Tips to Reduce Your Credibility

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I am a judgmental snob when I can get away with it. In principle, live and let live and encourage people to pursue their own happiness and fulfillment.

But on the other hand, as a public professional, get a smarter eye to proofread your work before sending it out to the world.

I’m going to leave alone the annoying e-mails people forward to their coworkers with inspirational advice on how to be more productive or achieve your potential. What’s more mockable is that the specific example of this I’m thinking of is “15ProductiveTips.pdf” that made its way to my work’s e-mail circuit all the way from Scott Heath at FOX 5 San Diego. I can’t take it seriously when the first sentence of the first tip starts “Keep a pile of purchase orders you much sign…”

That mistake is repeated later in the sentence with yet another gaffe: “mail you much open yon your desk”. I couldn’t get through most of the others because not only did the credibility go way down, but to begin with it’s a cheesy motivation attempt that generalizes all people having similar jobs with similar tasks. There is also an obsession with everything taking 10 minutes.

It’s finally sinking in for me. I work in an office.

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Dissection of Tragedy

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If you think it’s unsafe to go to a movie theatre because of a high profile incident of a mass shooting…well, I won’t say you’re letting the terrorists win, because the shooter in Denver last night was a lone wingnut and not part of an organized group. (And also he was white.) We should mourn for all those killed and hope for the recovery of the wounded, but stop there. Don’t get into the same ol’ talking heads crap about public safety and gun control.

You can still go to the movies. The chances of this happening haven’t changed – they have always been very, very low. American culture looks up too much to stories of outstanding success thinking the results can be replicated in their own lives, when they won’t. And American culture looks down on stories of outstanding tragedy thinking it turns their everyday lives upside down, when it doesn’t. It doesn’t need to.

It’s illegal to shout out “fire” in a crowded theatre. Have you ever been in such a situation? No, because people know it’s illegal, and they know it’s wrong and they aren’t that terrible of human beings. It’s exponentially more of all those things to take open fire in a crowded theatre. (I’m sure I’m the first person to think of that comparison, and I know it’s so good.)

Don’t restart the same old guns-vs-culture debate that’s never resolved or explained anything. A year ago a Norwegian killed scores of people. Earlier this week two dozen people were wounded in gun fire in Toronto. Massacres happen to great tragedy, around the world. Leave this one alone to mourning and use other examples for any real dialogue on society’s problems.

Far more than 12 people are murdered every day across the US but no attention is paid to the others beyond local news. Those murders may have a solution, or at least the rate at which they occur and where. Don’t talk like you know the cause and the solution to this type of massacre when you can’t even be bothered to care about far greater numbers of lives lost elsewhere. And don’t think that the average movie theatre is now any more dangerous than it was before.

Shrinking Utility

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As written about last week, I now have a computer that can fit (somewhat awkwardly, depending on the pants) in my pocket. With a smart phone I can do almost anything I can do on my six year old desktop and three year old laptop, although the battery draining deters me from actually trying. I can leave my phone plugged in when charging to ensure it doesn’t get drained of all power in five minutes, but a) the charger cord is very short, and b) the screen is very small. It is point b) that creates a challenge for me over the next two weeks.

I’m updating this from my phone. It presents a challenge with the limited screen size mentioned above, and the minimalism of the WordPress app. There are games I have on my computers that I don’t have my phone that I like to play when there’s time to pass. There are a number of things I take for granted with laptops and desktops that can’t quite be done on a phone. And for the next two weeks, I have opted not to have any of my computers with me.

First, I’m house-sitting. I will be back and forth between my own home and someone else’s, but I won’t invest the time at my own place to turn on one of my computers and relax for a couple hours at a time. Second, I’m traveling after that. It’s only for a few days and within the country, so I can still use my phone for internet purposes without extra charges on my data plan, but if I plan on still using the internet as a communication tool, will that be enough to accomplish what I want?

It’s a test, somewhat, as to the sustainability of a phone-only future. I’m not a fan of the idea because I find there’s an art to typing on a standard keyboard. Tweaking things in the appearance of a website can’t be reasonably done on a phone alone. A phone-only future doesn’t seem plausible from the present perspective, but I’ll get a taste of it when I’m staying away from the other computers I own. Whether I write here or not in the next two weeks is one way to gauge how adaptable my hobbies and interests are to the functions of a phone.

It’s certainly not taking over the entirety of my camera functions. Hell, from time to time I still use film, much like how I get quixotic about paper.

Failures in Femininity

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The other day I tagged along for shoe shopping with my sister. She was concerned with getting a shoe, not too high a heel, that would go with the colours of her dress for a wedding we’re attending in a short while. She needs to go in something appropriate for the occasion, you see, and flats won’t do at all. She can’t wear a pair of shoes she already has, because what if somebody recognizes them and she is judged as being cheap for not having a new pair of shoes for every special event.

My approach is quite different. Not only am I bringing a pair of shoes I already own, but they’re more geared towards autumn and winter than they are summer. They have a modest heel. I know I can walk in them for short distances, and standing up is no less a problem (no joke, some women’s shoes are easier to balance on in motion than in idle). They only match with my outfit because it’s entirely a collection of neutrals – black, brown, crimson red, and these shoes are grey. I don’t care if anybody notices if the heel is slightly worn down, because if anyone there is paying attention to my shoes they really don’t understand the purpose of a wedding.

The dress I’m wearing I bought for wearing more than once. It’s a style I like and I can also see it being seasonally appropriate for the fall (but I’ll still wear it in the summer, damnit). My outfit is not for the 30-something temperatures (85-100 for Americans) I’ve been experiencing here at home, but the ocean breeze on an island out west isn’t likely to induce heat stroke. Hell, I’d even wear this in temperatures here. The ceremony and reception are both held indoors, and I can’t imagine these places not having air conditioning.

So should I worry about how I look at somebody else’s wedding? If I’m not noticed by people who aren’t familiar with my face, that’s a pretty good sign that I did an okay job. I don’t even think I’m going to put much into styling my own hair, because it won’t stick that way no matter how much foul-smelling spray is used to keep it still. It will stay as oppressed as it is every day, and I’ll decide how to do that when I get there. I will only put effort or seek professional services to style my hair when I’m in the wedding party or it is essentially part of a costume for a very important event. (See right, 1920s themed birthday).

Owning a dress that I plan to wear for something other than a special event is a leap towards femininity that I only recently took. The maintenance level that my sister thinks is expected to put together an acceptable outfit will take many leaps to come, although having multiple pairs of dress shoes for different occasions will happen well before putting effort into my hair.

The Olympics in 4th Place

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Because I’m traveling at the end of this month I will miss the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Oh bother, woe is me. This is arguably the biggest cultural event in the world and I won’t get to watch it on television.

Well, two things: 1) the time zone difference means I would be at work anyway, and 2) it will likely be aired over and over again. And on top of that I show no excitement towards this event. I even missed most off the opening ceremonies in 2010 when the Olympics were in my own country, from drinking way too much wine and throwing up on my sister’s couch.

My cynicism about the Vancouver 2010 opening ceremonies came from knowing what this country is really like. We are very friendly and world leaders in self-deprecating humour. I don’t know anybody who’s ever seen a beaver in the wild, though, or a moose for that matter, but I know they’re somewhere within the political borders that apparently make up one united entity we can all describe the same way. The traditions of our native peoples in dress and dance and art are undoubtedly fascinating to people around the globe, but they’re a part of our country’s history rather than current state of affairs, and it’s a part of our country’s history that we originally sought to destroy. Huh, funny.

And being Canadian, being a commonwealth country still under the British Monarchy, and ESPECIALLY being largely of English heritage I am as unfazed about UK culture as I am about Canada’s. Vancouver’s opening ceremonies were headlined by Canadian musicians we largely don’t like – except everybody likes Michael Bublé’s charm if not music – and I haven’t bothered to look up the London lineup but I can picture it being the same. A Spice Girls reunion. Jedward. I can’t even fathom how little interest I will have in the cultural performances they put on.

And beyond modern day pop culture, I don’t see how England’s heritage overall can be accommodated into the modern Olympics. I have tried, but I really can’t get into soccer so I won’t give two fucks about how they work that into the mix. (And there’s already been Euro 2012, come on, we don’t even obsess over hockey that much over here.) Dickensian income disparities and child labour, which has actually been part of a year-long celebration already marking the bicentenary of his birth, is nothing to be proud of, and other Victorian literature is equally dismal. How can you possibly incorporate Shakespeare into a frivolous show revolving around modern sporting events? Any incorporation of British history as ancient as the Greek tradition would probably take a life-imitating-art turn that requires dwarves to dance around undersized models of Stonehenge à la Spinal Tap – which in itself was a mockery of the British.

I’ll grant you that Mother England is probably where we got our self-deprecating humour from, by which I almost entirely mean Monty Python. Most of my favourite moments in their sketches and movies have the quintessential Brit played by the late Graham Chapman, so they can’t even do “All right, all right, this is getting too silly” or “Yes, we have only had sex two times for our two children, but if we wanted to have sex we are permitted to use a condom!” There is no competition in the Olympics for Upper Class Twit of the Year. Are they going to make the Olympics a purely British experience from tourists flocking to spectate by ensuring that every quaint inn is owned and operated by the likes of Basil Fawlty? This satire is what I actually value about my heritage (that and roast beef and yorkshire puddings) but there’s no place for it in Olympic ceremonies. If they get Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow to make out for five minutes then I might be interested.

Now, the Paralympics to follow may be interesting being held in London given one of their highest-regarded military heroes having performed at his peak with one arm missing and blind in one eye. I doubt any of those events are scheduled to take place at Trafalgar Square so we can all celebrate how skilled the disabled can really be.

There’s already been enough of England, enough of London this year. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which took place on the dreariest of days in true English fashion, was enough of an over-hyped frivolous ceremony. We’re still recovering from last year’s Royal Wedding, and then there’s all the stress and worry over Prince Philip’s health. (He’s 91. It’s going to happen.) London will be in overload.

This is the third time London has hosted the summer Olympics, but its grandeur has grown exponentially since then. There wasn’t widespread television in 1908 or 1948, and at least in 1948 the British public had a few years to calm down from celebrating victory of war (but I can only imagine the post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms the hoopla triggered in the public having lived through the Blitz). International crazed festivities do not fit in with Keep Calm and Carry On.

And I hope none of the fencing events mirror the sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes, for audience and athletes alike…although maybe that’s more of a concern for when the Olympics are hosted by Copenhagen.

So You Want to Make a Rape Joke…

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Comedian Daniel Tosh is getting more attention than he ever deserved by talent alone (I’ve never found him consistently funny on any higher level of thinking than the YouTube videos his TV show is based on). He responded to a heckler with essentially threats of rape. He meant to do so wittily, I suppose, but everybody can claim that after the fact.

I’ve laughed at a rape joke before, though, so I can’t claim complete innocence here. In 2008 my childhood idols The Kids in the Hall (from their show I probably shouldn’t have been watching that young) were going on a live tour. I went to the show. It opened with a video of the five guys, by then in their 40s, trying to overcome a collective writer’s block for this tour’s material. One’s eyes light up and he shouts “I know – let’s rape Kevin!” Kevin objects. The rest like the idea, or keep suggesting it again after it’s been turned down. The other four have made up their minds. They chase Kevin out of the room, ending the video, and he runs on stage in his underwear tied up as the others chase after him.

Rape jokes are terrible. They’re always a terrible idea. But paradoxically, that they are always a terrible idea made this idea work. The Kids are all WASP men, and the only one who steps out of that boring old “norm” is the one gay member of the troupe. But they always subversively poked at the prejudices the dominance of their type created. They touched on feminist issues on their early 90s show in ways that would go over many heads. So they made a rape joke. I laughed even though there was another level of ambivalence that troubled me then as now. Rape jokes are terrible. Are jokes about rape jokes terrible?

Who makes the joke and how is entirely relevant. If the ideological background of the comic is well established in his or her work, it is a matter of context. The comic must know that rape is never actually funny. The comic must respect all genders and sexual orientations. The comic must build up to the line that has a very narrow aperture of acceptability. And with that narrow aperture, the context and message need to be deep. (Daniel Tosh, from his comedy in general to this particular incident, doesn’t meet any of these.)

Good comedy is subversive, and so acceptable comedy about anything regarding unwillful sexualization and objectification needs to favour the victim. It needs to call out on bullshit. It’s bullshit the level of rape culture our society tolerates (video games and their gamers, Hollywood gender roles of forceful seduction, victim-blaming of anyone wearing a skirt). This is what rape jokes are perpetuating. Comedy done well on the subject is witty, critical commentary.

And we need that commentary to continuously point out rape culture. Rape is seen as justice – if child molesters are the lowest of the low in maximum security prison castes, they will get raped themselves. It’s an-eye-for-an-eye justification of somebody deserving rape. But that perpetuates it as a fact, as an option, as a solution to something. Exaggerated to meet the urges of a disrespectful, sexist, selfish man, the rule extends to “you made me jizz in my pants and so now I get to jizz in yours”. That is COMPLETELY HORRIBLY UNACCEPTABLE AND WRONG yet despicably common. So stop thinking there isn’t a rape culture problem, and start dissecting popular culture along with your own thoughts and responses to when rape is made a matter for amusement.

Is that a computer in your pocket, or are you just…

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This weekend I was getting nostalgic with my siblings over the days when we all shared a computer. We were teenagers and my brother and I in particular both wanted to use the computer for games and the internet frequently. My brother used tactics of annoyances where he would make strange sounds, then switch to another strange sound as he pretended to “jump” on me and rest his chin on the top of his hands, with his palms resting on the top of my head. We had to negotiate peace treaties in the early days to limit use to one hours at a time. This was downright political.

It didn’t change until my sister moved out, getting her own computer of course, and my brother went away for a four-month co-op term in Ottawa and bought his own computer to bring with him. When he brought the computer back, with a laptop from the 1990s that he got for something like $25 because the place he worked was getting rid of obsolete equipment, we finally had our own domains to rule over. This was a very important development. Much of my life was starting to revolve on the internet back before everyone else’s did and this nearly sole ownership swept almost all of the conflict away.

After that having individual computers for ourselves was taken for granted. We could afford it, because we were generously supported through university in both tuition and no living costs while we worked our part time jobs. When my brother went back to school in environmental design he required a Mac laptop on top of the same computer he bought for his internship. Years later when I went back to school I “required” a laptop to bring to class (this turned out to not at all be a requirement but I brought it anyway because my fast writing is shit and my fast typing is bloody amazing) so I also had a second computer. My sister got an iPad a while back. My brother has an iPod Touch and now we all have smart phones. Between the three of us siblings we effectively have ten frickin computers half of which we can take around with us wherever we go. The ten computers speaks of the degree of material consumption. The five portable ones (this is excluding laptops) speaks of the degree of conspicuous consumption to levels that even its original theorist Thorstein Veblen couldn’t imagine.

My mother never wanted a cell phone, and still doesn’t have one, but she does have a giant Mac desktop for pretty much nothing but e-mail and card games, and for her recent birthday she got the iPad she asked for, for pretty much nothing but e-mail and Angry Birds. My dad has his own laptop, fair enough, and he has a Blackberry that is at least provided to him for mostly work reasons. Nevermind that for the three of us full-time workers we all have office computers dedicated to our own work, with access to personal e-mail and weather and news when we are taking brief breaks from work tasks or have spare moments here and there. My cousin’s girlfriend has somewhat of a nomadic lifestyle, perpetually en route as a flight attendant with a boyfriend in another country, but she keeps in contact with her friends both in her native state of California and her current home of Chicago all the time – she is hardly seen not on her phone whenever I’m around her spare mid-sentence eye contact and cuddliness with my cousin. It’s astonishing and almost sickening on so many levels.

The first desktop computer my family bought in 1992 cost around $3000 in that year’s dollars (at least around $4000 at this time, assuming a steady 1.5% inflation). It had a 500MB hard drive. My smart phone came with roughly 4GB already inside, with a slot for a Micro SD card. Over the weekend I bought a 16GB (32x the hard drive of a 1992 $3000 computer) for $15. Quantity, quality, and even more quantity upon that, has progressed ridiculously far – and so has our consumption thereof.

It doesn’t seem out of place to have this much. Take a step back and ponder that for a while. Wrap your head around it, and maybe you’ll come across the  thought that you own multiple thinking machines, and outside of that pondering head.