Thursday, 11 February 2016

Pick a Team

     I was walking down King street the other day when I saw just about the darndest thing.  A dude, a bro of some sort, was strolling along with a Booster Juice in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. From the lit status of the dart I assumed he wasn't holding it for a friend.  Now it certainly didn't strike me as unusual that he was smoking, heck this city smokes like a chimney, especially the Millennials.  What was truly bizarre about the scenario was the dichotomy it presented. That's smart person talk for saying this guy needed to pick a team!

     Yes, this confused health nut needed to look at the contents of his paws and decide his fate.  The juxtaposition could simply not be allowed to continue.  It has haunted me ever since. Or at least it does whenever I see a Booster Juice (which is rare, tbh).  This man simply wanted the rich full flavour of a Du Maurier and the zesty, smooth smugness of a half litre of fruit juice at the same. This seemingly contradictory set of vices made me think of how often we are divided into camps, split up into teams, at times against our better judgement.

     The country seems to be more and more polarized lately, or at least so the media tells me.  And not just in politics, everywhere I look people are defining themselves by what they eat, what they listen to and what they think they believe.  Vegans.  Feminists.  Vegan feminists.  Anarcho-vegan feminists. (Yikes).  Neoliberalists.  Neoconservatives.  Secular atheists.  Progressive and Regressives.

     There have never been more teams to choose from than there is right now.  People, quick to align their beliefs, their attitudes, about themselves and others, with a crowd that already exists.  I suppose that is perfectly natural, like toe shoes, to want to join a group.  There is safety in numbers.  Always has been.  I'm no Anthropology post-doc, but tell me tribalism isn't among the strongest of evolutionary behaviours.  It's far easier to not get picked off at the edge of a herd if you're clamouring for the safety of the centre.  It's also easier for our little ape-like brains to put things and people into pre-existing categories, at least I think so.  It's perfectly natural to want to be picked by a team or want to be part of one, especially a winning one.  Look at Jays fans this year.  Maybe we need to start asking ourselves why am I on this team anyway?  The type of question Leafs fans never really ask themselves. I digress.
     Yes, it seems that we're marching faster and faster into all out tribalism.  Pick a side, choose a team, US vs THEM.  No room left for individuals who stop to think.  It's perfectly natural for us to form groups and tribes, and it's certainly helped keep us alive as a species when we left Africa in search of more food and better real estate.  The problem with humans joining groups is they tend to leave their brains behind once they join.
     Don't believe me? Well buddy, I was at game 5 of the ALDS this October, and let me tell you.  Ordinarily passive 6ix'ers turned into quite the unruly mob in the historic 7th inning and I was slightly disturbed and a little shocked when the beers started getting hucked from the not-so-cheap seats of the 500's.  Would you ever consider throwing an $11 beer at a complete stranger if you were by yourself?  Sure, a few knuckle draggers might, but I would bet you the vast majority of people would hold on to that beer.  The point is, brothers and sisters, that we lose our minds in crowds and fall victim to GroupThink.  Few are immune and most catch severe cases.  Look at politics and what it does to people.  If one person carried around a sign with someone's face on it and a catchy slogan, you'd think they were batshit, right?  But put a few hundred of those crazies together and you've got a perfectly acceptable political rally.

     There's nothing wrong with wanting to be on the winning team, but I think I'll stay a Free Agent until I see a team worth rooting for.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Play By the Rules

"I've come to realize that life is but a game 
and it doesn't matter how you score but how you play 
and although the masses play the host make all the rules"

     The wide and wonderful world of sports has many parallels to what we'll call real life.  If it didn't, I wouldn't have a lot to write about.  Perhaps the most apt allegory is hockey's excellent but imperfect penalty system.  All players have a basic understanding of the rules and generally abide.  They will on occasion, intentionally or not, skirt the rules and if the referee happens to see the infraction, a punishment equal to the crime is doled out and the naughty player forfeits his right to play the game for anywhere from 2 minutes to several games.
     The idea being if you break the rules, you gain an unfair advantage.  This is antithetic  to our common ideal of sportsmanship.  The ref, of course, is only human and therefore prone to mistakes and missed calls.  You can't please the hordes of pseudo-savages (sports fans) all the time and occasionally a ref will make what is known as a bullshit call.  Sometimes it is obvious, but often the ruling is obscured by subtleties.

     In "real life", and I use that term as loose as a jock strap, the uniforms looks different but it's pretty much the same rulebook.  Most of us have been taught to play by the rules by our programmers but we will bend and at times break rules.  Tickets of the speeding and parking variety are minor deterrents to keep us in line, but it certainly doesn't prevent all people from speeding or finding imaginative parking methods.

    Some people know the rules and choose to try to get away with what they can.  The mere notion of punishment however, is enough to keep most of us in line.  Years of punishment and rewards through the "education" system see to that.

     The referee, unmistakeable in resplendent zebra stripes is an ostensibly omnipotent impartial agent, doling out justice where ever the rules are broken.  Except that refs miss calls and at times make calls where there are none to make.  Simply put, bullshit calls are routinely made, either because the ref wasn't looking or he had pigeon shit in his eyes.  Crafty players are quite aware of this fact and use it to their advantage.  Some are quite unapologetic about it.

     To think non-athletes share the same mentality is both healthily cynical and realistic.  The long arm of the law is purposefully visible and always has a strong presence in low income, poverty stricken areas with reputations.  Like Parkdale for example.  The crimes committed in areas such as these are fairly straight forward.  Assault, narcotic trafficking, the odd B&E, you get the point.  The verdicts often come quickly and decisively.

     When the criminality moves from the street to the boardroom, it makes the refs job, or rather the law's, much more difficult and adds at least fifty shades of grey to normally black and white issues.  Let's not kid ourselves here folks, the more money you have and the closer your ties to the government, the less likely you are to actually see the inside of the sin bin (prison).  Case in point, if you recall the financial world nearly imploding in 2008 due to a number of factors, no one Wall Street banker did time save for Bernie Madoff and I bet he only went down because he ripped off rich people.  The guilty unpunished pulled off a trillion dollar heist.

     Closer to home, but no less serious, our own governments, provincial and federal, seem content to skate outside the rules whenever they see fit.  Mike Duffy and his personal trainer are on trial for illegal procedure, but I'll be very surprised if the justice system hands him a game misconduct or even a minor penalty.  Ontario's grandmotherly premier keeps playing dirty too, first with signing off on the gas plant scandal and most recently in Sudbury, but play has yet to be whistled down.  Brian Mulroney and his paper bag of money.  I could go on, but you're smart enough to get the point.

     While fear of accumulating PIM's is enough to keep most of us from breaking the rules,  a few rich and powerful elites either know they'll never see a call go against them or the refs are choosing to look the other way.  In either case, we need to take a serious look at how the game is played, because as it stands now, we're going to be killing penalties for some time to come.  C'mon ref, are you blind?


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Gym Class Zeros

"Wouldn't you believe it
It's just my luck,
No recess"

     Contemporary Canadian society appears to be slowly splitting into two groups.  One group religiously watches what they eat,, has all sorts of gadgets to analyze, measure and provide digital bio-feedback about their workouts and they tend to share this info with all using the miracle of the Internet.  The other group, plainly put, is a group of fat slobs who need mechanized assistance in crossing the street and can often be found with a tank of oxygen close at hand.  While both groups have their pros and cons to join, this second group, less advertised and visible than the first, is worrying.  Not from a compassionate, sympathetic view point, but in a rather selfish way.  Gimme a break, I am an entitled self-absorbed Millennial after all.  
     This group of panting behemoths are, and will continue to be, an enormous strain on our socialized healthcare system.  And while I'll gladly reach into my pockets to help pay for a kid's leukaemia treatment or to help the victims of a late night parkour accident, I'm a little hesitant to do the same for a 350lb porker who doesn't have the good sense to pass on the 20th beer and the third helping of McCain's Deep and Delicious.  With the economy the way it is (read: shitty), I suspect I'm not the only one.  All those artificial hips, knee replacements and diabetic socks aren't going to pay for themselves.  Heck, it's already a strain on the system.

     So rather than spend billions trying to help these geriatric bundles of bad decisions stay alive just long enough to scare the grandkids when they come visit at the hospital, let's spend the money revamping Gym Class.  

     Yes, Gym Class.  Phys-Ed.  Along with lunch and grinding up on grade 9 hotties, at the after school dance, it's most hormone filled boys favourite class.  Too bad it's current state is a joke that sees most kids barely break a sweat, with ball room dancing, Capture the Flag and and other manner of bullshittery instead of true sport.
     Let's face it, most kids today can't afford to play competitive sports these days anyway, so why not turn Gym Class from playtime to something you actually have to try at.  Rather than have kids graded on knowing the differences between CFL and NFL rules, why not judge them based on the ability to learn new physical skills.  I can already hear the gasps from the parents of chubby kids saying that isn't fair!  The horror!  Well guess what, it's not fair that a kid can pass a gym class without the ability to run a mile or do 20 push ups either.  Instead of making gym class a session of intellectual masturbation on the rules of doubles badminton, let's encourage actual skill development.  If you had a unit on sprinting, then the fastest kid in the class gets the best mark.  Make passing the class contingent on actually learning a new skill, rather than reading about one.  

     If you have to study and work hard at calculus or chemistry, then why not also in Phys-Ed?  If you suck at physics, you go get extra help and balance a few more equations.  If you suck at gym and using your body, maybe you need to put in some more work there too.   To learn your multiplication tables it takes repetitive practise, same as nailing a baseline 3 pointer.

    Oh, and one more thing.  Make in mandatory throughout grades K-12, so the pudgy little kids who need it the most aren't allowed to skip it, lest their fragile egos be bruised.  No, not everyone will graduate with the manual dexterity of an Olympic calibre gymnast, but it might go a long way towards adding a certain level of shall we say, physicality to society that is sorely lacking.

     There are many types of intelligence and being able to sit in a desk and do long division is but one.  Implement a tougher, more skills based and competitive gym class, and I bet you dollars to gluten-free vegan donuts we end up spending less on health care in the long term./

     If that system proves successful, maybe it will lead to a work place recess program.  Wouldn't that be some fun?



Sunday, 31 May 2015

Of Some Consequence

"You better think fast
Think fast
'Cause you never know
What's coming around the bend
You better not blink
The consequence is a bigger word than you think
It's bigger than you or me"

Ah, the sweet sounds, sights and smells of June.  The two major denominations of the One True Religion of Sport have dwindled to just a pair of teams each by the time school lets out, their numbers whittled away by the system of Natural Selection, otherwise known as the playoffs.  Lose and you go home, win and you earn yet another chance to prove your worthiness.  
     Final exams represent a similar mechanism that shapes young minds in our so called education system.  Pass your tests, ace your exams and you earn the right to continue to the next level.  Flunk your tests, stay up all night partying and forget to study and you'll most likely fail and be forced to re-do a course, a test or even a full year of school.  This process essentially works on the same principle as its sporting cousin, with the best and brightest moving on and the less bright and not so capable being left behind, in order to better themselves for the future.  
     Except the system is hardly being implemented as designed.  Rather than being rewarded for their lack of effort and academic mediocrity with litres of red ink and instruction to return to their desks to repeat their failed endeavour until they get it right, legions of dullards are now shuffled through the ranks, lest their fragile pride and self-esteem take a bruise.  I'm not sure where or when everyone started getting automatic passes, regardless of effort, but I know it this thinking has infected the hollowed grounds of academia from the lowly primary grades right up to the dog and pony show of graduate school.
     Grade schoolers can barely read the label on a can of soup, but the teachers and parents worry keeping the kids back will cause self-esteem issues, so on you go, you little illiterates.  High schoolers who don't hand in assignments, but due to school policy can't be given a zero and therefore pass and move up the ladder.  A former physics grad student I once knew told me as a teacher's assistant (TA), he was not allowed to mark with red ink because seeing the red was too traumatic for the would-be atom splitters.  I myself was scolded by a dinosaur of a prof for taking too many marks off a written assignment for spelling and grammar, forcing me to assign passing grades to illegible word salads.  Another tale of whoa(!) I've heard was about a student who didn't attend a single lecture all semester long, but as she had a doctor's note, was awarded the credit lest her depression worsen. Call me old fashioned, but I firmly believe you should have to actually show up to pass a course.  
     Personal anecdotes aside, the trend is clear and obvious.  The kids today are being taught that there are no negative consequences to their actions.  Everyone passes and gets credit, so why work hard when you can just make a bullshit excuse and get a rule change.  It's problematic, it's real and it's dangerous.  We're conditioning a generation of minds woefully prepared for reality.
     Would a hockey coach encourage his star forwards to carry the puck across the blue line, eyes firmly glued on their CCM Tacks?.  No, he wouldn't because the negative repercussion of such an act could be catastrophic.  Ask Eric Lindros or Paul Kariya
     Does an offensive coordinator tell his slot backs to run routes over the middle and not to worry about violence-loving middle linebackers and safeties who want to separate his head from his shoulders?  Highly doubt it, buddy.  
     By shuffling students though the Education Industrial Complex, we are doing an enormous disservice to all.  Kids are having their egos and self-esteem artificially inflated while simultaneously divorcing their little minds from the concept of negative consequences.  Let's do ourselves a real favour and start failing some people.  
     They'll be alright.   

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Squirrelly Bitch

"Hey man you talkin' back to me?
Take him out
You gotta keep 'em separated
Hey man you disrespecting me?
Take him out
You gotta keep 'em separated"

     Some men are fit for civilized society and some men, well, some of us are barely more evolved than knuckle dragging primates.  Being a man myself, I don't think that statement is overly offensive and I also happen to think it's fairly accurate, because I myself wrote it.  I submit this Tuesday's events as Exhibit A.  A for Alpha.

     The sun, she was a-shining and I had just left my favourite Queen West coffee shop, freshly caffeinated and not thinking about too much in particular.  In fact, I can't really recall if I was thinking at all.  I'm walking down the street, headed home to enjoy the afternoon.  Coming up the opposite side walk is a wiry, sunglass wearing semi-degen who proceeds to cross the street at a brisk pace, and as he walks by me (no one around by the way), leans his shoulder out and clips me with a little more force than could be explained as accidental, considering the space around us.  We both took about 2 steps before we turned around to see what was what.

     I was just about to open my yap to say "Sorry bud" or some variation, when he starts verbally assaulting me with some high school level shit talking.  Asking me if I wanted to go, calling me a 4 eyed motherfucker (which made zero sense because we were both wearing sunglasses), eloquent phrases in other words.  The guy just gives me a verbal tirade and says he's having a real bad day and that he wants to kick my ass.  I counter with asking how us fighting would improve his day?  So I just stood there with a half grin on my face, and slowly started to realize what was happening.  He calls me a bunch of other names that are NSFW and says "I hit you, you call the cops, give me a guarantee you don't call the cops."  I respond with another, "Why would we fight over a sidewalk bump?" but he's having none of it.

     He gives me a very aggressive stomp forward, the type of move known by younger brothers and hallway nerds everywhere and I instinctively put my hands up in a defensive fashion, just in case.  I mean, I had just seen Mayweather/Pacquiao not two weeks before.  He doesn't throw and calls me a squirrelly bitch, among other things.  I try to come up with some sort of comeback but it's no use.  A few seconds and cusses later and he keeps walking, as do I, at this point amped up on more than the caffeine.  I managed to say I hoped the rest of his day went better as we parted ways.  

     Minutes later, given time to assess the situation, it becomes clear this guy crossed the street to come at me when there was acres of room for both of us and our egos.  Judging by his dress and demeanour, he was right at home in Parkdale and if you don't know what that means, come to Parkdale sometime and walk around in the middle of the day.  You'll get the point.

     Now I'll be the first to admit I am not a fighter.  Haven't had a bout since Grade 4 and since then I've seemed to be able to side step trouble if it ever popped up.  I am, however, a male and that means I have testosterone and and an overly developed amygdala, which is the part of the brain most responsible for bloody noses and bruised egos.  And I won't lie to you friends, I left the encounter perhaps 90% sure I had done the right thing, but 10% sure I pussied out like a bitch.  That might sound stupid and immature, but its how I felt.  The street offered up a chance to get it on, as they say, and my civilized brain managed to cool the situation before we both ended up in the back of a Crown Vic or worse.  Call it a win by judges decision I suppose.         

     I've always said it's the guys who want to fight on a Tuesday morning that are the ones to worry about, and I believe that even more firmly now.

     Can't help but think I'm a bit of a squirrelly bitch though.

Monday, 18 May 2015

No Fear

"Look at the hate we're breeding
Look at the fear we're feeding
Look at the lives we're leading
The way we've always done before"

     Fear has saturated our bastard American brothers so much that is has seeped in across the border.  Coming in through the news, the telly, the Internet and by word of mouth, it's becoming endemic.

     Took my dear not so old Mom to the Jays game back in April on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I had a real tough time explaining why we had to be searched and sent through a metal detector before finding our seats in the 500's.  My mother's never hurt anyone with anything more than a fly swatter. Is a quick frisk from some minimum wage peon and being herded through a metal detector like steers off to sale really necessary at 21st century Blue Jay games?  Have we drunk that much of the fear Kool-aid?  Of course, America's been steeping in the stuff since the fall of '01 and it's likely their biggest export.  That doesn't mean we have to import it up here.  

     We here in Canadastan always seem to take on American characteristics but in diet form, all the great taste but with fewer calories.  This one item on the menu we need to pass on.  Our masters know how powerful a motivator fear is, hence the crafting of Bill C-51.  First with Y2K, SARS, swine flu and most recently Ebola, our Canadian media is just as guilty of fear peddling as those Fox News and CNN yahoo's, to borrow some slang from Mother.  Now I've flown a fair bit so I no longer think about emptying my pockets and strolling through the Arch of Safety to board a flight, but is it really necessary for an Inter-League game against the Braves?  Some tank-topped bros ahead of us in line didn't seem to mind, though I suspect they had been traquilized with some Bud Lites and were thoroughly distracted by streaming the Raptors playoff game on their phone.  Thanks again for keeping me updated throughout the ordeal, boys.  Appreciated it.   

     The game itself was brief for a 10 inning match and the walk off homer was worth the price of admission, but not all was smiles and fireworks at the Concrete Temple.  The only thing I want to be afraid of at the Dome is dropping a foul ball souvenir and having to live with TSN highlight level regret the rest of my life.  Some one, or some group, pretty high up seems to think Jays fans are so violence prone that we have to be frisked and searched upon entry.  A large part of me wants to think the new security measures are not necessary and over the top, but a smaller, more confused part of me thinks yeah, maybe this is needed due to the overwhelming numbers of would be psychos out there.  Can't be too careful these days.  

     Listen pal, I am fully aware we don't live in a world where we all get along and hold hands and skip through flower filled fields together.  But I would really, really like to think we live in a world, in a city at least, where searching baseball fans on sunny April afternoons is not an option that needs to be exercised in order to maintain peace at professional sporting events.    
     I think as a nation we did a tremendous job job ignoring the fear since October 22nd, especially after seeing the wounded giant of America lash out after 9/11.  We used to be less prone to Yankee style hysteria, but now I'm not so sure.

     Mom was more annoyed than paranoid, she even cracked, "At least I left my crochet needles at home".  A good thing she did.   Maybe it's time the No Fear t-shirts of the mid 90's came back into style.  This time we should pay attention.  

Sunday, 10 May 2015

De-Sensitivity Training

"You find me offensive, I find you offensive

For finding me offensive
Hence, if I should draw the line on any fences
If so to what extent
If at any should I go
'Cause it's getting expensive"

      Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words, words will really cause people to lose their shit.  I'm not the first wanna-be blogger with a pen and a pad to point out that over the last decade or so, people are becoming more and more offended at seemingly less and less provocation.  Put bluntly, we are becoming more sensitive by the day, with people of all shape, size and colour wailing on about how they have been offended in all forms of media, print, TV, Internet, postcard, Etch-a-sketch.  I don't think I'm being alarmist when I write that the bar to being offended has been lowered so much, you are now at risk of stubbing your toe on it.  
     The cries of the offended come from all directions and have a common theme.  Something is said, typed or shown, and by golly some other group takes an offense, which is really being defensive, if you ask me.  Naturally, the offended wishes and often demands that the offensive group be silenced and censored, lest their poor little ears and eyes hear and see something of which they disapprove.  Which is akin to saying we don't like that, so don't say it. Ever. Again.  
     Now, don't get me wrong oh Internet warriors of justice, actions and deeds can be and often are offensive.  Acts and deeds that are abhorrent to our not-so-common sense of humanity.  But actual actions and doing deeds are a far cry from words and sounds and symbols.
     Much of the new found offensivism, if I may coin the term, is rooted in our ever growing sensitivities, and I'm not talking about peanut allergies here folks.  Since when did we all become so gosh darn sensitive about words and symbols?  I'm not too sure on this one, but if I had to venture a guess I'd say it has something to do with how certain words are banned from a young age.  You might be familiar with a few of these words yourself, you bunch of shitbirds.  By sealing off certain words and ideas, we only feed the power they have, heightening their impact.  Perhaps it is time we tore down the artificial walls built up around such words and emptied them of all meaning.  
     Maybe this will be a sort of cultural novocaine, numbing our sensitivities and encouraging true freedom of speech, rather than provoking waves of offended cries the minute someone doesn't take too kindly to an idea.  
     We need de-sensitivity training.  The polar fucking opposite of what we have now where sensitivities are not only encouraged, but reinforced every step of the way by ensuring everyone is hyper aware of how offensive words and symbols are by banning them at the first inkling of offensiveness.  
     Now how about this for a politically incorrect alternative, as soon as kids are old enough to understand, we rationally and calmly explain to them what words mean and that many words only hold the meaning you give them.  No words are out of bounds.  Encourage hurling different word combinations at each other until these words are stripped of any and all meaning and revert merely to the sounds and symbols they truly are.  Imagine, Lennon style, a world without 'bad words'.  If you weren't told words were bad and that you shouldn't say them, would you give them any meaning?  You're a nog-woddler.  What's that you ask?  It's a made up word I just thought of and it has zero meaning.  Now take this word, tell a group of impressionable kids that they should never call anyone that name and two things will happen.  1) They'll immediately start calling each either that name and 2) they'll associate it with negative emotions.  Don't believe me?  Get someone to chew you a new one (one being an asshole, the nerve!) in a language you don't understand, perhaps Arabic or Russian.  Bet you don't bat one eyelash, why?  Because you nog-woddler, you have no meanings attached to the sounds!  And without meaning, you can't be offended anymore than you can be offended at the sound of the wind blowing.  
     Listen, I'm not saying sit the kiddies in a circle and have them cuss each other out until the words lose all shock value, but wait, that is what I'm saying.  Maybe then we'd all be a little less sensitive about shit (gasp!).
     George Orwell, author of such hits as "1984", the year of my birth coincidentally, anticipated our current state of affairs when he said "First they take the words, then they take the meanings".

     Perhaps the anti-dote to having the list of approved sounds from shrinking is to realize that's all they are, just sounds.  And last I checked, sounds and symbols couldn't hurt anyone.  So maybe we can all agree the next time we think we are offended, to remember that although sticks and stones and RPG's and ICBM's can be very hurtful, words can never break us.