24 June 2009

Guns solve everything, right?

Like Roger Ebert needs my help promoting his writing. But since this article isn't about movies, I thought I'd provide one more forum for sharing, in case you missed it (thanks, Tricky).

Much has been said recently about the possible influence of [Bill] O'Reilly on the murder of Dr. George Tiller by Scott Roeder. Such a connection is impossible to prove. Yet studies of bullies and their victims suggest a general way such an influence might take place. Bullies like to force others to do their will, while they can stand back and protest their innocence: "I was nowhere near the gymnasium, Sister!" A recent study of school shootings found that two-thirds of all the shooters were victims of bullying, and perceived themselves as members of persecuted minorities.

I'm all for personal accountability. An individual ultimately has to answer for their own actions, especially when those actions cause harm to someone else. But the buck doesn't always stop with the perpetrator. If Ebert is to be believed, O'Reilly -- and probably others in the right-wing media (Limbaugh, etc.) -- are inciting hatred and egging their followers into taking action. You can hear it night after night on O'Reilly's show. He yells, he bullies his guests, and then he implores his viewers to DO SOMETHING! Really, it was only a matter of time for someone to take matters into dangerous hands.

Bob Hebert, columnist at the New York Times, wrote an interesting Op-Ed last week with a similar theme:

Even with the murders that have already occurred, Americans are not paying enough attention to the frightening connection between the right-wing hate-mongers who continue to slither among us and the gun crazies who believe a well-aimed bullet is the ticket to all their dreams.

He speaks specifically to people who think that the way to deal with the possibility of gun control initiatives in the US is to shoot as many people as possible before the guns get taken away. I feel like there's a common thread, though, between what Ebert and Hebert say (tee hee -- their names rhyme): while violence does happen as a result of liberals (protests gone wrong, etc.), it feels like the worst of the targeted violence comes from the right-wing; the same people who claim that liberals are ruining society.

The conservatives, self-proclaimed protectors of Morals and Values, seem to be willing to unleash all kinds of violence on opposition at any cost.

And it's not unique to the US. Currently, Iran is reportedly dealing with opposition to the disputed election with beatings and shootings of the protesters. Those enforcing the status quo in Iran are conservatives.

I think that difference is important. Whether it's racial, ethnic, cultural, political or culinary, I think that different perspectives, different experiences and different flavours add to our understanding of the world, reduce boredom, and enhance our experiences. And every time someone experiences something different, a little bit of ignorance gets chipped away. I don't always agree with the differences, but they're there for a lot of good reasons, and who am I to question those?

But I have a really hard time with people who don't embrace differences, who actively work to suppress differences in the name of "saving" us from something. That's when my enjoyment of differences starts to wear thin and I gag a little. While I'm sure there's some inherent value in having a world with completely intolerant, bigoted people milling about, I can't figure out what that could be, unless it's to show the rest of us what not to be.

People have different ideas of how to make the world a better place. I have the idea that, if people spent more time listening to what people actually need instead of assuming that they know and trying to force it on them, then we might actually accomplish some improvements that benefit all of us.

22 June 2009

It's like crack, only with less death

My friends like to make fun of how addicted I am to my BlackBerry. Actually, it's more people with whom I have a casual acquaintance. People who know me well know that I'm just as capable of not looking at it when it beeps or blinks. Those who barely know me haven't yet learned that they just aren't interesting enough to hold my attention.

That's why I liked this post from writer John Scalzi.

First: If you are the sort of person who believes that all your e-mails/texts must be responded to instantaneously or sooner, you may be a self-absorbed twit. Please entertain the idea that your responder may have a life of his or her own, with priorities which may not conform to yours.

The entire entry is pretty amusing. And poignant.

I get involved in e-mail/text conversations when they come up, if I judge that they are more important than what I am doing. Sometimes I'm wrong about what's "more important", but I never intend to be disrespectful.

The other night, I talked to a friend via IM on my BlackBerry while watching a movie with my mother and boyfriend. It wasn't because it was a boring movie, or because I disrespected either of them; it's because the topic was one that I felt needed to be sorted out before I could comfortably move on. Otherwise, the verbal bomb would have been dropped and I likely would have been more distracted with it hanging over my head. Having the IM conversation was unobtrusive to the other people and allowed me to gather more information before deciding that I was ready to get back to the movie. No one else was worse for the wear.

The argument I love from Luddites is, "What would you have done 10 years ago? What if you didn't have a BlackBerry/text messaging/the internet?" These are false, ridiculous arguments.

Ten years ago, my friend would have had to call me to talk directly. I would have had to make a decision to leave the room altogether to have the conversation. That's probably much more rude (or more stressful to cope with) than answering a text. Thirty years ago, the conversation would have waited until we were in the same town, since it would have been an expensive long distance call at the time. Eighty years ago, even a local call may have been a little ridiculous to achieve, since the subject was something that's still pending. And 150 years ago, he and I wouldn't have been friends. Gender barriers aside, I likely wouldn't have even made it to this province to live, let alone have become friends with someone who lived in another town where a half-day buggy ride would have been required for simple socializing.

So, stuff your "what would you do without texting?" argument. It's the only way I've communicated with some friends in the past few days because the surgery makes it hurt to talk.

While there may be problems with the instant and multiple communication inundation, I'd say it has as much to do with self-restraint as anything else. And if you don't let yourself (or your kids) socialize in any other way, then that's what sets you up for problems. Not the need to respond; your perceived need to respond.

21 June 2009


My posting has been scant lately because life gets in the way. I guess I can't help having a fantastic, fulfilling personal relationship, a job I love, volunteer activities that keep me flat out, and face-altering surgery that puts me down for a week.

No, it wasn't plastic surgery. Well, it was, in a sense. But it was for improving the functional structure of my face, not for vanity. I never had a problem with my chin(s). Apparently, the rest of my face disagreed.

I wanted to add this link to the discussion of my last post, because I think it shows that something is lacking between what young people want/need to know about sex and what adults are willing/able to tell them.

Learning about healthy relationships in school ties directly into better safe-sex practices because adolescents who know how to communicate with their partners are more likely to succeed in negotiating condom use, said Sarah Flicker, one of the study authors and an assistant professor of environmental studies at York University.

Maybe taking kids out of school for "controversial subject matter" is even riskier, since the ignorance that issues exist might lead them to make false choices based on what they think they know.

They're just people. Tell them what they need to know and let them sort out how to use it. Putting a gun in someone's hand doesn't mean they'll shoot it. Letting a kid know about what might be fun or dangerous about sex doesn't mean they're going to run out and get laid.

03 June 2009

There was a boat?

In my long list of daily tweets from CBC, I came across a link to this article about a new law in Alberta that allows parents to take their kids out of class during

A clause in the bill, which is an amendment to the province's human rights legislation, requires that school boards give parents written notice when controversial topics are going to be covered in the curriculum. Parents can then ask for their child to be excluded from the discussion.

When did it become necessary to protect kids from things they might learn in school? This feels to me like yet another abdication of responsibility by parents. I mean, I certainly hope that my own kids grow up to be thoughtful, caring, compassionate people who embrace cultural and lifestyle diversity, but I don't plan to do it by not letting them know that opposite viewpoints exist. And I would certainly prefer that any discussion be moderated by an educated professional as opposed to anything they might come across on the Wild Wild Web, or sitting around with their friends.

What happened to parents letting the schools do the teaching and then tempering the lessons with discussion at home. This is the moral equivalent to slapping an "Evolution is Only a Theory: stickers on the front of science textbooks. Yes, we know. That's why it's called the Theory of Evolution. And we don't teach Creationism because it's not a science. And because we don't teach religion in public schools. (Before you jump down my throat, I am well aware that we still live in a Judeo-Christian-centric society in North America, and that God pops up everywhere (including most major school holidays). I'm just saying that our curriculum does not include theology; at least not in my neck of the woods.)

So, why can't parents take an active role in their child's education in a positive way? I certainly don't disagree with parents right to know that some topics are part of the curriculum. Every semester, I'm responsible for a "Curriculum Night" where I have to account for most of what I plan to teach. That doesn't necessarily include the minutiae of the course, but definitely the broad topics, and of course, parents are free to ask about specifics, which I may or may not be able to provide at the time.

Rather than taking children out of class altogether, why not talk to kids about family beliefs, either before or after the classroom discussion? Why do teachers need to come up with an entirely new category of adaptation for students who "aren't allowed" to learn? There are enough kids on this planet who don't get an opportunity to learn about the basics of life or the much lauded "Three Rs". Now we're afraid that some kids might be learning too much and we have to censor them from the discussion?

There is opposition to the clause from those who fear that "... Bill 44 makes it possible for parents to file human rights complaints against teachers and school districts...". I have to say that I agree with that stance. Most teachers work hard to create fair and diverse classrooms that honour and respect people from many different backgrounds, and I don't think that comes out of fear of litigation. I think it comes from a place of knowing how to respect many people in many different ways. I many not agree with the beliefs of a student who is a Jehovah's Witness or a Catholic or a Hindu, but I will try my best to let them know that I'm okay with what they believe, and hopefully they'll find a way to reciprocate -- not through ignorance of the difference, but because I will model acceptance and understanding.

The people who tacked this clause onto Bill 44 didn't just miss the boat. I'm not sure they knew it was there in the first place.

02 June 2009


At some point, I'd like to talk a little about what I think about terms like "cougar" and "MILF" as it applies to older, attractive women. In the meantime, here's a taste of why I find such labels degrading.