Monday, January 20, 2014

Further to York University's Discrimination Issues...

If you haven't heard, a York University prof denied a student's request to work in all male groups for religious reasons.  York's Centre for Human Rights suggested the student should be granted the request to avoid being with women in public.   I commented with my views here:
I see education as a stepping stone for the working world. If he expects to work in Canada, he has to get used to working with women, so it's in the male student's best interest to find a way to cope with this expectation within a Canadian institution.
Then today I was reviewing the new Ontario Curriculum for Social Sciences and Humanities for a course I'm teaching, and I came across this bit:
"Accommodations consistent with the board’s religious accommodations guidelines must be made for students from various faith communities – for example, same-sex partnering for small-group activities may be required" (43).    
That's in the section called "Equity and Inclusive Education."  So it appears we're to be inclusive by honouring a wide variety of moral precepts even if there's an inherent sexism within.  But, of course, what if my religion sees a specific ethnicity or race as unclean and basically scum, and suggests I "smite them, and utterly destroy them" (Deuteronomy 7:2)?  It seems far less likely to see accommodations made to avoid a specific race within a Canadian governmental publication.  And that's a problem.  It's not, of course, that we should all be allowed to avoid communicating with undesirables or anyone that might awaken temptation if it's suggested by our religion, but that nobody should be able use religion to be exclusionary.  It seems to me a religious doctrine cannot be allowed to override human rights in a Canadian institution.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Tao of Environmentalism

At Politics Respun, Stephen Elliott-Buckley suggests we make decarbonizing our New Year's resolution.  In a fit of frustration, I commented thusly:

What does it look like to join you? I mean I'm totally in, but what do I do to "seriously begin to decarbonize"? 
How to stop this?
I already don't own a car, freezer, clothes drier, or A/C, and I've got solar panels for electricity, but I still heat my house with natural gas. Do I have to get a fireplace and go completely off-grid - using zero fossil fuels - because my neighbours already think I'm a bit weird for the panels? 
I already write to Harper enough he sent my an 8x10 signed glossy as if he's a rock star getting fan mail, but my letters aren't having much of an effect. I can't convince many of my students that climate change is a tragedy caused by our unfettered use of energy, so I can't convince them to write angry letters or protest either. They tolerate having the lights off when I teach on sunny days, but I can't get other teachers to turn them off as well.
I'll keep trying on all these fronts, but I fear there are more of them than us. Most people just won't fight to end their own conveniences. Not yet, and, therefore, not nearly soon enough. 
Like the plethora of sites that tell us HOW to lose ten pounds with one neat trick, we need to know the next steps. HOW do we convince the elites - or even just our neighbours and friends - to radically change our world? How do we change the minds of the many who are happy with Harper? How radical are we willing to be to save our species?
His very sympathetic response, in part, after a good-for-you bit, went like this:
Teachers, I find, are not a terribly progressive bunch. I knew maybe 5% of people on staff, when I was a teacher, who understood what walking the talk looks like. But keep trying and cling to those colleagues who do get it. 
We convince the elites by threatening their power. Elected or wannabe-elected politicians need our support. If we can mobilize to hold that support in the balance, based on obeying our climate agenda, we will win. It’s mobilizing that effort. But when the federal green party [generally a pro-capitalist/consumer party] SUPPORTS* the tarsands, we have a long way to go. 
And it may just make more ice storms, Calgary/Toronto floods and effects of climate change to wake up the apathetic and complacent people. But by then it may be too late. We’ll have to see.
So...okay.   We just have to mobilize people who are largely apathetic or ignorant, but we might not be able to in time.

My point exactly.

The Tyee also has a call out to become "conscious, anti-consumerist warriors."  Like Politics Respun, they call 2014, "...the year of living - and giving - consciously.  Up until now, we haven't been serious."

Well, speak for yourself - although I was convinced to donate more.  But, once again, how to convince the masses?

We tend to see it all as a problem of justice, of stopping the evilness of the few.  But, it's not that the 1% are making evil decisions that need to be rectified, but that the masses are benefitting too greatly from many of these decisions to ever really try to stop them.  We think we're the good, but I'm not so convinced.  Scott Neigh has a post up that says it better:
"Some of us are the passive beneficiaries (and often celebrators) of the brutal violence that our state dishes out. Some of us are the exploited but still relatively privileged guardians and enforcers of how things are. That doesn't mean that life is all sunshine and roses. That doesn't mean that resistance isn't necessary, or even that resistance to oppression and exploitation isn't integral to daily life in important ways for many white North Americans -- it clearly is, and that is something to acknowledge, respect, support, and nurture....In real life, most of humanity is not clearly divided into the righteous, the shepherds, and the tyranny of evil men -- the lives of most ordinary people express a mix of the three."
It's not us against them. It's us against us.

And then I watched this George Carlin anti-environmentist rant, and it provoked a few thoughts.  (Sorry, lots of swears, of course: it's freakin' George Carlin!)

Carlin says the planet will be fine.  I agree a big mass will likely continue on, pretty definitely, but its ability to support life might not – or not for a long time. So the fight is not just about people but about all other living things. Extinctions happen, but not at this rate. We really have sped thing up.  And, closer to his point, it's never happened to us before!  

Our "indicator species" are messed up
I've said before that our problem is that we're viruses, and that we're too compassionate to live within nature since we want to make sure as many of us live as possible (but not too compassionate, however, to allow many to live horribly for the conveniences of the few).  A student recently gave me another analogy to use:  we're like an invasive species.  We're doing all we can to survive and spread to our outer limits, just like every other creature in the world, except we have no predators here.  There are no outer limits - yet.  Or, another way to see it is we're like the fox/mouse cycle in nature except with a really long scale.  We will hit that food shortage that will finally keep our population in check, just maybe not before we hit fatal hydrogen sulfide levels in our air.  That'll work too.

Long-term survival of the species requires selfish acts to keep the world going in the future - yes it is about us - but they work against the selfish acts to keep us entertained and convenienced in the present.  And it all comes back to Plato's admonishment that we need to be taught the art of measurement (the ability to measure future rewards/consequences against those closer and more current).  I'm not convinced we can be taught.

So maybe Carlin's right about this:  We are arrogant to think we are better able to deal with this than any other animal.  You'd think we have large enough brains to see the long game - and a few do, but not the same few who hold all the power.  The powerful bunch are the survivors defending their territory (in dollars) and spreading out as far as they can, in denial of the potential for a major total-planet catastrophe.  And, a key problem is, if the ones who see the long game get power, they sometimes start amassing wealth instead.   If we're offered enough cash today to ignore the problems of tomorrow, not many can resist that deal.  And those that can resist, often don't go for the power anyway, so they remain impotent to change anything.  It's a conundrum.  

Unlike what we understand of most mammals' grasp of the world, humans have the ability to understand time - to look to the past in order to predict the future.  But a fat lot of good it does us!!  

And the Tao Te Ching (ch. 29, which I've also discussed before) backs up Carlin's rant:
"Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.
The world is sacred. It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.
There is a time for being ahead, a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion, a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous, a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe, a time for being in danger.  
The Master sees things as they are, without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way, and resides at the center of the circle."
It's certainly more calming to accept that this is the way of the world, and it's not something we can change.  We can barely manage to keep our own house in order much less worldwide eco-systems.

But is refusing to keep badgering the politicians and our friends and relations just giving up and admitting defeat or is it accepting the way of the world?  Or does it just feel like a cop-out?  It certainly feels more selfish to decide to turn up the heat than it does to try to convince governments to shut down the tar sands.  It feels better to be part of the solution even if it's really out of our hands, but maybe just because we like spinning our wheels.

As Carlin suggests glibly, "So pack your shit, folks; we're goin' away!"

*I can't find a link to any news that says the Greens support the tar sands, but I did find one that says the NDP supports a Canadian west-to-east pipeline.  Drag.  When Mulcair said "no" to a wealth tax, it gave credence to a suspected shift:  the Liberals are the new Conservatives, and the NDP are the new Liberals.  And I fear we don't really have a significant left-leaning party anymore when we really need one.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

On the New Math

Elizabeth Renzetti has a funny and somewhat insightful article in the Globe & Mail today about our obsession with math.

In a nutshell, we're equating math with jobs.  She says,
"The problem is that we have started to think of our children as future employees, even the ones who can't yet put on their own snow suits, and the world as increasily Hobbesian battle for a few good slots in the matrix."
Math isn't all there is to life; it's true.  And I think it's folly to compare ourselves with China and other countries where the culture is a huge factor in their math scores.  We've chosen to raise children who hang out with friends and family in the evenings and on weekends.  There's no teaching method that will have Canada rise above a country that praises a 24/7 work ethic.  We can't have both, and I think we made the better choice on that one.

But what Renzetti doesn't talk about is another reason for the recent concerns:  the way math is being taught now.  It's a shift from rote learning of basics to "conceptual-based" math.  Let's take multiplication as an example.  We all used to learn one standard way to multiply two-digit numbers, now there are a variety of strategies.  Sometimes more strategies is better, but sometimes it's just confusing and unnecessary.  As one math prof says,
"The lack of structure in the curriculum really interferes with the students' ability to become procedurally competent enough, so when they're challenged with higher level math, their working memory overloads, and they're completely confused and can't cope. But it's not because the children are stupid or unable [to do it]. It's just that the structure of the learning experience has been too casual."
That one method that was drilled in our heads was - and is - very effective.  And now that we're seeing that this new way that offers numerous strategies and requires written explanations to prove understand - "Why does 7 x 6 equal 42?" - isn't working as well as we hoped, and the numbers are starting to look bad for us, hopefully we'll switch back.

I know it's new, but prove to me that it's improved, because the two don't always go together.

The same thing happened when I was a kid, and we learned a 44-letter alphabet to teach us how to read better.  Luckily, my mom taught me to read at home already, but I still can't spell worth beans.  When that failed across the board, we went back to regular phonetic learning for an interim until some guru discovered the "whole language" method - which was also a disaster.  We're currently back to sounding out words again because it's worked for a really, really long time.

It's great for kids to be able to follow their passion and learn to love school because it's so creative and fun, but the basic fundamentals take some repetitive drilling to really stick.  And that's okay.  Drills aren't the enemy.  School doesn't have to be fun and exciting all the time.  Sometimes a little tedious work is good for us!   And a mix of teacher-driven mandatory lessons with student-driven creativity has lasted the test of time. 

But, one thing really bugs me about all this:  Nobody is accountable for introducing a method that didn't have multiple examples of impressive, significant, peer-reviewed research conducted by persons independent of profit-driven education-materials production companies.  If we're going to make sweeping changes to the way we teach, it better be because we have solid proof that the new way really IS better.  But, when there isn't, it's nobody's fault that the education - and sometimes the livelihood - of many students has been messed up.  It's nobody's responsibility.  The buck stops nowhere.

Parents, and sometimes the Minister of Ed, will blame the teachers, but the teachers have to follow the curriculum and current procedural fads.  The cleverer ones might sneak in the old ways alongside the new methods, but that's the best they can do.  A decade ago, my son's french immersion math teach sent home regular math homework in English (shhh) so the kids wouldn't get behind because of the language.  I loved her for that!

I recently saw The Wolf of Wall Street.  It's a great piece of entertainment, and, in the end, the top guys get busted.  We like it in a story when people pay for the mistakes they made.  But in education, the Minister of Ed, often someone with little knowledge of teaching beyond having been in a school decades earlier, approves the new rules then walks away.  It's like a general, who's never seen the front lines, giving orders to the troops - a little dubious at best.  They see the big picture, but sometimes they don't entirely understand what it's like on the ground.  And the fallout is a matter of numbers, statistics, not real people struggling to manage the next grade when they couldn't get their heads around the previous one.

But I'm old school.  I use a blackboard instead of power points.  I tell kids stuff, get them to work with the ideas in a variety of ways, remind them of the stuff over and over, quiz them orally from time to time, then give them a test on it.  And for the most part they learn it.  I'm encouraged to play more games and spend more time on computers and give lots of freedom and choices with the teacher no longer at the front of the room.  I tried that for a couple years, and it's not nearly as effective.  That is to say, it wasn't as effective in my class, but a different teacher might do better with computers and games and student-run classrooms. Teachers see first hand what works and what doesn't for them.  But we get little say in the decision-making.  When we figure out what works for us, we should be allowed to run with it always with an eye on current studies.

Renzetti closes with a call to relax from a NYU education prof who clarifies, "[Math] scores tell us nothing about the students' imagination, their drive, their ability to ask good questions, their insight, their inventiveness, their creativity."

True that, but I still want my kids to know how to multiply.

Friday, January 10, 2014

On Self-Obsession and Self-Hatred

Today some students were discussing Victoria Secrets models.  Some of the girls have significant contempt for the women that show off the latest fashions in lingerie.  It's curious to me that I don't think I ever felt that way in high-school even though it seems to be the dominant mindset.  I don't know if it's because I studied art or if it's why I studied art, but as far as I recall, I've always been able to separate the ideals of beauty from my own body-image stuff.

Magazine ads and articles are often slagged for teaching girls to live up to an unrealistic ideal.  I wonder if, for someone deleteriously affected by the magazines or runway shows, that there's something amiss already. I think it has to do with a growing sense of entitlement.

We're a covetous lot.  Many of us don't even know what that means not to mention why it's a problem. When we see something, we don't even try to stop ourselves from dwelling on our desire for it.  We just want it.  And we work for it, and take out a loan, and own it.  And we're happy - briefly.  So many of the early philosophers spilled a lot of ink on the benefits of reducing our desires that I think they were probably on to something.

From time to time we're set up against something we can't so easily own, like a perfectly symmetrical face and slender body both faithful to fibonacci's proportions.  Because the mind-set is to get it, we suffer cognitive dissonance when we fail until we decide the problem isn't with us, but with the magazine or model.  For a long while now we've just decided the problem is with ideal forms of beauty.  Sure, there's a strong correlation between magazine sales and body image problems, BUT maybe they're both precipitated by this me-oriented culture.

My mother used to say that the secret of happiness is to never compare yourself to others.  The stoics did her one better and suggested we compare ourselves to people worse off than ourselves.  I'm not sure if it was great self-esteem, or a body image so poor I didn't see myself on the same plane as these women, but I've never compared myself to a model.  I have problems understanding why anyone would.  And I think maybe a big part of that is that I believe we all have something interesting about us, and interesting trumps perfection.  A picture-perfect (or photoshopped) woman likely has something interesting too, but it'll be different than what I'm currently rockin'.

Unfortunately, I don't know how I bought into that notion so completely, so I can't adequately teach it to others beyond just the telling of it.   But it's not just useful to convince people to stop desiring ideals with respect to beauty, but to stop desiring anything unnecessary to their life and outside their power to attain, and to start recognizing how much they already have.  Particularly in this part of the world.

It takes a bit of practice, but I think it's entirely possible to train ourselves to stop wanting everything we see.

And, if we can look at beauty without an impulse to have it (to be or to possess), then it can be appreciated with relish.  It's a different feeling, an intoxicating one too many miss out on, to look at a beautifully interesting face and body with reverence rather than contempt.

I don't believe it's the case that people will stop finding less-than-perfect women desirable.  Attraction is different than attractiveness.  It involves a draw towards gestures and words and ideas and connections.  You don't have to look like a super model to get laid or married.  I'm not even sure it necessarily helps.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

An Eco-Conservative?

Conservative MP Peter Braid, my MP, broke ranks and admitted that this weather we're having here and elsewhere is definitely linked to climate change.  Is this another sign the party is beginning to crumble?

I've seen an environmental side to Braid much earlier on, and I always wondered how he fit in with the Conservative Party of Canada.  Now I wonder how - or whether - he'll continue to fit in.  

But I've also seen him answer questions in a very politician-y way:  saying many words, yet not really answering the question being asked.

Time will tell if this 20 seconds of rebellion will affect anything in the party or in his career.

Teacher Blogging Challenge Meme

I had a neighbour question my blogging habits.  I told him I love to get my thoughts down in writing.  He scoffed, "But why put it out there for others to see?"  He seemed incredulous of the idea that this is a way to connect with like-minded souls or a way to share ideas in hopes of criticisms that will help further refine my thinking.  So, in solidarity with other teacher-bloggers, I'm doing this 20-day challenge, but, because I abhor single-sentence or repetitive posts, and to minimize the number of teaching posts here, I'll do it all in one go.

Favourite Book to use in Teaching:

The Drunkard's Walk - It's a fantastic read about how we misunderstand statistics.  (Anyone who bows at the feet of Malcolm Gladwell or many current educational writers should give it a thorough reading.)  It has a great analogy in it that I use often to explain human behaviour:  We're like molecules.  As a group, we are very predictable - if it gets cold we'll move closer together.  But individually, we're utterly unpredictable.  We know molecules will get closer together, but we've no idea the trajectory of each individual molecule.  So, when stats suggest that people do x because of y, they mean most people, which could include you, but we don't know if it will.  We just don't know.   This is yet another reason I prefer teaching philosophy over social science - it's more honest about the limits of our understanding of humanity.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On Fear of the Worst Thing and First-World Anxiety

I just successfully transferred four years of family photos onto albums on-line that got shipped to my home as big colourful books. Then I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I was ever anxious about anything happening to my laptop because I’d be devastated to lose all my photos, and my dropbox is full.  Now I just have to fear a house fire.

Apple's dealing with it!
I used iPhoto albums, even though the company uses slave labour. I struggle to rectify my political beliefs and current practices sometimes. There are a lot of things I do well, but I really love how well my MacBook works compared to my old PC. And I'm not sure there's a computer company free from labour violations. This is right up there with eating meat. There's no good argument to convince me it’s ethical, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it. I’m just living with the reality that I’m fallible and knowingly unethical. It’s no reason to stop trying, though. And if we exclude from “us” (the fighters against the system) anyone who uses products from a corrupt company, our numbers will dwindle to being completely inconsequential instead of just being temporarily ineffective.  But that's not what I'm on about today.

It’s funny how fearful I was of making these albums. I’m still a Luddite enough to think that if I touch anything on iPhoto, everything will get deleted. It took me years, literally, to get the courage to do this very simple thing. And then the worst happened: when we looked for my son’s photos to include, they were all lost because I had tried to use Time Machine with our external hard-drive, partitioned out what was already there, and somehow it's all empty now. So I’m not completely crazy in my anxiety over computers. I really do unwittingly destroy things somehow! I've never been able to make my Time Machine work, but I back-up as much as space allows in dropbox. My son, the primary photographer of the family, doesn't. Everything was on the external hard drive.  I explained the concept of a backup as other than the primary holding place for files. But it’s most interesting to me that he didn’t really care that he lost all the photos he took in the last few years. I wish I could let go like that.

Not the guy from Lost.
My feeling of potential loss is far too great for the circumstances - as if someone could die in the photos’ absence. My memory's not gone, and my children are alive and well, and we almost never even look at the old albums. It’s curious how strong is our sentimental connection to mere objects representative of our memories, of our self.  Maybe it from a need to further clarify for ourselves who we really are.  John Locke pointed out the connection between our collection of memories and our identity a while back:
Consciousness alone unites actions into the same person.... Any substance vitally united to the present thinking being is a part of that very same self which now is; anything united to it by a consciousness of former actions, makes also a part of the same self, which is the same both then and now.
Keepsakes aren't just niceties but a means of self-preservation.

But another part of our obsession with photos is a need to live past our lives with an illusion of immortality as well as a need to show we did something. We’re not content just to be. We have to do things and have proof we did them in order to feel like we're in the game. I felt a weird satisfaction that 2013 was so busy. Whew! I’m not wasting time after all!

And then when the recent storm hit, it largely bypassed us, but that didn’t prevent me from worrying and particularly obsessing about the water pipes. What if the furnace died at night, and we didn’t know, and the pipes froze and burst?? I considered turning the water off at night – a ridiculous idea with older kids up at all hours. But I am looking into a woodstove for an underused corner of the kitchen.

Hoping it's the only one.
Of course, as if thinking it made it so, last Friday my furnace died in the middle of the night. My son noticed the cold enough to put on a sweater and go back to bed, but I was snuggled in under layers of blankets. When I got up, it was 8 degrees. After finding someone to come fix the furnace, I tried to make a pot of tea only to find the pipes frozen. I cleverly wedged a running hair dryer beside the pipes in the basement and went upstairs to wait. A funny noise sent me back down to find water gushing from the cracked pipe.

The worst happened, and it wasn’t really that big a deal. I think it’s good to be reminded of that from time to time, especially when my “worst” is relatively inconsequential.

And it all makes me wonder if maybe we need a worst thing to dwell on. I wonder if the rise in anxiety and depression in the developed world is because so many of us have so few problems of real significance.  In today's Toronto Star, Marcia Kaye reviewed Scott Stossel's My Age of Anxiety.  Stossell suggests that, " the face of real dangers, as happened in wartime concentration camps, neuroses can vanish."  Maybe a lack of activity more clearly linked to our survival (building a house, foraging for food) keeps us in a state of quiet panic feeling like we're not doing enough to live.  Maybe we're still not entirely comfortable with our civilized lifestyle.  Curious.

Friday, January 3, 2014

On Our Continued Sexual Repression

Sherlock & John
I watched the first episode of the new season of Sherlock last night.  There's a sub-plot with NO spoilers here:  John Watson gets engaged to Mary.  Mrs. Hudson, the landlady, is shocked that he's engaged to a woman since he and Sherlock were obviously so "close" - and so soon after his passing and all.   John vehemently objects to the insinuation that he is now, or ever was, gay.  

In class before the break I read a bit about Montaigne's affection for La Boétie, and the very first comment I got from a pretty enlightened group was, "He was obviously gay."

Montaigne and La Boétie, BFFs

And then one of the essays I marked contained a discussion of the openness of sexual ethics today compared to historic restrictiveness.  And I commented on the paper that I don't think we've come nearly as far as we think we have, even if we just focus on this part of the world.

Our sexual ethics have changed, for sure - over the relative short term in particular.  I've lived long enough to see an unbelievable change in our respect for same-sex relationships, from killing them to revering them in my short lifetime.  Now homosexuality is in fashion to the point that some people want a gay friend or two to make them more interesting by association.  The same goes in some circles for polyandry.  But we're still messed up about sex.  And we don't understand our history on this enough to see our trajectory.

R. & Julie
Romance as the end all and be all of relationships is a relatively new idea - maybe 200-years-old or so.  Previously, passion towards one person was seen as a social problem - look what it did to Romeo and Juliet.  That wasn't written as a romance to emulate - the way most remakes will have it, but as a cautionary tale.  It's a tragedy after all.  

For centuries, people could bond with the same sex without an assumption of sexual tension.  Now that homosexuality is accepted in these parts, it seems to be a looming perception in the background of close friendships.  This is part and parcel of a view that a relationship with sex is the ideal - an accumulative view - which is the real problem.  As long as a sexual relationship trumps any other kind of dynamic, we have a greater potential to lose a variety of connections with others.  

Why is it so hard to believe that Montaigne and La Boétie loved each other but didn't have sexual feelings for each other?  I think it's because we can no longer imagine closeness without sexuality - which is repressive.  It restrains our freedom to have close, non-sexual relationships.  It's legal and overtly acceptable, but there's a subtle social pressure that suggests it's not quite right.  

Friends can be close, but not too close.  If any two people spend too much time together, they must be having sex - or they should be; they need to take it to the next level (as if it's a sign of progress).  Or, if they shouldn't be having sex, then they shouldn't be spending so much time together!  We've lost the idea of best friend, of companion without a sexual flavour.  Everything is coated in nuance.

I had a 15-year friendship with a guy that ended because of the number of people who insisted either we should be getting it on, or we actually were.  His girlfriend couldn't take it and gave him an ultimatum.  He picked her.  And lengthy conversations with men at parties are always suspect.  I have to stick with the women in the kitchen to avoid provoking the stink-eye (and that kitchen-thing still happens too).

We still approach love and connection fearfully and possessively.  

We've created a new normal that's no less constricting our experiences.   It seems that it's not the case that restrictions leave as we become more accepting, but that they just change and become less physically harsh.  Nobody is beaten for their desires (except pedophiles, that's still right out), but coersive social forces are no less a barrier to living comfortably with who we are and what we like.  There's a subtle social means of encouragement to stay within unnecessary and nonsensical boundaries.  

And that's not the only bit of sexual repressiveness of our times.  

It's blue because it's so cold!
I recently saw Blue is the Warmest Color and was surprised to see, in full detail, that women shave or wax their pubic hair right off even in France.  In the U.S. one study found that 60% of women 18-24 get rid of everything - and that it's really harmful!   Check out this video for a healthier perception of pubes (with puns galore). Beyond that, the rise in labioplasty convinces women that natural isn't beautiful unless it's perfect.  Looking the way we do naturally has always been an issue, but now it's gone further to include the bits that almost nobody ever sees.

Fetishes are still taboo.  People can talk about them on sensationalist TV shows, but, however kindly the host speaks to them, that they're there reveals them as freaks.  It's still not a conversation for social settings where other sex tales might be parlayed.  And, similarly, people who just aren't into sex that much keep it to themselves.  Any talk of either is met with concern and doctor suggestions.  It's seen as unhealthy not to desire sex with another person.  

Liking it too much or too varied is also a problem particularly for women.  Slut shaming isn't going away.  And the fact that people feel shameful about sexual encounters makes rape that much easier to get away with since victims are loathe to report.    

What keeps it all going, also, is the notion that talking about sex is somehow beneath us as intelligent people.  It's trivial and base.  So these issues aren't getting the attention they deserve.  As Freud said almost a century ago in Civilization and its Discontents
The demand for a uniform sexual life for all, which is proclaimed in all these prohibitions, disregards all the disparities, innate and acquired, in the sexual constitution of human beings, thereby depriving fairly large numbers of sexual enjoyment and becoming a source of grave injustice.
There's no evidence that Montaigne was gay, something he makes clear in "Of Friendship," but the suggestion of such is evidence that we still haven't grown enough as a culture to completely accept a variety of relationships including strong and lasting non-sexual friendships.  That's a shame.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Ideas in Review

Facebook bombarded me with everyone's highlights of 2013 this morning, and I was struck with the urge people have to track the value of time spent by listing stuff they did.  It's all trips and big events.  When I consider all I had done this year, what came to mind first is a whole lot of sitting around.  I'm really good at that, and it's my favourite thing to do.

I sit around reading a writing and watching movies, but the highlight of my time sitting is always the kitchen table talks I have with whomever's at my table.  It's mainly the kids and I, and we often comment that we should set up a hidden camera and try to forget about it, because we are seriously funny people!  If we could capture our conversations for YouTube, we'd be rich!  But I also have friends that come and sit and drink and play music and tolerate my singing.

Like cutting Samson's hair, if you clean it, it loses its magic!
But in my time sitting, I also did a whole lot of fretting about the world (social justice and environmental erosion mainly), and about my work.  I'm going to consider a different approach to the world crap because what I've been doing is neither particularly useful nor enjoyable. Maybe tomorrow.

As for work, we started the year in strike action, and we ended it with some questionable micro-managing from the province. I'll say no more on that for the same reason I deleted most of my work posts:  apparently being perceived to be publicly complaining about the policies of my board or school can be grounds for termination, but I can complain about the Ministry of Ed documents all I like.  I understand this idea in principle - if I owned a small business and an employee tweeted negatively about it, I'd definitely call them out on it.  But, somehow this feels a little different.  And who's to say when my complains about ministry mandates are a bit too close to being about board mandates?  Nuff said.

Sitting around doesn't look like anything, but it's a lot.  When I was in university, writing essays at the kitchen table all day, my partner at the time, a tinner, would come home from work to find me in the exact same place as he left me.  As he peeled off his dirty work clothes, he'd often question how I could just do nothing all day long.  That I finished a 20-page essay didn't count.  And, 25 years later, that I wrote my thoughts on books and philosophers and political thinkers all year isn't fodder for facebook lists.  Thinking, talking, and writing about things just isn't share-worthy.

Which is a shame.

Is it because it's too commonplace or too uncommon?  Or because the ideas come and go without making it on snapchat?  Instead of listing the trips and events, wouldn't it be cool if people spent New Years Day considering all the new ideas they deduced or considered or solidified over the year?  I think it would make for a far more interesting bunch of facebook statuses to wake-up to at the very least.

Here's what I thought about mostly:

* It's amazing what we can do when we go for it balls-out even though we don't know what we're doing (I built a studio!).  But we all have limits. It's not the case that you can be or do anything you set your mind to do.  But, without trying you'll never know where your limits are.
* Bureaucracies suck the intelligence out of everything.
* Mainstream media is eroding body image and self-esteem, but we don't have to play with them.
* The planet's ability to continue to maintain life is so far gone, and so few care, it's likely unfixable.  As much as I abhor government intrusion in personal choices, I can't imagine what else could possibly turn this all around.
* Maybe we're screwed not because we're too greedy, but because we're also too compassionate.  Or maybe it's just greed as a species that we want every human in the world to live well (well enough that we don't have to see them suffer at least).
* Rape isn't going away nearly fast enough.  In fact, it feels like it's getting so much worse.  We still have a good, long fight on our hands on this one.
* Stoicism and Taoism are two of the best philosophies for coping with tragedies beyond our control.
* I still haven't been swayed from my agreement with Marxist economic strategies.  It's not about paying everyone the same, but ensuring nobody's being exploited.
* Art and music and dance and film (and cats) are phenomenal means of celebrating the world and distracting ourselves from its devastation.  I have unbridled enthusiasm for it all that won't be contained.  Even if someone points and laughs.
* Teaching is the best means to develop ideas (mainly by stealing them from the brilliant kids I teach).
* Cycling has to be safer if we actually want people to ditch the car at home, and working with the city sometimes actually gets us somewhere!
* We need some good role models - and fast.  Chomsky and Hedges and Monbiot and Suzuki are awesome, but they don't have the style or charm or something enough to sway the masses.  We need activists that can affect the people the way Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr did, because people will blindly follow someone who can sell them what seems like a good idea.  We have people in droves who do that for the oil industry, etc., but far too few on the other side.

As an exercise, it clarifies how mundane bare-bone ideas are!  And, unfortunately, as a facebook status or a tweet it would likely look something like this:

2013 was AWESOME!  I thought about the world and stuff!!  Going to be a hard one to top!  Happy New Years everybody!