Tuesday, 12 November 2019

One Cherry Pickin' Minute

I wasn’t watching the live broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada. The next morning, the story was dominating the headlines, and when I listened to the clip and began to disseminate the fallout, my immediate thought was that what he was saying was certainly controversial, like so many comments he has ranted and raved over the decades. But this time, it felt like there would be more consequence to his statement.  And when twenty-four hours passed, and an apology from the network, from the sponsors, and from his co-host came, while he remained steadfast in his silence, it became distinctly possible that he was going to lose his job.

I was literally in the middle of answering a comment on Facebook about it when the news dropped, and I would be lying if I said my jaw hadn’t.  It never occurred to me that he would end his career like this, even with countless reasons to suspect that it could.  And there it was.

Don Cherry was fired.

It usually doesn’t serve to categorize how people process things like this.  It would be kind of ironic in this case, really. But suffice to say, people are taking a ‘for’ or an ‘against’ stance in this issue, very much mirroring the left versus right, liberal versus conservative divide in politics and society at large.  You can take a wild guess which side Don represents.  Historically, Grapes has made his views crystal clear on foreigners, everything from Swedish-born NHL players being effeminate to Russian players acting more like soccer players. If I were a soccer fan, I’d have taken offense to that—it’s a hard game to play with a very distinct culture. We would be comparing NHL apples to Premiere League oranges. Yet the tone was derisive, and it was all wrapped in the guise of pride.  In our country, and in our sport.

And that is part of the problem.

There is a reason Don Cherry ranked number seven in the CBC’s Greatest Canadian poll back in the early 2000’s. After all, he is the kind of television personality who commands your attention.  I’ve heard from several different commentators how when Don’s segment on Hockey Night came on, the whole room would quiet down until he was finished.  We all laughed when he had a joke at straight-man Ron MacLean’s expense, and either rolled our eyes or chuckled when Ron got in the last punny line before rolling to commercial.  I genuinely think that if CBC had sold Don’s ‘Coach’s Corner’ theme as opposed to the Hockey Night theme, people would have openly revolted.

As a hockey mind, Don was always smarter than his delivery would have you believe.  He has long spoken out in favour of safety for players, even if he maintains his defense of fighting in the game today. You can make the argument either way on that one, but suffice to say guys like Bob Probert and Donald Brashear would not be on rosters if they played today.  The game, like our society at large, has evolved.  And that word is crucial—evolved.  Not changed, because change can go forwards or backwards.  Evolution is a move forward, implying that change is for not only the better, but the progression of society.  We live in a world where fifty years ago, black people were celebrating equal rights in the United States nearly one hundred years after the Civil War was supposed to.  We’re celebrating the anniversary of the end of the Great War, which took place at a time when women couldn’t let alone serve in it, but scarcely had rights as human beings in Canada.  Today, the LGBTQ community is still pushing for equal treatment, even though their rights are enshrined in law.  Indeed, the most recent Canadian election opened up the can of worms that is same-sex marriage, even when both Conservatives and Liberals alike admitted that the issue has been closed.  You can’t go back on it, just like you can’t go back on civil rights and suffrage. 

We can’t devolve. As a race, divided into ethnic communities, nations, and beliefs, we progress in our own time, sometimes in baby steps.  But always forward. Sometimes it stalls.  World Wars were fought so these stagnations or concerted efforts from some to throw anchor and keep the world as it is or was can be defeated.  We do it because we have to.  We can’t stop progress.

Don Cherry has been a staunch defender of this principle his entire life, and I think we can all admire him for that.  I remember some of his earliest broadcasts in which he tearfully reported on the lost lives of fallen police officers, soldiers, and others who died in the line of duty.  More than anything he ever had to say about hockey strategy, his genuine love for those who serve is what vaulted him into the top ten greatest Canadians, ahead of prime-ministers and innovators, even ahead of Wayne Gretzky, an all-around nice guy and probably the only person who has transcended hockey outside of the game and Canada. Don Cherry was an advocate for the brave, and he held the same sentiment for his favourite hockey players.  Wanna drop the gloves and defend your star player when the league is too afraid to? Don has your back. Played through career-threatening injury? Double thumbs-up if you’re a Canadian.  Or at least an English-Canadian.  He has a long history of disparaging French-Canadians.

I think that the best way to understand Don Cherry is to look back at the era in which he came of age as a hockey guru.  He is of the generation that remembers the 1972 Summit Series, when Paul Henderson scored a winning goal that instantly proved that Canada could beat the communists in at least one thing.  Because let’s face it, otherwise, Canada was the wide-eyed bystander holding a melting ice cream cone while the neighbourhood toughs, the US and the USSR lunged at each other with knives. Our Summit Series win was about the equivalent of yelling at the Russian to distract him so the US could scramble for the knife he dropped.  We were doing our part.  And we were so proud of ourselves, sticking it to the enemy none of us ever met.  So when Russian players began to infiltrate our game, it was incredulous to people like Don that the enemy was now among us, playing with us rather than against, and suddenly a floodgate not dissimilar to the doors of our country opening to refugees was flung wide, the flow seemingly unstoppable.  And the great fear crept in—will they ever outnumber us? Will there be more of them, rendering us the minority?  Whatever happened to our values—where we played tough, not like ballerinas.

Don lived in Archie Bunker’s generation, when there was a genuine fear of the changes we all knew and could see were coming.  It’s understandable to fear change; that’s likely the biggest reason we fear dying, because we don’t know what’s coming next for sure. What we sometimes forget is that while we lament the loss of the good times, the comfort, and the constants that made sense of the world we lived in, we do ourselves a disservice in assuming all change will be harmful. In fact, change is necessary for evolution to continue. 

It is in all of this context that Don Cherry’s comments make the sense that they do. Like Archie couldn’t get his head around his nemesis George Jefferson, the successful black man that moved in next door, Don can’t wrap his head around the changes our world is experiencing. He still lives in an ‘us versus them’ world, when more and more of us accept happily that it is really just an ‘us’ culture. He sees people on the street not wearing a poppy and assumes that they are ‘them’ against us. His choice of the words ‘you people’, regardless of how he intended it, was divisive.  His choice of the words ‘you come here’ indicated people who have immigrated, even if he wasn’t calling out skin colour or ethnic origin. That same fear of the Europeans invading our game and changing it is living vicariously through some people Don has never spoken to all because he doesn’t see a red flower on their lapel.

The legacy of the Don Cherry firing is unknown, but you can extrapolate it with an educated guess. As time goes by, and the sting of losing an icon that generations admired will subside, as it always does, and the world will continue to evolve, as it always does. Don Cherry will be seen as an artifact not of the past, but a very specific past, in which fear of change dictated how we held on to outdated views on immigration, masculinity, and nationalism far too long, all because its most revered spokesman really thought he was right. 

Can we separate his love and reverence for the armed forces and first responders from his bombast and bravado?  I think so. People who make poor decisions always make lots of good ones, of course. Lance Armstrong raised tens of millions through his Livestrong foundation, and that good can’t be taken away even if he was a cheater. If Don Cherry truly wished to evolve and maintain his position, I have no doubts the avenue was clear for him to make amends.  But how do you make amends for something you think you didn’t do in the first place? So I don’t fault him for operating within the only world he knows.  And I don’t fault anyone who is mourning the loss of a national treasure, because I believe most are mourning the loss of all the good he has done. 

Change isn’t coming.  It’s here. “To you from failing hands, we throw the torch…”  John McCrae understood it.  Maybe that’s what’s most ironic about all of this.

Friday, 7 December 2018

It's Cold, Baby!

After much deliberation, I have made my conclusion about a very pressing matter.  Allow me to elaborate.

Once upon a recent time, the world around us changed.  The election of Donald Trump to the United States presidency shocked many, appalled more, and continues to confound all.  In the two years of the Twilight Zone reality show episode, we have witnessed the distortion of fact, the deck-stacking of the Supreme Court, and the legitimizing of extremist nationalism.  Fox News, the television equivalent of the National Enquirer, has poisoned the media well.  Any news outlet that speaks against Fox is immediately cast as biased against the right, and therefore labeled as ‘fake news’.  The irony here is just too much.  I remember reading the Enquirer when I was growing up.  My grandmother loved the tabloids.  She even believed some of the stories.  I found it hard to believe that Liz Taylor was really that important, that any of those celebs were actually gay, or that Ronald Reagan actually saw a UFO.  It all seems a little harmless in hindsight.

People who actually still value real facts and honest journalism have had to adjust.  When the most powerful voice in the world decries the media, all bets are off.  There are an alarming number of people that will blindly follow his lead, and as a result the rest of us are left to question everything.  The reality is that not all of Trump’s supporters are uneducated, ignorant hicks.  There are an even more staggering number of educated people that support his views.  They are tireless in their pursuit of evidence to back their claims.  They have statistics that can explain away the most bizarre of theories.  For as many scientists that believe climate change is real, there will always be outliers that will defend the far-right delusions.  They hide behind their computer screens and speak in tacky memes.  If you call them on their inappropriate mockery, they either hide behind the right to free speech or accuse the left of being too soft.  ‘Snowflake’ is the popular term among far-rightists.  ‘Cuck’ is the more vulgar label. It has devolved to the point that anyone who shows compassion toward any marginalized group is weak.  We have actually reached that point.

Anyone could be an enemy of the state.  It might be the trans-gendered.  A far-rightist would argue that people are either born with a penis or a vagina, therefore they are either male or female respectively.  That’s a convenient and comfortable position.  Honestly, if that were the case, life would be much easier.  It was so much easier to buy for a baby girl when all you had to do was look for the pink section at Babies ‘R Us.  Boys liked to play rough, snap training bra straps, catch bullfrogs and fix engines.  Girls learned how to make supper, sew, and rear the children.  But leave it to the transgenders to come along and claim that penis does not necessarily equal male.  What’s more, they even want gender-neutral bathrooms.  The far-right will claim that there will suddenly be perverted men masquerading as women preying on our little girls in public restrooms.  While there is no evidence this has happened, rest assured there are vigilant citizens scouring the internet for any example to post as proof we are under siege from sexually-confused deviants.  They seem to have a lot of time on their hands.

Perhaps this is an example of why the arrival of the #metoo movement was so necessary.  When groups like the Proud Boys receive equal time to spew misogyny and racism, it is refreshing for women to finally stand up and say ‘you know what, enough of this nonsense’.  The staggering number of ladies from every creed and colour openly saying men have harassed, assaulted, or violated them is a stark reminder that no matter what you choose to believe, women are not treated equally.  Celebrities were toppled.  Harvey Weinstein, Danny Masterson, and Bill Cosby have seen their careers destroyed and their reputations irreparably damaged.  Far-righters will often claim that the sudden revelation of all these women is suspect.  I mean, if you get raped, why don’t you say something?  That kind of statement is about the same as saying it’s really cold outside (baby), so much for climate change.  Or penis equals male.  Or caring for people makes you a snowflake.

The fallout from #metoo has changed our world forever.  We can reasonably say it has changed for the better.  We all benefit from our girls growing up to be confident young women.  Men lose nothing by sharing the wealth.  We’ve begun to move away from affirmative action policies; women don’t need to be hired to fill quotas anymore.  We aren’t there yet, but we are closing the gap at a record pace. 

#metoo has taught us that women have historically not been comfortable revealing abuse committed against them.  Rather than place the burden of proof on a victim, we now choose to believe them first.  It is always unfortunate when anyone, male or female, takes advantage of a situation and levels false accusations.  Still, the overwhelming majority will not wish to draw attention like this upon themselves.  I don’t know anyone who wants to be in the news as a rape victim.  To make that up about themselves would indeed be heinous, but honestly, it’s really not very likely.  Plausible, maybe.  But we are better served listening to people who come forward.  I have to believe that honesty has the best chance of winning.

The side effect of #metoo is a little less disconcerting.  Not long ago, The Dukes of Hazzard, the beloved ‘good ‘ole boys’ show that was just a bit of harmless fun, faced banning because of its use of the Confederate flag as its primary symbol.  We know, or at least those of us snowflakes that see beyond our own selfish instincts, that the confederate cross is a racist symbol.  No matter how much you want to ‘take it back’, the symbol has been ruined forever by its association with slavery.  Millions of people living today have ancestors that fought under that banner.  It must be really uncomfortable to know their great-great grandparents advocated state-sponsored racism.  Most Germans today are likely familiar with that sentiment.  Still, today, most people don’t harbour those views.  Or at least they say they don’t.

In light of #metoo, we look at things differently.  All those Bill Cosby bits about slipping a little something into a pretty young thing’s drink are just not funny anymore.  It’s fine if you laughed at them in the 70’s.  Most did.  After all, Bill Cosby was a family-friendly comic that never swore, raised kids, and portrayed the archetypal father for generations of young men.  But even if he didn’t turn out to be a sexual predator, the joke has long since lost its legitimacy.  Drugging women should always have been seen as wrong.  As a society, we have finally woken from the hangover and realized that bad decisions were made.  Far-rightists that feel that life back then when people weren’t so easily offended was better, notwithstanding, we are better for it today.  Bill Cosby’s conviction has proven that women who are brave enough to speak out will be believed, and those who commit crimes against them will be held accountable for their actions.  Judge Kavanaugh notwithstanding, we seem to be doing somewhat better in that regard.

The scrutiny of what we accept as entertainment has therefore become intense.  And justly so, I think.  I loved Tone-Loc’s ‘Funky Cold Medina’.  I actually own the album.  But damn if I don’t cringe when I read the lyrics today.  Whether it’s the fact that FCM is really a date rape drug or the big ‘ole mess that ‘Sheena was a man’, it’s kind of embarrassing that we actually found this song entertaining.  The Beastie Boys’ ‘Brass Monkey’ fits the same description.  Both of these are still catchy songs, but the content is clearly unacceptable through today’s filter.  I once vehemently defended Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’ verse that describes ‘the little faggot with the earring and the makeup’ as a character’s narrative in the context of the song.  I will still listen to it today, but I am at peace with the radio edit that is allowed to air on radio nowadays. 

But none of these have drawn the ire of the public like the furor of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’. 
While this song has actually been scrutinized before over the years for its controversial depiction of a woman being convinced to stay with her lover who keeps pouring her drinks, it remains a much-beloved standard in the western holiday canon. It’s been covered by everyone from Dean Martin to Zooey Deschanel.  It’s as Christmas as mistletoe.  And as such, it is different from the hip-hop hits of the 80’s I mentioned above because it is universally sentimental.  I mean, if someone came along and declared that Jingle Bells was racist, more than just far-rightists would be disappointed.

For the record, I don’t believe the song is as lascivious as it has been suggested.  I’m indifferent to the ban from radio, since I personally don’t get fuzzy feelings when I hear it, but even if I did, I know I can play it anytime I like.  It’s still on YouTube, on Spotify, on CD or vinyl—hell, it’s still sung by Zooey in the shower while Buddy hangs out not-creepily-at-all on the sink.  I usually skip Christmas songs on the radio just because I don’t like being inundated by them against my will.  Let me play my Kenny and Dolly or Jim Reeves records while I decorate my living room and I’m happy.

Also for the record, I am glad we are having this debate.  To question intelligently and calmly what is or is not acceptable for our entertainment, regardless of our comfort level or sentiment, is proof that our society is evolving.  The pullback against the far-rightists is working.  Banning ‘Baby’ is not a loss for us.  It is a victory for a process that is ultimately making us a better society.  Make no mistake, I believe it was in error that the song was banned.  I believe it is a teachable moment for us to recognize #metoo and to admit that the playful lyrics from a bygone era are maybe not malevolent, but still worthy of review today.  I predict this ban will be dropped eventually.  You can poke fun at me if I’m wrong.

What is most disappointing, for me, however is the reaction from the non-far-rightists. In a twist I never saw coming, people of all stripes are copping out to sentiment over reason.  Gone is the obligation to question with rationality.  In its place is knee-jerk reaction, emotionally-driven hollering and meme-culture opinion.  Instead of taking the time to think it over, we seem quick to draw false comparison.  Whether or not they ban Cardi B has nothing to do with ‘Baby’.  Suddenly, anyone who calls this staple of our holiday bliss into question is ironically now a snowflake.  The ban of this song is apparently symbolic of a world whose feelings are too easily hurt.  This is a narrative that sounds really familiar.
Call me a snowflake if you like, but I simply cannot apologize for doing my due diligence.  I am perfectly happy living in a world where in this case, censorship may have gone too far, but the apparatus now exists where we can apply the sober second thought of which our heroine of song may or may not have had the luxury.

Happy holidays! Or Merry Christmas, or whatever.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Cold Dead Hands

I am old enough to remember the traditional design of lawn darts, those large avian projectiles you tossed in your yard, sort of like horseshoes, croquet, bocce, or the like.  They had three plastic fins and a weighted metal nose that was fairly blunt, but sharp enough to stick in the ground once you tossed them.  You would lob them underhanded towards a small plastic hoop, maybe a foot and a half in diameter, at some pre-determined distance.  Today we play washer toss in a similar fashion.

We were playing with the lawn darts one summer day in the front yard.  A friend was visiting, but I can’t remember who it actually was that tossed that fateful dart.  He swung his arm like a windmill and the dart flew high in the air, nearly directly up in a vertical line.  It arced away from us fortunately, but unfortunately not far enough away from Dad’s half-ton with the old style cap over the bed.  We used to travel in the back of it, but that’s a safety story for another time.

The dart stuck into the fibreglass cap, puncturing it and drawing the ire of my rightfully angry father who came out waving his arms.  It was the last time I remember ever playing with lawn darts.  Incidentally, they had been banned years earlier; ours were just left over from before the ban.

You see, my grandparents owned the lawn darts in question.  They also owned croquet sets and real iron horseshoes.  Were they either alive or had the physical capacity to do so, they would be playing washer toss today, no doubt.  Lawn games are lots of fun, low in cost, and easy for people of all ages to play without risk of significant injury.

Except for lawn darts.

It turns out that several people had died from injuries sustained from these seemingly harmless toys.  My grandparents, as far as I know, never injured themselves or anyone else playing lawn darts.  It’s probably because they didn’t swing them around and launched them into the sky for them to come raining down on anyone within range.  Simple physics would tell you that any item of a certain weight would gain terminal velocity, making the impact so much harder.  With a semi-pointed tip, it isn’t hard to imagine someone dying from one.  The lawn darts industry, horrified no doubt that kids died from their products, redesigned them to have a ball-shaped tip that would not penetrate someone’s skull if launched into the air.  You could, of course, still hurt someone, but the reasonable responsible use of them would be much safer.  Was it a perfect solution?  Of course not.  They could have been banned outright, and in a way they were, since lawn darts aren’t particularly popular anymore.  Washer toss and bocce are just as fun and exponentially safer.

The truth is, I would be just fine if lawn darts were removed from the market altogether.  I like yard games, but there are lots of options I could choose if this product simply vanished.  Yes, someone could take a washer and beam me in the head with it.  Realistically though, I’m happier knowing that irresponsible or unsupervised kids won’t accidentally injure or kill someone with a product we don’t really need.

That same man who came out ranting and raving about a hole in his truck cap also happens to be a lifelong hunter and gun owner.  As a young man, Dad acquired his gunsmith license and ran a small gun repair business, the Lock, Stock and Barrel gun shop, out of a spare room in our home.  I grew up with a healthy respect for firearms.  My sisters and I grew up watching our Dad clean, repair, and refurbish guns of all shapes and sizes—of the long-barrel variety, but not handguns, that I can remember, at any rate.

I remember once some friends and I got into a water pistol fight in the recreation room downstairs, where Dad had his guns on display in a visible but secured gun rack.  He came downstairs infinitely angrier than the day we were playing lawn darts.  We were being too reckless in a room where he maintained firearms, even though they were locked, the ammunition stored in a separate place.  Any seemingly harmless horseplay was strictly forbidden, so seriously he took gun safety. 

When I was in my later teens, I took a hunter’s safety firearms course, and successfully passed, earning me the right to legally hold and use a firearm for hunting.  Never an enthusiastic hunter, I nevertheless was happy to have educated myself and taken proper training, since hunting was such an important part of my early life.  It’s better to educate yourself, because all education is of course valuable.

During the course, I remember the instructor told us at the very beginning that if at any time, while handling a gun, the muzzle of the barrel found itself pointing at anyone, even by accident, we would fail the course instantly.  He made no apologies for being so strict; his reasoning was that if you accidentally point a gun at someone and it goes off, you get no second chance.  The target would likely die.  This made complete sense to me.  I remember nervously manipulating the gun, once even coming close to accidentally pointing it towards someone.  Luckily, I didn’t, and I have no fatalities on my record.

I have never kept a gun in my place of residence since I moved out from my parents’ house.  I don’t hunt anymore, and probably never will again.  I can’t see any reason why I would have to ever own a gun again.  If all hunting rifles were suddenly banned from this very moment, my life would be no worse for it, since I have no reason to miss them.  It’s as simple as that.  If you don’t need it, you shouldn’t miss it if it’s gone.  Calm down, hunting friends.  I am simply relating this to my own experience.

Now I know it isn’t that simple.  Hunting, at its core, is a respectful sport; I respect responsible hunters and always will.  If a hunter waves his barrel around haphazardly and jeopardies the lives of people around him or herself, that respect vanishes and the question needs to be raised as to whether or not that person should be allowed to have one.  After all, if you drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and you get caught, you can—and should—lose your privilege to drive a car.  I am a teacher; if a student shows me they can’t responsibly keep their cell phone in their pocket, they lose the right to keep one in my classroom.  This isn’t rocket science.  It’s common sense.

Still, as a society, we have to make hard decisions that sometimes contravene our fundamental rights.  Can you utter death threats even though you have the right to free speech?  Of course not.  Can you drive without wearing your seatbelt?  Unless you have a specific and approved reason not to do so, no.  Can you use illegal and dangerous street drugs?  Again, you can’t legally buy them, and if found in your possession, you could be charged. 

All of these because society simply can’t trust common sense.  Anyone with clarity of thought and the right education on the subject should know that if you inject heroin, you can only cause harm to yourself.  If you have half a brain, you know that seatbelts in fact save lives, even if it’s more comfortable and convenient not to clip the belt into its latch. 
If you have even a fraction of common sense, you can see that guns are designed to kill.  Whether or not it is a hunting rifle that shoots game, or a handgun issued to police officers, the outcome is the same.  The target of the gun will face injury or mortality.  That is their purpose.  Guns were an improvement on the snare, spear or bow and arrow.  Guns were a technological upgrade to other projectile weapons, to work at maximum efficacy.  No soldier wants to wander onto a battlefield knowing their opponent has a better gun.  Everyone knows you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

So I see what people mean when they say more guns in schools would help in the event a shooter arrives.  Theoretically, if I had proper training, I could use a sidearm for which I would hopefully be licensed and fully trained, safely locked in a box in my classroom, to defend my frightened students from some gunslinger skulking in the halls just waiting to see the whites of their eyes.  I would follow all protocol—lock my doors, cover the windows, line up my students along the wall out of sight of the doorway, and cock the hammer in the event some ravenous lunatic bursts through the door.  They would be dead in my sight, because my training would kick in and I wouldn’t hesitate under the pressure of the moment.  Without flinching, I would take down that son of a bitch, and my kids would cheer at my heroism.  And if there was more than one shooter, I would hopefully be armed by my employer with an AR-style rifle that could carry more rounds.  Hell, I might even be able to leave the room to hunt the bad guys down.  As I’m typing it, I imagine what saloon doors would look like in my classroom…

All of that is a bunch of hogwash.  I know myself.  In my own experience, I nearly lost my chance at a hunter’s license because I almost pointed the gun at someone.  I remember shooting my first duck—straight through the wooden duck decoy that drifted in front of it while I hesitated to pull the trigger.  The decoy burst with a cloud of smoke as it bobbed head-down, my quarry floating lifeless behind it.  Dad grimaced that day too.  Would I have been so lucky had I known the duck was also aiming back at me?

More guns equal less violence?  I can’t think of a statement as asinine as that.  Yes, people have to shoot them for them to work.  Yes, people have to throw lawn darts for them to hurt anyone.  But guess how many people have died since lawn darts were effectively banned?  You can figure it out.

Just like we can still play bocce, horseshoes, croquet, or washer toss responsibly, we can have guns for specific purposes.  Hunting is inherently safe when done properly.  Target shooting, paintball, biathlon—all of these are gun-based sports that use firearms that pose risks if not used properly, but are generally safe and fun.  However, I don’t see any logical reason why anyone has to own a handgun.  Protection?  That is a very romantic notion.  If you think you can defend yourself in your own home with a handgun from a home invader, please see my above description of me defending my classroom in a highly satirical, yet eerily plausible scenario.  If you try to tell me that you would have any better fortune, I call bullshit.  Unless you are a highly skilled and trained marksman, police officer, or assassin, you can’t guarantee an ideal outcome.  On top of that, you risk injury to innocents by simply keeping a gun in your home.  There are statistics that speak of the tragic consequences of misfiring and accidental shooting—but guess what?  These wouldn’t happen if the gun wasn’t there in the first place.

No one likes change.  We often cling to the romantic notion that things were better the way they used to be.  When our grandfathers kept loaded rifles under the bed for protection.  When we used to ride our bikes without helmets.  When seatbelts weren’t a thing.  When you used to drink out of the garden hose.  You’ve seen these memes online.
What if, just what if all of these weren’t safe in the first place, and we lucked out?  What if there was bacteria in that garden hose?  What if you fell off your bike and landed on your head? What if your little brother or sister found grandpa’s rifle?

What if the lawn dart killed someone you love?

Plain and simple, if you love your right to own guns more than human lives, you are delusional at best.  I can think of worse things to say, but I’ll leave it at that.

Charleton Heston, the famous actor and spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, a group I think should be seen as detrimental to society as any terrorist organization, once proclaimed that they would have to pry his gun from his ‘cold dead hands’.  I would ask Mr. Heston, is he implying that his hands would be cold and dead as a result of untimely death?  Like, from a gun, let’s say?  Is that not a little ironic?

I’m perfectly okay surrendering my lawn darts from my warm, living hands, personally.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Complacency and Bubblegum

Allow me to share a story about my first election.  No, it wasn’t when I turned eighteen.  It wasn’t for an MLA or an MP.  It wasn’t even for Mayor.  No, it was much earlier than that, and arguably more important, at least in the life of a twelve or thirteen year-old.

My Grade 8 teacher decided to teach us how elections work.  It may or may not have had anything to do with a current event, or curriculum outcomes she was mandated to teach us.  I applaud her for taking the time to try to teach us perhaps our most prescient civic duty, to participate in the decision-making process to which we would be subjected only a few years later.  If you know anything at all about teaching middle school, you know how seriously a typical Grade 8 class would handle this.

Two candidates submitted their names.  One was a buddy of mine, who was admittedly not as popular for a number of reasons, none of which really matter to the story.  The other was a popular fellow, but was known to pick on people, like his opponent on this day, for example.  He was funny, but not ‘class clown’ funny.  He often got his laughs at the expense of others, and often found himself in trouble as a result.  The majority of the class admired him, I suspect mostly because we lived vicariously through him.  He could say whatever he liked, we would laugh, and if it all went south, he faced the consequences, usually emerging after the fact none the worse.  He was Teflon.  We knew we weren’t.  His role within the micro-village of our class was well defined and understood.

My friend stood in front of us and delivered his ‘campaign’ pledge.  I can’t remember what he promised exactly, but it was something admirable, at least from the perspective of an adult reflecting back.  For the sake of the story, I’ll say he promised to get us more recess break time, less homework, or something like that.  You get the point.

Next, the other guy stood up with the mischievous yet goofy grin.  Even the teacher was waiting with bated breath to hear what fountain of wisdom might come pouring forth.  What did come flowing was a pledge to give everyone who voted for him a piece of Bazooka Joe bubble gum that he had just bought at the canteen.  Cheers filled the room.  The teacher gently rested her face in her palm.  Actually, I really don’t remember what her reaction was; she might have cheered for Bazooka Joe too.  Remember, this story happened a long time ago.

When she tallied the votes, there was no doubt who won.  It wasn’t even close.  My friend didn’t receive even one vote.  It was a Frank McKenna-style clean sweep.  I asked my buddy: “Why didn’t you even vote for yourself?”  His answer:  “Hey, how do I compete with free gum?”

Of course, this election wasn’t binding in any legal sense, not even within the confines of our classroom.  By the end of the day, the gum was all chewed out of its flavor, and knowing our class, stuck underneath desks and chairs.  I used to make mini paper airplanes from the Bazooka Joe comic strips—no doubt I had a field day that afternoon.  We had our fun at my buddy’s expense, as usual, and life returned to normal.  The Election Day hero continued to torment people for cheap chuckles.  Meanwhile, we had learned a valuable lesson.  More on what that lesson actually was a little later.

I have another parable of sorts I’d like to share as well.  If you are unfamiliar with the William Golding novel Lord of the Flies, and would like to one day read it unspoiled, maybe you should skip forward.  I’ll leave a “*” a little later so you know when to cut back in.

In this classic of literature, a band of young teen aged boys are stranded on a tropical island, their plane having crashed while they were being evacuated from England during an unspecified conflagration.  The boys have no surviving adults to supervise them.  They learn how to organize themselves, hunt, find water, make shelter, and develop societal norms.  As the story progresses, the even-keeled leader who represents reason and maturity begins to struggle with a rebellious leader who represents action and impulse.  That boy becomes a romantic figure for many of the other boys, and after a series of events, a majority are swayed to follow him in his increasingly decadent leadership philosophy.  Things that would be considered crimes in the real world begin to happen.  All reason and civility appears to have vanished.

However, throughout the story, when the boys speak together formally, they agree to speak one at a time, symbolized by a totem they have adopted the speaker must be holding.  They used a large conch shell.  I once bought a large conch shell from a street vendor in the Bahamas, and more than once I’ve considered using it as a totem in my classroom.  Whoever was holding it had the floor.  Enter Piggy, a bespectacled boy who is clearly socially awkward and a friend to the mature leader.  Late in the story, Piggy protests against the now anarchic establishment while clutching the conch.  A melee ensues, the conch gets destroyed, and Piggy suffers a far worse fate than my friend who couldn’t promise bubblegum.
Here’s one final tale.  In 2006, the Palestinian Authority held elections, as they do periodically, like any self-serving nation would.  Palestine, of course, is not really a nation—not in the legally binding sense, recognized by the United Nations as a sovereign country, anyway.  I’m not here to discuss whether or not they should be, but suffice to say there is a significant, if not controversial movement for them to become independent from their occupiers.

Be that as it may, they elect a government anyhow.  The Palestinian Authority does however hold power over specific places, like Gaza and the West Bank.  They govern the people of those areas, much like provincial or state governments would.  In all matters of national concern, they have to acquiesce to the greater Israeli government, with whom the rest of the world interacts on an official level.

Now, for those not following along in the news, Palestine and Israel don’t get along.  There is a long, deep mistrust between the two parties, which has super ceded several generations, governments of virtually every political stripe, and countless attempts from other world powers such as, ironically, the Unites States, to mediate a peace agreement between the two adversaries that share the same geographic space.  Despite UN peacekeeping, assassinations, embargoes, wars, and even celebrity visits (even Whitney Houston showed up one time), the two parties are as far apart as they were in 1947.  Over time, this has led to the radicalization of a segment of Palestinian society.  Like Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, some of these radical groups became full-fledged political parties.  Enter Hamas.

Hamas are officially listed by Israel, the US, and various treaty organizations as a terrorist organization.  The Palestinians who elected them in 2006 to be the new governing party of their meager land holdings had apparently had enough of a series of same-old governments who clearly had generations to get things done, yet were unsuccessful.  They were tired of people who didn’t really represent them constantly promising things they couldn’t do.  Therefore, they put their faith in a radical idea—a  new party that was going to tell it like it is, stick it to the man, and buy everyone bubblegum of Biblical proportions.

Unfortunately, and not unpredictably, the rest of the world didn’t share their enthusiasm.  Foreign aid started to dry up.  That meant the government couldn’t pay their civil servants.  Within weeks, strikes began to happen.  Soon, garbage began to pile up in the streets.  For all the bluster and bravado, it was a hard sell to convince people Israel was to blame for their stinky city streets.  And no, life didn’t improve much otherwise.  They found themselves no closer to getting more recess time or less homework, and the bubblegum lost its flavor way too quickly.  The little comic strips weren’t even funny anymore.

I’m not even going to bother talking about Rob Ford.

The point of all this of course is that the results in the US this week should not surprise anyone at all.  It’s human nature to romanticize the bully who makes fun of people for cheap pops and promises bubblegum to everyone who laughs.  When reason goes by the wayside, the conch gets broken, the garbage piles up, and the bubblegum gets rubbery and stale.  You read the comic, you roll your eyes about how cheesy it is, and you crumple it up.  Erstwhile, the people who have done their homework, spent time preparing what to say and proposing change that can affect everyone positively get shunted to the background.  After all, everyone knows that smart people just aren’t as cool.  That was the ironic lesson my classmates and I learned that day.

When enough bubblegum supporters congregate and gather in numbers, they dictate how social norms will be established.  They determine the culture in which they are kings and queens.  Everyone opposed had better learn to toe the line, or suffer the consequences, which could be as simple as the scorn of a bully, to the fate suffered by Piggy, to the loss of wages and public services. 

Perhaps even more ironic in all this is that it is also human nature to rise above this kind of anti-reason, anti-intellectual, and anti-empathy.  In a free society, the moral good usually prevails.  Even when a few glitches in the Matrix occur, people tire of bullies with empty promises.  Social justice prevails eventually, even if there is a painful lesson learned along the way.

The painful lesson the United States needs to learn is that those who are grieving a Donald Trump victory have no one else to blame but themselves.  No one.  Not Brexit.  Not Obama.  Not Bush.  Supporters of Trump were, and always will be to varying degrees and numbers seduced by the promise of bubblegum.  They will forever be frustrated with a system they feel has done nothing for them, perhaps even for generations.  Supporters of Hillary Clinton, or anyone else for that matter, will wonder why it happened.  There is, in my estimation, only one reason.


True, those who did get out voting did their part, and depending on which state they’re from, their vote counted to varying degrees.  All polls indicated Clinton would win all the states she needed to afford her the majority of Electoral College votes needed to secure the presidency.  Yet as the dust cleared, the wrong colour was popping up on Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and even Pennsylvania.  Where were all those people who made up all those educated guesses?  Was traffic too bad?  Were they all getting their hair cut?  Did they just do something else, figuring Hillary was going to vote by herself and win?

Complacency won the US election.  No one will convince me otherwise, that there weren’t enough reasonable people to have made a difference.  Hillary Clinton may or may not have been a good leader; it is moot now to even surmise.  What they do have now, whether they like it or not, is a bully who is promising Bazooka Joe-brand walls.  He has no problem whatsoever snatching the conch from Piggy’s hands and smashing it to the floor.  After the streets are littered with gum wrappers and broken conch shards, will he have a plan to clean it all up?

Meanwhile, recess is still too short, and I have way too much homework tonight.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Generation Me

One of my favourite movies in the last fifteen years is a Disney/Pixar movie called The Incredibles.  It is the story of a family of superheroes, forced by society to hide their super powers and live ‘normal’ lives in suburbia.  Frustrated with his dead-end, mundane office job, the father bickers with the mother constantly.  One day, they argued about the upcoming celebration for their son completing the fourth grade.  One line that struck me was when the father said, to paraphrase, that everyone seems bent on celebrating mediocrity. 
Now, I remember the feelings of joy when I graduated from one grade to the next.  To be honest, I was more relieved that school was over, and summer had finally arrived.  It could have rained every day from the end of June through September, and I wouldn’t have cared, as long as I didn’t have to go to school.  And I think most kids, whether they thrive in school or not, feel the same way.  I also remember that my grandfather always had a $20 bill waiting for us grandkids if we ‘graded’.  In the years before we could earn any real amount of money, that was like a windfall from heaven.  $20 is nothing to slouch at.  I got $20 in a Christmas card from KFC this year, where I still work a few hours here and there, and I was tickled pink.
Any of my classmates reading this can correct me if they like, but I don’t recall any big celebration for grading.  Maybe a class party, maybe a field trip to King’s Landing or across the ferry boats to Borden and back, but nothing like a graduation-style ceremony.  And I certainly don’t recall a bounty of high-priced gifts waiting for me at home.  Just Grampie’s $20, which was to me the same as getting a third paycheck in a month today. 
Everyone who knows me knows that I am a collector at heart.  It is a weakness.  Collecting has many beneficial qualities, but for the most part, when I get ‘into’ something, I am all in, to the point that I tend to obsess over it.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to temper my addiction to the point that my hobbies do not dictate my day-to-day life, although at one time they used to.  Case in point:  I have been a life-long Star Wars fan and collector.  I’m proud of it.  I spent many years, especially during my university days, hiding it for fear of being teased.  As a young adult, with secure income and a partner who also had a secure job, I was able to amass a huge collection of toys, meticulously displayed and catalogued.  I even had insurance taken out on it.  And during the peak of my collecting days, I became a father.  Not only to a beautiful son, but a son who is an awful lot like me.
Kieran opened his eyes to the collecting that was such a strong aspect of my life.  He naturally fell in love with Star Wars just like his dad, but not likely for the same reasons I became interested.  There was all the excitement, colourful characters, and artwork all around him, of course.  But he probably liked it so much because he knew I liked it so much.  He looked up to me.  He also saw that being a part of that world meant being closer to me.  When he was three, he could name most of the characters.  And naturally, he wanted Star Wars toys of his own.
So, when a line of Star Wars toys came along marketed for young kids—with minimal loose parts and cartoonish, neutral poses—Kieran was hooked.  So was I.  In actuality, I had begun to collect them, but when I saw how much he loved them, I gave them to him so he had a line of toys to ‘collect’.  Now, at age three, it’s hard to find a job, so supplementing a hobby can be tricky.  Christmas and birthdays account for 2 out of 365 days in a year.  The ‘Galactic Heroes’ toy line was producing dozens of figurines every year.  How could he keep up?  Simple.  I just bought them for him.
Every few months, new waves of figures arrived on toy store shelves, and without fail, I picked up every one I could find.  Like all collectible hobbies, though, the toys became harder to locate as months and years went by.  Sometimes you had to get doubles to get that one ‘exclusive’ figure.  Some of them were only available in the United States.  Dropping a $10 bill here and there became a deeper financial commitment.  To Kieran’s credit, he didn’t become demanding.  He didn’t wait at the door to see what toys I came home with that day.  Quite the opposite, actually—he began to lose interest.
Over time, he knew that when possible, the figures would arrive.  He would beam with excitement when he opened new ones at Christmas, and he had his favourites that he dragged around with him.  Still, the whole thing just felt, well, normal.  It was nothing out of the ordinary for him to get new figures, so it became nothing special when he did get them.  He was no happier or sadder for having collected the Galactic Heroes.  Today, he’s glad he has them, but they are generally a faded memory of childhood; the toys themselves are kept safely in a storage tote.  He keeps saying he wants to get them out and set them up in his room, but he never does.  Naturally, he has moved on into more age-appropriate interests that most twelve-year-olds do.  Life moves on.
My years of enjoying Star Wars with Kieran bring back a lot of memories.  Most of that time was happy, but I would be lying if I said I had no regrets.  Every parent wants to have something in common with their children.  Every parent lives to see their kids smile.  Seeing them disappointed is one of the worst feelings in the world.  I would say that seeing indifference in their eyes is almost as bad a feeling.
I’m telling this story because I want to convey to everyone who reads my opinion pieces that I have been guilty of spoiling my children too.  My second son Colby fell in love with the movie Cars.  I did the exact same thing for him.  One day, he had decided that he had grown out of ‘Cars’ cars, and just like Kieran’s Galactic Heroes, the cars are all in a tote, stored away safely so they’ll stay in good condition for when he passes them on maybe to his own children.  Once again, the indifference to the hobby, entirely because it was nothing special, had crept in.  Thousands of dollars were spent between the two hobbies, and their lives were not any richer for it.
I told my story because the following opinion is going to be somewhat harsh.  I will likely offend people.  I’m prepared for that, and I am at peace with it, because I am not trying to be judgmental.  Far be it for me, a lifelong collector who instilled those values in his own children, to judge anyone.  There is nothing more personal, and potentially defensive, than a parent’s opinion on child rearing.  However, as an educator and a father, who has a lot of friends, family, and acquaintances with young children, I have observed a startling trend.  And I am not alone.
This generation is being referred to as ‘The Millenial’ generation.  Loosely, children born between the 1980’s through today, like all generations before them, share on the average a series of characteristics.  They are not always flattering.  Raised with the internet, children of this generation in particular have shorter attention spans, higher expectations, and less ambition to achieve something on their own.  Kids and young adults today know that they are just one click away from being an internet phenomenon.  Why not?  Justin Bieber got famous that way.  Social media provides a safety zone, so interacting with people in real life is less important.  You can text whenever you like.  You can post a ‘selfie’ as often as you want.  In fact, photographs have very little value today, because they are potentially infinite.  A twenty-four-picture roll of film you had to wait a few days to develop leant a more urgent nature to taking a snapshot of not just anything.  The scarcity of the product made it more valuable.
Music is the same.  Even if you don’t download illegally, you can legally stream anything you want on YouTube.  Even $1.49 individual songs on iTunes are going the way of the Polaroid.  As a result, the product itself is no longer special.  If you know me even marginally, you also know that I collect music.  I would rather buy only a few select titles in a physical copy I can actually carry in my hands than have infinite digital music.  If my hard-drive was wiped out tomorrow, my records will still be here. 
Millenials are coming of age in a disposable society.  When I managed KFC, I remember wading through piles of resumes and interviewing for the best candidates to work at our store.  As years went by, though, younger people stopped applying.  Those who did were changing from the older guard.  They felt they had a right to check their cell phones as they pleased.  They could show up late.  They could arbitrarily miss work because something more important came along.  And they knew that if this job didn’t accommodate their demands, the next fast food joint would.  Good help has always been hard to find, but today it is seemingly impossible.
This generation, for whatever reason, has learned that there is always an excuse, always a back door, always greener grass, therefore there’s nothing to really worry about.  Can’t afford to move out?  Mom and Dad will keep them.  Not enough money for the weekend?  Here’s another $20—or $50 if you’re going to the movies.  Parents that have to work longer hours to pay for all this stuff often feel guilty, and buying things to fill the void is a short-term solution that always gets the ‘pop’, or the wide-eyed elation upon receipt, but ultimately, like the Galactic Heroes or Cars-cars, at best are forgotten, and at worst are expected.
It isn’t enough anymore to just wake up and run around the house looking for chocolates.  It isn’t enough to get $20 for grading.  It isn’t enough to even get through the day without someone commenting on your Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat.  It isn’t enough to get hundreds, even thousands of dollars’ worth of big-ticket items for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and even Halloween.  It isn’t enough to go to the movies when little Billy’s family down the street went to Cuba again for two weeks.  It isn’t enough when the Tooth Fairy leaves some kids a toonie when the rest of the class gets $10 per tooth.  It isn’t enough to play a team sport when every kid on the team expects to be the next Sidney Crosby. 
It is infuriating to see so many young people filled with so much entitlement.  It is frustrating trying to teach children who expect that someone will eventually do their work for them.  And it is mind-numbing to see young people have absolutely no idea how to do the most basic of things, like write a cheque, make a simple phone call, or write a resume.  Regardless, I can’t for the life of me blame them.  I am a teacher, and I love what I do because of the kids. 
I blame the parents.  And I have to count myself among them.  It is my generation, ‘Generation X’ that has somehow allowed this generational landslide to happen.  People, this is serious business.  There is an entire segment of our population, perhaps the most crucial segment, who is ill-prepared for the world that awaits them.  Last year, Time magazine published a cover story discussing this very problem.  In it, the writer suggested that the Millenial generation most closely matches that of the early 1900’s.  They were also a devil-may-care, freewheeling generation, who faced young adulthood in a hurry when the Great War began.  Ultimately, they had no choice.  Life came crashing through the window, and the sniveling, entitled brats suddenly had to go to war, work in factories, or raise their younger siblings.  They ended up seeing their own children go through World War II.  They suffered through the Depression in between, and passed on their experiences to their children, who grew up with a crust of stale bread for dinner and a raggedy stuffed teddy bear as a Christmas gift.
It is frightening to think of a possible future—not to be apocalyptic—where a global crisis forces today’s Millenials to come of age in such a cruel and unforgiving way.  The article in Time suggests that when the chips are down, ‘Generation Me’ will get the job done, just like their ancestors did one hundred years ago.  How millennial it is for any of us to think that it will all just sort itself out.  Today’s youth is deficient in the skills and, quite frankly, the wherewithal to commit to a five-hour work shift let alone save us from a global crisis.  What’s even more scary is the fact that one day, when we are retired, these people are the ones who will actually have to take care of us. 
I’ve tried my best to learn from my past mistakes in parenting.  There has never been a perfect parent, and never will be.  Most parents I know love their children, and do their best to raise them right.  Most are doing a decent job.  Buying a gift for your son or daughter for Easter is not going to ruin them, just as my collecting-by-proxy habit didn’t ruin my own.  Still, it’s logical to extrapolate the outcome of spoiling a child.  Every time we shower our children with the notion that they are beyond special, we are doing the exact opposite.  They are children, therefore they are precious.  They aren’t that special.  They’re all potential celebrities, just a click-and-send away from a pipe-dream, a guaranteed lottery ticket, a first-round draft pick, the next American Idol.  They are all, and nothing.  Why?  Because we told them so.