The SHED Out Back

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I live in the center of the city. In theory municipal policy shouts “HOORAY DOWNTOWN” because it’s good PR for tourism and business to have vibrancy in a central district. I’ve become actively involved in advocacy for those of us who live downtown, because policy and initiatives tend to have narrow vision of improving downtown for the white collar working day and not necessarily the other hours when people (surprisingly enough) continue to live.

But hold on! 10-ish years ago we built a new arena downtown! Most major concerts are held there! And now we have an NHL team! People will be downtown in the evening!

It’s good for restaurants and owners of parking lots, but again it doesn’t provide incentive for grocery stores to establish and extend their hours of operation. It helps with the bus schedule, but you shouldn’t need to bus from one location downtown to another unless you have mobility concerns or are carrying a very heavy object. That’s the purpose of having a compact city center, and in an ever-urbanizing world residency should grow up rather than out, with downtown areas ideal for doing that.

But developments still favour the idea of bringing people into downtown during the evenings but leaving by the end of the night. The buzzword is the SHED – the Sports, Hospitality, and Entertainment District, which is focused on the cross-street of my apartment building. With my window looking out back I can literally see the shining lights of this trend in development. The parking lots I can see are packed with cars when the Jets are playing. I can hear people laughing and hollering when walking back to their vehicles if the team won, or they went to a bar for a bachelorette party, or the concert they went to got them in the party spirit. It’s great to see extended hours of good times downtown. Visitors coming in for these events are certainly welcome, as I like background noise audible from my window. But as far as the basics go, a backyard SHED doesn’t improve my quality of living.

Anyway, I’m doing more than complaining about this, through more means than just an unknown blog, so don’t read this as an entitled youth’s whine, or an old man’s “AND ANOTHER THING…” rant. City life is improved by creating this festive atmosphere, but there’s a long way to go if we want to reach world class standards. If we keep people downtown 24 hours a day simply by enticing them to live here, we may not reach levels of New York, the City that Never Sleeps, or Paris, the City of Lights, but we can make impressive improvements and become Winnipeg, the City that Parties at -40 degrees. Wouldn’t that be a proud, distinguishing title?

The Difference a Little Colour Makes

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I bought a hair dryer the other day, after not having one for years. I’ve typically hated them because my hair always comes out terribly, but I admit that the one time I’ve used it so far has worked to my advantage (although not creating an acceptable hair style by itself). If I use it with enough success on weekends I might even attempt to dry and style my hair in morning routines before work, sacrificing the going-back-to-bed I do for fifteen minutes after my shower as my hair dries slightly from wrapped in a towel.

I noticed as well the other day that people who hadn’t seen me much, if at all, since I went blonde were more directly sociable to me than usual. It was the first sign I took in that maybe blondes do have more fun – people who have known me as a brunette or with my hair dyed black acted slightly different around me with blonde hair, in a socially positive manner. It’s a mild difference, and this may all be spurious or just my imagination, but perhaps this is a reason I need to maintain my hair colour, continuing to bleach my roots.

Maybe I’m changing as a person. Maybe a parasite has colonized my scalp follicles and makes me think differently about my hair. Maybe I’m stuck in a coma and I’m experiencing this alternate world. Whatever the reason…I’m changing the way I perceive my own hair. We used to be enemies…but I still wouldn’t call it my friend.

Memories of a Genuine Troll

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Back in the days when I was a benevolent leader of an internet forum, there was a character whom I will call Chris2 (because his name was Chris, but there was this other Chris, and…well, a) Chris1 deserves his own story one day, and b) Chris is a common name – oh, and c) we wanted to make Chris2 feel less important [although we didn’t really want to make Chris1 feel important either…]). Enough needless elaboration in series of parentheses. The important part is to know that he was a right-wing asshole college student/Marines reservist from upstate New York who tried to get into as many elaborate arguments as possible with otherwise open-minded youth.

This morning I got nostalgic about one of his primary targets – a Canadian teenager and vegan who had a lot of capital-o Opinions on things. I was thinking back to a particular discussion about underwear – going commando is the natural choice, yadda yadda yadda, underwear lobby – but also shaving the region got into the conversation and there seemed to be a logical disconnect with the whole “natural” argument (plus the fact that pubic hair serves a purpose, in women at least, that underwear can substitute for so you better either have one or the other if not both). This girl and Chris2 got into innumerable debates about her left-wing views and how it conflicts with the we-should-all-eat-meat-because-capitalism-you-fucking-hippies philosophy he goes by. But they agreed on the shaving thing, surprisingly enough. (Chris2 also had his share of perversions which he mostly told in private IMs to a dear friend of mine, who naturally passed them onto me.)

Chris2 also called a girl’s mother a horrible parent because the two of them (mother, who’s a doctor, and daughter, who was a smart 16 year old) sat down to talk about sex and the mother prescribed birth control before the girl went to that new level with her boyfriend of a year. To sane and reasonable people it seems like a very responsible thing for both the girl and her mother to do, but to Chris2 it was an example of the horrible moral decay of society since it meant teenagers were having sex before marriage. Chris2, in his private IMs to a dear friend of mine, showed no shame in his sexual activities and even talked about how he nearly scored with a 15 year old. You can’t spell “hypocrisy” without “Chris”.

He was a complete music snob, pro-war, and thought that anybody who wasn’t getting a STEM degree (specifically the E for engineering, because that’s what he was doing) was going to college for useless reasons and would contribute nothing to society. He was a Rush Limbaugh Jr., cognitive dissonance and all. He demeaned everyone else’s writing skills thinking himself a sophisticated poet, despite all of his spelling and grammar mistakes. Any evidence presented by others was propaganda and his was solid. How much of this was purely to be an asshole and how much he was actually fooled by fell far more towards the latter than he ever cared to admit. He was a troll, but he seriously held the values he trolled with.

The site itself has disappeared, but I have some of it on record. Maybe one day I’ll have the time (and find enough purpose) to go through those and come up with some of his best quotes. Surprisingly I, and the dear friend of mine, were respected by him, and seen as modestly intelligent in spite of the naiveté behind our liberal values. I suppose that merely means we were in on the joke – his joke, at least. He may have suspected something, but he was far from being fully in on our joke. Those were fun times, rousing both the theatrical and true opinions of this genuine troll. I wonder where on the internet he’s arguing now…

Getting Back on the Sentience Saddle

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I’ve had bad experiences with coffee the past couple of days. I’m not going to put a moratorium on it like I am for alcohol, because hahahaha I would never live that through, but I do need to confront one kind of dependence issue: I can’t use my lack of natural energy as an excuse anymore. I need to let my body create its own endorphins to get me going and not think that there’s no hope without coffee.

My motivation has been shot so far in the new year. It’s not just me, or so says a person who has still completely outshone me with enthusiasm in a shared project, and it’s part of January as a whole. It’s true – the saddest day of the year was Monday, and while they’re getting longer the days are still short. My utopian society would practice hibernation to ignore this time of year. I weep silently every day when I get out of bed, and there’s been more couch-meet-ass time as I work my way through the entire series of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I wish I could sleep all the time.

But things must go on. I turn to coffee to help, but it doesn’t do the job on its own. My lethargy inhibits me from doing basic things like grocery shopping, so coffee isn’t getting me through much except for slow-moving hours of work even when it’s not, ahem, flushing out my bowels in the manner a 19th century doctor would prescribe.

Somebody put me in a cold shower and slap me. (Not literally, please.) I need to have consciousness to live up to what I’m still somehow doing or in a lucid out-of-body way intend to do. Coffee neither creates nor replaces consciousness. The things I do need to have reason in and of themselves, whether caffeine feigns my enthusiasm or not. Having too much coffee is counter-productive with its effect on my already fidget-prone habits, and/or leaving me stuck on the can in a non-Eureka! kind of circumstances. Give myself a morning pep-talk, accept the fact that if I don’t do something nobody will, and don’t necessarily take the term “coffee break” literally. Do things! Apply myself! Move forward with passion!

But first, couch-meet-ass. ST: TNG.

Knots in the String

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Twitter is an interesting social medium. It’s ripe for political dialogue, even if you’re not directing the message at anyone in particular, or at someone you don’t know who may not even read your response.

Then there are conversations with the people who you do know, about things you probably already knew they thought, but as it’s not a private conversation like by IM, text, phone, or in-person, it becomes a public display of dialogue. The other day my friend Ben and I did just that. (Edited for style, and all but the first is a response to the previous.)

@ben_chaotica: I support a woman’s right to choose to have a safe, legal (preferably early) abortion. I also support public subsidies for contraceptives.

@khrismonegenege: And you also support a woman’s right not to have sex. All very important steps in human welfare.

@ben_chaotica: Absolutely I do. The right (for men and women) to chose not to have sex is fundamental to the sovereignty of one’s body.

@khrismonegenege: Some don’t quite understand that…or think the right to one’s body is surrendered when practised (e.g. choice in clothes).

@ben_chaotica: Not even getting married, or getting comatose-drunk and naked in public, surrenders the right to not to have sex.

@khrismonegenege: Not even starting sex revokes the right to stop at any point.

@ben_chaotica: Agree. Although it is better for all parties if party intending to exercise that right does so as early as possible.

@khrismonegenege: Yes, because we should all have the self-respect to be decisive and not give into pressure.

@ben_chaotica: The right not to have sex comes with the responsibility to exercise it honestly and healthily (i.e. not for power games)

@khrismonegenege: Yup, with clear motives and mutual understanding, respecting personal limits.

@ben_chaotica: It is my fond wish that ALL interpersonal relations be conducted with clear motives, mutual understanding and self-respect.

@khrismonegenege: No kidding! It’s something I try to do, and hope it’s paid forward. I’m impressed with guys who are clear and ask for clarity.

Even though this conversation was just between the two of us, it’s visible out there if anyone happens to stumble upon it. It’s unlikely many people will, but there are other conversations like this on Twitter that get wider readership. It’s a form of democratic dialogue as much as a social medium. I socialize with Ben separately…and it’s on topics of less substance, like how similar he is to Data from ST:TNG. (You can’t really tell from this discussion, but in due time…)

Kids Those Days

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Here’s an idea for a survey: ask more seasoned cohorts (in groups, e.g. 35-44, 45-54, etc) what their biggest pet peeve about the younger generation is, out of a list of choices. Include a wide range of options. Make some options distinctly about the particular generation (e.g. pop culture fads). Make some of them about changes that span across generations (e.g. texting rather than talking on the phone). Make some of them just part of being young (e.g. not listening to elders). Make some of them just human (e.g. always misplacing things).

Tally the results. See how popular the ones that can actually be specifically applied to this generation fare against broader categories. Even generation-specific ones have parallels in the youths of the older age ranges – finding it shocking that today’s university students were born in a post-Cobain world was the same for post-Lennon, post-Hendrix, post-Holly children coming of age to whoever grew up in a prior musical climate. Thinking Justin Bieber and One Direction reflect dwindling standards of talent and art in music ignores what the industry has been employing in its marketing strategy for the past 70 years.

The declining quality of literacy? As stick-up-the-ass about grammar as I can be, language is not static and rules have been changing each generation. A sense of entitlement? There is more variation within generations than between, as income disparity and family values influence this and not the year in which people are born. Not knowing about important events in history? New ones happen and the world changes with them. There are undoubtedly differences in habits and mindsets between age brackets that grew up in different environments, but wait for young people to reach adulthood. When they are through with their growing pains and solidified character starts to appear, judge them then. You’ll find that the worst traits span across all generations, and some young people are just as awesome as you.

Pessimism and Progress

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I’m reading a book called The Rational Optimist. I haven’t finished it yet so I don’t know if it acknowledges certain flaws in its basic argument, but here’s what it essentially says: the fastest, most effective change and advancement of civilizations have always had bitter critics who see it as a sign of decline, yet over the past two hundred years we’ve continued to expand the economy, population, and life expectancy. What this book is saying is that critics/cynics/pessimists have always been wrong.

It’s obviously not black and white like that and the author, Matt Ridley, acknowledges a few examples of hiccups and downsides here and there. But the biggest flaw I’ve found in his argument, as much truth as there is in the potential for continuous improvement, is that past cynicisms and predictions of dismal outcomes were simply proven wrong when they didn’t come true. He’s ignoring the purpose of these commentaries: without certain change, there may be dire consequences.

Many of these pessimistic works of public dialogue have influenced the direction towards a wiser path. I would imagine most people who foresee the downfall of society on its current track are trying to prevent it from actually happening – these are warnings, not curses. Optimists with great faith in human progress who use past advancement as an argument to not intervene tend to ignore the influence of calls for intervention, whether that was ever effected through centralized efforts or not.

The book looks through the Industrial Revolution in 19th century Britain, and compares it to modern day growing behemoths like China and India. Factory work in cities is better than subsistence farming for both the Victorian English proletariat and today’s Chinese populous, and since the dismal environmental predictions made in the 1800s about the future of the British landscape didn’t come true as prosperity reached a level where preservation became affordable, the same will happen in China. As products made in China become more in demand with growing pocket funds across the globalized world, the wages and living standards of Chinese workers will improve and they will resemble today’s wealthier nations. These are generous assumptions, given the population differences and the accessibility of foreign labour that will keep the direction of the race to the bottom rather than the top.

What so many pessimistic forecasts are trying to do is sway the path of development onto a different and better track than the growing pains smaller Western societies went through. It’s certainly unfair to say, now that the West is rich, that the means by which we got here were morally wrong and other countries shouldn’t use them. It’s up to the developing nations to see that for themselves, and gain an advantage by improving the sustainability of their methods and a healthier culture towards humanity and our planet.

There are better ways of creating and spreading wealth, of improving the quality of life for more people, but the West that’s wealthy and powerful right now sees them as wrong. This is not just what we see in other parts of the world, but here, in countries like Canada, in Our Home and Native Land. The Idle No More movement, which is mostly weighted in environmental issues and rights over the care and preservation of land, is an attempt to divert the direction of economic development along a healthier path. But mainstream Canada – white, colonizer Canada – reacts to this as a blow to prosperity, as a criticism of the direction we see as being the key to improving our individual homes and cars and bank accounts. But throw an idea for change in there, resist the status quo, and you are halting all progress. There is a lacking perspective on how these cynicisms and warnings effect changes along the way. If this movement succeeds, and Canada takes more care of its land in the process of economic activity, it’s about time we recognize that it was the nay-sayers who changed things. If boo-hoo pessimists or angry marginalized populations didn’t say anything, do you really think we’d still turn out okay?