Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Russell Brand's Politics

I want to look at a few things Russell Brand has to say - in print and on video (quotations below are from both).  As Elizabeth Renzetti said in yesterday's Globe & Mail, he's resonating with people.  But, as she also suggests, he's not going far enough clearly enough for others to follow.  It reminds me of the Canadian film The Trotsky in which a young rebel tries to encourage a student protest.  (*spoiler alert*)  In the end, they all decide that he hasn't really thought it through all the way, but who cares?  It's clear we so desperately need a revolution.  We might not know exactly how our world should look, but we know it's not like this.

We need guys like this.  
Renzetti refers to Brand's rant as a generational conflict, but she seems to forget that Brand is almost 40, and he's lived a long life.  Sure Paxman is older, but many people implicit in the system Brand condemns are not.  He's not a rebellious youth; Brand is practically middle aged!  And it's dangerous to frame the argument as about age because that alienates the older supporters and dismisses some important ideas as part and parcel of a childish naivete spewed by the adolescents of the day.

Brand's not a rebel without a cause.  He is saying something important, more than just a stance on voting, and people are starting to listen:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On Regulating Smoking for Youth

Letter to the Editor in the Record today.  It's hard for me to stick to 200 words!

Make it illegal for teenagers to smoke
RE: Ontario bans youth from tanning beds — Oct. 10

I was ecstatic to see that a bill banning youth from tanning beds passed unanimously in the Ontario legislature. Malignant melanoma causes more than 1,000 deaths per year in Canada.

But it's baffling that 20 times as many people die each year from lung cancer, and smoking is still a legal hobby for youth and children to pursue. It's illegal to give or sell a cigarette to anyone under 19, but they can smoke 'em if they got 'em. And, somehow, they always manage to get them.

Tanning beds can be habit-forming for some, but smoking is physically addictive. If tobacco producers can get them when they're young, they can own them for life. If we can pass legislation to prevent youth from starting until their brains are mature enough to make good decisions, then we can make a huge dent in the leading cause of preventable deaths.

We've tried stopping the flow through various regulations at stores, and it's proved minimally effective. If we really care about our youth, we will make it illegal for anyone under 19 to smoke. Teenagers smoking in public should be fined the way they would if they were caught drinking in public.

And then we'd really be saving their skins.

 Marie Snyder Waterloo

If you agree, take a minute to tell your MPP (Catherine Fife's link is here)!

ETA - My 17-year-old son took offence at the suggestion that teenagers have immature brains, but I'm using this study as my backing.  There it is.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

On Strong Women

the infamous album
I want to start with the admission that the first CD I ever got was Sinead O'Connor's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got.  It's attached to some fond personal memories.  I was wakened in bed by my partner with the CD in hand as an "anytime present," then went downstairs to find an actual CD player all set up!  And I'm still overly fond of the album because of the association.

I loved that she was political yet beautiful, and that she used the SNL forum to make a political statement.  Her aim, well above the fluff of pop music, made her admirable.  I wished I had been brave enough to shave my head.


Margaret Trudeau on Mental Health

There's a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in.  - Leonard Cohen  

From CBC Books
I had the fortune of seeing Margaret Trudeau speak on mental health a few days ago.  She told her life story in exactly an hour with great intensity and humour.  She peppered her speech on mental illness with snippets of the stuff I remembered as a child - the hippie skirts then later dancing at Studio 54.  I'm of the age to have wanted to emulated her audacity.  She was the Prime Minister's wife, yet she didn't let that box her into being a stereotype - at all.

She wrote a book a couple years ago, Changing My Mind, which made her plight with mental illness public.  

She talked about the many things that might have triggered her bi-polar condition.  She always had a greater range of emotions, but it was kept in check by her mom who made her life regular: eating, sleeping, and playing all regularly.  But things happened to her that made things worse: a concussion as a child, no regularity at university, pot smoking, loneliness as the PM's wife, post-partum depression, and then profound grief when her son died.  She was "mad with grief."  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

If You Build It, They Will Come - Really!

Photo Cred: Harrogate Cycling Group
In today's Record, Jeff Outhit comes very close to suggesting that if we bike in K-W, we should expect to get hit by a car.  It's not safe out there:  "...riding a bicycle to work is dangerous and counter to common sense."

Counter to common sense.  Later on he uses the term, "unwise."

I'm with him sort of... K-W feels like it's not a cycling-friendly city.  But to suggest that people who cycle in the city lack common sense is to shame the cyclists and add to the prevailing sentiment that cyclists shouldn't be on the road where weary drivers are likely to smash into them and crush them all to bits.

But if we look at it another way - by the number of collisions involving cyclists and those just involving cars - cyclists in Waterloo Region make up only 1% of total collisions, and, in Canada, less than 1% of fatalities.  That number is on par with the number of cyclists commuting to work compared to vehicles, so really, statistically, it's no more dangerous to bike than to get behind the wheel.  It's actually most dangerous to be a passenger in a car (especially on Fridays between 4 and 5 pm).

Sunday, October 6, 2013

On Celebrating Talent

Convalescing from a wicked cold that's beating the crap out of me, I watched a trio of movies about amazing musicians: Joe Strummer, Ginger Baker, and Sixto Rodriguez.  In the films, other musical geniuses were highlighted along the way.  What a delight!  But as Ginger, Jack and Eric talked about people with the gift of perfect time, my first reflexive response was, "How many kids are told they can be a great musician if they just put their mind to it?".

In class this week, yet another student insisted that intelligence has minimal genetic basis compared to effort.  Anybody can do anything if they try hard enough.  I suggested there are people her age still struggling with the alphabet and lamented the ivory tower effect of streamed academic courses.  I don't think it was very convincing.  I'm battling a life-time of programming.  In high-school, I struggled with grade 13 physics.  Both my parents were math and physics profs at U of W, yet with their unwavering help, and the help of my teacher, I still couldn't get my head around that whole inclined plane issue.*  It's just not how my brain works.

And that's okay.