests the legislation may not be helping kids who are most at risk."

To which the majority of sane Canadians reply: "No? Really?!" The last thing kids are thinking about when they're having sex is laws. Pounding hormones are a far cry from the heavy beating of judge's gavel. Of course, that's not really the cases they're talking about. They are talking about cases where children 13 years old and younger (brace yourself) are having sex  with adults twenty years old and more, which apparently happens more frequently than kids 14 to 15 years old. The statement that infuriates me the most in the article is that the law was designed to protect younger kids from making poor decisions regarding their sexual activities. As if these children are making the choice- intelligently, healthily- to become involved with someone that much older.

There is something desperately wrong with our society when kids cannot have a relationship without sex in it, worse when they think they can have a relationship with someone that much older while they are still that young, evolving and growing. I am sure many young people would insist that they are mature enough at that age to form intelligent decisions and choose their own partners, but it leaves the question that if they are that "right" together, why are they not "right" when they've had time to grow and solidify their personality without someone warping it? The likelihood that someone that much older is doing it because they feel genuine love and concern for the child, is almost non-existent. The majority of times it is about sexual exploitation.

Apparently most sexual education classes don't cover the issue of sexual exploitation, according to the article, which should be a crime. Especially when we consider the accessibility of the Internet and the increasing sexualization of younger and younger kids (Is Beiber seriously 15? Miley Cyrus 16? Taylor Lautner is 17? Take these babies off the catwalk and put them back into their homes.) we need to be realistic and stop hiding our faces when it comes to sexual predators. Even the recent acceptance of "Twi-moms" screaming for Taylor Lautner, who is underage, reflects a double standard that I think may come to have grave consequences in later years. Some people underestimate how much young boys need to be protected but in this increasingly equalized world, we need to make adjustments now. Failing to teach our children how to recognize a predator and how to deal with them is like not teaching people self-defense because we don't want them to be attacked. If they don't have to use it (Thank God) then they are in a position to offer assistance to any friends that might be unfortunate enough to fall into a bad situation, or at the very least recognize when a young kid thinks they are "in love" with someone identifiable as a predator.
The point I'm not really getting to is about a case recently posted in the news about a confirmed sexual predator who was charged not guilty with the sexual assault of an eleven year old girl. True, he says she was in his home for no reason and he was convicted of sexually assaulting another girl around the same time, but he didn't touch her, he insists. The case was dismissed because there were "inconsistencies" in the story told by the eleven year old. The eleven year old that had allegedly gone through a traumatic experience over two years ago. Funny that she didn't remember everything perfectly.  Needless to say, this issue is disgusting. I don't even believe children under the age of 15 should be allowed to give testimony in court cases, let alone as the pivotal witness in their own sexual assault case, but that's a result of my psychology background and is neither here nor there. The change I am proposing is that we should change sexual assault cases involving minors to reflect a more civil infraction guideline. You see, in Canada's criminal court, one must be proven guilty beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt. But in a civil case, you must only prove that it is more likely the case than not the case. I feel that if we changed assault cases involving minors to reflect this sort of dynamic, we would see less cases after a period of adjustment.

It would require a lot of changes, I'm not even sure we could adapt to make the changes, but it would require some things that I largely consider common-sense and some people who have had unfortunate experiences with untrustworthy people have already adapted. Don't put yourself in a compromising position. For example, don't have an eleven year old over at your house, unsupervised, when you are assaulting other young girls in your spare time! That wasn't so hard, really. In the case of babysitters, I feel they should have to go through the same screening that child care workers do; a minimal police background check. This is going to clog up the pipes for a while and make babysitters an even more scarce resource but perhaps after you trust the person, you can give them a pass of your own.

This issue is reflected most clearly in a case occurring in my own town of Morinville that almost ruined a young teacher's career, not to mention his life. A student claimed he had touched her inappropriately but the judge ruled that her story was so confused as to be untrustworthy, and she is widely considered to have lied. This increased emphasis on believing the alleged victim  is ripe for exploitation by malicious youths with an axe to grind but I have already made the claim that people who falsely claim assault (and it can be proven they did so with malice aforethought) should be given the sentence that would have been given their victim had they succeeded.

All this really requires is that people take more care, and evaluate the positions they put themselves in so when criminal investigations arise, there are less ambiguities. It is sad that this won't eliminate the most common form of child sexual assault (that is, by a family member), but one step at a time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sometimes you Just Hang Your Head

Another news story has the press that causes me to involuntarily convulse. A 22 year old man has been found not criminally responsible for killing his mother back in 2008. She died because he stabbed her in the neck.

Let's get one thing straight; Mental disorders are unfair. They are sick, cruel, brutal problems that affect people indiscriminately and without remorse or reason. But I can just hear the chorus now, "He's getting off easy! He just pleaded insanity!". The very first commenter on the story quipped if being not criminally responsible  is "the buzz word and free pass for 2010/2011?". The general public does not really understand the horror of mental disorders, and this whole story is not going to help, even considering the fact that both the defense and the prosecutor pushed to have the man declared not criminally responsible.

First of all, he has schizophrenia AND he decided to take steps, whatever he believed they would achieve, that resulted in the death of his mother. These facts should remains separate. People too often associate mental disorders with being dangerous and it is true that if a mentally disabled person does become violent it is more difficult to reason with them since they are under impressions that are not under their or anyone's control, but since our definition of mental disorder includes "unable to be reasoned with" this leads us back to the same situation where I have to lock my doors fastidiously every night because I'm still thinking about the Russell Williams murders and he most certainly does not have a mental disorder (a few paraphilias, perhaps, but certainly no chemical disorders like schizophrenia).

The reason why he is not held criminally responsible, however, is because he believed, through whatever chain of reasoning he was privy to, that putting the glass in his mother's neck was like acupuncture and it would cure her of the desire, he believed she possessed, to kill him. He was acting under a faulty belief, much in the same way that children, animals, or people with fanatical religious devotion do. The difference being that these people can be taught what the consequences of their actions are, and so it is right to punish them, but in this young man's case there is a goblin in his head that is stealing that comprehension and so until we can fix that, punishment will serve no purpose. If we want our justice system to operate properly, we must be aware of the steps to take in order to ensure a full understanding of the violation and the discipline. I hate to make a crude comparison, but when training animals, you cannot just punish them without allowing them to know what they have done wrong or else it just embitters the animal.

The biggest lesson we can take from this is to ensure that people with previously identified mental disorders, he was known to be schizophrenic prior to the incident, get the help that they require, and that they continue to utilize the methods to maintain normalcy. Many people after being on their medications for a while believe they are cured, and so decide to stop taking them. But it is just as hard to identify the onset of mental disorders as it is hard to identify a relapse, especially if the individual is more scared of the diagnosis the second time around. I am willing to guarantee the grief this young man will feel once he becomes capable of understanding what has occurred at his hands will equal the grief of anyone who has lost a loved one to a violent crime.

The biggest obstacle we face to the successful enactment of these measures is that the man is now known to be a violent offender, yet he needs to be afforded proper medical treatment and care, putting our medical staff at risk and putting a strain on our already burdened mental health facilities, perhaps indefinitely. Also we need to start considering a better system to deal with repeat domestic violence calls; the police knew the domicile well because they had been there several times before to deal with domestic violence calls. There should be a point where the police are able to say "No more calls", and further measures are put in place. I hate to burden our social welfare system further, but perhaps counseling could have prevented this tragedy.   

Sunday, November 14, 2010

International Politics

I've tried to keep the focus of this blog on Canadian matters, but I want to make a slight diversion to include this article, since I feel the issue is one that affects us, and that we must be more cognizant of before it becomes our downfall; Canada may be considered a pathetic character by the rest of the world, but in our fight for greater relevancy we must guard against become a tragic figure. We shall not be Icarus.

To set the back-story; it is a huge industry to send Westerners overseas to teach English, since speaking English is considered a valuable asset in many countries. Just this fact alone should make us aware of the opportunity for exploitation. Many Americans consider people who do not speak English to be less intelligent, which is a failing on their part, fosters the notion that it is "right" that people should speak English, and if they do not then it is "their problem". From this precarious imbalance comes the following situation; a young girl in the Ukraine was attending an English language class taught by an American lawyer. From early transcripts of their discussions, she appeared to have a rough friendship with her teacher, reminiscent of the usual sort of teacher-student relationships that are common everywhere. During these he made statements (language warning) about his students and the Ukraine such as:

"This place is so monumentally fucked up it deserves whatever bad things ever happens to it"
“why are all you ukrainians so fucking stupid. and what was the bullshit about not taking the test, i give a fuck if your dumb ukrainian ass takes my test, i don't give a fuck about all of you (…) in fact, fuck you.” 
“one more thing you dumb bitch, you and her, are out of my class on thursday, you do not set foot in my company again or i will personally call the cops for you trespassing.”

She complained about his behavior, but graduated and, like survivors should, moved on.  However, he was her neighbor, so she could not simply evict him from her life. At the beginning of October, on the 9th, just before noon, she was returning home with groceries when he was returning home from his jog and he beganto berate her for being Ukrainian, then began to hit her, threw her to the ground, and spit on her. An elderly lady nearby yelled at him to stop but he told her to "shut up stupid cunt", and tried to drag her inside his home, repeating "ugly things of sexual kind".  At this point it becomes a bit confused, her English is not perfect, but he left her outside and she went to report to the police, who asked her why "he only pushed you, why did you call police"? and various other admonishments. They told her that the man would sue her since she was leading him on to get American citizenship. After three days she signed a paper saying she "refuse from claims" and left to rebuild her dignity.

She wonders on her website "Why do we tolerate foreigners, who insult our land, our nation, our history, our gains?" and "why do we keep bowing to everything western?". That we could allow this travesty to continue is unforgivable. 

In a handout by Compass magazine in March 2009,  the teacher states that he likes working in Kyiv because "the girls are beautiful" . In that same handout there is this joke: 

A wise schoolteacher sends this
note to all parents on the first day of
school: "If you promise not to believe
everything your child says that
happens at school, I'll promise not to
believe everything he says that
happens at home." 

What kind of an environment are we encouraging here?

I have no proof. I have no police reports. I have no information other than what has been provided by the student. Why? Because there appears to have been no investigation, no due process, no international outrage that an American could abuse his position as teacher so grossly as to threaten her with a lawsuit if she reports a crime that over in western society, we would be disgusted by.  Why is this being buried? Because he is expensive. It would cost too much to train and bring another one over. Her dignity and safety is worth less  than the cost of another English teacher. 

Can you recognize the pattern of his behavior? He was angry and ill-mannered online, then apologized; he attacked her and tried to drag her inside his house, then phoned her and apologized. This, for anyone not familiar, is the cycle of abuse. Abuse, then what's called a honeymoon phase, when everything seems better. But the abuse will escalate and if we do not address this issue now, the next news report will be more severe. Abusers almost never stop on their own. 

What if she's lying?
There's always that possibility. We should not allow ourselves to believe the victim in every circumstance since it will be eagerly exploited, such as the case in my own town of Morinville where a teacher was accused of sexually touching some students, who was cleared of all charges, and it is widely believed they made up the stories. I feel these incidents should carry heavy sentences for the liars. But we will not know if she is lying or not until an official investigation can be held, and it looks as though there will not be one, which does not look good.  However, she also does not divulge her name, which does not look good either.
One thing is for sure;  this needs to be looked into. And given that a month has passed already, this needs to be looked into as soon as possible, as the evidence disappears day by day.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Biting the Hand That Beats us

Amazon, it was recently discovered, was offering for sale a book on (Brace yourself) loving children by a pedophile. Apparently it was online for sale for two weeks before people began to notice and descended with sharpened free speech amendment sickles. Amazon briefly defended itself, saying it does not support censorship and relies on the intelligence of the purchaser, then the next day pulled the book off its non-corporeal shelves. Now people are up in arms, because once the hate-beast smells blood, it cannot be deterred, trolling through Amazon to find books on naturalists and such, holding them up as child pornography as one hoists one's petard. The Squawk-boxes are in full bellow, denouncing the evils of Amazon, and 'how could they betray us like this after being held up as a family-friendly, feel-good site'?

What the hell did everyone expect? Did the general public honestly believe Amazon would just turn down profit and traffic to hold up some higher moral code? There is a name for corporations like that; Liquidated (or not-for-profits, shut up). We have carefully crafted and built companies into machines designed only for churning out profit with no other thoughts in mind and then we shy away and furrow our brow when we discover our spit-strewn teeth-festooned maniac gives us a nip on the hand to see what we taste like. The recent trend towards charity and other such heart-warming philanthropy has been proven to be such a cash-cow for corporations and other such profit-aligned groups that I have even seen a "Breast Cancer Garden kit" where the set of tools, a trowel, gloves, and knee mat, were all painted pink in that fight breast cancer color that is recognizable from a hundred yards away in a snowstorm. People think it's wonderful, think they genuinely care, but they don't. The same amount of money could be directly donated to the society and would provide so much more good, but it's just so much more convenient to do it this way. Companies capitalize on this; when people start feeling empathy or other such "soppy" emotions, they tend to rationalize and think less, resulting in more impulse buying. Linking their own product or brand name to a highly recognized, emotionally charged one is publicity you just can't buy.

But we can't blame them. We really can't. This is the nature of the business, and we've put ourselves in a position by adopting a capitalist market system and government that upholds it. I am not defending their actions because they are trying to turn a profit, I'm just saying we shouldn't be surprised. It's not for me to say that we shouldn't, or can't, have a capitalist society but it is my place just to quietly point out that if we want to dance the YMCA, we have to put our arms up and let that cute boy next to us smell our pits.

The free speech aspect is, of course, the only interesting part of the debate, and the only one up for real negotiation. The question we should be examining is whether this man should be allowed to publish this book, and offer it for sale, not whether Amazon should be selling it, and that's a damn good question. We've seen a lot of the dark side of free speech in the past couple months, (Westboro Baptist Church's "Thank God for dead soldiers" and Rev. Jones' proposed KBQ leap to mind) and we've had to pile that heaping crap on our plate, and shovel it in with a smile. Yet, this whole issue is a slippery slope. Outlaw this one, and maybe the next one is Mein Kampf, or Catcher in the Rye (I still have no idea why that book is scandalous). This is a tad alarmist (Hide your Socrates, hide your Plato, and hide your de Sade, cause they're banning everybody up in here!) but if we buckle and allow the government to step in and block our eyes from this horror, it makes the plate of crap we had to eat earlier worth less. It means we have to begin to split hairs and wonder why we were more horrified by a pedophiles guide than the incredible breach of good taste required to celebrate a  soldier's death.  Any breach of freedom of speech devalues all freedoms.

Personally I come down on the side of punishing actions, and since there's no way to punish someone for publishing a book (It was even self-published which should make this case extra-simple for the censorship pundits because we don't have to nitpick between censoring the publishers and the writer - they're the same dude) without being forced to write up a laundry list of offensive materials, or worse, devolving to an argument about whose fault it was (publisher, store, or writer?) or even worse, trying to find a way to ban someone from writing, which anyone who is familiar with the Marquee's story (he wrote in his own blood on the walls of his cell) should know is a damn futile gesture, we should not be allowed to make books illegal.

Two final pieces of food for thought; the first, the author apparently does not identify as a pedophile, although given the firestorm that could result from admitting it I'm not surprised, I just wonder who he thinks he's fooling, and two, that the summary says it aims to help juveniles who "find themselves involved in [pedosexual relationships]" and one can not help but wonder why the author believes kids would be "finding themselves" in such situations unless they were led or coerced into them, thus giving lie to a common pedophile belief that the children are willing and tipping the aim of the book away from the ridiculous pretense of "making it safe" into helping child molesters "get away with it".

It's all Relative to the Size of Your Steeple

Society, as a whole, has hit a whole new low. Kids who have severe acne are a higher risk for suicide.
Some precision is needed here; it's unclear whether it is the actual condition of acne that is causing the suicide risk or a particular medicine that has been used to treat acne since the 1980's, but considering the majority of suicides (both attempts and completed) occur within six months of the cessation of the treatment, it may either be an unanticipated result of the sudden drop in chemicals in the body, or a psychological reaction to the fact that one's social life is only moderately based on one's physical attractiveness (or "worse, once a loser, always  a loser" in the minds of heartless high school hyenas), and so a sudden increase in attractiveness doesn't necessarily make a perfect life. It should be wondered at, however, when we have evolved to a point where we would allow our children the risk of being depressed (clinically, by the way, not just sad, which is healthy and builds character) or suicidal, just to eliminate some facial problems.

But that's what we tell kids. That's the message they're hearing, through the media and Hollywood. Unattractive people deserve misfortune. They don't look like us, they don't deserve respect, or good fortune; they don't have dreams, hopes, or moments of great happiness. They don't have stories. Oh, they have a part to play, but in the synopsis of life, we've relegated them to "Ugly Man on Street #2". There's the distressing tendency to view them as a tool, or a method to achieve an end, or just plain evil. Let's look at some historical or Hollywood examples:

Nanny McPhee
 A lovely, feel-good story, which is well-done by all accounts, about a Nanny who comes to teach her young rebellious charges lessons about life and good manners. She appears at the beginning like a witch (snaggle-tooth, gray hair, etc.) but as the children learn their lessons, her disfigurements gradually disappear, leaving her young and beautiful. My first objection is that gray hair equals age or unattractiveness, which is just not true but I digress, the personal choice is an opinion. The question that we must consider is what are we teaching our children when a person's worth increases with their physical beauty? It has been suggested that it was a convenient way for the media to indicate that the children's perceptions of Nanny are increased as they learn to value her, but the linking of physical beauty to mental or spiritual beauty is precisely the link that produces the problems we're discussing.

The old cartoon, not the new live-action series. When kids watch the show they are immediately aware of who the bad guys are by their attractiveness; the bad guys were always dark haired and dark eyed. When we allow this ease of association (bad equals dark), it reinforces the connection in people's minds that ugliness equals badness, or that all the bad guys are dark (fortunately this stereotype is dying out, or we'd have a bigger problem with racism than the insidious City of Edmonton).

This beloved children's book was one of my favorites throughout my formative years, and I am forever grateful that I didn't return it to the library because it has popped up periodically in my life when I'm cleaning or milling through my books. The story is simple (it is a kid's book, folks). A mother wishes for babies so badly she meets a witch who gives her magic flowers that grow under her bed while she sleeps. When she wakes she eats the beautiful flower, but it tastes so good she eats the ugly one as well (The "women have no restraint" rant will air later) and nine months later births a hellion girl who torments the entire world, but nevertheless reassures her mother that soon one will come who will "delight her heart". Anyway, long story short, it turns out later after many heroic feats that Tatterhood is really beautiful beneath it all, so she gets a handsome prince, who was impressed by her feats before but would only consider her a love-interest once she was hot. The strange thing about the process of becoming beautiful in this book however, is when the prince says "I see you choose to ride a donkey" she acts surprised by his view as he watches it turns into a magnificent charger, and so on until she is conventionally beautiful, with the phrase, "As you see me, so I am". As a child, I recall being happy she was beautiful (I always thought she looked like how I'd look when I grew up) but sad that she had to give up her butt-kicking weapons (they turned into lame crystal wands - how much ass can one kick with that?)

UPDATE 19/02/11
I have found an alternate version of the story, with some subtle differences. When she meets the young prince, her future husband, he is mostly interested in her story and when he begins to notice the changes he voices that he feels she "chose" the less attractive options because they do not change who she really is. The final change, her features, is also altered in that the book specifies we have no idea if she was beautiful or not because it did not matter to the prince. I did not think I could love that story more, but I guess I can.
Hat tip to my sister for finding it! 

Another childhood favorite that broke my heart. Ms. Honey is beautiful and good, whereas Matilda's real parents are quite unattractive, but also desperately try to make themselves up into attractive people. I do want to point out that being conventionally unattractive never bothered her father, who considered himself gorgeous, and did not hinder her mother from stealing the show with what I've always felt is the most poignant moment (I shall weep as I write this); Matilda asks her mother to allow Ms. Honey to adopt her, and Matilda's mother looks at her and says "You're the only daughter I ever had, Matilda. And I never understood you, not one little bit...." and she scrutinizes her daughter's face for a few moments, as everyone waits expectantly, as if she could find the understanding there, then asks for a pen. I could do a whole Matilda dissemination.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame 
First of all, we're talking the Disney version, because there is so much weird and bad-feeling in the original literature that it could be a whole blog on its own, but I digress. At the end, the hunchback gives up Esmeralda to the captain (whatever the hell his name is) even though he was more devoted and even saved her life repeatedly because, let's be honest, no one wants to see the ugly dude end up with a hot girl. So hot goes with hot, and ugly apparently goes with blind in the crappy sequel.

The Beautiful all Along trope
Seen in many movies, the "ugly" girl is given a makeover which renders her beautiful, thus delivering the message that "looks aren't everything" (or so they wish it delivered), but also saves the hero from having to go out with an ugly girl which can't happen, as everyone knows, since ugly people don't deserve happiness, and we must all date within our "league".

The Wizard of Oz
The good witch, Glenda, is beautiful, and the bad witches are ugly ("Only bad witches are ugly").

No, that's not a movie title. I mean literally babies. Those little prejudiced suckers tend to look at faces previously deemed "attractive" by adults up to 80% longer than "unattractive" faces. This was also tested with controls for race, and similarity to the baby's mother (which would likely produce more interest since mommy = food) but it may be the case that it is explainable by the preference for symmetry, which has been strongly correlated with attractiveness.   

Bucking the trend
Shallow Hal
One movie that I've always really appreciated is Shallow Hal (it's a Jack Black film with a moral). He perceives people's attractiveness by their internal beauty, so people that are nicer are more physically attractive. He falls in love with an incredibly attractive Gwyneth Paltrow, but when the spell is broken, she appears to him as she appears to everyone else i.e. obese and "unattractive". In the end he meets her again and loves her with her true physical stature because of his love for her personality; it is one of the few that did not stoop to displaying her as a fox so we can all love her because she's beautiful inside. Truth be told it is a tough sell and it's a stretch to believe, which just shows how deeply ingrained the notion is. Regardless, I always hold it in my head as the counter-example to the shallow Hollywood stigma. 

Another movie that thumbs its nose at tradition is Shrek; Fiona is a classically beautiful princess who, upon true Love's kiss, takes true Love's form as a giant green ogress. It is wonderful that this movie deigns not to stoop to making them both classically beautiful so they can be beautiful together and happy ever after, but instead embraces their true nature and revels in it for subsequent movies, almost to the point of overusing fart jokes (almost).

Lord love her Precious Jones is a big girl but the majority of her visions (at least in the movie) she is famous as herself, big, but loved because of it. Until she gets really depressed, when she pictures herself as a thin white girl, illustrating the point, whereby kids think their lives would be better if they were more attractive.

The final, almost coup de grace to this argument is the Discworld, which I  have suggested in other articles should be mandatory reading for anyone and everyone over the age of twelve. Heroes are attractive (Captain Carrot) and heroes are ugly (Samuel Vimes); Villains are attractive (The elves) and villains are ugly (Edward D'eth) and there are whole ranges of each in between. It's a completely balanced view of the world, with evil usually being the result of some horrible reason, but goodness also having its own struggle with internal torment and evil. Terry Pratchett even addresses this whole idea in several books, the most salient of which is Maskerade where the main character solves all the mysteries but at the end is ignored in favor of the attractive girl, who has no talent but looks nice in a dress.

Anyway, regardless of where the idea has come from, it is obvious that we are dealing with the repercussions in the form of child depression, body dimorphic disorder, and suicide. It is nice that recently we have become aware of the issue and are working to combat the problem, but we must be vigilant. I hope it is not too melodramatic to point out that Ted Bundy is believed to have gotten away with his crimes for as long as he did because he was attractive and charming, thereby leading people to believe he wouldn't do anything wrong.

"If you are a woman, if you’re a person of color, if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, if you are a person of size, if you are a person of intelligence, if you are a person of integrity, then you are considered a minority in this world….
When you don’t have self-esteem you will hesitate before you do anything in your life … You will hesitate to defend yourself when you are discriminated against because of your race, your sexuality, your size, your gender. You will hesitate to vote, you will hesitate to dream.
For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution and our revolution is long overdue."
-Margaret Cho

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bullshit is the same color everywhere

One of Edmonton's websites has been raising hell lately among people with a frontal cortex in the form of a racist anti-racism message. The page in question addresses the audience, saying that "You" (and you know which 'you' they're talking to, you white person, you) need to "Acknowledge your white privilege" in order to combat racism. In case that didn't chap your bleached ass enough, the article continues on to say that white people "likely harmed non-white people with [their] own whiteness". Are we talking sun blindness here? Because I'm working on tanning. The whole junk was apparently cribbed from an old manifesto circa 1989 (Oh good grief, is that old now? Are the nineties far enough away to call them an obsolete culture? Groan) by a professor who was addressing white, male privilege, and I don't doubt that it was necessary and well-done at the time. But when I'm writing about cake making, I tend to assume Dear Reader has an oven rather than a hole in the backyard filled with fire. "Hang on guys; White folks enjoyed a privileged position? They trampled on other races? News at 11!"

What they are primarily wrong in stating, however, is not the notion that white people have enjoyed a privileged status, but the notion that they are the only race capable of counteracting racism. Back when "the White Man's Burden" was a scathing ironic criticism of white man's imperialistic and patronizing nature, I am pretty sure there were, and possibly even are, people who took it seriously; but these people should not be making municipally funded websites, since they obviously have their heads up a place where perspective is less than stellar. This sort of paternalistic attitude is, I hesitate to suggest, perhaps the result of a dependence on Affirmative Action programs. These programs were essential, I will be the first to admit, and provided an invaluable service to society in the years they were introduced and implemented, but with genuine racism being a sign of a backwards outcast I am not sure they are the best process to be using in this current time because of the fact that they did exactly what they were intended to do: give assistance. I think perhaps effective legislation to deal with individual situations of racism (which still occur) might be a better notion and would help erode this idea that we have to "help out" the "noble savage" to become like "us", rather than continue this belief that they cannot help themselves. Ironically the website asks whether we have committed racism because we: "Oppressed others of your own racial group because you believed in the negative racial stereotypes and prejudices presented by others?" which sounds a lot like what they were purporting to do, by assuming only whites were racist. Furthermore, "RACISM is often used to advantage people of European descent over people of African, Asian or Aboriginal descent." - I don't feel this detail was really necessary.

Perusing the site reveals a number of other idiocies that belie a lack of actual thought in the web site's direction. A helpful little box at the bottom of the site indicates that it is racist to ask someone where they are really from because they may be a fifth generation Canadian. True, it is stupid to ask someone where they're REALLY from, as if you could crack their secret code and be let in on their life story, but unless asking someone about their heritage is racist, it's not racist. It is an ignorant way to get the same answer (Unless you continue to believe that they are lying to you about where they originated from - that's racist). Also, the whole thing carries the suggestion that a fifth generation Canadian is "more" Canadian than someone who was recently granted citizenship (Canadianism tends to build up like DDTs). A little sticker informs us that "children don't see skin color", which is only sort of true. Children tend to pick up on tiny subtle cues that we may be giving off, and extrapolate on them to a point where they begin to display racist tendencies. They're like little magnifying sponges. So if they encounter the notion, somehow, that only white people are racist, that non-whites need babysitting, or that X people are Y, they tend to internalize it and act according to this manner. It also states that Edmonton needs to "Raise awareness of the positive contributions made by immigrants and Aboriginal people to the economy of the region", as if a) there are no immigrants or aboriginal peoples that don't provide a positive contribution or b) that is somehow justifies their presence, as if they need to "earn the right" to be here. Creating an idealized notion of non-whites simply means that if a person comes up against an example that does not fit their romanticized vision of people, they will simply abandon the notion that such people can provide a positive influence. They also suggest that to combat racism we should "Adapt your speaking style and vocabulary for the intended audience", which just opens a giant can of worms as to what is the appropriate speaking style and vocabulary for which intended audience...

Why, exactly, the website would include such an inflammatory and controversial position is a fact for some heavy debate, especially when the website openly contradicts itself by including such sentences as: "Negating the unique experiences of people with different racial characteristics e.g. “I don’t see people as having a colour – I see and treat everyone as the same.”" but I suspect the motivation for such has more to do with generating publicity than a genuine mistake (or even internal malice). After all, we are talking about it now. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity.