Monday, January 31, 2011

Sing it Simon and Art 11 / 30

Why are people so afraid of silence?  There is nothing wrong with not talking, and that is coming from me, so that ought to say volumes!

Whether it is the people on the bus that insist on talking to you, for no reason whatsoever and frequently despite your very obvious intentions not to talk to anyone (reading a book and wearing headphones!) or the old lady in the food court who has to comment to you that your son is covered in chocolate – yeah, I know, I bought the donut for him – it seems that our culture has developed this amazing fear of silence.

Few people seem to understand the need for quiet, the need to listen to the inner voices of your body and mind, the need to hear nothing at all, if even for a short time.  We are inundated every minute of every hour of every bloody day with people trying to tell us something or sell us something or convert our opinions and beliefs to their own – we need that down time to just let our brains rest for a few moments.

And, when we are routinely interrupted by complete strangers for no reason other than their compulsive need to fill up the empty air, as though empty air was in some manner threatening, these strangers rarely have anything of substance to say.  Were I to have my morning crossword solve interrupted by someone who wanted to educate me on the situation in Egypt, or to advise me on the state of our nation’s finances, I might be more understanding.  But no, what is it they want to comment on???  The damned weather. 

Walking to pick up Noah from school today, my quiet and introspective walk was interrupted by a stranger, not even a denizen of our neighborhood.  I know this because he was hanging up a for sale sign on a house where I have met the owners.  And when I did not hear his statement the first time, and not wanting to be rude replied to his unheard statement with a “Sorry, I didn’t catch that?” he said…  “looks like winter is finally here.”

“Winter is finally here”????  It’s the damned end of January you moron!  There is ten inches of snow on the ground, and there has been for over a month.  It happens every damned year, and has since this part of the world separated from Pangea and drifted over here, say… a gazillion frickin’ years ago!

I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk to one another.  Communication is important.  Essential even.  But small talk among strangers passing each other on the street simply isn’t important.  A nod.  A smile.  A friendly “Afternoon” and we’ll get along just fine.  But for the love of all that is decent and holy in this world, don’t make random comments about the weather.  We’ve all noticed it, seeing as how we have a few senses and frankly, it’s not even remotely interesting. 

And dear lord, please don’t ask how I am without waiting for an answer.  And when I do answer you, don’t automatically say “Great!” because I am playing a game with you when you do that.  If you ask me “How’s it going” or something of the like as we pass in the hall, I almost always answer “Suffering from clinical depression” or “been told I’ll be losing a limb on Saturday” or my personal favorite “I’m too mad to care.”  Invariably you’ll say, “Great!” and keep on walking.  If.  You.  Don’t.  Want.  To.  Know.  Don’t.  Ask.

Unless of course, it starts raining frogs.  If I am on the bus and frogs begin to fall from the sky, and I don’t notice because I have my nose buried in a book and my headphones on, then I would appreciate it if you’d tap me on the shoulder and say “Interesting weather we’re having today hmm?  And by the way, how are you feeling?”  That’s the bright line for me… amphibians falling from the sky.  Though I wouldn’t mind a heads up if it was raining reptiles either.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Standing on Guard for Thee... 10 / 30

I am fortunate to have been born in a country where my basic rights are protected by the rule of law.

I am proud to stand behind our system of government, with all its flaws, and know that our leaders, put in place by the people of this country, are accountable, if only in part, to us.

I take great satisfaction in knowing that my sons will grow up in a country where their voices can be heard, and if their voices disagree with the government, they will not be taken from me.

I sleep well at night, knowing that the police will not come into my house to murder my family or rape my wife just to teach me a lesson for being a human rights worker.

I feel a swell of pride in my heart when I see Canadian military personnel engaged in humanitarian and peace-keeping endeavours around the world.  I know that no system is perfect, and that sometimes mistakes are made, but I believe with all my heart that the men and women in uniform deserve our support, respect and admiration. 

I enjoy seeing a police car in my neighbourhood, because I know that the officers in that vehicle are sworn to protect me and my neighbours.  Some officers may stray from the straight and narrow, but the police in Canada, flawed though our judicial system may be, are the front line representatives and enforcers of justice, peace and freedom.

I am encouraged that protesters in my country can wave flags, bang on cans and make their voices heard.  I may not always agree with them, but I stand by their right to be heard, and am grateful that I live in a country where any police response will not result in a body count.  Yes, mistakes are made, but the fact that those mistakes result in a public outcry more often than not is another sign that our system works.

I decided not to practice law, but our legal system is held as a model by countries all over the world, and our courts and judges do their utmost to see to it that justice is not only done, but is also seen to be done.  No system is perfect, but I have faith that those who administer our laws are doing so with the best of intention, and that they can be held accountable when that is not the case.

I am proud of my nation’s efforts, and confident that it can make amends for its errors and omissions.  I have hope for the future because of that confidence.  I know that my children will grow up in an environment of peace and stability.  I know that they will complain about taxes and police stops, that they will bemoan the current political trends, just as we have done for generations in Canada.  But I also know that they will be safe.  That they will have adequate health care and that a social safety net will aid them if they cannot aid themselves.

I know that there are flaws and shortcomings.  I know that our schools are overcrowded and our hospital line ups are often unacceptable.  I am well aware that police officers have caused the deaths of individuals who did not deserve such conduct.  I am hopeful and supporting, while being critical and demanding.

I am Canadian.

Does it still count, if... 8.5 / 30

you are physically incapable of completing a blog post?  :)

Sure, you can call it a rationalization if you want, and you'd likely be right, but I was literally unable to get to the computer long enough to complete anything resembling a blog post yesterday, owing to not being in the house long enough.  The boys and I went to the Discovery Center, then I was off to a friends house for a marathon gaming session that ran until 3:00 am.  Fun was had by all!

On the fun note, those of you living in the HRM must visit the Discovery Center at your earliest convenience!  The new exhibit (which we got a small taste of yesterday, though it won't open completely until Monday) is by far the best, most kid friendly, awesomest one they have ever had.  Whether it was the giant soft dominoes, the huge backgammon / dance board or the four foot tall singing billiard balls, there was something for everyone to have fun with.  And yes, we had fun!

So, back to writing tonight.  I'm still giving myself half credit for this one though. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"The Human Head Weighs Eight Pounds" 8 / 30

Earlier this evening I wondered about the origin of the phrase “gave him a bum’s rush”, and Google came to my rescue. 

A few weeks ago, I wondered what that little silvery plastic hole was on a bag of coffee beans, and Google came to my rescue.

About a month ago, Noah asked “where do spiders go in the winter”, and Google came to my rescue.

Shannon and I have 1.3 million arguments per week about movies, politics, music and history (I kept track for a month, that’s an average) and, in almost every instance, Google comes to our rescue.

People forget that, in the year 2011, the difference between being educated and ignorant is about thirty seconds on the internet.  Now (warning, age stereotype coming!) if you are over the age of fifty, I can understand.  When you were a kid, we didn’t have these new-fangled computers, and you may not trust them all that much.  But anyone younger than that has had computers in their lives for the overwhelming majority of them and the internet for the last twenty or so years.  OK, OK, twenty is probably a stretch for the average (i.e. not tech-savvy) user, but not too much of one.

I frequent a lot of message forums, for various things – games, photography, writing, etc. and invariably someone asks a question on the forums that would have been answered in about thirty seconds.  In fact, in most instances it probably took them a lot longer to type out their question on the forum than it would have to complete a search using their engine of choice.  I know these people aren’t internet morons – they are on an internet forum asking questions after all – so I can’t help but wonder why they are wasting their own and other people’s time.  I love it, yes, I am an asshole, when someone asks one of these ridiculous questions, and someone else answers it with Let Me Google That For You, or on the even snarkier side, gives a link, usually cleverly disguised, as I have done here, to an even better site.  And by better I mean far more sarcastic and demeaning.

I see this all the time in forwarded emails as well.  “Kidnappers Use Ether in Perfume Scam to Claim Victims” or “Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Causes Chemical Burn”… c’mon people.  Thirty seconds to avoid passing these sorts of things along, thirty seconds to check your facts before sending this stuff to other people, some of whom are just as likely as you to over react and send them along to their mailing lists…  it really isn’t too much to ask. is a great resource for this.  They’ve got a database of thousands of hoaxes, and a rather large number of ones that you think would be hoaxes, but after investigation turned out to be real.  Bookmark it and entertain yourself.

Maybe we’re just losing the ability to think critically about things.  Perhaps we’ve been so well conditioned to do as we’re told, and to accept what the media tells us, that we’ve forgotten how to think for ourselves, how to question someone when they say something that makes us (or should make us) think “there’s something not quite right about that.”

It seems that students are no longer rewarded for asking for proof, for trying to look at the other side of an argument, and for questioning teachers.  I’m sure that makes it easier for the teachers, they can just churn out thousands of students faster and easier – no unnecessary and messy answers to provide.

And I know it makes it easier for the police and politicians, “The Man” as it were.  When we accept that we are supposed to live in fear so that they can go to war in order to keep us safe, that makes their job a lot easier.

When we accept the marketing machine’s suggestions that we must buy buy buy in order to be good citizens, and that if we don’t buy buy buy we’ll be fat, lonely, have bad skin and be surrounded by thirty cats, we’re sure making the entire capitalist system work better – which helps the politicians who pay the teachers… what a wonderful circle of ignorance.

We need, as parents and educators, to remind our kids that its not only acceptable to question authority some times, but imperative that they do it.  And that is a hard message to teach kids, particularly your own - “Yes you should question authority son, but just go to bed right now and stop asking why!”  If anyone knows how, please let me know. 

In the meantime, don’t forget that you have more knowledge than has ever existed (and its growing at an ever increasing rate) at your literal fingertips and don’t be afraid to ask “Why?” about something.  Because if you don’t, who will?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I'm no Scientist... 7 / 30

but I play one on television.  When I read this story in the Chronicle Herald I was at first happy to see some forward thinking.  And I can see that this is a step in the right direction, but the article kind of glosses over one important factor - gay men, under the proposed change, would be able to give blood again, assuming they are celibate.  Pardon me???

Let me see if I understand the rationale here - thirty years ago, the initial outbreak of AIDS was largely in the gay community.  Therefore, if you are a man who has had sex with a man (note it does not define what sex is here... handjob?  oral?  anal?  footjob?) since 1977, you are currently precluded from giving blood.  So if you have been in a monogamous gay relationship for the last forty years, you can’t give blood.  This change would have no impact upon men like this. 

I am no expert on the gay community, but I am willing to wager that there are a lot of gay men who are practicing safe sex and/or are in monogamous relationships and are at far less risk of contracting or passing on HIV than many of the young, straight college kids these days.  Now, to be fair to the reporting, according to the CDC, men having sex with men (gay or not) do still represent a significant percentage of the new HIV transmission statistics.  However, and this is important to remember, they are not the largest group with HIV/AIDS.  Yes, they may be more likely to be carrying the virus, but they are a much smaller percentage of the population.  In fact, according to Health Canada, the groups that are at the most increasing risk these days are aboriginal persons and straight women.  So why are gay men being refused the opportunity to give blood?

Hell, some of my friends and colleagues (who are gay) are at far less risk than I am to be carriers.  They have been in monogamous relationships for over fifteen years, have no piercings or tattoos, and have had HIV tests.  I have never had an HIV specific blood test (though I have had so many tests I would be surprised to learn they didn’t test for HIV on at least one occasion), have a piercing and a tattoo, and for a year in my late twenties, was rampantly non-monogamous, to the point of dangerous behaviour.  And when you factor in that HIV and AIDS can take over ten years to become symptomatic (WHO information)... I am far more risky than they are.  But I can happily give blood, while they are denied the opportunity.

One of the reasons that gay men are more susceptible to HIV transmission is the act of anal sex.  Newsflash to Health Canada - not all gay men engage in anal sex, and anal sex is by no means limited to the gay male community.  Plenty of straight people do it too! 

Now, if the question was “Have you engaged in unprotected sex, and in particular anal intercourse, with someone who’s sexual history you are unaware of in the last year?” that would be a fair question to ask.  That is sexual behaviour that increases your chance of HIV contact.   And it is gender / orientation neutral - we all have anuses.

But like I said, I am no scientist.  And that is the scary part... if its obvious to the rest of us, that the test is discriminatory, hateful and unnecessary while also failing to accurately capture the information that we really ought to be examining, they why is the government, and Canadian Blood Services, holding on to this ‘scientific’ information so tightly?  What are they afraid of? 

Is it possible that a gay man giving blood could taint the supply with HIV?  Yes.  Unlikely, but possible.  Is it possible that a straight woman could taint the supply with HIV?  Yes.  Unlikely, but possible.  So why does she get to give, to help to save another’s life, while he doesn’t?

Lets face it, its about prejudice, plain and simple.  If there is no statistical or scientific evidence to support the bias, and in fact the test itself is flawed, then its time to put the puritan shadows of fifty years ago aside, let all members of our society, regardless of where they fall on the straight / gay spectrum, be full members of our society.

So Health Canada, if you want to regulate behaviour, go ahead.  But when you want to moralize and punish sexuality, you’ll be held accountable.

Untitled: Part One 6 / 30

Damian couldn=t decide which was more annoying: the strobe lights flashing off of the chrome, or the bass rattling his teeth.  As he watched the dancers moving and grinding to the rhythmic beat of Nine Inch Nails, Reznor loudly screaming exactly how they would be fucked, he settled on the strobes.  It was the way that they revealed the truth of the situation more than any other factor.  The dancers, when seen in constant light, were probably enjoying themselves, dancing, laughing and smiling - but when viewed in intermittent flashes, most seemed caught somewhere between ecstasy and agony, angels dancing with the damned.  And that hit just a little too close to home for comfort.

Across the room a thin young man, dressed in the latest in urban chic, caught his eye and nodded towards the door against the far wall, unobtrusively painted to blend in with the walls and the other decor, but conspicuous due to its guardian, a six and a half foot blonde mass of muscle that hadn=t moved from the spot in two hours.  Damian nodded twice, once to the trendily dressed man and once to the guard at the door.  The guard only gave the young man a cursory glance as he passed through the door, his long coat flapping in his wake. 

Damian settled in a bit, giving him a chance to get comfortable and watching the bar=s patrons with a practiced eye.  They=d make the rent tonight, the line still ran down the block and it was already three in the morning.  He=d watched his managers (heavily followed by security) take five cash drops already tonight, and his rule was not to take anything less than ten thousand. 

Looking out over the dance floor and onto the stage, his blue eyes settled on a petite brunette, dancing with wild abandon, wearing as little as club rules allowed.  She felt his gaze on her and looked up, trying to feel where the weight of it was coming from.  Finally seeing him, her eyes lit up and she ran her hands down over her body, cupping and stroking suggestively, grinding against her dance partner, never taking her eyes off him.  She must have liked what she saw – many women did.  He nodded and sent a waitress her way with a note and a drink.  When she pulled the folded card off the tray and smiled back at him he nodded curtly and pulled himself out of the heavy chair he sat in, heading for the office door.

As he closed the heavy door behind him, the sounds of the club were instantly silenced.  Three inches thick, the door was solid tungsten steel, paneled in walnut and layered with cork for sound proofing.  His gaze traveled around the room, taking in the Monet on the wall, the small bar - stocked only with his favorite scotches and wines, the elaborate and expensive media centre behind the desk and the young man, quickly rising from his seat behind the desk, looking faintly guilty.

AColby, that=s fine, you can sit back down.  That is the most comfortable chair in the place.  Why should you not take it from me?  After all, you are taking my money.@  As he spoke, his precise London accent all the more pronounced in his irritation, the young man=s expression changed from worry to relief to confusion.  Damian had to give him points for that, no fear showed on the boy=s face, even though his mind must be racing at light speed.

AI don=t know what you’re talking about Damian.  Your money is right here,@ he said carefully, pointing to stacks of bills neatly laid out on the desk in front of him, Atwenty bags, a hundred bucks a pop, that=s two grand.  You can count it if you want.@  His grin was back, and he started to lean back in the chair a little.

AYou are partly correct Colby.  I did provide you with twenty bags, and that would be two thousand dollars.  What you left out is that you took those twenty bags, and cut them with something, turning  them into thirty bags and pocketing one thousand dollars for yourself.@ 

Colby stood back up and started to shake his head but Damian continued, not giving him a chance to speak AIt is not so much that you are cheating your customers, who are really my customers and as such have grown to expect a certain quality from my products, but you are also stealing from me.  And that, I simply will not tolerate.@

As he spoke, he felt Colby grow more and more nervous and could almost see the thoughts running through his mind, one image in particular came to the fore and Damian spoke even as Colby=s mind formed it.  "I would not go for the gun if I were you Colby.  Though you did a good job getting it past the girls at the front, all that it will really do-" Colby started to reach into his pocket, but quick as he was, Damian moved much, much faster.  Even as Colby=s hand closed around the gun, Damian blurred across the ten feet between them, and with a casual seeming shove, sent the desk sliding out of his way.   His backhand slap smashed into Colby as the drug dealer=s eyes widened in fear.  Fear that quickly turned to pain and bewilderment as he flew against the far wall, crashing to the floor in a heap.  While he started to roll off of his stomach and once again his hand flashed for his coat pocket, Damian stepped over to him and slammed his foot down on his hand, bones snapping and pinning it to the floor with his weight.

AAs I was saying, before you forced me to such rude action, all that drawing the gun is going to do is make me very, very upset.  And, if I might steal a phrase, I don=t think that you would like me when I=m upset.  So let us just remove your little toy so that you are no longer tempted to use it.@  He reached down into the pocket that Colby had been scrabbling for and pulled out a sleek looking pistol.  AHmmm, a very nice gun.  And that is a very nice coat.  I would seem that you are spending my money well.@

Between sobs of pain and trying to catch his breath, Colby was trying to stammer out a question AWha... wha... how... you...@  His eyes danced between Damian and the desk where it sat, against the far wall.  Carved of a solid piece of redwood and beautifully tooled, the desk had required six men to bring it into the room and then the inner wall could be built - a conservative estimate of its weight still put it in the neighborhood of 600 pounds.

AHow did I do that?  Is that what your feeble mind is trying to comprehend Colby?  Why not ask how I knew about the gun, or where I learned about your dealings on the side?  They seem like equally valid questions, do they not?@

As Colby stammered out an affirmative, Damian realized that the dealer had seen too much and, as much as it was going to inconvenience him, Damian wasn=t going to be able to let the punk leave.  As he raised the gun Colby=s eyes widened and his mouth began to open in a scream.  The shot that exploded through the room drowned out any other sound.

Damian reached for the phone, the smell of cordite thick in his nostrils, as he watched the life fade from the young man=s eyes.  His finger pressed a single number on the speed dial pad as Colby died.  Damian watched with something akin to fascination as the spark of life faded from the young man at his feet.  Once again a human being was reduced to so much cold meat.

AWhat?@ the voice on the other end spat out the word.  He must have been occupied Damian mused, the thought bringing a smile to his face.  AWhat do you want?@

AI am afraid I must call upon your services Greagor, I have a bit of a mess in my office and would like you to send an experienced janitor to clean it up.  Someone skilled with stains and small holes in plaster if you have one.@  Damian knew that Greagor was fuming on the other end of the line, but then again, he always enjoyed making the other man angry.  It had become something of a game between them - Damian would taunt Greagor nightly, trying to goad him into doing something rash.  So far he had not risen to the bait - not completely.

AFine.  He=s on his way.  And Christ, you limey bastard, why can’t you speak like a normal person?@  A sudden click cut off any reply that Damian would have made. He smiled.  Greagor=s getting more and more terse.  That=s a good sign he thought to himself with a sardonic smile upon his lips.  He must be just about ready to boil over.  Maybe I can finally be rid if that incompetent fool.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And now for something completely different 5 / 30

I am a cynic.  Oddly enough, it appears that I am not perceived as such by a large number of people who know me.   Which makes me wonder if I am not really a cynic, but rather a cynic wanna-be, which makes me wonder why anyone would want to be a cynic, which makes me wonder how, in the terrible world we live in anyone can be anything but a cynic, which makes me want a drink.  Usually iced tea, but tonight it’s Cuban rum and coke.  Not alone, that would be bad.  Tonight I am drinking with our cat.  She’s great company, if a bit quiet, which is great because I apparently have a lot to say.

Back on topic though, I was very surprised when one of my colleagues today asked me how I managed to always be so positive, even when things were going wrong.  She must have thought I had taken leave of my senses when I stood staring at her, mouth open and absolutely flabbergasted.  How was I supposed to answer that question?  How did I stay positive?  I didn’t!  I look for, and frequently find, the worst in most situations.  I am rarely surprised when someone shows a darker side of their personality.  And when man-made disaster strikes, it never surprises me.

Or so I thought.  Then I went back and read a lot of the things I have written in the last couple of years, both on my blog and in my other writings.  Seems I do get upset about people being asshats (try using that phrase around your place of education / employment, I am trying to bring it into the vernacular) and that I am consistently surprised by the evil that people perpetuate upon one another.  Turns out I actually do have some small shred of hope for the human race and all of its many, idiotic, members.  No, not you.  You I like.  It’s the other idiots that are getting my goat lately.

Then I started thinking about the things that I have been reading and the web sites that I have been patronizing lately. is the first one that came to mind, and if any site of the 14,292 websites on the internet right now (I think that’s an accurate count, isn’t it?) count as optimistic and positive, that would be the one.  If you go there, you know what I am talking about, and if you don’t then get your butt over there immediately.  Don’t go if you have less than a half hour though – you’ll want to watch a whole video.

Then I thought of the amazing video by Dr. Randy Pausch, his “Last Lecture” talk.  If you can watch that and not feel uplifted, not feel amazed at his capacity for hope and optimism, you are the type of cynic that I aspire to be.  As a parent, watching his video was challenging, knowing he was leaving his family behind, and knowing that he had somehow made peace with that – that takes a strength I hope I never have the opportunity to find in myself.  I have watched it more often than I can recall, to the point where I know some of it by heart, and after every watching I leave it feeling more hopeful and more inspired that I did the last time.  Seriously, go watch it.

And that lead me to thinking about the tremendous people that I am blessed to have in my life.  My family is huge and diverse, and I am blessed to have expanded it greatly in the last couple of years.  And family doesn’t just mean those that are related to me by blood or marriage.  Family, to me, includes all the people who have let me into their lives, and have welcomed me into theirs.  And I am damned thankful for all of them, and lucky to have found them.

But what really put the nail in the coffin of my self delusion was me remembering the very best part of every work day – when, at the end of the day, I walk in the door of my home and my boys greet me with “jump hugs.”  As they throw themselves from the top step, trusting that I will catch them, screaming “DAD!!!” at the top of their lungs, my throat tightens because my heart feels like it is going to explode right out of my chest with the love I have for them, and when they squeeze me tight, right then, right there, I know the world is a good place, full of good people.