Vanity Scalpel-Deep

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As stubborn as I seem sometimes, intent on insisting that my attitudes are more rational, principled, and morally justified, I am capable of changing my attitudes and views. This doesn’t require some life-changing revelation or born-again revival that inspires me to spread a new gospel. And, quite importantly, these changes mostly relax judgments instead of developing new ones.

The example I have in mind at the moment is cosmetic surgery. A common attitude was, and I guess still is, that it’s shallow and nobody should be so focused on their appearance that they go to great and expensive lengths to change it. I extended my distaste for the actual procedures to reflect the characters of the people receiving them for the purpose of vanity. I echoed the arguments behind this – that nobody’s quality of life should depend on the size of their breasts or lack of wrinkles or fullness of their lips – and cast the accompanying judgment. But now I know it’s really none of my business and not worth having this opinion at all.

Part of that is to avoid the hypocrisy, as I have a few things that I would get done if I had money for it. I could say “but this is different” to get scar removal, acne and otherwise, or surgically shedding excess skin as a reward for weight loss. These things are only addressing parts of my body that have affected my life overall, and other people, I would presume, use similar reasoning. I don’t think this affects the quality of my character because I still have other things to pursue for deeper reasons than appearance alone.

The image, the stereotype I held in my mind in earlier times of the shallow character of those vainly going under the knife does not take into account anyone’s backstory. It’s probably true that a sizable segment of the population who has had these things done would not impress me with the larger picture of who they are, and I would find no reason to socialize any further. If somebody wears hipster-esque clothing or has a trendy kind of tattoo, engage in a conversation that organically leads into why, and make your decision from there. I don’t blame you for flaring your nostrils in their presence from then on. Gut instincts can often be right, but it doesn’t prove any strength of character in yourself to go by that alone, and all the people you look down upon will have equal reasons to flare their own nostrils at you.

Creative Pangs for Paper

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At the beginning of this week I contemplated my wasteful habits, a thought that also looked back on an earlier entry examining the reasons I don’t care to change them. Those habits revolve around opting for paper versions of items that can all be consumed and enjoyed electronically at this point in time, using up not only the pulp harvested from trees to create those products but also requiring physical transport and thus contributing to the emissions of primarily the trucking industry.

This habit is more than just books and photographs. Right now I’m away from my home for purposes of playing with dogs while their owners are taking a break from getting shed on incessantly. I did not bring a pad of paper with me, thinking that I did bring books to read to pass the time, and my computer for any sort of creative process of putting down ideas that will never get turned into something real. I don’t have any particular ideas at the moment, aside from this specific craving, so I wouldn’t have anything comprehensible to write, but this is a frequent urge I have to literally put pen to paper and not much else. I could find paper in this house, I know there’s an ample supply. But it’s not my paper. What would I do with it afterwards? What would be the value of stealing paper from someone else?

So I’m trying typing instead. Sadly, through no fault of the venue or the audience, it is immensely non-satisfying. I’m not going to call it unsatisfying because it’s taking nothing away. It’s asatisfying – neither nor, outside of the satisfying-unsatisfying spectrum yet still only measurable that way. There is something to be said about the grace at which I can type without even looking at the keyboard or the screen (right now staring at the exhausted dog across the room), but it’s a moot point when the craving is through a pen. I wonder when physically writing turned from a tool to an addiction. I wonder if I will ever get over it, worrying that in a dystopian (but certainly not khristopian) future paper will be abolished by some sort of totalitarian cyberpunk militia whose leader has gone through this same problem so many times that he felt he needed to conquer the world to get rid of it. But that won’t work. Those who have written things down when they had ideas have already spread that lesson…but even they probably craved paper a thousand times with no ideas before those stories came out.

The Illusion of Prosperity

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In my line of work I see that there are a lot of people who make substantially more money than I do. And yet I’m still fed, clothed, sheltered, entertained, and happy.

There must be something I’m not getting. Aside from rich, that is.

Riding the Wave of Political Ridiculousness

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Let’s rock the already unstable boat by creating another useless political issue. Let’s see if we can take ridiculous arguments up another level. Let’s create a controversy…about women’s right to pee standing up.

Women’s issues fought for long and hard over the past 50 years of feminism are being called into question again, by male politicians in the United States who, by declaring balanced centrist policies “socialism”, need to contrast themselves by being as unbalanced and “conservative” as possible (“conservative” in quotations because no political definitions make any sense anymore). This has brought back not only the never-fully-settled issue of abortion, but also anything involving women’s health – birth control, cancer screening, and any full and confidential disclosure between a woman and her doctor. Life now begins before conception in the state of Arizona, specifically immediately following the end of the woman’s last menstrual cycle before the actual conception. Seriously.

Health insurance shouldn’t subsidize oral contraceptives, because that is only and exactly subsidized promiscuity. Any place committed to women’s health should not receive any public funding and private donors should be blacklisted, because all women’s health programs kill babies. But the intrusion into women’s bodies doesn’t need to be limited to health. We can expand it to basic bodily functions of womanly parts.

For women fond of the outdoors – camping, hiking, climbing, and so on – there are products available to make bodily relief cleaner and easier. Funnels, essentially, can help ensure that the direction of urination is controlled when there is toilet to sit on and squatting is impractical. This is an outright violation of the way women’s bodies and human life as a whole were (intelligently?) designed! Women were not intended to participate in these things; it is why they are weaker as well as why they lack natural external body parts to maneuver their urethras (urethrae?). It is an insult to the Christian values of the American family to allow synthetic devices to be bought and sold by women with the sole intent of violating nature. We must put an end to such a sinful product!

Something has to push this crazy train over the cliff.

The Back-Patting, Feel Good Day of the Year

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It’s Earth Day. We’re supposed to heighten our awareness of how our day-to-day activities are, as I would put it in casual conversation, “kinda fucking things up.” The next day we return to those things, or most of those things. What I return to, or so I like to presume in the name of white middle class snobbery, is generally more ecologically friendly than most people put effort in on special days like today, so I have actually made little effort to change those things.

(As I ever so facetiously stated in a string of tweets this morning, there is even a guilt of environmental damage for the “ecologically friendly” options we have.)

And I’ve written before about the conspicuous consumption I don’t want to abandon. It is comparatively modest to the lifestyles with which the English-speaking people who have access to read this on the internet are familiar, whether they live it themselves or live alongside those who do. We all feel validated by owning things, and the global economy of raw resources and manufacturing have moved all except those with the education to design new products into other countries, and so most of us don’t have a clue how taxing on the earth (and human beings) even our simplest of luxuries are. If I compare my consumer choices to those of others around me in the First World, I can feel (pseudo-)modest like humble(-braggart) lefties these days do. If I compare myself to the rest of the world, however, the materialism of my personal space is stark.

So Earth Day to me, so far, has been about getting free coffee at the Starbucks next door by bringing in the same tumbler I use every morning that already gets me a 10¢ discount. Whatever else I do or don’t do is either not inconveniencing me in the least, or because I either did it some other day recently or can put it off until tomorrow or next.

And one of those things – noted in the other entry linked to above – is books. Yesterday I bought several books, in paper form, because they’re a material item of non-necessity, that I want. I can justify this purchase as less of a damage on the environment in so many ways: I walked there and back to buy them, I carried them in a reusable bag, books don’t come with excessive plastic packaging, and the hours I spend reading them will be powered merely by a lamp, if that, as opposed to electrically taxing appliances with illuminated screens. Books (most books) aren’t as shallow of an item to consume (by the same logic of liberal WASPs used above) as “lower” forms of needless entertainment, but they are physical items, adding to the decoration of my living space, which, heated lit and connected, I justify as being entitled to by myself. It’s an apartment, more sustainable for an individual to hold than a single detached home with an artificially watered yard, but it’s a luxury that consumes more resources than at least 6- out of the world’s 7-billion people could ever dream of.

Earth Day happens to fall a few days after my birthday, and the books were paid with gift cards that still have more money on them for when I want to buy more. It’s justifiable, then, in many minds that I make a big purchase around Earth Day, or that other people make purchases for me because it’s not my fault I was born around this date. My brother’s birthday is tomorrow, so I bought him material items and that should not be taken into consideration when evaluating my environmental efforts around this day of the year. But it’s the materialism of our wealthy society that creates the expectation of material gifts around individuals’ birthdays. I have not chosen to give that up. And I take responsibility for that.

So, on this 43nd Earth Day, instead of sacrificing luxuries that I take for granted throughout the year, I will instead just thank this planet for providing them – for providing the paper to print books, the sustenance for human life to develop and create things like books, for the beans that became the free coffee I got today, and all the bits and pieces that built and power the bus I am getting on shortly. I know for my own comfort I am using you, Earth, but I am trying to use you wisely.

Endangered Species of Evolving Language

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Fatalists out there are giving up. Proper use of the English language is a lost cause. Standardizing bodies are surrendering to more and more common but inaccurate usages, some of which I’ll admit I’m guilty myself. But as deeply as I know that grammar and language are the epitome of social constructs, I desperately hold on to so many bits and pieces I hold dear.

The article linked above mentions one of my favourites – keeping in existence “whom”, the objective counterpart to the subjective pronoun “who”. I’m very lenient on other people’s usage in this case. I accept that “who” is commonly used in both contexts and I’m okay with that, whether in formal or informal writing. For stylistic reasons I still use “whom” when appropriate. What I cannot stand, however, is, for “stylistic reasons”, people using “whom” when not appropriate, thinking that it’s just a fancy professional version of “whom”. I commonly see, unfortunately, a particular person use it as such, i.e. “anyone whom calls”. If the difference between subjective/objective usage is lost on you but you still want to use “whom” correctly, there are easy tests. Replace who/whom with they/them and see if it works. “Whom calls” would then become “Them call” which does not sound right to any fluent English speaker’s mind. “Who calls?” “They call.” The question is answered, without a single “m”.

Another item on that list that bothers me but is still doomed to get usurped by the amoeba of misuse is “begs the question”. The “begs” part in the proper meaning of the phrase is more along the lines of “begs the question to change its meaning because the person is desperate to be right even when they’re wrong”. It is a person, somebody making an argument, who is begging the question – not some factor in an issue that calls for further scrutiny. But alas, the latter use is so widespread that only a small minority of stubborn pedants actively bother to use it properly and correct those using it improperly.

I acknowledge the fact pointed out in the article that these rules are relatively new, and the language will change as the people who speak it change, along with the contexts therein. I agree with throwing out arbitrary rules that most linguists haven’t upheld – splitting infinitives (“to boldly go”) and ending sentences in prepositions (“the word the sentence ends with.”). Regarding the second one, my own style approaches that in similar ways to who/whom: I like writing around ending sentences with prepositions (“the word with which the sentence ends”) but I won’t correct people who don’t.

And for the record – no worthy bloc of legitimate grammarians ever demanded a sentence never begin with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, if, so, yet, for, or, nor). Also for the record – a proper complete sentence wouldn’t begin with a subordinating conjunction (because, if, since, as, where, while, etc.). There are some style-based exceptions to these rules, to be defended at your own discretion, but keep in mind – personal discretion is typically what makes writing worth shit.

Terrible and Sticking To It

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I’m terrible at foreign accents, it becomes evident early on. And yet in spite of that I have got into a habit of using them in the least consequential situations.

Ordering at fast food restaurants – that’s where it all started many-a year ago. I tried British (which just sounded Australian), Australian (which just sounded New Zealander), New Zealander (which just sounded South African), and then American. American was easy to do – it was 95% similar to my personal accent but without being polite.

I’m bad enough with accents of native Anglophones. I couldn’t pull off speaking English as if it were my second language, with a thick layer of whatever I decided to claim was my first. The level of ethnic stereotyping was bad enough when I stuck to the list above. It could only dive into further distaste if I tried to make everything sound like “AAAAYYYE that’sa spicya meatball!” with an accordion playing in the background.

This habit has mostly tapered down, partly because I don’t go to fast food restaurants often enough to care or keep in good practice. But a few months ago I walked to a Subway about a kilometer away from my workplace to get lunch, and decided to put on whatever lazy accent I felt like. It turned out to be sloppy Australian. So much for that habit making a strong comeback. Yet another reason to not do this every time, right?

But I’ve gone to that same Subway a few times since. I don’t go regularly enough to be recognized, I don’t think, but maybe I do. If this were a location with a number of employees, different ones working each time, I could easily drop that act. I could have easily dropped that act after the first time in any case, but I chose not to. This Subway, I gather, is owned and operated by primarily one family. It’s not excessively busy there at lunch times, so they wouldn’t get the sheer volume of customers to never remember me or my voice. I feel the need to keep this up every time – but how do I explain my shitty accent if anyone asks?

The answer I’ve come up with is: lived in Brisbane until the age of 11 when my family moved to the outskirts of London for a couple of years. Came to Canada at 13 and fell in love with proper winters, so I never want to leave. It’s enough time to establish the Australian base, but not so much that I would permanently identify as one. Accents from that age can be undone, right? They can be overwritten.

The most important thing is that nobody actually cares enough to ask in the first place.