Category: Bigger Than All of Us

Not feeling great today

Those I saw who predicted this election outcome the earliest and most clearly are those who study history and hate. The civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement β€” there’s always been “conservative” backlash to social progress in the US. A Black president? Same-sex marriage? Americans will once again get to learn from the forgotten history they’re repeating.

People of colour always knew that this is what America looks like. So did Muslims, Jews, women, and others. (White, Christian women apparently decided they were somehow different.) If you’re still not clear, if you’re still shocked, it’s never been laid out for you in more clear primary colours. Charts, graphs, it’s all there.

When those previous movements happened, though, straight, white, Christian men still had their traditional privilege and supremacy. In the workforce, at home, in society. The cracks had started by the 70s, though. And now these demographics are decades older and more scared. They can’t provide the way they once did, they aren’t respected like they once were.

And a world that doesn’t look like them or agree with them or believe in them is leaving them behind. But there are still millions of them, and they have lashed out. You can’t point to or blame one group. This wasn’t solely about race or gender or socioeconomics. Though it was each and all of those things. It took a whole lot of people buying into very scary messages to make this happen.

But millennials and those younger didn’t make this happen. The majority of people of colour didn’t make this happen. And the Baby Boomers are senior citizens now. The backlash is small, comparatively, though it is going to have some ugly consequences well beyond one term in office.

What will come from children who have been terrified that their families could be torn apart and their parents or grandparents deported? What will come from those who are not part of the ever-shrinking white “Christian” minority? What will come from women who don’t accept that any or every man could or should get to act like their creepy uncle? What will come will not be comparatively small.

But it also won’t happen tomorrow. America now has four years to see what damage will be done. Those who clung to blatant lies will learn to their too-sad-for-irony dismay just how big and voluminous the lies were. And that they are not getting their privilege and supremacy back.

Today, 300+ million people get to look their neighbours and co-workers in the eye. And have awful conversations with their children.

So you voted and were active online and that didn’t work this time. For those who aren’t happy about this result, you’re not done. Your family needs you. Your communities need you. Your country needs you, whether it realizes it or not. And it needs you in person. Not just Facebook statuses or tweets or what have you.

It needs money and time and bodies to volunteer. It needs protection and protest and lobbying. If you hate what this presidency stands for, get out and fight it. If you’re not sure how, there are plenty of people already doing the work. Look to them. Women fighting for their reproductive rights. Indigenous people fighting for their land and environmental rights. Black people fighting for their right to live.

It needs friendship and learning and love and abandoning comfort zones.

Be careful how you use your anger, though. Misdirected anger is a good part of how this mess happened in the first place. Loving thy neighbour isn’t always easy. But little about getting through this will be. Because America has shown itself and the lid can’t go back on that box. And you can’t just move to Canada.

Now no one can claim they don’t know it’s broke. Back when Obama and Clinton ran against each other for the Democratic nomination, there was the question, almost bitterly joking, of whether the US was more sexist or more racist. Now you know.

I woke up this morning thinking, “What have you done?”

But it’s done. The question now and tomorrow is: What will you do?

“We are the media.”

Hat tip to Amanda Palmer for the title (at least one of the most widely quoted versions).

I was reading this post, and was stopped dead in my tracks.

Not from the facts and realities of the case, with which I am more than well acquainted at this point. But with numbers. Numbers that illustrated, in spades, just how much I am not “the kids these days”, nor create/share media (especially mobilely) with anywhere near the prevalence they do.

Read the numbers below, and then ponder a moment the various implications of that much content, that much of their lives shareable with the whole world, pretty much instantly. Oh, and stored, edited, data mined…

According to ABC News, “[t]he contents of 13 cell phones were analyzed, which amounted to 396,270 text messages, 308,586 photos, 940 videos, 3,188 phone calls and 16,422 contacts.”

Or broken down a bit, per person/phone, on average:

texts: 30482.31
photos: 23737.38
videos: 72.31
calls: 245.23
contacts: 1263.23

And that doesn’t even say how long each person had had their phone. Or the contents that had previously been deleted and wasn’t recovered.

Given the aforementioned blog post, “pics or it didn’t happen”, indeed…

“Let them…”

While I’ve never managed to be a fan of her music, I do enjoy the art and adventures she gets up to, and really enjoyed Amanda Palmer’s recent TED talk. Which, I think, applies to communities well beyond the boundaries of evolving the music business.

Humans are honey badgers… well, some of us

As much as I love geeks, occasionally their lack of whimsy or imagination can be painfully frustrating. When things don’t fall squarely within the confines of logic or science, they must be denigrated and/or mocked until they fall into line.

Except that sometimes logic and science isn’t the point.

Sometimes there are things both fascinating and powerful that fall very much outside the realm of logic and science, and the human mind couldn’t give a shit that what it believes isn’t technically “real”. (And no, Lord praising will not be occurring in this blog post.) πŸ™‚

Sometimes, where the inexplicable is concerned, humans are veritable honey badgers. Make sense? Replicable? No. And we don’t give a shit.

Over the past week or two, I’ve shared a couple of stories from others on the social webs, both of which I find fascinating for that reason. The geeks were all over the lack of science, which, given that one of the stories involved dead people, seemed kind of irrelevant.

In this story: The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect: When Intense Belief Kills, over 100 southeast Asian immigrants to the US died in the early 80s. From nightmares. Now, of course, the story isn’t quite that simple, but I recommend giving it a read. Fascinating stuff. A really interesting illustration of the power of belief, community, and ritual.

In this story: The Truth About Hair and why Indians would keep their hair long, during the Vietnam War, Native American trackers whose hair had been shorn when they joined the military lost their skills. Is hair really an extension of the nervous system, or just an easy event to latch on to when the answer is more psychological?

Some things will fail testing. Some occurrences don’t fit into neat boxes. And hey, there’s always the observer effect.

And yet, we live with and are affected by the inexplicable every day. Doctors can tell an infertile woman that they can find no medical reason she can’t get pregnant. Doesn’t mean she’ll just say, “Oh, okay…” and conceive the next day. Or would it convince a suicide bomber not to detonate if an atheist pointed out that there is no proof of a G/god or afterlife? Doubtful.

As cool as science is, the power of belief and the inexplicable can be far cooler. Because you don’t have to stop where science has to. The imagination can take over and “what if” becomes your set of parameters. Of course, we’re humans, and I’m a realist, so I’m aware that we’d be as or more likely to use that to hurt people as to help them should we achieve miraculous abilities or understanding, but isn’t it the rule-bending and -breaking “what ifs” that give birth to true innovation?

I guess there is a branch of science where that stuff fits. It is called theoretical physics, after all. But of course it’s often not our own minds that hold us back, but the words from the ones around us. Kids are wild and creative and adventurous and not the least self-conscious… up to a certain age. That’s not accidental. Happens to grown-ups, too.

As noted, I’m not terribly religious, nor am I a patchouli-scented hippie, but imagining is interesting. Simply believing without having to tear things apart to determine how they tick is often a pleasant way to live. And horror movies would be rather few and far between if the existence of monsters had to be proven before they could star in films. There is plenty of ground between believing everything and believing nothing.

And besides, as Arthur C. Clarke told us, there’s a pretty good chance the magic is just technology, anyway. We just haven’t caught up to it yet. And this honey badger is okay with that, too.

It gets dark earlier

Like many people, I’ve always loved fall. The crisp air, the cooler temperatures, the smell of leaves, etc. Though I know people, like my friend Violet, who have serious issues with fall. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it’s the season of death. (At the same time, though, the Jewish celebration of New Year in the fall has always made a great deal of sense to me.)

I seemed to be immune to this phenomenon until the last few years. I believe it started when, Sherry and I each had three deaths in the fall. (Two years ago? Three? I find I can no longer remember.) Mostly family, as I recall, and some more expected than others. I particularly remember how hot it was the day of my aunt’s funeral.

And then there was the former PostRank office. Typically I loved the fact that we were on the fifth floor, and the windows were big and wrapped around the building. I had a wonderful view of uptown Waterloo and various neighbourhoods, the trees as they changed with the seasons, and the landscape under snowfall.

What I also had was a front row seat to death. On Allen Street, behind the office, there are several churches, and directly across the street on King is a funeral home. So every time a member of one of those congregations died, I knew. Every time there was a visitation or funeral at Erb & Good, I was some weird kind of spectator. And more than once I crossed the street in my sensible heels and conservative attire to attend visitations of my own.

Same as it ever was, probably, but it gets to you, watching the rituals of the dead practically every day β€” sometimes more than once β€” from mid-fall until well into spring. You can’t help but ponder your own mortality and that of those you love.

One of the things I become ever more cognizant of as I get older is that not everyone dies old. Somehow it seems like we should be advanced enough medically and technologically to ensure longevity by now. And yet, among others, I know of the deaths of two pre-teen children this summer (accidental drowning and suicide β€” suicide).

The season has started. In the last little while I have learned of two terminal cancer diagnoses and the recent death of an acquaintance’s mother. It’s only September 20th. Beyond that, my Dad turns 70 next week, and Mom turns 65 in early November. Parents as seniors is a hard thing to process. I have found myself physically shaking my head to clear it when I have started doing mental calculations on how long my Dad can hope to live past this milestone.

But we keep breathing, keep moving. Smile at the pictures of my niece’s first day of school. Take part in as many social events as my comfort level can manage. Give and take hugs wherever they’re offered.

But sometimes you will be left alone in your own head, or what’s going on in your own head doesn’t matter, because someone else needs you. (And, in fact, helping and serving others is about the best thing for you sometimes.)

It does get dark earlier now, but not all year.

Go Outside

Cross-posted from the Communitech blog.

Waterloo Region is a small town in a lot of ways. Even smaller when you work in tech. I’ve argued over whether the average number of degrees of separation among people is two or three, which ain’t nowhere near six.

In some areas, the sphere shrinks even more when you’re in a sub-space of tech, like startups, as I was. However, the Region is still small enough that even our sub-groups are generally still all part of β€œtech”. Enterprise, startups, developers, marketers, mainframe or mobile β€” we all hang out.

(more…)

Is it better yet?

Recently I was on a mid-afternoon coffee run with several co-workers. We were heading up King Street in Waterloo when a silver Mercedes drove by. There were four young guys in the car, the window facing us was wide open, and one of them stuck his head out to shout a bunch of unintelligible stuff as they drove by.

The whole experience reminded me of back in the day in high shool when my brother and his friends would drive by my friends and I and holler stuff. It was such a weird experience that I actually called my brother to inquire if he’d hollered at me on King Street a few minutes before. Nope.

Then, given my thorough confusion, one of my co-workers informed me as to exactly what happened. The guy had been yelling at him, sarcastically commenting on his scarf, and either began or ended the charming interlude with “fag”. Ahh.

But there’s more. Apparently this is not even remotely uncommon for him — happens all the time. Huh? Here? Often the comments are considerably worse. As used to it as you can get, I guess, he takes the attitude of it being the world’s way of making sure he maintains a thick skin.

I was just… boggling. That happens? Here? Often? We live in the same city, but apparently we’ve been living in very different ones, perception-wise. I’ve lived in Waterloo for well over a decade (and my family is from here), so it’s not like I just fell off the turnip truck. But I freely admit that what happened is something I would expect back home in Grey County, not in Uptown Waterloo.

Apparently I have a lot to learn. I even told my co-worker I wanted them to yell at me. I’m pretty good with shit like that (and, less face it, I can whip my bully pants on pretty fast), though admittedly, there’s not much you can do with a cutting remark when people are speeding away down the street.

Some of the people I told about the incident raised their eyebrows as much as I did. Some weren’t surprised in the least. Nothing like being disabused of the notion that where you live and the people around you are not necessarily in fact “better than that”.

Sure, it’s a crappy minority, but it’s still there. It was young people — those leaders of tomorrow and whatnot. And yes, it was a bunch of asshats in someone’s dad’s Mercedes, so you could roll your eyes and write them off as rich asshole frat boys. But a friend of mine had hate spewed at him on the street in broad daylight. That is not cool with me. And it’s plenty of evidence that while “it” might get better after you get out of high school, etc., “it” ain’t fixed yet.

The Poppy Catalyst

Carcassonne: trail just inside the walls

A couple years ago Sherry and I vacationed in the Languedoc region of France. It was the end of May, late spring on the verge of summer, and there were poppies all over the place. You don’t see them that much here at home, unless they’ve been planted in someone’s garden, and the orange California version is more common.

I absolutely loved them. They made the fields and ditches where they grew in profusion far more gorgeous than the goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace we get. And, unsurprisingly, staring out a bus window, they made In Flanders’ Fields run through my head. I remember learning back in school that poppies need “disturbed” earth to germinate and grow, and battlefields were torn up to no end. Again, not so many tank ruts or shell craters in Grey Bruce where I grew up.

The poppies were and are a good metaphor for my own war remembrances, or lack thereof. As I’ve mentioned before, being from a Mennonite family means we don’t have any vets. Mennonites are exempt from service, and given we’ve also been farmers, were exempt for that reason, too. Instead of poppies, we’re supposed to wear these buttons. I probably still have one around somewhere.

To remember is to work for peace

I went back into my archive and read some of the stuff I’ve posted on previous Remembrance Days. Man, did I ever sound angry and obnoxious. Not sure why, and probably had no idea it came off that way. Ahh, hindsight. The problem I’ve always had is that the way I’m supposed to acknowledge Remembrance Day didn’t quite work for me. Of course, my extreme ignorance didn’t help. Our “learning” was from books, our version of The Last Post was scratchy and warbly, and our tiny village didn’t have a cenotaph. And not really knowing any veterans personally didn’t help, either.

However, over the years an idea has occurred to me, about which I’ve written before. That society is based on certain people knowing things. They choose to take on jobs that most people don’t want, and that involve seeing and doing things that no one would ever want to see or do. Doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, etc. β€” and the military. Unlike desk jockeys like myself, they don’t get paid nearly what they’re worth, and part of their “contract” is accepting that in carrying out their duties, their lives will be at risk. Possibly often and possibly very far from home.

I don’t get Remembering from a personal standpoint. I understand history quite well, and even human nature a little bit. I know what we’re capable of. But I also know I am fortunate enough to live in both a country and a generation where I am safer and wealthier than most of the world. And because of how the world works, that doesn’t just happen.

I have made the acquaintance of someone who has served, and have seen the tiniest snippet of “life” in Afghanistan. I have had the difference explained to me between the sound of gunfire around you, and gunfire coming at you. The odds of me ever personally experiencing this? Pretty much negligible.

Yes, in a perfect world, everyone would embrace the dove of peace and be willing to accept all persecution, even death, rather than fight. And ultimately, that is what pacifism means. We don’t live in that world. In this world there are too many humans. I have the utmost respect for those who try, though. For people like George Weber and Jim Loney who walk into war zones unarmed to try to help and protect those who never chose to be there. And who paid for it with their lives or by being taken hostage.

But in this world there are also those humans who realize what world we do live in, and who choose to serve. To see and do and know the things I would never want anyone I care about to know. To Remember the things I can’t even begin to fathom. I don’t have to agree with or understand every choice or action, but I can respect the choice to serve, however it is undertaken.

Breakfast in (North) America

My parents were down last evening for a family birthday party, and so stayed over at my place instead of a late drive home. As usual when they stay over, we went to the local Cora’s for breakfast (Mom really likes it).

Just before we left my apartment, I mentioned to Mom that it was my cousin’s husband’s 50th birthday today, and mused about whether The Significance Of The Date had faded somewhat in the last nine years. Then we got into a peripheral discussion, as we often do, of whose birthdays the the family fall when, and was Grandpa’s September 5th or 6th…?

As we were walking into the restaurant, a family of Middle Eastern extraction, and Muslim β€” father, mother, baby β€” were arriving just in front of us. The woman was wearing both a hijab and niqab.

While I’ve seen plenty of Muslim students around town over the years wearing the hijab, the number of women I’ve seen in town wearing more formal dress has certainly increased in the last couple of years. Not really surprising; we have a fair number of immigrants here.

I notice the attire, certainly, but I am also aware of the religious and cultural intent of it, and am probably more comfortable with the choice to cover up extensively than the choice to expose acres of flesh and/or extreme body modifications. My parents, on the other hand, have long lived in a rural area where multiculturalism is, to put it mildly, not pervasive. (They wouldn’t have dealt well with exposed flesh and body mods, either, for the record…)

My parents didn’t get it, and couldn’t understand why she was covered up like that, with only her eyes showing. How would she eat or drink? Did she take it off during breakfast? I said I was sure she was used to managing just fine, and no, she would not take the niqab off in public.

To be sure, my parents didn’t approve, though their reaction was at least quiet, and was less direct than Dad’s comments (blessedly sotto voce) last time we went for breakfast, when we saw two women pushing strollers, both swathed head to toe in black β€” jilbab, hijab, and niqab, again β€” only their eyes and hands visible.

While I was wondering how hot you’d get (it was a very bright summer day), Dad implied something along the lines of how wouldn’t you be scared of people like that. Can’t even see who’s under there. Really? Two young women pushing babies in strollers? I didn’t bother pointing out how they were out in public unaccompanied.

This morning over my coffee, I thought about our own family, and the many members of which who grow beards or wear head coverings and plain, full-length clothes (homemade!) Who have “unusual” culture, religion, and traditions and special government status due to their beliefs. Who eschew electric lighting and automobiles, speak a different language, manage their own finances and insurance, pay for medical treatment, and otherwise keep themselves separate from much of The World. Does it get noted if they buy large lots of fertilizer for their farms?

What are they thinking? How would you not be scared of people like that?

Spectacle

I watched a man die this afternoon. Along with thousands, probably millions of other people. What has unsettled me more than the shock of the accident, I think, is how public it was, how immediate the coverage, and how much the coverage was shaped by media as I’ve come to know it.

Within a few minutes, I saw pictures and video online. I actually heard he was dead before I heard about the accident (in the very first stories Kumaritashvili was only “seriously injured”). I watched the video more than once and discussed the logistics of the crash and when he was probably dead with co-workers. Morbid? Yeah. Normal? Also yeah.

Since then I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable by how some outlets have chosen to report the story (looking at you, Huffington Post), and the social media functions that have accompanied that coverage. Video ratings on a clip of the accident? Really? Of course, I’m a consumer of this media, so I’m as culpable as anyone else.

I initially thought, “Can you imagine his mom seeing this?” and then one of the work guys pointed out that she was probably there when it happened. Which was somehow even worse. It feels like there’s somehow sacrilege in there being so little privacy, so little private grief before the rest of the world comes flooding in, and dissecting, and analyzing.

However, as another of the work guys logically noted, it is a spectator sport. All 15 Olympic sports are spectator sports, so spectators are going to be watching. But the second part of that is that our world is media-saturated, so it’s not just the actual sporting event that’s part of the spectacle, it’s everything around it. It’s the luge training accidents and the figure skating scandals and the playboy athletes and who knows what all else that has come and will come to pass.

Really, none of this should phase me. I am immersed in this world almost all the time. I’m not sure why it’s bothering me. Maybe because I’m still old enough to recall when folks wouldn’t have found out about something like this until the evening news, or tomorrow’s newspapers.

Maybe because, though death is not uncommon in my family (and there was one just recently), it all works very differently. Or maybe it’s acknowledging that my eyes were on the story as soon as I heard, just like everyone else’s, even if it didn’t feel right.

At least, by the grace of the same media that unsettles me now, I will cheer and rejoice and indulge my superstitions with millions of others (especially Canadians) when we compete, and when we win. (Particularly at hockey.) πŸ™‚