Saturday, May 6, 2017

On Political Correctness.

"The language police."


"Stop being so politically correct."

What does that phrase mean, anyway?

Let's bypass a definition for a minute, and think about who would use such a phrase. Picture a person who would scold another for being "politically correct" in your mind. Get a feeling for who this person might be, what their life is like. Get inside their head.

I'll give you a minute.

. . .

. . .

. . .

Got it? Yeah, I do too. Let's compare. Is your person...
  • white?
  • generally surrounded by other white people most of the time?
  • nominally, at the very least, Christian?
  • straight?
  • able-bodied?
  • probably male?
Wow, what a coincidence: my person is, too. Why is that, I wonder? Why does someone who, by all measures, is in a position of power in our society and is likely, in no real way, discriminated-against in their daily life... so cheesed-off when it comes to things like this?

Because, if you're in power, you want to stay there. If you fit most or all of the above bullet-points, there's a decent chance that you are, either explicitly or implicitly, at an advantage in our society. As such, you probably don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about why people who aren't in a position of power are where they are, and how their daily lives are harder than yours.

Thinking deeply about the language you use on a daily basis, and what it means, is not something that a lot of people do. As a baseball fan, I must say, I didn't really think a whole lot about the implications of the name of Cleveland's major-league club until a few years ago. Did Christopher Columbus really think he'd landed in India, and label the inhabitants of that land as such? Regardless of whether or not he did, it's been over 500 years; you'd think we'd have erased that misconception by now. Hell, in that length of time (and with some to spare), the word "manufacture" flipped its meaning entirely around from "being made by hand" to "being made by machines." (Think about the French word for "hand." Or the word "manual.")

If you spend an extra half-second thinking about whether to use a "politically correct" word -- one that is less likely to offend some group of people, as opposed to tossing off something that might offend -- well now, that isn't a lot of time to take, is it? I just spent the last 40 minutes on YouTube watching trick baseball play compilations. The least I can do is take a split-second to pay a little respect to a group of people that may have been kicked-around for a while.

I can't remember when or where I heard it, and I may be butchering the original statement, but the sentiment goes like this: "Being 'politically correct' basically means you're 'not being an asshole'." That's a sentiment I can generally abide by.

Do some people take it to far? I mean, I guess so, maybe? I'm not sure. I do recall a province-wide annual union meeting where "O Canada" was played to kick it off, and someone got up on a red card afterward to say, "I think we should stop playing 'O Canada' until the decolonization and oppression of Indigenous Peoples in this country is over." His concern was a valid one, but perhaps it could have been expressed differently. I do know that, to start this year's meeting, they had a group of kids sing "O Canada" (they were very good, by the way; I tend to dislike sung renditions of national anthems and generally prefer instrumentals), but then there were three Indigenous women who led us all in a traditional welcoming ceremony, with smudging and a turning to the four cardinal directions.

That was pretty interesting, I must say. Would it have happened if that original statement wasn't made (which produced much eye-rolling at the time, and not just from me)? I'm not sure. I know that our society has changed in recent years, likely in response to the Truth and Reconciliation report, to acknowledge and incorporate Indigenous values into things like this.

So, put yourself into the shoes of someone who would've been in attendance at the meeting, but thought that the Indigenous ceremony "went to far" or "wasn't necessary" or "come on, let's just get on with the meeting." Without caricaturizing too much, why might someone feel that way? Again, I think about the bullet-point list above and can't help but picture someone in my mind who fits that description.

These days, of course, with Donald Trump being the goddamn President of the United States (that still blows my mind), that seems to have given the green light for assholes to be assholes again, openly and without restraint. Perhaps a bit less so in Canada, but we can't help but be influenced by our neighbours to the south (or, if you're in Windsor, north). Or, maybe we're only hearing about some isolated incidents that get reported-on more often now. Tough to say. In the meantime, I'll just try not to be a jerk and see how that works out for me.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Everybody wants to rule the world.

No, this isn't an analogy. There's no Trump joke here. Hell, I'm not even going to mention that this was the theme song to Dennis Miller's political talk show back in the '90s. (Dammit.)

It's about the song by Tears for Fears that reached #1 on the singles charts worldwide in the mid-1980s. Honest.

My morning routine involves the clock beside my head going off to the radio at 6:25. I'll hit snooze once, and at 6:34 the radio comes back on and it's time for the phone-in trivia show that gets my brain going. But, hey, jackass, don't fall back asleep, because there's a really annoying alarm clock set to go off at about 6:40 across the room!

If I've gotten up and turned off the annoying alarm, I'll occasionally listen to the song they play after the trivia thing -- and this was what they played on Friday morning. I haven't been able to get it out of my head since.

This is a song I've known since I was a kid, of course; I was 7 when it was released. And I know that our local-yokel AM radio station would play it... but I'm not sure I'd ever heard it on a decent set of speakers before.

There are a lot of layers here. It's catchy as hell. It's dominated by synthesizers, of course, but there's a decent amount of guitar in it (and a heck of a good solo; it's not complex, but that guitar tone is magnificent). It sounds very English, and the video documents English peoples' obsession with American culture.

This is all very weird, of course. I've never been a big '80s-music guy, and I can remember being annoyed by all kinds of bars that would have "eighties retro" nights in the 1990s. I mean, come on! It's the '90s, there's a ton of good music being made now, why do we have to listen to friggin' "Mickey" by Toni Basil again?! JEEEZ.

When I was in elementary school, I listened to a lot of '50s and '60s music. In high school, late '60s/early '70s stuff. As the years have rolled on, I've gotten interested in music from later and later, and I suppose I'm now into the '80s; the live version of "It's My Life" by Talk Talk slays me. What a talented band.

I started paying attention to music in the mid- to late-'80s, so maybe that's where I'll hit a ceiling in terms of musical obsessions. I've always enjoyed stuff from the '90s, so perhaps I'll just sorta dislike the late '80s; I don't really see any redeeming qualities in the musical stylings of Tiffany and Wilson Phillips, and I doubt I ever will. But hey, who knows?

Friday, February 10, 2017

"I'm going to be so presidential, you will be so bored."

(That was Candidate Trump a few months ago, to a reporter. I believe this was just after he secured the Republican nomination.)

We're not even a month into the Trump presidency, and the wheels, while not coming off quite yet, are starting to wobble and shake. (I feel like there's a "loose nuts" joke to be made here somewhere.)

It's getting bad out there, though. Hell, Jason Chaffetz -- a Republican member of the House from Utah -- went back to his district ("the fightin' 3rd!") for a town hall meeting at a local high school auditorium, and the dude was nearly shouted down off the stage. Utah, for crying out loud! If that state was any redder, it... uh... would be very red, I guess.

Just saying, Utah is extremely Republican.

And this reaction was unexpected. To me, anyway.

But I digress.

So far, Captain Dickweed has managed to annoy several countries, ban a lot of Muslims from entering the country (but, remember, (a.) Sean Spicer says it's not a "ban," and (b.) no citizen of any country featuring a fabulous TrumpTM brand property will have any problem sailing right through customs), play some golf, have his spokespeople get made fun of on SNL constantly -- you know he watches every week, he's gotta -- and turn the US into an international laughingstock.

It's gonna be so hard to bite my tongue when I'm in Florida next month. It really is. If I chat up some locals, I think I'll just ask them, "So, Trump. Your thoughts?" -- and then say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IN RETURN, and wear the BLANKEST POSSIBLE EXPRESSION I CAN. You know, the kind of expression when a student asks an exceptionally dumb question, but you don't want to make them feel terrible, so as they continue to ask their dumb question you're trying to look as neutral as you can? Yeah, that one.

I still stand by my prediction that he won't be president on January 1, 2019. Drinkin' Buddy Dave and I have a bet on this, and there's a cool hundred bucks riding on it. Totally gonna collect on it, too. (We've decided that, if the change-over of power day is that day, we'll call it a push and we'll each get our money back.) Hell, DBD was going to give me odds on it. I told him to shove his odds where the sun don't shine. Then, I believe we cracked another beer.

Because, really, these days, that's about all you can do. (That, and go to protests and write your member of Congress and engage with your fellow citizens and support the causes you feel need supporting and for crying out loud don't grab anyone by the pussy.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Here's what's going to happen.

Long story short: it's gonna play out a lot like Rob Ford, but shorter.

Long story long:

Trump gets inaugurated. Initially most of the Republican caucus plays along with some of his less-asinine policy planks, but I doubt any wall gets built. He pisses off an ally or two -- maybe he'll have a beer with the president of Taiwan, perhaps? -- but after a while most world leaders just try to avoid and ignore him.


Trump: "Hey, president of West Slobovia, you really should come on over to America. It'll be tremendous."

President: "Uh... thanks, Don, but I've... got a thing. It's over in East Slobovia. Gonna take a while. Whoops! Toaster's on fire, I'll call you back." (click) *

Trump, on Twitter: "West Slobovia's leader is weak. Can't even take flaming kitchen appliance. As overrated as M. Streep's career. SAD!"


After about eight months, some prominent congressional Republicans start to cautiously speak out openly against Trump. He fires back with something ridiculous and offensive, because he's a ridiculous person with the thinnest skin imaginable. But, this just gets the ball rolling.

Behind the scenes, and tired of his antics, some bigwig Republicans will work with the inteligence agencies Trump seems to love to antagonize to cook up something bad enough to get him impeached, and eventually forced to resign (or perhaps removed forcibly, after having done something clearly unconstitutional). Trump will lawyer-up, but it'll be futile and he'll be removed from power. My guess is that he'll be president for less than two years.

Now, it doesn't matter if the thing that brings him down is real or not. It looks like there's probably enough awful stuff floating around out there that you don't really need to make something up; you just have to package-up some bad things he's done in the right way, sell it to the American public, and there you go. I mean, hell, a lot of Americans still probably think they invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. You can sell anything to Americans if you're convincing-enough... as Trump himself learned.

But, yeah: President Pence by 2018, I imagine. And, because the Republicans looked like idiots, the Dems will take a lot of seats in the midterms and maybe get at least one house of Congress back.

* When I was a kid, we had a toaster that often didn't pop back up on its own when the bread was toasted, so if you didn't keep an eye on it, the bread could catch on fire. My mom was on the phone with the contractor who was going to build an addition on our house, and she'd forgotten about the toaster... which now contained flaming bread. She very calmly told the guy on the phone, "Sorry, Bob, my toaster's on fire, I'll call you back." She then unplugged the toaster, sat it in the sink, and opened the window to let the smoke out... and called Bob back, of course.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Eve Of Destruction.

It's not just a song by one-hit-wonder Barry McGuire:

It is, of course, a reminder that, in nine short days, Donald Trump is sworn-in as president of the goddamn United States. And, naturally, people are seriously losing their minds.

Today we saw a shit-show of a press conference in which Trump dismissed CNN as being "fake news." Now, CNN may not exactly be the revered institution it once was, but when Fox News's Shepard Smith is going to bat for you, and telling the world that he believed CNN was indeed following standard journalistic practices in its reporting, you know the world's gone crazy.

Did Trump hire Russian whores to do a golden shower show on the bed the Obamas slept in? I'm not sure. I would say there's a non-zero chance of that happening, though: we know Trump is a sexual predator, has probably committed statutory rape, and didn't flinch when Howard Stern described his daughter Ivanka as "a piece of ass." As someone posted on Facebook earlier today, and I'm paraphrasing, "It's like when we heard Rob Ford smoked crack, and we hadn't seen the video yet. We knew we'd see it sometime." And the way the Russians would bug a room if they knew someone like Trump was gonna be there, I'd say there's a more-than-halfway chance that it's gonna surface eventually.

I listen to Marc Maron's WTF podcast regularly, and in a recent episode he interviews Bruce Springsteen. They're talking about the election -- Bruce is a Democrat, natch -- and I think they sum it up pretty well.

Marc: I dunno, are you scared now?

Bruce: Yeah. Yeah, of course. I mean, how could you not be?

M: Right. Have you felt this fear before?

B: No. I've felt disgust before, but the never the kind of fear that you feel now. It's as simple as the fear of, is someone simply competent enough to do this particular job? Forget about where they are ideologically, do they simply have the pure competence to be put in a position of such responsibility?

M: When you've done the amount of self-work you've done, and you've grown up, and you know people, it's sort of like, they elected the most insecure, y'know... needy, volatile dude. And to do this job, that, somehow or other... I don't think it embodies strength to a lot of people, but it does embody "fuck you." It's just like, they voted for... "Who ya votin' for?" "The 'fuck you' guy."

B: (laughing) That happened.

M: (laughing) That happened!

It's a solid interview, and definitely worth a listen. And I think Marc hit the nail on the head. People are hurting, and someone very forceful comes along to tell them exactly what they want to hear.

That said... a lot of people, myself included, don't think that Trump's going to last four years in office. Something's going to bring him down -- personally, I think there'll be a conflict of interest scanadal which will force him to resign. Others have suggested a heart attack. One colleague even floated the idea of an assassination at his inauguration; I thought that was a serious chance for Obama, but hey, I guess anything is possible. My guess is that we'll be talking about President Pence (ew.) by the middle of 2018.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Just talk to people.

There's this ad, this holiday season, for Amazon which shows a Catholic priest and a Muslim imam, sharing a cup of tea at the priest's place, then both getting up and grimacing at their painful knees. Then, after the imam leaves, they both get the idea of ordering some sort of knee brace/pad combo for the other (off Amazon, of course), and the commercial ends showing them both putting on the things and then kneeling down at their respective places of worship.

It's a lovely commercial, and it shows that, hey, maybe despite some outward differences, we all get creaky joints when we get older.

That's probably the biggest thing I've learned from my job. Goodness knows we get kids from every imaginable background -- that's Scarborough for ya -- and it's always interesting to learn about their lives, where they come from, and what their families do. But the thing that always strikes me is about how similar we all are.

Parents want the best for their kids. Kids want to be happy and pursue their interests. Kids and parents butt heads occasionally. Teenagers are funny, weird creatures, discovering themselves (and, hey, each other from time to time). Kids sure as hell mix-and-match amongst themselves, culturally speaking, more than their parents probably know about (or want). Consequently, a lot of teenagers behave one way with their family, and another way amongst their friends.

White kids have it the easiest, of course. I occasionally say to brown kids, "You should really try having white parents sometime. It's way easier. They'd say, 'Oh, you want to be a garbageman? Well, honey, just be the best garbageman you can be.'" They inevitably laugh, roll their eyes, and say, "Yeah, that would never happen with us."

In the end, I often wonder what sort of attitude I'd have towards non-white people if I'd have stayed in rural southwestern Ontario. Would I be as open-minded? I'm not sure. I doubt it, to be honest. Kinda stings to say that, but hey, I think that's just the reality of the situation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Well, that happened.

The 45th President of the United States is Donald Trump.




This is a disturbing result, without a doubt. He's a lunatic.

But, I'll say this: the guy told a big chunk of Americans exactly what they wanted to hear. He knows how to play to a crowd. Mind you, a good deal of what he said was outright lies -- but, apparently the US is in a "post-fact" phase of its life right now, and it doesn't matter.

There are a lot of Americans for whom life has gotten tougher over the past few decades. My parents retired about fifteen years ago from a company with whom they both spent 35-40 years, with good pensions. They were never let go, their job was never shipped off to Mexico or China, and they earned decent money with high school diplomas. They both grew up relatively poor, and elevated themselves squarely into the middle class: two vehicles, owned their home, vacations in Florida, raised two kids and sent them off to uni/college and out into the world.

And a lot of people these days couldn't ever dream of that luxury. Precarious employment at best, dodging downsizing all the time, in debt up to their eyeballs and beyond, and a general lack of hope for a better future. Things haven't gotten better, they've gotten worse (unless you're in the 1%, of course) -- and it's even tougher if you've just come out of uni, $40k in the hole, and can't even find your first job.

Alright, then... who's to blame for this lousy situation? Is it a series of government policies that quietly but steadily dismantled safeguards in the banking system so that the foxes ran the henhouse and allowed things like subprime loans to get out of hand? Is it a climate of corporate greed that let businesses shut down factories with good jobs in the US and reopen them in foreign countries, where workers get paid a pittance and you can just flush everything down the drain? Is it a general unwillingness to let the government build programs that actually help people in meaningful ways, thereby lifting up all boats (so the saying goes), because of baked-in hatred for all things governmental?

Nope. It's not. It's those damn Mexicans, coming in illegally and stealing all our jobs. It's those damn Muslims, not assimilating into White Christian English America and installing Sharia law. It's the blacks and the gays, getting all uppity and asking to be respected and, y'know, not killed by cops. It's the tree-huggers, because it's cold outside today and therefore climate change is a hoax made up by China and Al Gore.

All of these explanations are wrong, of course, and the data clearly back me up on this. But it feels right, doesn't it? It meets the Colbertian definition of "truthiness" -- go with your gut, not your brain. And the actual explanations as to how we all got to this point take too long to explain, not to mention implicate the general public in its own downfall by allowing it to happen.

Enter Trump. He tells you what you want to hear, and he tells it loudly and repeatedly. George W. Bush did the same thing with Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction; by the end, you had people looking to kick Saddam's ass because NINE-ELEVEN, NEVER FORGET, THESE COLORS DON'T RUN.

Thirteen years ago, the US was fed a never-ending stream of lies about Iraq and its supposed weapons of mass destruction. This election, the US was fed a never-ending stream of lies about how Hillary Clinton was the devil incarnate. Both times, a good chunk of the American public fell for it. (And, just think, back in 2003 there wasn't even Twitter.)