• 20160328_131307

    Dear Man on the Skytrain with the Little Bag:

    We were on the same busy train yesterday and I feel that I wronged you. I’m sorry. I was being insensitive. The train was busy, and there wasn’t much room for you to house your little bag, and so, per the symptoms of your condition, you placed your wee friend on one of the few seats available. But I was selfish. I wanted to read my book, so I approached what I honestly thought was an unspoken-for chair so that I could indulge my pastime.

    When I arrived and spotted that the seat already had an owner, I didn’t veer away as any decent person would have done out of respect for your disorder. Instead, I asked with my annoyingly nonchalant voice, “Can I sit here?”

    You looked at me as though I’d shot your friend with bag-piercing bullets. How dare I? With the sulk of an innocent child told not to pull his sister’s hair, you rescued your pet from my invasion, and pulled him close to you. I should have known then that you were afflicted with a painful case of etiquette impairment and left you to suffer with your malady in peace. But no, with the compassion of a fruit fly, I sat myself down in your friend’s chair and read my book.

    Please forgive me. And please ask Mr. Bag for my forgiveness, too. You both deserve better.

    Sincerely,
    Guilty on Skytrain

  • During the 2014 Winter Olympics, I noticed a tendency of Canadian commentators to describe Canadian athletes of a humble disposition as “typically Canadian.” This annoys me for two reasons:

    (1) It seems to me that we have helped ourselves to this favourable designation by virtue of how American media (movies, TVs, journalists) tend to refer to us. The official cartoon analysis of Canadians by Americans is that we are humble, polite, and reserved (which delights me as a Canadian because I value those traits); however, while I’m pleased for our country to be complimented by our neighbours in this fashion, I think that it is problematic for us to assume its accuracy, given that it’s just one country’s subjective and generalized assessment of traits they have witnessed through binoculars.

    Similarly, while I have no trouble with Americans teasing Canadians for our allegedly frequent use of the term “eh,” I am distraught when Canadians join in with “Oh Canada, eh?” t-shirts meant to entertain Americans by climbing aboard this joke as though we, too, have noticed our “eh”ing predilection. In fact, I don’t think it’s something we often do or notice about ourselves, so why do we act as though this American observation of some of us is our defining idiosyncrasy? To my ear, when we try to impress Americans by making the same joke about ourselves that they would provide, we look as though we have no understanding of ourselves beyond the limited perceptions of our big sibling.

    (2) More importantly, I loathe the Canadian pundits’ description of Canadian athletes who are polite and humble as “typically Canadian” because it is conceited for us to describe ourselves by such terms. In fact, I notice that the Canadian pundit description of Canadian athletes as examples of typical Canadian humility has become a stepping stone for the same athletes to identify themselves by these complimentary terms, which, in turn, undermines the accuracy of the humble designation. A truly humble person, after all, would not boast that they are humble (as I’ve recently learned from Uriah Heep in my reading of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield).

    Similarly, I was miffed one day as I listened to CBC’s “Definitely Not The Opera” host Sook-Yin Lee discuss a feminist argument that one reason women in general don’t make as much money as men is because they are too humble and don’t put themselves forward (for promotions and raises) as much as men do. The uber successful and assertive Lee instantly helped herself to the benefits of the generalization as though it were a universality that by definition included herself. While officially she teased herself (and other women) for the being too modest for their own good, she seemed in fact to be delighted to cast herself in the role of the humble person who would have achieved more if she hadn’t been so soft spoken about her own accomplishments all the time. She had landed in the best of all worlds: she was able to give herself credit for humility while simultaneously boasting about it; and she did so without a tinge of irony in her voice.

    This bragging about humility worries me because as the self-celebration movement continues to dominate Canadian schools (where students are assured of their awesomeness regardless of achievement), I fear that Canadians’ reputed modesty will increasingly become a designation in name only.

    After Canada’s impressive 2014 Winter Olympic medal collection, Sportsnet offered up a video essay by one of their pundits, Arash Madani, who indicated that the equally prolific Canadian work done at the 2010 Vancouver games had “changed us” (apparently, by his reverent voice when noting it, for the better). While serenaded by uplifting music, he proclaimed that we now felt okay about going beyond our “typical Canadian” humility and “beating our chests a little” when our athletes climbed a podium. I think that Madani might be confusing the cheering for athletes with the boasting about them (which isn’t necessarily the same thing); however, the fact that he, and other pundits, are complimenting Canadian fans for being more cocky worries me. While Canadian pundits seem to take pride in Canadian humility, they also apparently take pride in Canadians taking pride (in our athletes). We can’t lose. We either get to celebrate ourselves for being modest, or celebrate ourselves for learning to appreciate ourselves more.

    In short, I wonder how long the perception of Canadian humility (that we seem to enjoy) will continue if we do not nurture it with behaviours to match.

    P.S. If you’re skeptical of my complaint that there is a trend within Canadian media to boast about Canadian humility and manners while simultaneously celebrating Canadians for building their self-esteem, keep an eye out for a Canadian coffee commercial with the following script:

    FEMALE VOICE A: Welcome to Canada.

    MALE VOICE A: Canadians are so nice.

    FEMALE VOICE B: So polite.

    CANADIAN GEESE: Sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sorry… sor–

    FEMALE VOICE C (above an image of Canadian citizenship ceremony): So welcoming.

    MALE VOICE B: We’re definitely not confrontational.

    MALE VOICE C: But we don’t let anyone push us around.

    MALE VOICE D: You throw the first punch…

    MALE VOICE E: We will drop the gloves. Oh yeah.

    FEMALE VOICE D: I’d say we’re brave.

    KIDS VOICE A: We’re confident with who we are.

    MALE VOICE F: We’re unapologetic.

    FEMALE VOICE E: Unless we’ve done something wrong, then we will apologize.

    KID VOICE B: Canada rules!

    MALE VOICE G: We grind it out.

    MALE VOICE H: We go for it!

    WOMAN IN CAR (driving under overpass with “Go Canada banner”): Awesome!

    MALE VOICE I: We totally rock this nation.

    FEMALE VOICE F: In Canada, we love what we love.

    MALE VOICE J: And we don’t care who agrees, or disagrees.

    MALE VOICE K: Especially when it comes to coffee.

    MALE VOICE L: We like ours…

    CUSTOMER A: Good…

    CUSTOMER B: Honest…

    CUSTOMER C: And simple.

    CUSTOMER D: Thank you very much.

    FEMALE VOICE G: This is our Canada.

    MALE VOICE M: And this… this is our coffee.

    TITLE CARD: Our Canada. Tim Hortons Logo. Our coffee.

    In sixty seconds, Mr. Hortons manages to mix equal parts boasting about our gentle nature with bragging about our other (alleged) good qualities. I couldn’t have satirized the state of media affairs better, myself. I realize that Canadians shouldn’t necessarily be responsible for how an advertiser depicts our collective state of mind, but generally, I think, advertisers are attempting to tell us what they’re confident we want to hear about ourselves. I hope they’re wrong: I hope we’re no so easily manipulated by our egos.

  • Okay, I admit this one is mostly a pet peeve, and I feel bad even bringing it up, as some of my favourite people indulge, but it’s time I took a side: I believe it is silly to write without capital letters.

    (1) THE FORMAL CASE

    Personally, whenever I read an email message expunged of capital letters, unless the communication came via a phone that lacks easy capitalization, the message seems to me to be encumbered by laziness. The writer does not seem to feel that I, as a reader, deserve the expense of effort they would have needed to utilize their SHIFT key.

    But who am I to judge? If my fellow email corresponders choose to type without grammar, spell check, or capital letters, that is their right. Perhaps they enjoy letting the letters fall where they may without the confines of “correctness.” And maybe in particular social communication circles, going uncapitalized is simply the preference of the group because it is perceived as easygoing.

    Nevertheless, I think it is worth noting that, in certain cases, following some rules of language can be a way of showing our correspondents that we respect them—kind of like not accentuating a burp during a dinner party. And so the more formal, and the less we know someone, the more I think such belches of grammar and spelling can stand out.

    I have recently witnessed job applications in which candidates omitted capital letters from their cover letters. Baffle me! Can they really expect a professional agency to take them seriously if they don’t take themselves seriously enough to apply the occasional SHIFT key to our initial interaction? Should the employer also expect a high five instead of a handshake during the interview?

    (2) THE PET PEEVE CASE

    Now—just for fun—I’m going to try to make the case against a capital-free existence even in personal correspondence. In my humble suspicion, capital letters have a useful function in our language: I think they help to alert the reader to natural punctuation breaks in our paragraphs, and so make our writing easier to digest on the first pass.

    I’m in favour of using original styles to communicate material, and so I wouldn’t make this argument if I could see a single benefit to excluding capital letters.

    As far as I can tell, there are four possible arguments for a expunging the SHIFT key from one’s typing vocabulary:

    (2.1) EASE

    Perhaps non-capitalizers think that the SHIFT key is far too labour-intensive given its modest gains. As you wish: if the shift-free genuinely believe that pressing an extra button once or twice a sentence is a significant waste of time and calories, then I support their decision. However, I do request that they check their data. When I’m at my keyboard, one finger hits the SHIFT key while the others keep on typing, so I don’t actually find shifting takes any extra time, nor in fact, many extra calories (indeed, my shifting finger does not seem any more buff than my non-shifting fingers).

    (2.2) TREND/HABIT

    It seems some have cut capitals from their emails because of the text-messaging boom. When one is typing on one’s small phone, capital letters are often more difficult to employ, and so, I think, much more acceptable to exclude. As a result, given the popularity of non-CAPS-texting, capital letters may seem passé to some even when they’re easy to apply. Moreover, because people are used to going capital-free in text messages, they may argue that it’s simpler to maintain that habit in emailing as well.

    My argument here would be that text messaging is a form of communication shorthand. Since each letter costs a lot more energy to type on a phone, it’s all about finding the simplest message to get your point across. “c u b4 the show,” for instance, gets “See you before the show” done on a smaller budget. That makes sense to me. Similarly, in the past, Morse Code left many words out to send the most pertinent information; this does not mean, though, that when famous sea captains wrote tell-all books about their experiences, they wrote in simplified beeps of language. No, it was merely the Morse medium that gave them that exemption. The definitive convenience within one does not have to undermine quality of the other.

    (2.3) PERSONALITY

    Probably the most common explanation for removing capitals from one’s writing is that of personality. Anti-capital snobs believe that they have a unique flavour of being that is illustrated by their lack of oversized letters. I do not intend such a shiftless existence any harm, but I must ask the practitioners of this theory if they are aware that many people have used the very same “unique” same small-lettered technique before them.

    (Indeed, I understand that the now expired poet, e.e. cummings, was one of the first to go capital-free. Most commonly, he de-capitalized his poetry and sometimes signed his name sans capitals. Some speculate, however, that he offered the latter as a gesture of humility as opposed to a recommendation for others to do the same.)

    Not that things worth doing have to be unique or original (good manners, for instance), but, if one’s reason for excommunicating the capital letter is because they think it illuminates an originality of personality, I must suggest that it does not.

    (2.4) AESTHETICS

    A friend of mine has explained that she uses the no-capital system because she likes the look of it. Fair enough. The only thing I can say to her is that most of the time one’s written words are meant for other people to read, so might it not be worth considering whether they enjoy such diminutive lettering, too? Moreover, given that written language is generally meant for communication, does she not worry at all that she might be giving up clarity for the sake of looks? Or is going capital-free the ultimate victory of fashion over substance?

    (3) THE COUNTER CASE

    For those who would like to take me down via an appeal to hypocrisy, I freely acknowledge that I have probably made at least one grammatical error somewhere in this message. However, please note that I have specifically tried to avoid such mistakes. In contrast when one goes capital-free, one is choosing to resist.

  • On CBC radio’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi, I find that the host’s brand of cheerful, introspective inquisition usually succeeds in bringing out the non-pretentious side of his guests; however, in a recent Q leading up to the London Olympics, Jian interviewed the billboard brandal, Scottish poet, Robert Montgomery, who fought through the host’s friendliness and managed an impressive level of condescension.

    Montgomery’s “brandalism” project, that of superimposing his poetry, along with other art, over billboards (including recent Olympic advertising) is interesting; as he says, cities decorated on all sides by commercial imagery could be exhausting to the psyches of the inhabitants, and so many city dwellers may prefer a quiet poetry break. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to hear how the poet would tackle the notion that the places on which he places his wares have already been paid for by law-abiding citizens. Montgomery’s personal preference for his ideas over corporate products sounds lovely in theory, but what gives him the right to overrule the message of the legal tenants of the space?

    I mean the question sincerely. As anyone who’s ever taken a philosophy of law course knows, Martin Luther King argued, while in jail, that some laws are in such violation of human dignity that they should not be considered valid. That’s compelling to me, so I was ready to be persuaded that Montgomery’s brandalism is confronting an oppression that the corporations have no right to inflict upon us.

    Yet, instead of making any attempt to suggest the intrinsic immorality of the original billboards, Ghomeshi’s guest simply explained that most people seem to enjoy the respite from the noise of commercialism. Is that really all the argument that is required to overrule the law? That people would prefer it? I’m sure most people would also rather go without parking tickets, so should we tear them up if we get them?

    Presumably the proceeds from billboards go the city (or at least the economy), which can then pay for infrastructure for the citizens. I’m happy to hear an argument that the billboards are nevertheless immoral and so must be fought, but Montgomery’s follow-up defence that he is providing his fellow humans with a kind of therapy is wholly insufficient, and incredibly paternalistic. Despite his poetic pedigree, I’m not convinced that he’s necessarily equipped to provide such collective psychological treatment.

    All of this I would have forgiven were it not for his hubris-riddled anecdote in which he described being caught in the act of brandalism by a police officer, who, happily enough, enjoyed the poetry and told our hero to carry on. “Not all police officers are stupid,” the poet concluded. So, along with providing therapy, Montgomery’s poetry has the ability to test the intelligence of its readers? If you “get it”, you’re smart; if not, sorry, you’re not too bright. (Moreover, whether or not the officer was smart, since when are individual members of the police supposed to ignore the law because they happen to like the sentiments expressed by the criminal?)

    I am more than happy to be persuaded that brandalism is a worthwhile enterprise, but I think Q should consider bringing on a defender who can see far enough past their own ego to be capable of taking on the genuine question at stake here: when is it okay to forsake the law for what you perceive to be the greater good?

  • It has come to my attention that Lebron James, star of the NBA and my blog some months ago, has, on his second try, won the championship he coveted when he left Cleveland to start an all-star team in Miami. Many people, including SethBlogs, disliked Lebron’s communication style during the defection. Please note, however, that most of his critics nevertheless acknowledged that Mr. James was still probably the best player in the league, and that his new team—-however he found his way to it—-was likely going to dominate the sport.

    I was thus surprised, on viewing the telecast leading up to James clinching his glory, that the legendary basketball star, Magic Johnson, merrily anticipated that if James won the title, everyone would forget about his controversial behaviours in the past. “Everyone will love him,” Magic said with a grin.

    “But,” I yelled at my TV, “we never doubted that he would win! Our issue with Lebron was never with his basketball skills!”

    Nevertheless, upon winning the championship, Mr. James was brought onto the talk show, The View, whereupon one of the hosts asked him what he had to say to his accusers now.

    “Well,” he beamed, “I think I’ll let [my NBA championship trophy] do my talking for me.”

    And the audience laughed with delight as though no one could ever criticize the star again.

    So let me see if I understand this. If it’s true that Mr. James behaved badly, then it was only contemptible so long as he wasn’t a champion. But, upon achieving victory, his behaviour off the court is no longer contestable?

    PROSECUTOR: Mr. Cheatem, is it true that you falsely represented your company’s holdings?

    CHEATEM: Yes, I did, but in my defence, that made my company millions of dollars, and I was named Broker of the Year in my office.

    PROSECUTOR: Why didn’t you say before that your scheme was so successful?! I would never knowingly insult the behaviour of someone who won! Congratulations. I move for a dismissal of all charges.

    I’m not saying that James is as bad as a fraud artist. In fact, the star was uncharacteristically gracious when he received the big trophy. I don’t even blame him for his silly answer to the soft question he received from the View people; it was too easy a slam dunk answer for him to pass up. But I do hope there is resistance among his critics to the notion that winning absolves someone of wrongdoings related to their character. (Unless James wins again next year: in that case, what more do we want from him, people?! ;))

  • On the radio stations I listen to (CKNW and CBC), there have been several interviews recently featuring pundits decrying the anti-social nature of my home metro city of Vancouver. Apparently, we metro Vancouverites aren’t very friendly, or at least it’s difficult to make friends here, and many people are feeling disconnected. In each such discussion, callers to the radio shows have boasted of their methods of increasing interactions with their neighbours.

    In one case, a man was so fed up with his friends’ anti-social tendencies that he was now standing up to them. “They want me to text them instead of at least talking to me on the phone,” he complained to the soothing verbal nods of the radio pundits. So he’s started a program in which he bakes cookies, and then takes himself on a mission to visit with his friends at their homes. “About 50% of them didn’t like that I’d arrived unannounced,” he said, “so no cookies for them.” From there, he explained that his goal was to give his friends a break from whatever project they were working on: who didn’t have 15 minutes to talk face to face and maybe share a cup of tea?

    This cookie ferry was lauded by the radio pundits as someone who was showing merry creativity in his efforts to truly reconnect with his world.

    On a rival radio station, meanwhile, a man called in to say that he too is an advocate of increased social interaction and so he tries to talk to people on the bus even though, he acknowledged sadly, in 9 times out of ten he is rebuffed. In this case, the radio pundits were upset that the social hero had been so mistreated by snobby bus travelers, and they hoped he would maintain his good spirits in pursuit of his good fight.

    Such negative results proved, it seemed, that Vancouver was indeed an unfriendly city where making friends is a daunting pursuit. And apparently it’s getting worse! The highest percentage of people who find friendship-making a challenge are in the young demographic of 25-34 year-olds. This was especially sad to the pundits since, after all, within such youth there should be the greatest promise and opportunity.

    But, just a for moment, might we consider the possibility that 25-34 year olds perceive difficulty in making friends because they no longer have the free-friendship-making services of school, and they haven’t yet learned how to acquire friends in other places? Or maybe this particular crop of 25-34 year-olds, compared with previous generations, has been nurtured into assuming that they deserve a lot of friends at all times.

    “And this,” one pundit remarked, “in spite of social networking.” Their implication of course being that social networking is a false form of human connection; indeed, the pundit now had proof that social networkers were ultimately dissatisfied in spite of their lofty technical connections. The pundit did not consider any other alternative such as, say, perhaps social networkers in that age group are spoiled by the ease of virtual interactions and so they mistakenly assume that it will be equally easy out in the face-to-face world, too.

    Perhaps our city would benefit from greater social engagement than we have, and maybe social networking is hindering more than it’s helping. But if we’re not willing to scientifically interpret the evidence beyond simply taking as gospel a particular group’s self-assessment that they’re lonely, then we really have no way of knowing.

    There seems to be an unassailable agreement amongst social interaction pundits that face-to-face meeting with human beings is always better than any other form of communication. Why? Have they never been to a gathering where the conversation is stilted, boring, or overpowered by a narcissist? Do they never wish they were home reading a book, or even watching TV? Moreover, some people are introverts, which I understand means that, unlike extroverts, they are not energized by socializing, so maybe they require less in-person visiting than those who love to be around people. Perhaps, for some people, social media allows them to engage while still possessing an immediate escape route.

    And what about the benefits of engagement provided by digital communication? Each of these unholy media, from phoning, to texting, to e-mail, to Tweeting, has the power to set up plans to meet more efficiently than traditional communication. Imagine how cumbersome it would be to set up a friendly flash mob without the internet.

    Ultimately, I think new forms of communication give us more choice. Maybe today, as the pundits complained, we don’t know our next-door neighbours as well as we used to, but at the same time, instead of acquiring friendships merely based on proximity, we can now interact with people with whom we have something particularly in common, even if they live on another continent. Yes, perhaps these options are too many and are costing us interactions that would be good for us. I too find it often rude and disruptive, for instance, when people are habitually on their texter while officially visiting with someone in person. And maybe some people are addicted to their iBerry to the point that they are harming themselves without being aware of it.

    But we need more evidence for the inferiority of modern communication as a whole beyond simply that it is not face to face. Not everyone wants to interact directly with other people all the time. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re unfriendly. When I’m on the bus, I like to read or listen to my radio. I’ve met many strangers who have decided that I would be better off talking to them. And rarely in such cases have I found the conversations to be fulfilling. Perhaps that’s because I was enjoying my book or radio program, but it may also be because getting to know someone for the first time is stilted business, and so, if we’re not destined to be great friends, we’re doing the hardest part of socializing without the payoff.

    I find that people on the bus are generally pretty friendly if someone is lost or falls down. We look out for each other if there is a need, but beyond that maybe we’ve decided as a group that we’ll focus our socializing on people with whom we have a relationship, while using our solo bus trips as free time to catch up on the book we’ve been wanting to read or cell phone game we never get to play.

    The truth is it’s not hard to make friends if you’re willing to go to places where stranger-interactions are an assumed part of the activity. Sports, clubs, conferences, volunteer endeavours, and weddings are all fertile contexts for friendship-making. So, instead of imposing oneself on the nearest stranger who already had plans for their transit time, why not go to places where people have chosen to engage with new people?

    And, once people are friends, I applaud those who make the effort to create opportunities to interact, but the the idea that one’s friends should always be ready for a fifteen-minute cup of tea is the most fascist notion in the history of friendship. Dearest cookie-socializer, are there no times when you don’t want to socialize? Maybe you were just getting ready to take a shower after a long bike ride, or were planning to watch a movie with your spouse after a hard day at work; how would you like it if your friends arrived on your door step just then, informing you that it was time to socialize? And let’s be honest: it’s not going to be a “fifteen minute” morsel of time: it’ll be at least an hour before you’ll be allowed to get back to what you had planned for yourself. Perhaps YOU, cookie man, would love such an imposition of impromptu interaction, but can you comprehend the possibility that some people may have chosen their own solitude or company just then? What gives you the right to overrule your friends’ plans with your personal preference to be in their presence at that moment? Next time, just phone (or Tweet) ahead to see if they’re up for a visit, and nobody has to get hurt.

    Perhaps, as the pundits argue, the world would be a better place if we were to visit with each other more often, but those who hold that position would, I submit, have more success in achieving this goal if they were to persuade those of us less inclined by making the socializing inviting instead of obligatory. If we choose it, we will stay.

    P.S. Since typing the above, I forwarded it to the Simi Sara Show on CKNW (whereon some of the SethBlog villains of this piece were originally given their day on radio). As a result, to my delight and nervousness, I was invited onto the Simi Sara show to defend my “anti-social position” (see the below video, “The Simi Sara Show Part 1”). And below that (“The Simi Sara Show Part 2”) is the audience’s reaction to my radical views. Apparently, according to the popular consensus, there is no middle ground between always being social, and being an unfriendly jerk.

  • One of the things that drives me to roll my eyes at politicians in general, and my British Columbian representatives in particular, is that most of them (or at least the most successful of them) seem to live in perpetual spin. When a legitimate criticism finds its way to them, their duty to their brand seems to be to misinterpret, misdirect, and/or simply confuse the issue until the previously straightforward matter is going in circles. Or, if their mistake is too damning to spin, then they simply hold up a mirror in the direction of their opposition and point out that, when the rival brand was in power, they did something similar.

    The latter is a brilliant technique for escaping the most daunting scrutiny because, for almost every level of blunder that you make, one of your enemy political brand members will undoubtably have at some point committed a similar faux pas. Indeed, when eventually the enemy retakes power, and provide their own scandals, they in turn will recall your mistakes back to the stage – and so the circle of politics continues.

    As much as my eyes roll with this spin, I can understand its origins. Much like a product on the market, it is difficult for our democratically elected leaders (and the media that covers them) to focus too much on nuance in the 30 second soundbites that define them. Nevertheless, I often wonder if there is room for a mild case of humility amongst politicians. Perhaps if former BC Premier, Gordon Campbell had been more humble in his imposition of the HST, the populace wouldn’t have developed such an unreasonable hatred for it.

    Maybe I’m wrong: maybe we the voters see humility as a sign of weakness. Perhaps, if a politician admits imperfection too often, we will think they lack confidence. Indeed, the strange modesty-free behaviours of politicians seems to back up this notion. Whereas the rest of are expected to speak of our own achievements with a modicum of self-deprecation, politicians must continually cheer themselves on and associate themselves with any successful enterprise whether they spawned it or not.

    In a few-party system like British Columbia’s, this strategy apparently will get you elected, but it will eventually get you hated. Most political leaders, no matter how popular they are in their arrival, will leave office under a hale of contempt. Campbell was one of the most successful politicians in BC history, but by the end, he was amongst the least popular leaders we’ve ever run out of office. The decapitated political party, though, can still survive by renouncing their own former head and admitting they need a fresh start. Which brings me (finally) to my point. I think I see why the Occupy movement in BC (Vancouver, specifically) seemed to lose so much of their fan base so quickly. Because they are a consensus movement, they have no one but themselves to blame for their mistakes. And so, when the criticism was stronger than standard spin could handle, instead of serving up a fall guy for us to swarm, they simply denied their flaws and claimed the press was not fairly covering them. (It’s never a good idea to attack the media that you rely on to promote your rhetoric.)

    Using my talk radio listening experience as my blunt measuring tool, it seems to me that most Vancouverites are significantly sympathetic to the Occupy movement in the US as we perceive that their financial system has betrayed them. Given, however, that Canada, whatever its flaws, has been—-my pundits tell me—-a beacon of financial security during the current world economic crisis, many wondered, when Canadian Occupiers first arrived, what our self-proclaimed 99% representatives were going to be ranting against.

    At first, the Vancouver version wouldn’t really say. They were a consensus movement, which meant, as one Vancouver representative admitted to my radio host (Bill Good), creating a coherent thesis was going to take a while. Nevertheless, the general “down with the Man; up with the rest of us” seemed to resonate with many in the populace who have never heard a pander they didn’t like.

    To their credit, some of the Vancouver occupiers were capable of discussing with the press the things they wanted changed about the world, but understandably no two occupiers seemed to think alike, and so the general notion that they didn’t know what they wanted persisted. In the meantime, many observers were becoming increasingly impatient with the Occupation of previously shared public space. The Occupiers seemed to feel that they were above the bylaw: not only were they ignoring the rules against tent structures, they renounced the authority of the fire department who had claimed that the impressive tent village was contrary to fire code. The movement did eventually conform to the fire department’s “recommendations,” but not without antagonizing their bylaw-abiding audience.

    By the time the Vancouver Occupy Movement put forth a list of 60 demands, which itemized a coherent selection of idealistic goals, for many of us, it was too much, too late. In general, my radio friends (at least those who called in to the radio talk shows) agreed with a large percentage of the ideas within the Occupy platform, but they were tired of their anti-social methodology. (And when Vancouver had to re-route its Santa Claus parade around the Occupation, that was the last straw that broke the camel’s back!)

    The trouble, I think, with the Occupy movement—-in contrast with standard political parties—-is that while, yes, most politicians will attempt to spin their way out of criticism, the Occupy party appears to feel that they are above it. After two drug overdoses (one leading to a death) in the Vancouver encampment, they were quick to absolve themselves of any responsibility as they blamed the government for not having better programs for the drug-afflicted—-their lost comrade, they implied, would have died anyway. Perhaps they were right, but their unwillingness to express a morsel of remorse or acknowledgment that they could have done anything differently themselves once again alienated their audience.

    All of that, I supposed, could be described as standard political rhetoric, but the Occupiers stepped off script forever when a few of them tried to intimidate the press away from covering these potentially damaging stories. Some Occupiers tried to talk down the “don’t broadcast our problems” wing of the movement, but they did not renounce them. In standard politics, if you provoke a scandal (or tax) too big to spin, the party has to leave you under the bus. By the nature of their consensus design, though, Occupiers can never disown their own and so are left to feebly spin the egregious behaviour of their brethren as free speech to which “they have a right.”

    Strangely, then, this is one case where critics can legitimately paint the whole organization with the same brush. The consensus movement is beholden to the actions of its least reasonable members. One caller to my radio noted that the dreadful behaviours of those aggressive Occupiers were not unlike the beasts in George Orwell’s Animal Farm whose originally righteous resistance to oppressive farmers eventually mutated into a facsimile of the very enemy they had overthrown. As intriguing as this criticism is, I don’t think it’s yet fair to this particular movement. If they continue to treat themselves as infallible, however, they may be on their way.

    The 60 demands of the Vancouver Occupy movement may be wonderful goals for our society. But Utopia is not easy to create. As flawed as Canada may be in terms of social justice, it is still, as compared to all of the societies in history, probably in the top 99th percentile. Democracy, with all of its problem areas, has so far proven to be the most effective way to achieve the best in humanity.

    However, it is certainly not perfect. For instance, one thing democracy didn’t seem to account for in its birth is that we the people may actually destroy our earth. Unfortunately, we seem unwilling to vote for politicians who will change our habitat-destroying habits. So maybe the only way to save ourselves is by overthrowing democracy with a less selfish and “now”-obsessed political system.

    At this point, though, I don’t believe the Occupy Movement in BC is the one to achieve this goal. When Occupy Vancouver received (and, to their credit, obeyed) legal injunctions to remove themselves from public sites not long ago, they promised to get their message across via flash occupations of public places such as the Skytrain. But the Skytrain is something our society has gotten right, hasn’t it?! Isn’t such public transit good for the environment as it promotes people out of their gas-sipping cars into much more energy efficient trains? And more importantly, from the 99% perspective, Skytrain service helps the majority of us to get around cost-effectively.

    But our self-proclaimed 99% reps apparently are so certain of their righteousness that they’re willing to disrupt the travels of often non-rich, green-abiding constituents. As with all politicians, I’m sure they’ll spin this contradiction brilliantly, but, if that doesn’t work—-and the 99% is as outraged as it should be by their un-green threat—-the Occupiers, sadly, don’t have the option to simply fire their leader. Consensus has no scapegoat.

    P.S. So far, thankfully, Occupy Vancouver have not lived down to their Occupy Skytrain threat. This gives me hope for their future; however, the fact that the idea was even suggested by their representatives is a discredit to their movement.

  • A Twitter version of myself recently commented, “Plenty of room for temporary Canuck fans on the bandwagon. You’re not obligated to watch the whole marathon to cheer on the final sprint!”

    I couldn’t agree with me more! As the Canucks attempt to exorcise their Chicago Blackhawk demons tonight, some longtime Van Can fans will bristle and even insult those short term cheerleaders who only come out for big games. I do not understand this resentment. Hockey is entertainment, and so, as far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to take part in as much or as little of it as you like.

    (Admittedly, I can be caught teasing those newbies who try to sound like hockey pundits and make hockey proclamations that are beyond their comprehension level, but that’s a whole other snobbery.)

    Similarly, I don’t resent those of us who only watch Olympic sports every four years. It may be tough on those athletes that they don’t get daily cheering, but, sorry: this is entertainment. I’ll watch when I find it entertaining, and I happen to only find cross country skiing to be intriguing when Olympic medals are on the line.

    I may also watch a movie sequel without “supporting” the original, or view “Harry Potter” without reading the book. I don’t have a problem with me doing that, and neither should Canuck loyalists resent occasional supporters. Not only are they not hurting anybody in the process, but their fresh enthusiasm adds excitement to the hockey battle for the rest of us. In fact, it seems to me if they were there all year long, the playoffs wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

    However! If the Canucks lose tonight, I will have to aim my disappointment somewhere and so I’ll have no choice but to join in the mocking of those clamouring for the bandwagon exit.

  • Many years ago, I decided to try online dating. I assumed that it would be a place that one could get to know another person through electronic conversation better than they could in, say, a bar or a club where music tends to overpower the human voice.

    As it turned out, I was quite right that one could communicate with words instead of gestures online, but I was startled to discover that many women were shy about saying anything unique about themselves, and instead would simply state that they “loved to laugh” or “live life to the fullest”. In spite of the popularity of these claims, I found them to be surprisingly empty. How many people, after all, don’t enjoy a good laugh now and then, and who among us isn’t hoping for a life that’s full to the brim with fun stuff? Thus, rather nobly, I decided to sacrifice my own profile by turning it into a profile-makeover column wherein I ever-so-helpfully offered suggestions to people for how they might describe themselves beyond cliches so that prospective suitors could get a distinguishing sense of them.

    Predictably, few people responded to my efforts, but I nevertheless felt that I was doing my part for the greater good of the online dating community.

    Finally, one day, I received a reply from a woman who said she liked my profile a lot. After brief e-mail correspondence, she asked me to call her. I did so and soon after found myself on a date, which was so unusual in its results that it provoked the cultivation of my dating motto: “Don’t worry too much about a date in advance – it’ll either be a good date or a good story”.

    I don’t want to give away which of those two categories this particular date fell into, but I will say that, nearly a decade later, I’ve entered it into CBC’s Bad Date Story Contest.

    If you’re interested to learn the details, my story, which begins from the above-mentioned phone call, can be found here.

    Note: given the CBC contest is now closed, you are invited to share, via comments here, any bad date tales that you think could have topped mine on the CBC charts.

  • In sports, when underdogs win unexpectedly, there seems to be an almost unanimous tendency amongst such winners to suddenly deride those who predicted they wouldn’t win.

    INTERVIEWER: How does it feel to win?!

    UNDERDOG CHAMPION: Yeah, everyone was counting us out. They were all bashing us. Nobody believed in us, but ourselves, and we proved them all wrong!

    I find the indignant tone of such remarks to be a wee bit confusing. It’s as though the vindicated athletes think the pundits were maliciously targeting them in a manner akin to someone telling a child they would never amount to anything…

    PUNDIT: I predict the Rangers will beat the Blazers 4-2.

    BLAZERS’ PLAYER: Oh, great, so you’re saying I’m not good enough to win?! You don’t believe in me just like my parents never believed in me! Thanks a lot.

    Surely the players understand that, if predictions are to be made, someone has to be estimated to lose, so their designation as underdog was not necessarily mean-spirited. But maybe I’m missing the point. Perhaps the players simply don’t like being predicted upon at all…

    INTERVIEWER: So how does it feel to be go into this tournament ranked number one?

    HIGH RANKED PLAYER: Actually, I find the whole notion of rankings to be disrespectful: I’m tired of being treated like a piece of meat whose results can be anticipated by non-players. Instead of typecasting us based on past performances, why don’t you just wait and see what happens? Whatever will be, will be!

    Strangely, though, such railing against complimentary predictions doesn’t seem to happen. Instead the players only seem resentful when they’re not picked to win. Actually, that’s not completely true. More accurately: they only object when they’re not picked to win, but end up winning after all. However, I’ve yet to hear an assault on predictions of losing when they prove accurate…

    INTERVIEWER: So, how do you feel about your 5th place finish?

    5TH PLACER: Well, let me first point out that everyone predicted I would come in 5th. And I just want to say ‘Screw you!’ to all those people that didn’t believe in me.

    INTERVIEWER: So you feel you should have been predicted to fare better?

    5TH PLACER: Yeah! It would have been nice if someone would have believed in me. I see that all sorts of people believed in Mr. World Record Holder over there. Isn’t that nice for him? So not only does he get the glory of winning, he also gets the pre-event accolades, too. Couldn’t those predictions have been shared out evenly? Or better yet, here’s an idea: why not treat us all like we have an equal chance of winning and not predict at all!?

    So, given that the athletes only object when they are inaccurately predicted to perform worse than they do, maybe their objection is not that their results were estimated, but instead that that the alleged experts got it wrong. Hmm, but the problem there is that if inaccuracy of prediction is the only issue, wouldn’t the “overdog” players predicted to win complain when they lose?

    INTERVIEWER: So how does it feel to lose after being the favourite in this tournament?

    OVERDOG LOSER: Well, the truth is I was a little irritated in the first place when we were ranked so highly. Clearly, the so-called experts don’t know what they’re talking about. They said we’d come in first, and did we? No. I just feel really bad for the fans who were given false estimates by the pundits.

    So I’m not sure what the solution is to this apparent paradox. When I coached kids’ rollerblade hockey, a four-team tournament was divided into “Gold Medal Winner”, “Gold Medal Runner-up”, “Silver Medal Winner” and “Silver Medal Runner-up”. Admittedly, one of my ten year old players approached me afterwards and said, “Why are we being called ‘Silver Medal Runner-Up’? Didn’t we come in last?” Nevertheless, perhaps sports prognosticators can learn from such efforts to protect people from ever thinking they’ve lost…

    PUNDIT: I believe equally in all four teams in this tournament. They’re all ranked number one in my books! If I had to choose – and it’s basically a coin flip – I would rank the Bears ‘1A’, the Tornados ‘1B’, the Lions ‘1C’ and the Ravens ‘1D’.

    RAVENS’ PLAYER: Awesome! We’re ranked number 1!

    P.S. Similarly, consider Jim Carrey’s (academy award worthy) Lloyd Christmas in one of the great (and most underrated) comedies all all time, Dumb & Dumber…

    (SPOILER ALERT: Don’t view you if you haven’t yet seen this brilliant movie!)

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