I can do whatever I want on my own property!

I am so very sick and tired of hearing ‘I can do whatever I want on my own property!’  The latest instance concerns a neighbour who has stuck some of those new solar lights in front of her cottage, lakeside of course.

Thing is, they don’t have an on/off switch.  So what she’s done on her own property means the rest of us will have to see her lights every night, all night, for the rest of our lives.

If we lived in the city, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad; they’d get ‘lost’ in their surroundings.  But we live on a lake in the forest.  Where the stars are amazing and the moon glimmers across the water. And now there are a dozen lights at eye level a little to my left whenever I look out at night. They stand out like a middle finger.

I can understand the desire for outdoor lights in order to see where you’re going, but then turn them off when you go to bed.  Or in this case, cover them.  And I can understand the possibility of all-night lights deterring wildlife, but motion-sensor lights would be a better choice, if only for the startle effect.

Please, people, are you really that stupid?  Do you really not see that what you do, even on your own property, affects others?  On that basis, those others most certainly do have a right to ask you not to do something.

In the same way, your pre-1980 use of spray cans is justifiably subject to my complaint.  It’s why I’m at risk for skin cancer now.  Your excessive use of fossil fuels was partly responsible for the flood or drought that destroyed my house.  (Let’s say.)  Your actions often have consequences for me.  Not immediately and not directly and maybe you’re too stupid to see any other kind of consequence, but nevertheless, most certainly, what you do affects me.

The really sad thing is that my neighbour doesn’t even notice the lights.  She doesn’t believe me when I say I do.  She’s that desensitized to her environment.  Or that inattentive.  She thinks I’m exaggerating the intrusion.  I received the same response when I complained about the bright red Home Hardware sign that suddenly appeared nailed to a tree at the end of the lane.  And when I’ve complained about any one of a hundred noises – dirt bikes, atvs, leaf blowers, weed trimmers, generators, chain saws.  Those of us who see things, who hear things, those of us who pay attention to what’s around us, we’re the ones to suffer.  The dullards who go through life with a ‘What?’ expression permanently on their face, who wouldn’t notice, well, anything, they’re the ones living happily.  So in order not to go crazy, I wear earplugs most of the time now.  And my reading glasses, so everything more than six feet past the tip of my nose is out of focus.  The alternative is to become as oblivious as the rest of ‘em.

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The Weather Report

Does anyone else find the weather report really, really irritating?  All that drama!  It’s going to rain!  Oh how exciting!  A low pressure weather front is moving in!  Oh my, grab the kids!!

And the pseudo-scientific detail!  The rain is going to be caused by water droplets, that’s droplets of H2O, in the air that will succumb to gravity, under normal conditions, and eventually reach us, possibly at 6:20 or maybe 6:21.

Thing is, all that drama and detail distracts us from what’s really going on with the weather.  Notice the obsession with proximate causes?  Is it because if they addressed the real causes, those remote causes like CFCs and fossil fuel consumption/emission, they’d have to address blame?

 

 

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Toller Cranston on Janet Lynn

[Obviously written a while ago, and yet … this shit keeps being said.]

 

Toller Cranston, as Janet Lynn takes the ice: “You wouldn’t know by looking at her that she’s a housewife and mother of three.”

What?

Would he have said of Kurt Browning, “You wouldn’t know by looking at him that he does stuff around the house and is a father of three”??

I think not.

Clearly Cranston thinks that – well, I don’t know what the hell he thinks.  That doing stuff around the house is somehow incompatible with – skating?  I’ll grant that being a parent could deplete one’s energy to the point that maintaining an elite level of athletic performance is unlikely, but that would apply only if the kids were a certain age and only if one didn’t have any assistance – and it would apply to men as well as women.

I suspect he has some stereotype of housewife and mother in his mind that Lynn didn’t fit.  Perhaps that of a ditsy simpleton or an unkempt troll.

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The Academy Awards – why sex-segregated for acting?

Why is the acting category of the Academy Awards sex-segregated (Best Actor in a Lead/Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Leading/Supporting Role)?  We don’t have separate awards for male and female directors. Or screenwriters, cinematographers, costume designers, film editors, soundtrack composers, or make up persons.

Is one’s sex really relevant to one’s acting ability? In a way that justifies separate awards?

Of course not.

My guess is that it’s because the award isn’t really for the actor/actress, but for the character portrayed.  Probably partly because most people can’t distinguish the two.  I’ll bet George Clooney still gets asked what to do by moms whose kid has a fever.

Even so, why do we have separate categories?

Because if we didn’t, women would never win.  Not because they’re worse actors (remember the award isn’t for acting ability), but because we honor the heroes.  And women never get to play hero.

 

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Business in Denial

‘We’re just providing what the market, what people, demand.’  ‘The customer is squarely in the driver’s seat.’  Yeah right.  Gosh, shucks, don’t-look-at-me.

One, I doubt that’s true.  I mean, if people really wanted your product, you wouldn’t (have to) spend millions on advertising, advertising to persuade them to buy it.  Supply isn’t (just) following demand; demand is (also) following supply.  Your supply.  You’re in the driver’s seat.

Two, even if it is true, that people do want it, I find it hard to believe that someone with enough whatever to get into positions of power, decision-making positions, would be so meekly obedient to the desires, the demands, of the common people.

Or so helpless: ‘demands’ is such loaded language, implying that resistance, your resistance, is futile, implying that you are without power here.

Or so spineless – as if you have no mind, no desire, no will of your own.

Please, have the guts, the maturity, to take responsibility for your actions.  You have a choice.  You produce/provide what you do because you choose to, because you want to.  If you are acceding to market demands – and I have no doubt that you are – it’s because it’s profitable, it’s because (you think) it’s in your best interests.  You ‘want to make it easy for the customer to do business with [you]’ because business with you is business for you.  Customers are a means to your end of profit.  Otherwise you’d be as interested in poverty management as you are in wealth management.

‘Our shareholders demand high returns.’  Another pass-the-buck denial of responsibility.  One, again, I doubt that’s strictly true.  Did you ask them all?  And was their response fully informed?  Were they aware that their high returns come at the expense of others? (Others’ low wages, loss of employment; others’ high prices, loss of choice through monopoly; environmental degradation; etc.)

And two, even if they do, again, do you have to obey them?  Of course not.  Unless – and here’s the all important hidden (by you, from you) assumption – unless you want the value of your company to be ‘high’ so people will give you money.  There’s that self-interest again.

‘Return on equity is an important measure of our success.’  Not the amount of good one does, not the amount of happiness one creates, no, these things don’t matter; success isn’t even justice, isn’t getting back what one puts out, no, success is how much more one gets back than one puts out.  Self-interest.  Literally, interestFor the self.  It’s egoism, pure and simple.  And childish and dangerous.  I don’t think ‘society as a whole’ is in the vocabulary.  The total inability to recognize, let alone deal with, the moral dimension – i.e., the consideration of others – is frightening.

And the ego knows no satisfaction.  ‘From start-up to growth.’  The life cycle of a business seems to stop there.  At growth.  And more growth.  And more growth.  Excuse me?  What about stasis?  What about decline?  They are part of the entire life cycle.  Only a cancer grows and grows and grows.

 

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What’s Wrong with Power (a few preliminary thoughts)

The thing about power (power over others, that is, not power over oneself) is that it can interfere with the other’s freedom of choice.  But it does so only if they use that power, you may wish to clarify.  So people should simply not use their power over others; they should not even show they have it.

Well no, the thief doesn’t have to use the gun in order to interfere with my choice of giving or not giving her my money.  Simply having the power to shoot me affects my decision.  But, you’ll counter, other people always have some sort of power over you – the thief may not even have the gun with him.  (Yeah, it’s usually a him.)

Correct.  In fact, he may not even own a gun.  He need only have the power to buy (and then use) the gun.  In fact, a gun need not even be involved.  He could run into me with her car.  The bottom line is that everyone has the power to do something harmful, something hurtful, to everyone else.  Therefore, everyone’s freedom of choice is limited in some way.  And that’s all there is to this point: there is no such thing as complete freedom of choice – all of our decisions are made in a context of possible, or probable, consequences.

But there’s something here of importance: the difference between possible and probable.  Surely we give more weight to the latter.  Harm is more probable if the thief has a gun pointed to my head than if he has yet to even buy one.

And there’s another point of importance: there is a difference between constraint and coercion.  Constraint becomes coercion only when the person would’ve chosen otherwise had the constraints not been there.  That is to say, if I would’ve given my money to you anyway, your power over me is not coercion, it is not controlling me.

And interestingly enough, control is not dependent on the intentional use of power by the other.  Just as often it is one’s own judgement, which may well be incorrect, of the probability of harm that controls one’s behaviour.

Having power over others, others having power over us – these are facts of life.  The easy part is distinguishing constraint from coercion; the tricky part distinguishing possible from probable.  But our freedom of choice depends on these distinctions.

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Sex, like Religion / Religion, like Sex

What do Madonna, Prince, and Leonard Cohen have in common – with evangelists, ministers, and priests?  They all feed on the proximity of religion and sex.

But, but, you stutter, don’t religions mostly prohibit sex, considering pretty much anything to do with the body to be distasteful or unclean or just plain immoral?  Well, yes.  Could be hypocrisy.  Could be denial.

But on more than one occasion, doesn’t God in The Bible require the sacrifice of a virgin?  And look at St. Theresa’s face – it’s orgasmic.

So what can religion and sex possibly have in common?  Well, they both promise transcendence, ecstasy.  (They both fail to deliver, but that’s another point.)

What else?  Religion is like infatuation (which is fuelled by sexual desire): both involve adoration, worship, of the object of one’s desire.  Add a little confusion and pretty soon one deifies the object of one’s desire or desires the object of one’s deification.

And both religion and sex involve salvation: one looks to God like one does to a lover, for salvation in the other’s arms.   (They both fail to – never mind.)

Furthermore, sex involves a release, a purging if you like – rather like fasting, or confessing and then doing penance.  Again, one gets confused with the other, and pretty soon sex is thought to purify.  I’m sure that’s what all those priests thought when they had sex with those boys.

The extremes of sadomasochism and bondage and discipline highlight the similarities between sexual fanatics and religious fanatics.  More than one saint has submitted to flagellation, by self or by others.  Isn’t every monk given a hairshirt and every nun her own little whip?  Suppose things aren’t exactly consensual – well, it’s no coincidence that ‘rape’ and ‘rapture’ come from the same root.

And to kneel in prostration is to put one’s ass in the air – I’m ready, enter me, oh Great One.

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Gender and Sex

Gender and Sex

Do you know the difference?

Do you understand the consequences of getting them mixed up?

Do you understand the consequences of thinking they’re related?

 

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Visionary?

Reading about Nipissing University’s Students in Free Enterprise (NUSIFE), which is a group of students who undertake projects “intended to increase the public’s awareness of entrepreneurship and business-related subjects,” it occurs to me to wonder why such an endeavour is undertaken only by business students.

Consider the projects listed below – and imagine…

– “Global Crusaders” educated high school students about minimum wages and exchange rates in five different countries – why not educate them about gender issues in five different countries?

– “Team Builders” led team-building exercises during a weekend program at the YMCA – my guess is that sociology students’ take on team-building would be quite different than that of business students…

– “Junior Tycoons” were high school students presented with a basic business plan – why not present “Junior Diplomats” with a recess plan based on insights from political science, history, and psychology?

– “Budgeting for Mental Health Patients” – how about “Philosophy for Mental Health Patients”?

– “My First Bank Account” – whatever happened to “My First Library Card”?

– “Nipissing East Community Opportunities” received a marketing plan – they could have used an environmental assessment plan…

– “Show Me the Money” was about financial planning guidelines on the web – how about “Show Me the Stars”, astronomy on the web?

– “A Feasibility Study” was presented to graphic arts students – how about presenting them with an ethics study?

Such projects, both by training students to apply their knowledge outside academia and by increasing the visibility of business in the outside world, probably contribute to the strangle-hold business – business activities and business interests – has on the world; therefore, suggesting that such endeavours be undertaken by humanities and science students as well is more than an exercise in imagination – it’s an identification of responsibility.

This particular infiltration of business is so developed that there are actually competitions among universities for their SIFE teams.  Yes, there are poetry and drama competitions too, but poems and plays don’t reach out and engage the community in the same way; they just present to, perform for, the community (except for those cool workplace theatre guerrilla groups).  Perhaps science does a little better – there are, of course, the annual science fairs, but from time to time I also see students out in the field with their lab kits.

This lack of engagement is rampant throughout the humanities curriculum.  We teach our English students how to appreciate and write poetry, but not how to find a literary agent; how to appreciate and write drama, but not how to produce a play.  Philosophy students are great at clarifying concepts and values, identifying hidden assumptions, testing for consistency and coherence; psychology students know all about how our minds and emotions work; sociology students know about people in groups, small and large, in cultures and subcultures and countercultures; history students know what hasn’t worked.  Along with our students of gender studies and native studies and our other social science students, humanities students (the humanities focus on humanity – and who, what, are we talking about when all is said and done?), and of course our science students (what is humanity but one bunch of carbon-based organisms among many), would be great consultants if they had any consulting skills.[1]  But we don’t teach them how to write a proposal, how to contract for business, or how to manage a project.

Until we do these things, our humanities and science students will be dependent on business students as go-betweens and as enablers.  And since business students, by definition apparently, have profit as their motivator, their purpose, and their goal, there is bound to be a certain amount of unfulfilled potential.  Business students are not likely to set up Sociologists, Inc. or History Is Us.  Nor are they even likely to engage the services of non-business students as consultants.

OPAS is another example of the deficiency I’m trying to expose.  It’s a partnership between Ontario universities and Canadian companies, named “The Office for Partnerships for Advanced Skills” with a mandate to “foster more effective relations between universities and companies who hire and maintain a highly skilled workforce” and “respond to requests and develop initiatives that promote increased use of university-based resources including advanced skills development.”  One might be forgiven, therefore, for thinking it was pretty inclusive.  This seems indicated even by the Special Events & Programs (which includes “the Visionary Seminar Series, Industry Sector Symposia, Internship & Reciprocal Exchange Programs and the development of a National Network”) and by the Skills Development statement (which says “In knowledge industries, skills requirements advance and change, creating new needs. OPAS responds to these changing skills needs with solutions designed and delivered by leading university programs across Ontario”).

However, a close look reveals that there isn’t a whole lot of room for humanities and social science; there’s something for science and engineering (an auto parts symposium is listed, as well as a biotech sector symposium), but it seems that the university programs they’re talking about partnering with are pretty much the BBA and MBA.  Their website welcome page confirms this: “In today’s knowledge-based economy, business organizations are faced with the need to address constant changes in operating practices, human capital requirements, and technology.”  That page is pure business buzz (“human capital”?!).  (And there you do see the specification – “business organizations….”)

Indeed, had I visited the OPAS website first, I wouldn’t have been so surprised to discover that the keynote speaker (the only speaker) at the “Visionary 2000” seminar was the CEO of the Royal Bank (how much more focussed on business, profit, money, can you get?).  And the very fact that his talk, nothing more than a Royal Bank promo, was billed as visionary indicates just how much we need to correct this deficiency.

 

[1] Marc Renaud, president of SSHRC, says “many of the key questions confronting our society fall within the realm of the social sciences and the humanities and our disciplines represent a goldmine of knowledge that can help.  We need to make sure that people outside the research community know about this goldmine, so that it can be put to broader use” (quoted by David Bentley in “Humanities for humanity’s sake” University Affairs).

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Mentoring

Studies show that people who have had mentors, who have had someone to provide “sponsorship, exposure, visibility, coaching, protection, and challenging assignments – activities which directly relate to the protégé’s career” do indeed experience more career advancement than people who have not had mentors [1].  In a study of 1241 American executives, 67% of all respondents said they had a mentor [2].  Which just goes to show  – it’s who you know.  That’s how, why, they are executives.

Given that it’s a 1979 statistic, presumably the respondents are referring to an informal mentorship, which arises spontaneously, as opposed to a formal mentorship, which is arranged by the organization as part of a mentoring program.  The problem in both cases, however, is that most people who are in a position to mentor, a position of power and prestige, a well-connected position, are men.  Still.  So sexism keeps women from becoming protégés – because even if the guy’s wife is fine with it, everyone will wonder whether she’s sleeping her way to the top and that’ll handicap her, essentially cancelling any advantage of the mentorship.  Furthermore, women who could be mentors avoid mentoring other women because they fear being labelled feminist troublemakers.  Why don’t men fear mentoring other men for fear they’ll be labelled – what, part of the old boys’ network?

All that aside, it seems to me that mentoring is unfair: it makes ‘it’s who you know not what you know’ true.  Merit becomes not the sole criterion for advancement.

Though perhaps mentoring counters chance.  Chance is unfair too.  With mentoring, those who do get doors opened for them are those who deserve it.  But to say ‘All A are B’ doesn’t mean ‘All B are A’: to say ‘All those who are mentored have merit’ doesn’t mean ‘All those with merit become mentored’.  And, of course, I’m not sure mentors choose their protégés according to merit.

So why do mentors choose who they choose?  Why do mentors mentor at all?  I wonder if it isn’t just some primitive lineage impulse in action.  You know… men need a son, someone to carry on the family name.  And since it’s more and more unlikely that men have actual sons in a position to be their protégés …  Do mentors tend to choose sons of friends when available?  Do they tend to choose people who are twenty to thirty years younger, in the ‘son’ age bracket?  What about women who mentor?  (More likely, their motive is social justice, not personal legacy.)

I’m not saying people shouldn’t seek, or give, advice and guidance.  That’s not what mentoring is all about.  A mentor does more than that: a mentor introduces you to influential people in the organization, facilitates your entry to meetings and activities usually attended by high-level people, publicly praises your accomplishments and abilities, recommends you for promotion, and so on.  But see here’s the thing.  Introductions should be unnecessary.  Meetings attended by high level personnel shouldn’t be open to others.  Everyone’s accomplishments and abilities should be praised publicly.  Only your immediate supervisor or some named designate should be able to recommend you for a  promotion.  And so on.

In any case, the need for mentors means the organization isn’t structured to advance based on merit.  So shouldn’t mentors’ efforts instead be directed to making sure that it is?  To making sure that mentors aren’t needed?  You shouldn’t need a mentor to open doors because the doors shouldn’t be locked.  You shouldn’t need a mentor to give you inside information because there shouldn’t be any inside information: an organization’s policies and procedures should be written out for all to read, perhaps even presented at a new employee training session (and there should be no unwritten policies, no under-the-table procedures); any preferences for application materials, be it for a job, a promotion, or a grant, should be stated on the application form itself, or perhaps explained in a separate ‘Tips for Applicants’ sheet; and knowledge of any available job, promotion, or grant should be freely accessible to all.  Influential people should use their influence only in formal channels; their authority should only be that vested in them by the terms of their job description.

Men are so proud of not mixing pleasure and business, of separating the personal from the public.  Bullshit.  Aren’t a lot of critical connections, let alone decisions, made on the golf course?  At the bar?  Between conference sessions?  It seems that by ‘personal’ and ‘pleasure’ they just mean women – wives, daughters, sexual liaisons.  They leave the women in their lives out of consideration.  But their relationships with their buddies and their sons – these are very much brought into the workplace.

 

[1] “Formal and Informal Mentorships: A Comparison on Mentoring Functions and Contrast with Non-mentored Counterparts,” Georgia T. Chao and Pat M. Walz  Personnel Psychology 45.3 (1992)

[2] “Much Ado about Mentors,”  B. Roche.  Harvard Business Review 5.7 (1979)

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