Vote? WTF?

So I noticed the “Question of the Day” feature on the Weather Network website, which typically poses a question along with four response options, inviting site visitors to “Vote”. I haven’t done a survey, but I suspect this sort of thing is not unusual.

Which makes it all the more disturbing.

Why? Because often the question is a matter of fact. For example, on September 5, the question was “Which of these animals is Saskatchewan’s provincial animal?” And four options were provided: Caribou, White-tailed deer, Bison, Spirit bear, Big horn sheep.

(Other times, the question is something like “Did this summer feel longer, shorter, or the same as other summers?” And site visitors are invited to “view the results”. What self-respecting adult cares or is even curious about such a thing?)

To vote means to express your preference as part of a decision-making process. Voting on facts is an oxymoron. (What, if the majority believe the world is flat, it is?) The feature should be titled “Test your knowledge” and invite site visitors to indicate the correct answer.

It would be disturbing enough if it was just an incorrect use of our language. Or, if not evidence of ignorance, then evidence of sloppiness, of inattentiveness. Because this is not some obscure little site. This is The Weather Network.

But along with relentless requests for feedback at every second site and the ubiquitous “Like” feature, the effect of such “voting” is to make us feel engaged with the world when we are so not. It instils a false sense of self-worth in people who are, let’s be frank, pretty worthless.

(Only in part because they’re taking the time to express their opinions on such trivial matters.)

(And probably not taking the time to develop and express informed opinions on matters of importance.)

Transgendered Courage

Transgendered people are often seen as courageous; they have the guts to take radical steps to become the people they really are. But I don’t see them as any different from people, mostly women, who get nip-and-tuck surgeries, botox, and breast enlargements. After all, they too take radical steps to become the people they feel they really are – youthful and sexually attractive.

I understand the mismatch between what’s inside and what’s outside. Really I do. I look like a middle-aged woman. But I don’t feel like a middle-aged woman. At all. I feel like a young gun, still burning at both ends. Mixed metaphor and all.

Transgendered people aren’t snubbing sex stereotypes; they’re reinforcing them. You’re in a woman’s body but you don’t feel like a woman? You don’t want to wear make-up, high heels, and a dress? You’re not into gossip and giggles? So don’t do any of that shit.  You’d rather play football and fix the car?  So do that shit instead.  You don’t need to get a male body.

You’re in a male body but you’d really like to wear lavender chiffon and spend the day baking cupcakes and arranging flowers? So do it.

If we had more people with the courage to just do what they wanted to do, regardless of what others think they should do based on their indefensible notion of a sexual dichotomy based, in turn, on physical appearance, if we had more people who were willing to stand up to the consequent taunts and ostracization, maybe eventually the taunts and ostracization would disappear.

We Won!

“We won!” a neighbor crows to me. Apparently she’d watched a game of some kind on television the night before.

“What ‘we’?” I snort. Okay, scoff. “You had nothing to do with it.” She probably spent the whole game, and much of her life, eating potato chips and drinking beer.

The conversation ends. She can’t think about it.

She can’t see that her enthusiasm is manufactured. That her ‘support’ for her team isn’t support at all. That ‘her’ team isn’t her team at all. She can’t see that she’s been deluded into thinking that she’s somehow part of it, that she somehow has a stake in it.

Another neighbor, who’d been watching the Olympics, says the same thing. “We won!”

I point out to her as well that she had nothing to do with it.

“Well,” she makes a lame attempt to justify her feelings, “we’re Canadian.”

“I’m Canadian. But when I get a book published, you don’t cheer ‘We got published!'”

And if you did, I’d smack you upside the head.

How can she feel even a little bit of pride and achievement? She did nothing! Not one push-up, not one lap around the track.

“Well,” she tries again, “I support the team with my taxes.”

“And you support my writing with your taxes as well. Whenever I get a grant from the Arts Council,” I explain.

She still doesn’t see it. She doesn’t see that her emotions are being manipulated by the sports corporations, who want to deliver as many potential customers as possible to the companies who buy the advertisements that pay their salaries, because the more viewers, the more they can charge for those advertisements.

Quite apart from that, it’s no coincidence that sports are dominated by men. Or, rather, it’s no coincidence that it’s predominantly men’s sports that get television coverage. It’s just another way of making sure men are the center of the universe. My god, how many television stations are devoted to just sports? Why in god’s name does sport get a regular time slot in the daily news? As if men playing a game is as important as a war! And more important than the changing of our climate (which doesn’t get a regular time slot in the daily news)!

Which makes her ‘We won!’ just a little bit ironic.

No Advertising in Public Space

I once read a sci fi novel in which holographic ads suddenly appeared in front of you, ‘blocking’ your way, almost continuously, as you made your way down a city street. It made me imagine people paid by perfume companies wandering through the streets assailing me with sample sprays…

I am a strong advocate of prohibiting all advertising in public spaces. There is no justification for the desires of one person, let alone the desire of one person for money, to be imposed on everyone. Furthermore, there are enough alternative venues for advertising (radio, tv, newspapers, magazines, websites, malls), all of which, unlike, often, public space, can be used or not (especially as long as there are advertising-free radio, tv, magazine, and website options), making the use of public space is simply unnecessary.

We should be able to go about our lives without the constant assault on the senses, on the mind, that is advertising. Of course this is an argument made by someone who notices ads, who pays attention to her environment, who thinks about what she sees. For most people, ads are not such an assault, because they’re unconsciously perceived. But then they’re even more coercive, subliminally manipulative, and even more indefensible in public space.

Advertising is not only cognitively coercive, but physically dangerous when it appears on roadsides, especially in animated form, which shameless tries to take drivers’ attention off the road. Would we allow drivers to watch tv, similarly visual content with moving images, while they drive?

An additional argument applies to natural environment public space (forest, field, lake, ocean) which is, to my mind, beautiful (or at least more beautiful than city). In this case, there is the added transgression of the destruction of beauty. It was a sad, sad day when advertising was allowed along the perimeter of the rink and even on the ice during figure skating performances. Years to achieve the perfect lines, sullied by persisting, in-your-face, BUY-MY-SHIT signs we can’t help but see while we try to focus on the beauty. (And it’s not like the sign enhances the beauty. It’s not like the sign itself is remotely beautiful.)

Would those of us who can hear allow a deaf person to make a clamour with cymbals all day long? Then why do we allow aesthetically-challenged CEOs to do the same? Why do we allow our natural beauty to be degraded, destroyed, piece by piece, by those who are, obviously, blind to its beauty? Is it because we don’t recognize the beauty or because we don’t value it (or, at least, don’t value it over the individual pursuit of money). (Seriously? Do we really believe that an individual’s desire for money trumps so much?) (Well, no, the people with the power to make regulations believe that. And they are as aesthetically-challenged. And often CEOs.)

 

Men who need Mom to clean up after them

I spend a lot of time walking on the dirt roads near by place, as well as on the old logging roads through the forest. Twice a year, I take a large garbage bag with me to pick up the litter – mostly beer cans and fast food containers, but often whole plastic bags of garbage have been tossed in among the trees. (Lately, I’ve had to take two large garbage bags.)

I typically wait until the fall, because it seems the summer people litter more than those of us who live here, and I typically wait until after the spring hunt, because it seems the hunters leave quite a bit of trash.

I have always suspected that men litter more than women, and I’ve come across a statistic supporting my hunch: males do 72% of deliberate littering and are responsible for 96% of accidental littering (http://www.greenecoservices.com/myths-and-facts-litter/).

Why is this so? I think it’s because ‘cleaning up after’ is seen as a woman’s task. (This thought occurred to me when one guy slowed down as he passed me in his truck, while I was on one of my litter pick-up walks, and called out, “Good girl! Good to see you’re good for something!”) After all, wasn’t it Mom who cleaned up after them when they were kids? (Mom did the cleaning; Dad did the fixing.) Of course the generalization from Mom to all women is a mistake: “Mom cleaned up after me, Mom is a woman, so women should clean up after me” is the same as “Princess is a kitten, Princess is white, so white things are/should be kittens”. But I doubt these morons can think in a — well, I doubt these morons can think.

Of course a mistake is made too in thinking that when you’re old enough to drink beer and buy your own fast food, you’re still a kid who needs Mom or a woman to clean up after you. (No, wait, I’m making the mistake there – I’m confusing chronological age with developmental age.)

Rethinking Nero and the Gas Chamber Accompanists

One of the most memorable scenes for me from all the movies I’ve seen is the one in The Titanic when it’s clear the ship is sinking, they’re all going to die, and the first violinist of the chamber group looks to each member of the group and receives confirmation that ‘Yes, of course, we’re going to do this’ — not because it’s their job (like that sad character in McKeller’s Last Night) or because they want to soothe or distract the hysterical (who surely won’t be paying any attention), but because they’re musicians. And, despite their gig on the Titanic, music is everything. So what a way to die! To have as the last thing on one’s mind that score, to have that beautiful music be the last thing one hears, to draw the bow with one’s last breath —

So Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the people who played as the others walked to the gas chambers — not cowardice (because I’ve wondered what I would’ve done if I’d been given the order to play), not callousness, not endorsement, not mockery, not even comfort. But respect. If I can do nothing, at least I will give (you) beauty, I will honor (your) life with all of my skill and all of my art —

Dismissing Philosophers

“Yes, well, that’s a philosophical question, isn’t it.” So, what, the question’s unimportant? Because it can’t be answered with quantitative certainty? But philosophical questions can be answered with more or less strength, more or less adequacy.

Also, since there’s no absolutely right or wrong answer to most philosophical questions, the consensus seems to be that anyone can ‘do’ philosophy.  In one sense, that’s true.  Anyone can do philosophy.  Anyone can do physics too.  It’s just that incompetence, inadequacy, will be more apparent in the latter case.  Because there are right and wrong answers.  Most of the time.  At least at the lower levels.

But that’s true of much philosophy too.  It’s just that we haven’t trained people to see mistakes in reasoning as much as we’ve trained them to see mistakes in arithmetic.  (Which is, partly, why people mistakenly think all opinions are equally valid.)

Not only are philosophical questions dismissed, philosophers too are dismissed.  After all, they’re no better than the rest of us.  Their opinions are no more valid.  I’m starting to see the dismissal of scientists in the same way: it occurs when the person doesn’t understand science – after all, if you don’t understand the scientific process of hypothesis formulation and testing, if you don’t understand how scientists arrive at their opinions, you won’t consider scientific opinions any more valid.  Similarly with philosophers: if you don’t understand the relationship of premise and conclusion, the necessity of relevance…

So you want to be a Nurselady

And even though you don’t know any other guys who want to be nurseladies, you persist.  Because quite simply, you think you’ll like nursing, as a career, a job, an endeavour.  So you take your high school maths and sciences, you do quite well, and you get accepted into nursing school.

Where almost all the students are women.  You feel like you don’t really belong, you feel odd, you stand out.  There are a few other men in the class and at first you hang around with them, but you don’t really like them.  Part of you thinks you should like them, but, well, you just don’t.  You try hanging around with some of the women, and they’re pleasant enough and they talk to you, but you never get included in their group things outside of class.  So you become a loner, part of nothing, sort of invisible.  But you persist, you keep coming to class.

All the profs are women and they keep saying things like “Well, ladies…” as if you weren’t there.  There’s one who makes a point of adding, as a cute afterthought, “and gentlemen”, but something in her tone bugs you and you’d rather she just stick to “Well, ladies”.  And there’s another one who asked once why, with your build, you weren’t playing football instead.  You were speechless.  But you persist, you don’t drop out.  (Even though you wonder sometimes at the average marks you get for work you think is above average.)

There’s only one men’s washroom in the whole building.  On particularly bad days, it annoys you when you have to go to a different floor just to go to the washroom.

And it seems that some knowledge is assumed as background.  Things like how to hold a baby.  How are you supposed to know what they haven’t taught you yet?

And there are no nursing uniforms for you in the campus shop.  Something special has to be ordered.  It’s different, of course, and makes you stand out even more, as someone who doesn’t really belong with the group.  This is especially bad in the training hospital – people keep thinking you’re security or something.  Sometimes it seems you have to spend so much time and effort just getting accepted as a nurse, you don’t have anything left to actually do any nursing.

But you persist.  Even though you probably won’t get a job when you graduate – men are thought to be not as emotionally sensitive, you’ve already been criticized for being gruff (you swear you were just speaking normally).  And if you do get a job, it’ll probably be in some no-name hospital god-knows-where with no chance for advancement.  None of the headnurses in any of the hospitals you’ve been in were men.  But you persist.

One day it occurs to you that it would help if they stopped calling it ‘nurselady’ and just called it ‘nurse’.  When you suggest that, you get weird looks as if you’re obsessed with sex or over-reacting (or both).  A few agree to use just ‘nurse’, but the way they say it defeats the purpose.  The same sort of thing happened when you said something about the uniforms and the washrooms.  You were criticized for making a fuss.  But you persist.  Because damn it you want to be a nurse!

Cellphone Syndrome

Originally written when cellphones first appeared.  Don’t think I’d change a thing.

Has there been a more transparent advertisement of insecurity?

Look at me, I’m so popular!  Everyone’s calling me!  I have so many friends!  Answer that thing one more time when I’m with you, you’ll have one less.

Look at me, I’m so busy!  I have so many calls to make, so many calls to take!  What you have is a total inability to actually enjoy life.

Look at me, I’m so important!  Excuse me, I have to take this call!  No.  You don’t.  You are not a doctor on call.  You are not a top-level executive.  Neither your presence nor your opinion is urgently required.  Anywhere.  By anyone.

Frankly, it’s frightening.  Suddenly all these men are making calls on their cellphones while they’re driving.  Just yesterday they couldn’t even dial a phone while sitting at a desk, they had to get their secretaries to do it for them.

And of course it’s annoying as hell.  Just what makes people think the rest of the world wants to listen to every word of their unbearably inane conversations?  “Hey, Jen.  We’re at the Van Houtte on St. Laurent.  Yeah.  Just ordered.  No.  Not yet.  We’re waiting.  Coffee.”

Of course people have been having conversations in cafes and stores, and on sidewalks and buses, for quite some time.  It’s not an invasion of public space.  Unless the person TALKS LOUDLY ENOUGH EVERYONE CAN’T HELP BUT HEAR.  Then it’s an advertisement of the immaturity of overriding self-importance.

But that doesn’t explain why a person talking loudly on a cellphone in public is even more annoying than two people having a loud conversation in public.  Why is that?  I think it’s because in the case of the cellphone conversation, we hear only half of the conversation.  However annoying the whole conversation would be, half of it is even worse.  It’s like hearing only every second work in a sentence.  (Speaking of which, remember the early “ – ar ph – s”?)  This occurred to me when I heard someone speaking on a cellphone in a language I didn’t understand.  It wasn’t quite as bad.  I wasn’t engaged against my will in a frustrating half-comprehensible experience.

But what’s most worrisome about the widespread use of cellphones is that it indicates not progress, but regress.  We are, in fact, devolving.  Imagine, for a moment, what it would’ve been like to have been the first one in your cave to discover thought, the first one to hear words, inside your head.  It’s a neat and handy trick – not having to say out loud everything that occurs to you.  And one of the more valuable side-effects of being able to think is being able to evaluate – to deliberate, to compare, to measure.  (And to realize that not everything that occurs to you is worth saying out loud.)  But we’ve gone backwards – from “I think, therefore I am” to “I talk, therefore I am.”  (I wonder if cellphone users can read without moving their lips.)

Given the recent increase in attention deficit (what we used to call ‘a short attention span’) (usually in reference to children and other less advanced creatures), the cellphone phenomenon is not surprising: it takes a certain amount of attention or concentration to think – to focus on and follow that little voice inside your head.  It used to be that doing two things at once meant your ability to concentrate was so good, you could divide your attention.  Now it means that your ability to concentrate is so bad, you can’t pay attention to any one thing for more than ten seconds.

(Either that or you don’t care enough to pay attention to anything or anyone for more than ten seconds.)

And maybe cellphones wouldn’t have become the annoyance they are if everyone hadn’t ditched their landline phones.  Because now the ONLY place you can have a phone conversation is OUTSIDE.  Wherever the signal is good.  Whether that happens to be outside someone’s bedroom window or one foot away from a stranger waiting for a bus, well, no matter.  Your conversation takes priority.  To everything and everyone.  Apparently.

This weather brought to you by…

“A deep freeze continues to sweep through Europe, mudslides and avalanches caused by heavy rains and snowmelt in Oregon and Washington have prompted evacuation notices, prolonged drought continues to devastate much of the American Midwest, Texas, and Mexico, with many areas now being without rain for over 200 days, and flash fires continue to rage throughout those areas, a heat wave in Australia continues unabated with temperatures well over 100 degrees, there are tornado alerts for regions throughout Tennessee and Oklahoma, Hurricane Gordon has touched down in Florida, swift on the heels of Hurricane Florence, flash floods are rampant in southern parts of Africa, and torrential rains have Brazil still in a state of emergency.”

This weather brought to you by everyone who’s driven a gas-guzzling minivan, pick-up, or SUV in the last thirty years, everyone who still makes unnecessary trips, and everyone who still lets their vehicle idle while they’re somewhere else doing whatever the fuck they’re doing.