Friday, 27 January 2012

An open letter to (older) women about body image

Body image, mental image: I'm not perfect but I'm beautiful anyway. I recently ran across a few articles written by women about the problem (their problem?) of not being the right weight, not being slim enough, maybe not being young enough and certainly not being able to keep up with never mind compete with the air brushed fashion magazine runway models who represent some sort of ideal every female should strive for. As a citizen of the other side of the great sexual divide, I thought to take a moment to add my two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating my contribution.

When I grew up (I believe dinosaurs were still roaming the wilds), the school system started teaching students, around the age of 11, social interactions with the opposite sex through square dancing. Geesh, square dancing? Heck, I was kidding about the dinosaurs but all of a sudden it strikes me that I could be talking about pioneer days or something. (I pull out my driver's licence and exclaim, "Heck, just how old am I?")

Starting in grade seven, the school held dances where guys and gals put on their finest and attempt to negotiate the trials and tribulations of dancing together. I love you ladies dearly but let me confess that you scare the bejesus out of me. All the boys would congregate on one side of the gymnasium and all the girls would be on the other side. The dance area, the open area in the middle of the gym was the size of a basketball court because it was a basketball court. If ever there was an obstacle to your love life, it was walking across this monstrous open area in front of the entire school population to ask a girl to dance. Difficult? Painful? Excuse me while I stick a pencil in my eye.

The shyness, the apprehension, the outright fear was just about off the scale. As a grown man looking back on my life, I would now categorically state that it was a moment I classify as more unsettling than my annual DRE and believe me, that can be quite unsettling. (What does DRE stand for? See below in References. hehehe)

The very first time, yes "the" very first time I asked a girl to dance, I remember standing around talking with some friends. I sought out some young filly on the other side of the chasm trying to calculate my chances of success. Rejection was at the forefront of my mind. Just imagine finding the resolve to walk across the thousand yards (330 metres in Canada) to the other side of the gymnasium only to have the girl, the target of my resolve, say "No" in front of the entire school. Oh the humiliation. I would be the laughing stock of my friends, the school and the entire town while the local newspaper and television station would be reporting the next day with color photographs of how I walked all the way across the gymnasium alone only to walk all the way back alone too.

I am happy to report that I somehow found the intestinal fortitude to make "the walk". I am happy to report that on my very first attempt to ask a girl to dance, she said, "Yes." It's at this point I wipe the sweat off my brow and quietly exhale, "Whew!" It's at this point I may even catch the eye of my friends with a bit of a smile which says, no it yells, "All right!!!" and does an invisible fist pump. Yes, ladies, did you know you have the power to lift me to the heavens or squash me like a bug? I do not remember at all who that girl was but I will remain eternally grateful for her act of kindness toward this poor boy who was making the first tentative step on one of the scariest adventures of his life. (I'm guessing the girls would tell stories of standing there wondering when those jackasses were going to come over and ask them to dance.)

Of course, in subsequent years, I became better versed in the goings-on of social interactions between the sexes and better understood not just my own sex, but the opposite sex with their own set of unique problems. Ah, where's Desmond Morris and The Naked Ape when you need him? I began to see that we all are more or less apprehensive with other people. We all walk into the room not knowing anyone and feel out of place. Will somebody talk to me? Will somebody break the ice? Oddly enough, many times that is all it takes. Whew. Somebody made the first move and started a conversation with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

What one thing did I take away from these learning years as a teenager? The majority of us fall in the middle, that is, we're average. We may not be stunningly beautiful as in fashion magazine Hollywood star type of beautiful, but neither are we ugly, not truly ugly. As such most of us come to the table with far more than just the packaging. Education, experience, travels and personality are all part of the "total experience" and yes, while the packaging is sometimes the first thing which catches our eye, it's what's inside the wrapping that keeps us interested and coming back for more.

Big Little Wolf's Daily Plate of Crazy
From the About page: D. A. Wolf is a freelance writer, journalist, marketer, trainer, single parent, art collector, polyglot, traveler, and devotee of exquisite footwear & French lingerie. She believes we are all brimming with glorious contradictions, and capable of living fully – with whatever life dishes out, and whatever we can make of it.

On January 13, 2012, the author published a posting entitled "The FAT Personality" in which she discussed a supposed link between personality types and unhealthy eating. This lead to the question of just is normal and how our definition of normal seems to be very much influenced by the trends of fashion and the media. Ms. Wolf points out the contradiction between Marilyn Monroe's beauty now possibly being considered a "plus size" while the emaciated look of Twiggy is somehow more desirable.

In discussing body size expectations in the past two generations, she quotes the newspaper the Daily Mail: "Twenty years ago the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today, she weighs 23% less." The question returns to what is normal and are woman trying to aim for a normal as defined by the fashion trends seen everywhere from magazines to television to movies when in reality, normal is something else altogether.

In the article "Hot (News) Flash! French Women Over 50 Have More Sex!", the author points out a comparison between American and French women. Vive la différence and here, the difference seems to lie not necessarily in physical beauty but in something more immaterial: confidence.

"Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful."
- Sophia Loren US (Italian-born) movie actress (1934 – )

Pamela Madsen: Being Shameless
From the About page: Pamela Madsen is a fearless advocate for women’s health and integrated sexuality. During her 25-year career, Pamela has leveraged her raw honesty and well-informed wit to help strip the stigma from infertility, female desire and pleasure, body image and weight.

In her August 2010 article "When Self-Loathing Comes a Knocking….", the author writes:

Most of us want to feel hot and sexy. We want earth-shattering orgasms – and to feel like those women look in those damn magazines sipping a Margarita with smoky eyes who are about to have the most incredible sex in the universe. Right? Maybe? Who knows – but I hate them.

Seeing those images can make me feel confronted with what I am not and leaves me with this feeling that I am not enough. More than that – it is this feeling that I will never have in my life what I truly want because I just don’t look like that.

She goes on to talk about getting control of "those nasty inner voices" and focusing on herself and feeling good about herself as opposed to comparing herself to some ideal. Loving yourself would seem to be one of the first steps in feeling good.

A man's response
Okay ladies, I hear ya. We are bombarded, no we're inundated, no we're overwhelmed with images and supposed rules about "the ideal" we all should strive for.

Enter Twiggy in the 60s, and Kate Moss in the 90s. Those who prefer women with some meat on their bones often have to pretend otherwise. (The FAT Issue - Oct 2011 by BigLittleWolf)

Wait! Who asked me? Did I forget to vote? Twiggy? Are you kidding me? I look at Twiggy and begin to wonder if I'm secretly gay. I look at Kate Moss and this "heroin chic" popularized in the 1990s and think, "What!?! Am I supposed to ask somebody to tie me off?"

Years ago, I saw this hilarious photograph of Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow and Ava Gardner. Remember that Sinatra was married to Gardner from 1951 to 1957 and Farrow from 1966 to 1968. The three of them are sitting together at a long table having dinner in the order from left to right of Frank, Mia and Ava. Ms. Gardner falls into the category of va-va-voom and Mia in comparison was, well, a Twiggy. The photographer caught Ava giving Mia a side-long glance which would have frozen water at a hundred yards and maybe it was just my interpretation, but I couldn't help thinking that Ava's look was saying something like, "Why would any man pick that... that... boy over a real woman. Frank has gone crazy." (Sorry, I did a Google image search but couldn't find this photo but I know it exists.)

Wait. Back up. I said we are bombarded with images and supposed rules about "the ideal" we all should strive for. What? Did that man just write "we"? Yes, I'm a man. We were talking about you ladies and the question of the dictates of what is currently considered fashionable but I thought to throw my two cents in on what's happening on the other side of the sexual divide. Are guys affected by what's showing up in magazines?

Stunningly beautiful? Breathtakingly handsome? I ofttimes joke that George Clooney is so good-looking, I'd have sex with him and I'm not even gay. But no pressure on the rest of us guys with our receding hairlines, love handles and yes, that visible piece of spinach stuck in our two front teeth to try to live up to some Hollywood glamour measure of hunkiness.

The Guardian - Jan 6/2012
Body image concerns more men than women, research finds
More men worry about their body shape and appearance – beer bellies, "man boobs" or going bald – than women do about how they look, according to research. More than four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75% of women. Similarly, 38% of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body – again, a higher proportion than women.

Dr Phillippa Diedrichs, lead researcher (and a woman) for a study of 394 British men for the YMCA, reportedly said, "These findings tell us that men are concerned about body image, just like women. We knew that 'body talk' affected women and young people and now we know that it affects men too." Rosi Prescott, Central YMCA's chief executive, said, "Historically, conversation about your body has been perceived as something women do, but it is clear from this research that men are also guilty of commenting on one another's bodies, and in many cases this is having a damaging effect."

After reading over several articles by Ms. Wolf and Ms. Madsen on a women's body image issues, I felt I had something to say. So, with the indulgence of these two authors and their readerships, I thought to add "my" male perspective to the discussion. (originally posted as a comment to one of Ms. Wolf's columns)

*************

George Clooney has been named by People Magazine as the sexiest man alive not once, but twice. I have never been named the sexiest man alive. Ryan Gosling certainly showed off his buff ripped self to good effect in the comedy movie Crazy, Stupid, Love (In the movie trailer, Mr. Gosling takes off his shirt and Emma Thompson exclaims, "Seriously? It's like you're photoshopped!"). While I exercise regularly and jog, I won't pretend to be "ripped". Hugh Jackman, named the sexiest man alive in 2008, is at the height of success as a world recognised film star at the age of 43. I am currently 59 years old and will be 60 this year (2012). I am not recognised outside of my family.

Am I the best looking guy in the room? Not by a long shot. Am I brimming over with self-confidence? Like everyone, I have my moments of doubt and yes, even I have body image issues. (see my blog: Gettin' old, man boobs and Vladimir Putin) However, I realised a long time ago that I'm not Quasimodo. Okay, I'm not Brad Pitt, but I'm not Quasimodo.

Our society with its merchandising and publicity presents us all with an idealized version of ourselves, an ideal that doesn't necessarily exist in reality. (I saw the picture of a famous model the other day without her make-up. Whoa!) I would like to think that the majority of us come to the table with experience and a certain degree of maturity and understand the difference between an ideal and the normal, between fantasy and reality. Not everybody, but the majority.

Therefore, we come back to the question, to coin an expression, of not what you've got, but how you use it. Just how much confidence do you have? I am reminded of this life lesson which has proven to be a big help to me over the years.

my blog: Rejection 2010-06-14

"I've been rejected."

Somebody doesn't like you. Oh, boo hoo hoo. Get over it!

Okay, that sounds a little harsh but if you will bear with me, let me now tell you something which comes from my life and is probably very applicable to your life.

When I went to high school, I entered what is for many kids their first real experience in a social networking environment. Everybody has to figure out how to interact with each other. Yes, I know we had public school stuff, but high school was a much bigger proving ground because we were all getting our hormone spurs: saddle up the pony; it's time to ride the range!

Like all teenage boys, I, too, suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, some successes, some failures. Nevertheless, there was always the pain and suffering of being rejected on any grounds, not just sexual.

Then it hit me. I forget exactly what happened, but one day, I looked at rejection from the other way around. It occurred to me that at high school, in the street and in life in general, I did not like everyone whom I met. In fact, some of those people I absolutely detested. All of a sudden it occurred to me: if statistically, I didn't like everyone in the world, was it true that statistically, everyone in the world would like me? No way!

I began to see the entire world in a new light. I meet somebody, they don't like me. Okay, your loss, I move on to the next person. Instead of being particularly hurt by the rejection of a single person, I accept it as merely a statistical reality then move on. Like me, if you really want to lay on the rationalization really thick, I sometimes add that the rejecter has neither the intelligence nor the fine taste to appreciate the bouquet and full body of a Chardonnay '86 à la yours truly. Like a fine wine, I am only appreciated by the most sophisticated of palettes. "Oh gawd, does that man know how to shovel it or what?"

Old joke: Every night a man goes to a bar and asks 50 women to sleep with him. He gets slapped in the face 49 times, but he never sleeps alone.


References

my blog: I’m a 62-Year-Old Man and I’m Invisible Mar 31/2015
Recently I ran across a number of articles about the issue of being a woman over 50 and being invisible in today’s society. What struck me as odd about this was that when I reflected on my own situation, I had to admit that I am, by their definition, invisible.

Daily Plate of Crazy - Jan 27/2012
Female Body Image: Care to Share? by BigLittleWolf
Female body image. Not a simple subject, is it. We carry our personal histories, our inherited traits, and we’re bombarded by conflicting messages from the time we’re little girls. So how do we make sense of it? Do we, ever?

Daily Plate of Crazy - Jan 13/2012
The FAT Personality by BigLittleWolf
A recent article appearing on the Wall Street Journal Blog reports on statistics tying patterns of unhealthy eating to personality types.

Daily Plate of Crazy - Jan 12/2012
Hot (News) Flash! French Women Over 50 Have More Sex! by BigLittleWolf
The Huffington Post offers a report by Debra Ollivier, exploring the phenomenon that French women over 50 have more sex than their American counterparts.

Uploaded by ThePamelaMadsen on Jan 15, 2012
YouTube: Why Let Body Image Limit Your Life? by Pamela Madsen
Pamela Madsen, Integrative Life Coach Specializing In Issues of Women: Sexuality, Fertility, Self Image and Rejuvenation, Author of Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time To Cook Dinner (Rodale) and Founder of the American Fertility Association talking about not letting weight and self image limit your life!

Being Shameless - Aug 31/2011
When Self-Loathing Comes a Knocking…. by Pamela Madsen
Most of us want to feel hot and sexy. We want earth-shattering orgasms – and to feel like those women look in those damn magazines sipping a Margarita with smoky eyes who are about to have the most incredible sex in the universe. Right? Maybe? Who knows – but I hate them.

Wikipedia: Kate Moss
Kate Moss (born 16 January 1974) is an English model who is known for her waifish figure and popularising the heroin chic look in the 1990s.

Wikipedia: Heroin chic
Heroin chic was a look popularized in mid-1990s fashion and characterized by pale skin, dark circles underneath the eyes and angular bone structure. The look, characterised by emaciated features and androgyny, was a reaction against to "healthy" and vibrant look of models such as Christie Brinkley, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, and Heidi Klum. A 1996 article in The Los Angeles Times charged that the fashion industry had "a nihilistic vision of beauty" that was reflective of drug addiction and U.S. News and World Report called the movement a "cynical trend".

Wikipedia: Digital Rectal Examination (DRE)
The digital rectal examination (DRE) is a relatively simple procedure. ... the physician slips a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum through the anus and palpates the insides [to look for nodules of prostate cancer] for approximately sixty seconds. [You didn't think I was going to make a guy joke about a DRE then not explain what it is, did you?]

my blog: Gettin' old, man boobs and Vladimir Putin Aug 20/2011
We men like to strut our stuff once in a while. Even though we get older and start fading, we still have our moments when we like to relive our former glories, the time when other men would tremble before us and women would swoon. Yes, deep down we know that our glory years are behind us but occasionally we like to suck in our guts and stick out our chests while ignoring the mildly sarcastic "Yes dear, you've still got it". I'm not as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was.

The Guardian - Jan 6/2012
Body image concerns more men than women, research finds
More men worry about their body shape and appearance – beer bellies, "man boobs" or going bald – than women do about how they look, according to research. More than four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75% of women. Similarly, 38% of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body – again, a higher proportion than women.

In Bed With Married Women by Jill Hamilton - Apr 15/2010
My Wife's Body By An Anonymous Husband
My wife, like millions of women in this world, has a poor body self-image. She hates her body, in fact, and never stops beating herself up over her extra pounds, or her veins, or her wrinkles, or countless other aspects of her form.


I had to chuckle when Ms. Wolf commented, "49 slaps? Wasn't that a Hitchcock movie?"

2012-01-27

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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

There's a disturbance in the force

While this quote from the Star Wars movies is an amusing way of using pop culture as a common reference point, I am pointing out a phenomenon I experience from time to time. I pick up the paper and read about some tragic story. However, even though the event took place many miles away and maybe even some time in the past, the gravity of situation affects me. It psychologically throws me slightly off kilter. I have a certain sense of uneasiness, a certain apprehension. I feel disturbed. I walk down the street and even though the day may be sunny and everything should feel all right with the world, something is off. I don't what exactly, but something, some little thing somewhere in the back of my mind is not quite right.

I live hundreds of miles from New York City. I don't know anybody in New York City and I know of nobody connected in any way to the city. However, when the news of 9/11 broke and I saw over and over again the footage of this tragedy unfold in some cases in real-time, I felt deeply disturbed. I remember looking out my office window on the 7th floor and wondering what would I do, say or think if all of a sudden I saw the glimmer of sunlight reflecting off the fuselage of an in-coming airplane.

In 2005, I travelled to London, England for a 14 day vacation just two weeks after the infamous London bombings known as 7/7 in which 52 people were killed including 4 bombers and over 700 were injured. While my stay was a good one, there was this background apprehension about what I would do if I was personally involved in such a tragic event.

In 2010 I travelled to Egypt and to prepare for my trip, I studied the country and its history to better understand what I was going to see. I re-read the story of the 1997 Luxor Massacre when terrorists killed 62 people then mutilated their bodies. While my stay in Egypt was excellent, which included Luxor, there were moments when I wondered just what I had gotten myself into and whether or not I was safe.

I have been on several cruises over the years and of course, sometimes as a joke make a reference to the 1972 movie The Poseidon Adventure in which a tsunami overturns a luxury liner and the protagonists must climb deeper into the bottom of the ship to go up and eventually get out. Like the rest of the world, I watched in disbelief on January 14, 2012 as the images were beamed around the world of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia toppled over on a reef and partially submerged. The subsequent telling of the stories of various passengers makes me think about my next boat cruise and how I'm going to feel about it. Cruises are fun but will there be that tiny voice in my head speculating on how to get to safety if the boat were to suddenly keel over?

In Molly Monet's blog posting Crisis Management, the author writes about the troubling news of her daughter's second grade teacher being arrested and charged with the possession and creation of child pornography. "This event was disturbing on so many levels, but the one that I want to mention is that it made me question my ability to trust people, especially men." She goes on to say that her faith in humanity is rocked and wonders what secrets each of us is keeping.

The above incidents like 9/11 are global news items all of us are aware of. However there are many lesser events, more personal events, events in my own community or neighbourhood which disturb my mental equilibrium. A crazed man with a gun took several people hostage in the middle of town and was eventually shot and killed by police. A long-term employee was fired for sexual harassment. A dedicated musical teacher was charged with having sex with several underage girls in the school choir. A long-term female employee came to work at 9am and that same afternoon at 1pm, a curt email was distributed to staff announcing her departure with no explanation.

These are all "disturbances in the force". I am personally unaffected by the event but I am disturbed by it anyway. A bombing takes place somewhere: could a bombing occur right here and could I be killed? An employee is suddenly fired: could I be fired too? A crazed man takes hostages: could a crazed person in public somewhere hurt me? A teacher is charged with a crime: is my family safe?

Statistically speaking, I'm safe. Statistically speaking, all of us are safe. Well, relatively safe. After all, when I pick up the newspaper and read about somebody dying or being hurt, obviously that someone could very well be me. Is it comforting to know that my chances of dying are one in a million? Does that make me feel better? Does that make me feel safer?

Final Word
Molly Monet's blog made me think about this "disturbance in the force", the general sense of uneasiness I get when something bad happens but not necessarily to myself. Arguably the teacher of your own daughter is hitting closer to home than 9/11 or 7/7, but I myself have felt something that close to home. (Good managers will make some attempt to assuage the fears of other employees if circumstances dictate the necessity of terminating a worker.) It is curious how events disconnected from me personally may have the power to affect me psychologically. Is this part of the fight or flight instinct or is it more complicated than that?


References

Wikipedia: Force (Star Wars) : Disturbances in the Force
Those who possess the discipline and subtlety of mind to sense The Force often refer to disturbances in the Force. Since the Force is "an energy field created by all living things", a disturbance can be felt when there is death or suffering on a massive scale. A disturbance (or "tremor") may also be felt in the presence of a powerful Jedi or Sith.

my blog: The Force, George Lucas and Arthur Lipsett
Wikipedia defines "the Force" as "a binding, metaphysical and ubiquitous power in the fictional universe of the Star Wars galaxy" ... but where exactly did George Lucas get this idea?

Wikipedia: 7 July 2005 London bombings
The 7 July 2005 London bombings (often referred to as 7/7) were a series of co-ordinated suicide attacks in London, United Kingdom, which targeted civilians using the public transport system during the morning rush hour.

Wikipedia: Luxor massacre
The Luxor Massacre refers to the killing of 62 people, mostly tourists, that took place on 17 November 1997, at Deir el-Bahri, an archaeological site and major tourist attraction located across the River Nile from Luxor in Egypt.

Wikipedia: The Poseidon Adventure (1972 film)
The Poseidon Adventure is a 1972 American action-adventure disaster film, directed by Ronald Neame, produced by Irwin Allen, and based on the novel of the same name by Paul Gallico. The film won a Special Achievement Academy Award for Visual Effects and an Academy Award for Best Song (for "The Morning After"). Shelley Winters won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her role.

Wikipedia: Costa Concordia disaster
The Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia partially sank on 13 January 2012 after hitting a reef off the Italian coast and running aground at Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, requiring the evacuation of 4,197 people on board. At least 13 people died, including 10 passengers and one crewman; 64 others were injured (three seriously) and 21 are missing. Two passengers and a crewmember trapped below deck were rescued. The captain, Francesco Schettino, was arrested on preliminary charges of multiple manslaughter, failure to assist passengers in need and abandonment of ship. First officer Ciro Ambrosio was also arrested.

Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce - Jan 22/2012
Crisis Management by Molly Monet
This past week, something very troubling and sad happened in our lives, something that many of you may have seen on the news. My daughter’s second grade teacher was arrested and charged with the possession and creation of child pornography. This event was disturbing on so many levels, but the one that I want to mention is that it made me question my ability to trust people, especially men.

Wikipedia: Fight-or-flight response
The fight-or-flight response was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon. ... His theory states that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing. This response was later recognized as the first stage of a general adaptation syndrome that regulates stress responses among vertebrates and other organisms.

Negative effects of the stress response in humans
The stress response halts or slows down various processes such as sexual responses and digestive systems to focus on the stressor situation and typically causes negative effects like constipation, anorexia, erectile dysfunction, difficulty urinating, and difficulty maintaining sexual arousal. These are functions that are controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system and therefore suppressed by sympathetic arousal.


Prolonged stress responses may result in chronic suppression of the immune system, leaving the body open to infections. However, there is a short boost of the immune system shortly after the fight or flight response has been activated. This may have filled an ancient need to fight the infections in a wound that one may have received during interaction with a predator.

Stress responses are sometimes a result of mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, in which the individual shows a stress response when remembering a past trauma, and panic disorder, in which the stress response is activated by the catastrophic misinterpretations of bodily sensations.

2012-01-24

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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Chaka Khan: Through the Fire


I look in your eyes and I can see
We've loved so dangerously
You're not trusting your heart to anyone
You tell me you're gonna play it smart
We're through before we start
But I believe that we've only just begun

When it's this good, there's no saying no
I want you so, I'm ready to go

[Chorus]
Through the fire
To the limit, to the wall
For a chance to be with you
I'd gladly risk it all
Through the fire
Through whatever, come what may
For a chance at loving you
I'd take it all the way
Right down to the wire
Even through the fire

I know you're afraid of what you feel
You still need time to heal
And I can help if you'll only let me try
You touch me and something in me knew
What I could have with you
Well I'm not ready to kiss that dream goodbye

When it's this sweet, there's no saying no
I need you so, I'm ready to go

[Chorus]

Through the test of time

[Chorus]

Through the fire, to the limit
Through the fire, through whatever
Through the fire, to the limit
Through the fire, through whatever


References

Uploaded by hitmanhuey on Aug 31, 2009

Wikipedia: Through the Fire (song)
"Through the Fire" is a song from Chaka Khan's 1984 album, I Feel for You. The David Foster-produced track was the third single from the album, which set a record (which has since been broken) for spending the most consecutive weeks (19 in total) on the Billboard Hot 100. It reached #60 in the US and #15 on the R&B charts, and was one of the few Khan hits to cross to the Adult Contemporary chart. (Writers: David Foster, Tom Keane, Cynthia Weil)

Wikipedia: I Feel for You (album)
I Feel for You is the Platinum certified fifth solo album by American R&B/funk singer Chaka Khan, released on the Warner Bros. Records label in 1984.

Wikipedia: Chaka Khan
Chaka Khan (born Yvette Marie Stevens; March 23, 1953), frequently known as the Queen of Funk, is a 10-time Grammy Award winning American singer-songwriter who gained fame in the 1970s as the frontwoman and focal point of the funk band Rufus. While still a member of the group in 1978, Khan embarked on a successful solo career. Her signature hits, both with Rufus and as a solo performer, include "Tell Me Something Good", "Sweet Thing", "Ain't Nobody", "I'm Every Woman", "I Feel for You" and "Through the Fire".

So, would you gladly risk it all?

2011-01-19

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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Divorce: Why I'm Better Off Dead

The trouble with trying to be funny is that no matter what you do, somebody somewhere is going to be offended. I'm going to wear a shirt from which I can wash out the tomato stains and put on a hard hat, well, for obvious reasons. Some of those beer cans tossed at the podium could very well be full.

Last June (2010), BigLittleWolf asked the question "Which is Worse – Death or Divorce?" on her blog and generated some interesting responses. She republished her article on Huffington Post as "Death Or Divorce: Which Is Worse?" on January 16, 2012 and once again, the article has produced some interesting personal stories. (Whoa! 127 comments as of this writing.)

While some commentators took exception to Ms. Wolf's comparison (Heck, some even took umbrage!), most understood the question in terms of divorce being the death of the marriage. If one is going to lose a spouse, is losing the spouse to death different or even easier to deal with than losing one's spouse to divorce? (Ah divorce: the gift that just keeps on giving!) To some readers who had lost their spouse to, let's say, cancer, this seemed sacrilege if not callous but the author did emphasize that her intention was never to slight anyone's loss of a spouse but to put forward the idea of comparing the grieving process in these two circumstances.

This may seem like an unproductive philosophical question with can lead to no definitive answer; something akin to mental masturbation. (Sorry, I just had to fit in some sort of sexual reference.) However, this scenario has come to my mind on more than one occasion. At the risk of sounding morbid but wanting to be more tongue-in-cheek, I have pictured how many problems would be successfully remedied with complete finality by my own death. Here are a few issues I came up with from the perspective of a divorcée who had instead ended up with a dead husband.

Financial: no splitting of the estate
"Okay financially" divided by two usually equals one not so okay financially over there and another not so okay financially over here. Yes, depending on the circumstances, the law and the ability to get the best G.D. Rottweiler lawyer under the sun, the split may not be fifty-fifty but there's no denying that one hundred per cent is, well, one hundred percent of everything.

Emotional: not your fault
There's nothing to work out with your therapist. Culpability lies one hundred percent with Greyhound and the bus with his name on it. Refer to appendix B under the entry "Betrayal" which comes right before "Bastard".

Social: transitional
Death doesn't leave you torn between "divorced", "separated", and "it's complicated" when updating your Facebook relationship status.

Family: nobody has to take sides
After a divorce, people usually choose either the husband or the wife. With death, nobody has to choose at all and there is a certain continuity between both sides of the marital divide. Besides, who really wanted to side with that rat bastard?

Wills and Pensions
Nothing to do; you get it all. See section "Financial Issues" above. That insurance policy does have a double indemnity clause for Greyhound buses, right?

Pour moi
What's in it for me? Heck, I don't have to pick up the pieces and move on. I'm dead. Hey (light comes on), I don't have to pay alimony! Hmmm, when I get to thinking about it, it really does sound like a win-win all around.

Final Word
What? Final word? I'm the one who's going to have the final word? Yes, it may be my column but I'm certain this topic is going to be discussed, dissected or tossed around long after I turn out the lights and go home. On a serious note, whether it's death or divorce, anybody is going through a painful upheaval in their lives and I only wish you the best.

While I trust you will indulge my irreverence, I would defensively respond to anyone looking at me askance by saying, "Hey! I don't deny you your coping mechanisms!" You may take exception, even umbrage (gasp), but sometimes a little humour lightens the load. I will save my sobbing uncontrollably for my therapist.

This whole mess is regrettable. I hope that everybody involved will be able to get on with the rest of their lives without suffering any lasting trauma. Believe it or not, I would like to see everyone happy, successful and at peace with themselves and the rest of the world.


References

Daily Plate of Crazy - Jun 29/2011
Which is Worse – Death or Divorce? by BigLittleWolf
I have never been a widow. I can only imagine it is terrible, and that depending upon the circumstances – time to prepare, or sudden loss – it is more or less “manageable” to survive the slow process of rebuilding a life. I have never suffered viewing the remains of a loved one, though I have lost both parents, and was involved (to varying degrees) in the necessary steps that followed. But I have been through divorce – a bad one – with tentacles that have tightened around every area of my adult life since the time the marriage split apart. With active tentacles that continue to do damage, a decade later.

Huffington Post - Jan 16/2012
Death Or Divorce: Which Is Worse? by BigLittleWolf
[based on the above blog posting - 127 comments as of this writing]

No Parents, No Problem - August 2010
Better Off Dead? Or Better Off Divorced? by Andrea C. Santiago
[10 year old Andrea loses her father. 11 year old Andrea tries to understand Mom's logic.]

"Just think -- It could be much worse..." she said. "Look at the bright side."

"Really?" I asked, intrigued. I wondered how it could be worse, and wondered what the "bright side" of a dead parent looks like.

"Your dad and I could be divorced!" Mom emphatically proclaimed, "Imagine how much worse that would be. That would really be awful!"

[Andrea ends with this telling remark]

The doorbell rang. My ride was here, time to go!  "I'm going over to Laura's house to spend the night," I said. I walked out the door and hopped in the car with Laura, and her living, breathing, divorced dad.


RomanticPoetess: Open Salon - Jan 17/2012
This blogger commented on a reprint of this article. I found what she said so compelling, I decided to publish it here (my bold):

I have also been through both. They are completely different experiences. One takes your breath away but you always know you were loved, the other shakes your confidence in your own lovability. If I did not learn how to love and be love by the first one the second one would have been more damaging. Neither is recommended to try without the assistance of a strong support network.

2012-01-17

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Saturday, 14 January 2012

What the @#$%^* do I know about Rob Ford?

Rob Ford, mayor of the city of Toronto, campaigned on a platform of reducing waste in municipal government and stopping the (supposed) abuse of power by the then current and previous administrations. He told everyone he would "find" $2 billion in the city's budget of $9.2 billion. His publicity buzz expression was "Stop the gravy train".

However, various media fact checkers like the Toronto Star investigated Mr. Ford's claims and promises and found that the candidate's grasp of the issues and his supporting math were very much lacking. In fact, it was repeatedly pointed out that some of what he said just didn't make any sense. Nevertheless, Mr. Ford's message that the "fat cats" of city hall were abusing the system hit a sympathetic cord with the voters who gave him a 47% win, one of the largest leads for a winning mayor.

A year later, here is where the city stands under Mr. Ford's leadership. Instead of finding $2 billion in savings in the existing budget, Toronto is $750 million in the red. Instead of following a promise to maintain services while finding $2 billion, Mr. Ford because of the $750 million shortfall must cut services. However to do so, he has gone to the public in a series of consultations asking them to pick which services he should cut. He's not cutting; the public is.

What's my opinion? Running a city with a $9 billion budget is not easy. Mr. Ford had never in his entire life done anything remotely similar to the complexities of such a job and yet the public, well, 47% of them, fell in love with this idea of fat cats abusing the system and wasting tax payers money. It turns out that none of this was true. Mr. Ford sold everyone on the answer being four when it turns out the problem was never two plus two; it was completely different, nothing as he described.

Another little point
Rob Ford made a campaign promise to remove 2 taxes that he said tax payers didn't want. He lived up to his promise and cut them for a loss of revenue to the city of $350 million. Toronto is currently $750 million in the red. If Rob Ford had left the taxes, Toronto would only be $400 million in the red. What I find curious about this is that when do tax payers not complain about taxes? Sure, go ahead and cut a tax but you better have a back-up plan and since Mr. Ford didn't find his $2 billion in the existing budget, his back-up plan just did not work, it didn't exist in the first place. My head hurts. What's your solution? Stomp on my foot.

Rob Ford: Let the show begin! 2010-10-26
As Toronto wakes up to the realization there's a new sheriff in town, I, for one am cogitating on just what the future holds for us collectively. You may say I'm a pessimist but I like to think I'm a realist. In the political arena, what one says and what one does can be very different however this is not for lack of trying. Getting things done is very much dependent on factors than are sometimes outside of one's control and not fully understood. That's not pessimism; that's just a fact of life.

At face value, Mr. Ford's buzz words and slogans hit all the right buttons. "Stop the gravy train." For any of us who have viewed and continue the view City Hall as being an out of control monster of fat cats who want nothing more than to steal from the poor to give to themselves, those are comforting words. However, now in the cold light of day, just who has taken the reins of power? Can he put his money where his mouth is?
...
In the Star's analysis (Ford's problem with free perks) of Ford's promise to remove these "free perks" and in so doing save Toronto $20 million a year, I see numbers which add up to a different picture. The total given by the Star is less than a half a million dollars, far short of this $20 million quoted by Ford. This is a perfect example of how Ford's statements sound good but do not hold up to mathematical scrutiny. Even if the Star is completely correct in their numbers, I see nothing from Ford's camp which would substantiate his $20 million claim. This just doesn't add up.


Rob Ford: Day#1, promise #1? 2010-10-27
Toronto Sun: Ford has vowed to rip streetcars off arterial roads and replace them with buses.

CBC: Rob Ford says, "We will improve traffic flow downtown by removing some streetcars. Streetcars on downtown arterial streets will be replaced with clean buses that provide the same capacity on the same routes." Rob Ford also told the CBC's Steve D'Souza during the campaign: "Eliminate them all, within, you know, ten years. Get rid of all the streetcars. We don't need them."

Subways not streetcars
Is Mr. Ford aware of the fact that a subway costs more than a streetcar? Far more?


When Mr. Ford advocates for buses, does he know that streetcars run on electricity as opposed to combustible fuel? Pollution = zero, zip, nada.

Does Mr. Ford realise that a streetcar can carry more passengers than a bus because it is just bigger?

When Mr. Ford talks of people complaining about having to wait behind streetcars when they're driving downtown, may I ask why the complainers are not taking the streetcar? Besides, who says that a bus weaving in and out of traffic is going to cause so much less congestion? I lived in the downtown core for 4 years and I found streetcars to be practical, quiet, efficient and non-polluting.

Penalties?
$100 million? Mr. Ford is not seriously considering the cancellation of the existing contract and making us all pay $100 million? This is exactly what happened in Ottawa a few years back. The newly elected mayor cancels the plan and the city has to pay zillions in penalties. Sorry, just plain foolish.


Rob Ford drops the bag... er, ball. 2010-12-30
Newspapers today are reporting that Rob Ford has plans to get rid of the plastic bag fee. This bylaw which came into effect on June 1, 2009, requires all retailers in Toronto to charge a nickel for every single-use plastic retail shopping bag. Toronto was apparently the first Canadian city to pass such a law with the goal of reducing the amount of plastic being sent to landfills.

The CBC has reported that a number of grocery stores such as the Metro and Sobey's chains have said their plastic bag distribution rates have fallen between 70 and 80 per cent since the bylaw went into effect.
...
I can say from experience that the charge, although only five cents, made me finally get my act together and start doing what I should have been doing for years: carrying my own cloth bag and reusing it instead of getting more and more and more and more plastic bags. That has been admittedly a sin on my part and I am now trying to atone for it. Hail Mary.


Unfortunately if Mr. Ford does listen to the little guy and eliminate the plastic bag tax, he may be putting 5 cents into our pockets but misses the bigger picture. Yes, a better written by-law would have ensured the 5 cents collected by retailers was not just pocketed but spent on community initiatives. The important point, the really, really important point is what the CBC reported: a number of grocery stores such as the Metro and Sobey's chains have said their plastic bag distribution rates have fallen between 70 and 80 per cent since the bylaw went into effect.

Rob Ford: Can I count on this man? 2011-01-06
"Rob Ford to axe LTR in favour of subway" Can this man count? I hate to keep coming back to an issue like a dog with a bone, but Mr. Ford has consistently said things where the numbers when added up do not match what he's saying. This leads me back to the belief that while the slogans sound good - Stop the gravy train! - is there substance behind the rhetoric?

Rob Ford: Cut taxes. Oops, no money for TTC 2011-01-25
Rob Ford was voted in by a public who seemed to be very much disenchanted with a number of high profile fiascos at city hall. I did not, I do not disagree that a house cleaning was in order. However, Mr. Ford while tapping into the public's thirst for buzzwords and catchy slogans kept uttering from time to time some ominous pronouncements which mathematically deserved to be thoroughly reviewed before implementation. I, like many, hate paying taxes. However, I recognise that taxes represent income for the government and just like me, if the government doesn't have an income, it can't spend money and if it can't spend money that usually translates into me not getting something I want. Did Rob Ford properly connect the dots before moving ahead with his buzzwords and slogans? Did the public understand "robbing Peter to pay Paul"?

Rob Ford or the public: Now who's dumber? 2011-07-30
This past week has seen the most unusual of events of the city's political scene. A marathon session of Toronto's city council's executive committee of over 21 hours saw over 300 people representing union members, arts groups, social agencies and others present their opinions about what to cut and what not to cut in Toronto's budget. There is an estimated $774 million funding gap in next year's budget and the mayor is going to have to cut something to save some money. The question is cut what?

As part of the mayor's pledge to find the "gravy" at city hall, Ford's administration commissioned KPMG to do a study of 155 of the city's "core services". The 400 page report lists $700 million worth of cost cutting options including the closure of libraries, the elimination of subsidized daycare spots, stopping water fluoridation, closing the affordable housing office, the sale of the Toronto Zoo, scaling back snow clearing, closing city-owned theatres, cutting back on night buses and crossing guards.
...
Rob Ford was voted in not quite with a landslide but enough that one would think the Toronto citizens wanted a change. Did they get one? Politics is a game of buzz words, feel good phrases and smiling warmly while shaking your hand. Unfortunately, at some point that politician has to do something. Running a city, heck running a country (don't get me started on Harper!) is not easy. Anybody who runs for office has got to have a great deal of arrogance as I imagine they haven't got the foggiest idea of what they're getting themselves into.


Rob Ford convinced the voters he was going to make a difference. Rob Ford convinced us that he knew exactly what he was doing. Okay, so where's the beef? Mr. Ford had not yet sat in the driver's seat when he was campaigning. Mr. Ford had not yet looked at the books when he made promises he now can't keep. Mr. Ford claimed he could run the city of Toronto when he had never a city before in his life. Was that dumb?

But the public voted for him. Now just who's dumber?

Final Word
I was speaking with a business acquaintance the other week who voted for Rob Ford. He said to me, "I think Rob Ford is doing a good job because he's doing what he said he would do." At the time I thought this was a curious thing for him to say but didn't debate the issue. I did however mull over this gentleman's view of Rob Ford and my own. Yes, Rob Ford said he would cancel two taxes he said the public did not like. He did this and cut $350 million of revenue from the city of Toronto's revenue. Now the city is $750 million in the red instead of $400 million. Rob Ford said he would "find $2 billion" in Toronto's annual budget of $9.2 billion. He didn't. In fact the city is three quarters of a billion dollars in the red. Rob Ford said he would not cut services. Due to the budget shortfall he is now doing exactly that. Rob Ford said he would cut the city's plastic bag tax (he hasn't yet) and yet, the major chains are reporting an 80% drop in the number of plastic bags being handed out which represents I'm guessing a lot less plastic going into landfills.

Economics as a subject of study can be a difficult topic. However there is a certain simplicity in the idea that if I earn a hundred bucks, I should only spend a hundred bucks. However when we throw politics into the mix, that is the concept of a leader trying to satisfy the competing demands of the constituents, we end up with the phenomenon of a human being making promises he may or may not be able to keep all because he wants to be elected.

As I said previously, Rob Ford throughout his campaign made some pretty wild promises and some pretty strange claims. I remain perplexed at how the public bought into his spiel as though a man who had no experience remotely similar to the job at hand would know what he was talking about. I will repeat this until I'm blue in the face: If it was as easy as a politician portrays it to be, it would be done by now. That means that since it isn't done, doing it has got to be a heck of lot harder than the politician is leading us to believe.

I will end with this quote from the Toronto Star reporter Royson James (Toronto Star - July 30/2011): "Mayor Rob Ford’s credibility is shot, shredded, blown to bits — victim of his excessive rhetoric and unsubstantiated claims." But what the @#$%^* do I know?


References

Ford for Toronto by Matt Elliot
2012 Budget: Trading tax cuts for service cuts in Rob Ford’s Toronto
After months packed with a weak, barely-heard consultation process and a maddeningly non-specific communication strategy employed by the mayor’s executive committee — who told us that nothing, specifically, was on the table for cuts, except everything —, today we finally received, by way of the city manager, a list of concrete recommendations for service cuts in the 2012 budget.

Toronto Star - July 30/2011
Royson James: Toronto wants it vote back
No. No. No. And still no. That’s all Mayor Rob Ford and his executive committee heard from the public for almost 23 hours Thursday, into Friday. Do not take the axe to city services that have made Toronto an enviable place to live.

2012-01-14

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What the @#$%^* do I know about politics?

I have the right to vote. The right. Not the privilege; no, the right. However, how well do I know the issues? How well do I know the candidates? There are many sources of information vying for my attention whether it be print media, radio, television or various people including family, friends, neighbours and colleagues at work. How do I separate the wheat from the chaff? How do I distinguish between good and bad or right and wrong? How do I sort out fact from opinion or even fiction? Who do I believe? Who do I trust? But more importantly, who should I believe? Who should I trust?

I have previously stated that in life, all of us accept certain immutable truths. Two plus two equals four, for instance. Okay, some wise guy is going to point out that two plus two equals "10" in base 3, but let's stick with base 10 for the moment and go along with the idea the correct answer is four. (Geesh, there's always a smartass in the crowd.)

However when we look at politics and the idea that somebody is going to tell me the correct answer, I discover I am no longer in the arena of immutable truths. First of all, just what is the question? Is it two plus two or is it two plus three? I certainly don't know but there's a politician standing over there telling me he not only understands the problem, he knows what the right answer is. Does he? Really? He does seem to know how to knot his tie and a nice tie it is. Well, that's enough for me; I'm voting for him!

I guess you can tell where I'm going with this. The politician tells me the problem is two plus two and the answer is four. My simple example will fool you just as it fools me into thinking the entire issue boils down to knowing the question and figuring out the answer. Unfortunately, part of the problem and sometimes it's a major part of the problem is figuring out just what the question really is. What does that mean? A friend of mine told me he spent one summer during high school working at an appliance store. He would assist in going out on calls to repair machines. Apparently about 50% of the time, the repair consisted of nothing more than plugging the appliance in. Yep, that's right; just plugging the appliance back into the wall socket. It might have been the plug behind the refrigerator or the lamp cord which ran behind the couch but whatever the case the person in question had inadvertently unplugged the device and not realised it. My friend told me the repairman from the store would fiddle around for 10 minutes or so in order to give the impression they had actually done something to repair the "defective" appliance in order to justify the minimum charge for an on-site repair.

Sarah Palin
Ever since the McCain camp in a fit desperation elevated this airhead to the national stage, I have been bombarded by a litany of uninformed, ill-conceived and just plain inane pronouncements the likes of which would embarrass Forest Gump. I have not figured out what this means for American politics, the fact that Momma Grizzly is front and centre or that there seems to be a percentage of voters who think this woman is the second coming. While I'm sure feminists everywhere are waiting in great anticipation for the day the first woman in history takes office in the White House, I have decided that if I ever see Ms. Palin with her hand raised while being administered the oath of office, I am going to move to Timbuktu. While I don't always agree with Hillary Clinton, she would be hands down the more admirable choice for the first female president than this piece of political eye candy.

Sarah Palin: Refudiate this! 2010-08-06
A plan to build a mosque near the Ground Zero site in New York generated quite a bit of controversy. People have been jumping on the bandwagon saying that this is offensive to America in light of the events of 9/11. On July 19, Sarah Palin, on the social networking site Twitter, wrote asking "peaceful Muslims" to "pls refudiate" the plan. She then corrected herself by then calling on "peaceful New Yorkers" to "refute the Ground Zero mosque plan". Well, refute isn't quite right either and while repudiate might fit, reject would probably be better but by then, it was too late. The rest of the world got a hold of this and have both savagely and delightedly gone after her for this "creative" use of the English language.

3.8 Trillion Reasons to Think of Sarah 2010-08-10
Sarah Palin has been putting out the following message: Barack Obama and the Democrats are going to institute the largest tax increase in the history of the United States, an amount of $3.8 trillion. Is this true or not true?

The curious aspect of such statements, especially for an average guy like yours truly, is to confirm this. Exactly where can I go to find out if this is, in fact, a true statement? Do I have to go a hold of a copy of the budget and read through a zillion pages trying to decipher God only knows what numbers? Do I have to become a budget expert well versed in the ins and outs of government spending?

Well I did and Ms. Palin is so full of manure, I'm surprised she doesn't explode.

We always come back to Hitler 2010-08-26
In the middle of 2009, debate was running hot on Barack Obama's proposed health care reform. On August 7, 2009, Sarah Palin posted on her Facebook page a note in which she described how the Obama plan would enable "death panels". Supposedly, elderly people would go before a review panel that would judge whether the person received health care or not. Palin characterised this as the panel would determine who lived and who died. All of this was linked to a Nazi euthanasia program called Action T4. Fair? Reading about the actual T4 program is horrifying and making such a comparison to Obama's health care plan is not just unjustified; it's downright insulting.

Of course, none of this was in the least bit true but that didn't stop an already misinformed and scared public from quickly making the connection between Obama and Hitler. Death Panels? Next stop: death camps! PolitiFact.Com conclusively proved that all this was just a bunch of nonsense but then went on to award Sarah Palin the dubious distinction of "Lie of the Year" for 2009.

The GOP
Starting around the middle of 2011 up until now, America and the world has been witness to the witless trotted out as potential contenders to unseating the current Democratic president. Sometimes I chuckle away at the inanity of it all while watching The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, It is all quite amusing. Other times when I'm reading a more (supposedly) objective and serious account of what's going on as reported in the newspapers, I am stunned that we are even giving any weight to these proceedings. In fact I do see that yes, the GOP is serious and yes, there are supporters who would not only vote for these various candidates, are actively out trying to drum up support for their particular candidate to be the one sitting in the Oval Office with the launch codes.

You're sh*ttin' me, right? This is a joke. Any second now, somebody is going to come out of the wings at the debate, take the microphone then announce the Republican party has punk'd America. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It's been a fun evening. So now, we will bring out the real candidates."

Michele Bachmann
I have sat in front of television set with my mouth wide open. Has the pollution count gone up over the continental U.S. and the level of oxygen has dipped from its normal 21% to, let's say, 18% and the public is now loopy and not thinking correctly? I have laughed at this woman's ridiculous pronouncements only to come to realize that there was a segment of the population, albeit thank God a small segment, which felt she was a viable candidate. I shake my head as I just don't understand how she managed to get as far as she did. Other than a few wisecracks, nobody should have been sticking a microphone in front of her... at all!

Michele Bachmann: the next president of the WTH!?! 2011-07-15
Ms. Bachmann has now signed a pledge written by a socially-conservative advocacy group in Iowa called the Family Leader, led by Bob Vander Plaats. The pledge “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family” endorses the view that homosexuality is a choice rather than a biological trait.

FYI: I loved the video on YouTube where an eight-year-old boy says to Michele Bachmann that her mother is gay and he doesn't think she needs to be fixed.

Michele Bachmann, a Corn Dog and the Oral Office 2011-08-14
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll with 28.6%. While various news analysts and Ms. Bachmann herself have supposedly called this an important win or a solid or resounding victory, an article in the Huffington Post by Richard Greener points out something so obvious, so overwhelming obvious, it is surprising at how these people could be so blind. 71.4% of the voters did not pick Michele Bachmann. At a GOP-sponsored affair where the most fervent supporters of the Iowa Republican Party come together and nearly three-quarters of those people do not vote for Bachmann, how can anyone, media or Bachmann herself, say that this in any way resembles a victory?

Michele Bachmann and the far, far, far, far, far right 2011-08-17
Reporter Michelle Goldberg in an article entitled "A Christian Plot for Domination?" describes how Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are closely associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism. Let's touch upon a couple of points to ensure we all know the details. Theocracy is a form of government in which a state is understood as governed by immediate divine guidance provided to ruling clergy or other ruling officials. Dominionism, in the context of politics and religion, is the tendency among some politically active conservative Christians to seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action, especially in the United States.

Ms. Goldberg writes: "Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions."

For a long time, I have heard people make the statement that Christianity has been one of the most imperialistic movements throughout history. It would seem that Ms. Goldberg is pointing out a worrisome recrudescence of this imperialism however this time; it is making its way into mainstream politics. For a country which supposedly promotes the idea of the separation of church and state, there are many within its ranks who believe otherwise.

She's here to help: Michele Bachmann, at your cervix 2011-09-16
Here's the premise for this article. Medical science backed up by statistical evidence shows that by taking the HPV vaccine, you can reduce the number of deaths from cervical cancer by thousands. Yes, thousands. Then a politician vying for public office stands up and recounts a supposed personal experience which makes her completely doubt the safety of the vaccine. The politician is not a medical doctor. Based on anecdotal information... no, based on a single anecdote, the politician who is in a position to influence millions suggests that people should not take the vaccine.

Rick Perry
What? I sit perplexed every time this man takes to the podium. Does he know how to give a speech? Does he drink beforehand? The rambling, the forgetfulness is such that I question the man's (mental) health.

Rick Perry, the NAR and the Rapture of Morons 2011-08-22
As the United States gears up for its election campaign 2012, much attention is being paid to who will win the GOP spot to run against the Democrats. Who will get a chance to topple the current leader and make him a one term president?

A lot of ink has been spilled about Sarah Palin, an intellectual featherweight who is so dumb, she... well, there are so many metaphors deserving to be written, where can one possibly begin? If McCain did anything, he gave the most undeserving presidential contender in the world 15 minutes of fame by elevating a complete idiot to being one step away from the Oval Office.

Michele Bachmann is another twit whose cerebral cortex defies categorisation. While I can make a humorous reference to tourettes in order to explain this woman's compulsive vocalisation of whatever random thought enters her brain, the truth is that Bachmann's singular obsession with leadership is not in any way accompanied by a thorough and profound grasp of the issues and a comprehensive, well thought out strategy for dealing with said issues. She is sustained by a religious fervour which has clouded her judgement and blinded her to anything outside of her own small realm of experience.

The new right wing pin-up boy is Rick Perry, a frightening amalgam of personal conviction and religious zeal which seems to be capable of arriving at leaps of faith in the face of logic where two plus two equals five because the interpretation of an obscure Biblical passage by some obscure self-proclaimed lay expert says so. Fifty percent of the time I'm right and fifty percent of the time you're wrong. If I jump out of an airplane without a parachute, Jesus will save me. Of course I'm not sure how "God helps those who help themselves" is supposed to fit into any of this.

Rick Perry and Sex Education: Abstinence works! 2011-09-01
Time Magazine (Aug 31/2011): Gov. Rick Perry's Weird Science: Teen Pregnancy Aside, "Abstinence Works": Texas has the highest teen birth rate and the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute. So when Gov. Perry turned down $4.4 million in federal funding for pregnancy prevention programs and decided to continue with state-funded abstinence-only education in October 2010, a reporter from the Texas Tribune asked him why. Specifically, why, in the face of rising teen pregnancy rates, would the governor stick with a method that didn't seem to be working?

"Abstinence works," Perry replied to a roomful of laughter. The reporter pressed on, asking for data to back up the assertion that abstinence education leads to lower teen pregnancy rates. Flustered, Perry said that he knew abstinence worked from his "own personal life."

Newt Gingrich
Would you want this man as president as opposed to Barack Obama? Family man: married three times. Frugal financially: the controversy surrounding huge lines of credit at Tiffany's. As speaker of the house from 1995 to 1999, Gingrich had eighty-four ethics charges filed against him. He was sanctioned $300,000 by a 395–28 House vote and this was the first time in history a speaker was disciplined for ethical wrongdoing. (Wikipedia) Is it just me or is there something odd here?

Dearborn, Michigan: Watch out for extremists! 2010-08-18
In June 2010, this city played host to the 15th Annual Dearborn Arab International Festival, a family event with food, a carnival, an interactive children's stage, Arab merchandise, calligraphy and bread making. Every year some Christian groups have set up booths at the festival but there have never been any reports of any conflicts.

At this particular event, a well known militant "Christian" group whose sole purpose is to convert Muslims to Christianity decided to create a ruckus with the express purpose of making a name for themselves by getting free publicity from the media. A Christian missionary from a different group at the festival called the police about this Christian militant group to report them as disturbing the peace. The Christian police chief in consultation with the Christian mayor sent in Christian police officers who arrested the members of this group. When this hit the major news outlets, the story somehow was transformed into a story of Dearborn Muslims taking over the city to instill Sharia law and push out any and all Christians. I investigated this and discovered, no I proved that none of this was true. The police arrested people who were disrupting a family event. Period. End of story. But because this happened outside of a Muslim festival, all the right-wing conspiracy nuts jumped on a soapbox to denounce the islamization of the United States.

The militant group videotaped their arrest but it was discovered they edited the video tape to portray themselves in a sympathetic light, to make it look like they were being subjugated by a Muslim influenced police. Not true.

The response from the public was a clear indication of how some circles in the United States have erroneously equated anything relating to Muslims and their faith to terrorism and Osama bin Laden. The sky is falling. Terrorists are everywhere. We are in grave danger. Has everyone forgotten that until 9/11, the largest single act of terrorism on American soil was the Oklahoma City Bombing committed by one Timothy McVeigh, an American-born Christian? Did you hear me? American-born!!! Christian!!!

As well as the negative reaction on the part of some of the public, fearing a "Muslim take-over" of the U.S., Newt Gingrich held himself up as a shining example of understanding and tolerance. The Detroit Free Press of August 4, 2010 reported:

In a letter published last week on the Human Events Web site as well his own Web site, the former U.S. House speaker says that the jailing of the four Christian missionaries is an example of Islamic extremism coming to the U.S.

"This is a clear case of freedom of speech and the exercise of religious freedom being sacrificed in deference to shari'a's intolerance against the preaching of religions other than Islam," Gingrich wrote in a letter published last week.

Gingrich said the missionaries were handing out copies of Christian literature, which is "of course, forbidden by shari'a's rules on proselytizing."

A Christian police chief in consultation with a Christian mayor send out Christian police officers who at first warn the finally have to arrest Christians who are disturbing the peace. The only thing Muslim about this entire story is that it happened outside an Arab festival. Okay, what if it had been a Jewish festival? Or a Roman Catholic festival?

What Gingrich said is just plain wrong. It's not true. Those aren't the facts. It is spreading a lie and misinformation and it is fear mongering. Am I going to vote for a guy who says stuff like this? Newt Gingrich, shame on you! What you said was terrible!

Final Word
At university I took a course in macro-economics. I've never forgotten how the professor explained the idea of how economics has in a 10 year cycle while politics has a 4 year cycle. The obvious conflict of interest is that what's expedient for political gain may in fact not be in the best interest of the longer-term economical goals. As I stand back and watch things unfold, I realize that we, the individuals making up the voters, are many times looking only at our own self-interests. Yes, I don't want to pay taxes but then where does the government get the money to build and maintain the roads I the tax payer drives on? Sometimes the government or the collective will of the people has to force me to do something like pay my taxes for the greater good even though I personally may not like it.

However I also saw in that course on economics that economics is not a simple subject. It is not a science like two plus two equals four; it is much more and I mean much more imprecise. In theory if you know the value of each variable of an equation, you should be able to calculate the "right answer". However the reality is that the equation is so big with so many variables and so many variables with unknown values that you can never really come up with the "right answer". The best you can do is some sort of guess.

As a consequence, when a politician stands up and tells me he or she knows the right answer; I am very much a Doubting Thomas. I find it far more believable to hear a leader tell me he doesn't know everything, that he doesn't necessarily have the right answer but that if we pull together and work hard we can head in an agreed upon direction. I don't expect to win the lottery but if I have a job and work hard, I expect to get paid at the end of the week. That's believable; the lottery is not. Of course, some people like to gamble, even with their vote in the vague idea things will work out and God will provide. Hmmm, the Lord helps those who help themselves but what the @#$%^* do I know?


References

What the @#$%^* do I know? 2012-01-03
When I first started to stick my nose where it didn't belong, those dark hidden recesses where the sun doesn't shine (I secretly wanted to be a proctologist?), I discovered things. (Okay, now is this where I insert something like I was looking for the scoop but found the poop?) When I first looked at the idea of blogging, I quickly realized that bloggers use their blogs to state their opinion. Nothing wrong with that but as time wore on, I began to find a number of people stating opinions which didn't match with reality or at least my impression of what reality is.

God does "not" help those who help themselves 2011-01-03
I read a blog dated January 2, 2011 called Another Child Dead, Another Christian Parent In Jail by Al Stefanelli about a woman in Florida who refused medical treatment for her 9 year old son and he died. Apparently she belongs to a faith-based healing church and was relying strictly on prayer to cure her son. Mr. Stefanelli, a self-professed atheist, talked about her actions or should I say inactions and how the Journal of Paediatrics examined a group of such incidents and concluded that in 4 out of 5 of the cases, medical intervention would have saved the person in question.


2012-01-11

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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

What the @#$%^* do I know?

When I first started to stick my nose where it didn't belong, those dark hidden recesses where the sun doesn't shine (I secretly wanted to be a proctologist?), I discovered things. (Okay, now is this where I insert something like I was looking for the scoop but found the poop?) When I first looked at the idea of blogging, I quickly realized that bloggers use their blogs to state their opinion. Nothing wrong with that but as time wore on, I began to find a number of people stating opinions which didn't match with reality or at least my impression of what reality is. (Okay, Mister Wiseguy, can you really prove that the world is not flat?) All of my entries now have a references section in which I put links to (I hope) reputable sources: newspapers, professional journals and experts (people a hell of a lot smarter than me), all of which supposedly supports the point I'm trying to make. Sometimes I discover that the point I'm trying to make is unfounded. Yes, sometimes even I am full of s**t manure.

If there is one important aspect to all of this, it is that I have found all of us seem to be tainted by our opinion and our experiences. What does that bizarre statement mean? Dr. Marty Klein, an American sex therapist sums it up nicely with a line I keep repeating ad infinitum (Or is it ad nauseum?), "The plural of anecdote is not data." All of what we know, all of what we do, is based on our knowledge, our education, and our experiences however I would put forward that more often than we would care to admit, we make mistakes because we do not realize that our knowledge is incomplete. Because our knowledge is incomplete, we may be taking the wrong course of action.

Some supposed truths seem to be irrefutable. Two plus two equals four. The law of gravity is real; drop a bowling ball on your foot if you don't believe me. I can frizz my hair if I stick a finger in a light socket. Those types of things seem givens and we're not going to argue about them. Each and every one of us has experienced these givens and can reproduce them at any time. However, when we stray into other areas of debate such as religion, politics and human relations, the number of perspectives is startling and the cacophony I hear is everyone voicing their own personal opinion about what's the truth. But just what is the truth? What is it that would be the equivalent of two plus two equals four, something none of us could dispute, and something all of us could accept as "the" truth? Oh boy, I'm sure I'm opening a can of worms with this one.

Seat Belts
According to Wikipedia (Seat Belt Legislation: History), seat belts became mandatory in the United States in 1984 and in Canada in 1976. I remember various people, both friend and family, grumbling about this: I've never needed one. In general, do any of us like being told what to do? But along with the grumbling I remember several people recounting some story about knowing somebody who was in an accident and was better off or saved precisely because they were not wearing a safety belt. Let's be frank. All of this is anecdotal. All of these people had no statistics at all to back up anything they were saying. They were merely saying anything which would support their idea that safety belts were unnecessary.

The truth? The factual data, the statistics overwhelmingly support the benefits of safety beats in both saving lives and reducing injury. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 10,000 lives are saved every year due to safety belts and another 9,000 would be saved if they had been wearing a seat belt. (Estimating the Lives Saved by Safety Belts and Air Bags) I think it would be fair to say that anybody voicing a dissenting opinion about the mandatory use of safety belts would be laughed off the stage. Yes, today it may seem so obvious we may wonder how we could have collectively ignored this safety device for the time we did. Nevertheless, at one time our society accepted quite unquestioningly that seat belts were not part of the landscape.

Vaccinations
Are vaccinations good or bad? I quote from Wikipedia (Vaccine controversies: Effectiveness):

Mass vaccination helped eradicate smallpox, which once killed as many as one in seven children in Europe. Vaccination has almost eradicated polio. As a more modest example, incidence of invasive disease with Haemophilus influenzae, a major cause of bacterial meningitis and other serious disease in children, has decreased by over 99% in the US since the introduction of a vaccine in 1988. Fully vaccinating all US children born in a given year from birth to adolescence saves an estimated 33,000 lives and prevents an estimated 14 million infections.

However, the American actress Jenny McCarthy has taken the stance that her son's autism was caused by vaccination. She has published a book supporting this claim; she speaks publicly about it and has made numerous appearances on talk shows to expound her theories. According to Wikipedia: McCarthy's claims that vaccines cause autism are not supported by any medical evidence and the original paper by Andrew Wakefield that formed the basis for the claims (and for whose book McCarthy wrote a foreword) has been shown to be based on manipulated data and fraudulent research.

The James Randi Educational Foundation, with the tagline "an educational resource on the paranormal, pseudoscientific, and the supernatural", awarded Ms. McCarthy their 2008 Pegasus Award for the 'Performer Who Has Fooled The Greatest Number of People with The Least Amount of Effort'.

Jenny McCarthy is well known as a model and actor, but in recent days she's getting far more publicity for her stance that vaccines cause autism. She has a son who may be autistic, and of course we are sympathetic to her plight. But that can only go so far when Ms. McCarthy appears on endless chat shows, is interviewed in magazine articles, and even writes books encouraging people not to vaccinate their children.

Numerous, well-done studies have shown conclusively that there is no causal link between vaccines and the onset of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) - the claim that they are connected is spurious, based on anecdotes and the fact that vaccines are given to children around the same time that ASD symptoms begin to appear.

The antivaccination movement has been directly linked with outbreaks of various vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, and there have been numerous illnesses and even deaths associated with these outbreaks. The facts are in, and have been for quite some time: vaccines are an overwhelming modern medical success story, having eradicated such scourges as smallpox, and hugely lowering rates of other diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, polio, influenza, and diptheria. The evidence is also overwhelmingly against any link between vaccines and autism as well.

Yet all that evidence has been overturned in the public's mind with ease and alacrity by Ms. McCarthy, so she wins the Pigasus award for her contribution to the country's ill-health.

CNN- Feb 4/2011
Bill Gates: Vaccine-autism link 'an absolute lie'
Microsoft founder Bill Gates sat down recently with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta in Davos, Switzerland. The billionaire philanthropist was attending the World Economic Forum to push his mission of eradicating polio by 2012. Gates, through his foundation, also pledged $10 billion to provide vaccinations to children around the world within a decade.

What is truly curious in all this is how the public have taken to Ms. McCarthy as a valid source of information about this issue. She is not a scientist; she has not done herself or relied on factual data from double blind tests with a university sanctioned methodology; she has based everything she says on her one experience with her own son. But the public, or at least some of the public, are following her every word as though she could possibly know what she talking about. Time Magazine (April 26, 2011) reported on this story by saying: Jenny McCarthy is a former Playboy bunny, not an academic expert, a doctor or a vaccine researcher. Yet 24% of parents surveyed recently by the University of Michigan say they place “some trust” in information provided by celebrities such as McCarthy about the safety of vaccines.

Superstition
Wikipedia gives this definition: Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events. Interestingly, it goes on to say: The word is often used pejoratively to refer to practices (e.g., Voodoo) other than the one prevailing in a given society (e.g., Christianity in western culture), although the prevailing religion may contain just as many supernatural beliefs.

When I was cogitating (I get into a lot of trouble when I cogitate), it occurred to me that we looked down on the superstitions of our ancestors. Sacrifices to the "gods"? Worshipping the sun? If you walk far enough into the distance, you'll fall off the earth? (Wait! That's not true!?!) Just what were those silly people thinking? Today, we know so much better. Hmmm, but do we?

You and I are sitting in Starbucks having a coffee and chewing the fat. Two plus two equals four. No doubt about it. I can get four stir sticks and demonstrate it so both of us agree that this is, in fact, true. Should we always wear a safety belt when we drive a car? Are vaccinations so dangerous we should stop taking them? Was the world created six thousand years ago or was it formed billions of years ago? But more importantly, does it matter? There's the all important question: does it matter?

If you promote the idea of not wearing a seat belt, the overwhelming statistical evidence shows you to be doing harm to society in general. Yes, you may have a story, a single story, about the exception to the rule but do we then ignore the bigger picture? A rule has an exception but the exception should not make the rule.

Scientific evidence shows that vaccinations are beneficial. However, nothing is perfect. There will always be some risk but at the end of the day, we collectively, we as a society must decide on the greater good. Would you kill one person to save a thousand? It may be a philosophical question but in terms of the greater good, would you remove a vaccine from the market that benefited many because of a problem with one?

I personally don't care if you think the world was created six thousand years ago. Unfortunately, I have found over and over again this is the tip of the iceberg. This is the sign that the mind behind that belief is a literal interpreter of a Bible as the word of God. The Bible is not the writings of men trying to record their history, their stories and their wisdom of the ages which may or may not be God's teachings; no it is literally the word of the Lord. These people justify their actions whether good or oh so bad by stating it is the will of the Lord. Really now? You, yes you know what God wants. The God who "works in mysterious ways". (William Cowper) Gee, considering that God is supposed to be omniscient and omnipotent, the creator of the heavens and the earth, the designer of genes, the inventor of quantums and all that relativity stuff, well, hats off to you who deem yourself to be that much of a genius to know God so intimately you understand him and his ways. "The knowledge of God is beyond man's reason." (Hazrat Inayat Khan) May I remind you that even Albert Einstein was wrong once in a while. And you're no Einstein.

Final Word
I'm just a guy; nobody famous; nobody special. Like you, I'm just trying to make sense of it all. I'm trying to make a buck, pay my bills and figure out life if that is any way possible. I don't know everything... unlike you... no, not you... the guy in the back wearing the tin foil hat... as I would like to be a little more sure of my facts before I make the decision to put on the hat. And like everybody else, I don't always have the time to do my own investigation of whether or not something is true. At some point, I have to put my trust in an expert and accept their opinion. Some guy in an alley told me that if I invest early in the Brooklyn Bridge, he can double my money in less than 6 months.

Socrates supposedly said, "The more I know, the less I know." Like the idea that if you never leave your valley, you never find out the world extends farther than your own borders, when I acquire knowledge, I better understand what I don't know. I certainly do not understand Einstein's theory of relativity but a university course in calculus and another in physics opened my eyes to what it is. Ha! I still don't understand it, but now I do know it's there.

Over the years I have met some very, very smart people. So smart, they almost gave me an inferiority complex. However over my lifetime, I have discovered a truth which I still find startling. Periodically, I am told that I'm good but when I look around me to see the competition, I realize the "truth": it's not that I'm so good, it's that everybody else is so bad. Yep, I'm just your average, run-of-the-mill guy but everybody else around me is either so uneducated, inexperienced or just plain dumb, I look like a shining star. I may be the biggest fish in this particular pond or the king of that particular hill but I've been to other ponds and other hills and realized there is so much more beyond the end of my nose.

The plural of anecdote is not data
- Marty Klein, Ph.D

What @#$%^* do I know? Like Socrates, I know that I don't know and armed with that knowledge, I intend on trying to find out the truth, the truth. Not your truth, not his truth, not her truth, but the truth. Whew. I better get started. I've got a long way to go.


References

Wikipedia: Seat belt legislation
Seat belt legislation requires the fitting of seat belts to motor vehicles and/or the wearing of seat belts by motor vehicle occupants. The U.S. state of Wisconsin introduced legislation in 1961 requiring front seat belts to be fitted to cars. The Australian state of Victoria mandated front and rear seat belt use from 1970.

Compulsory wearing
Canada: 1976
United Kingdom: 1983
United States: 1984


Wikipedia: Vaccine controversies
A vaccine controversy is a dispute over the morality, ethics, effectiveness, or safety of vaccinations. Medical and scientific evidence surrounding vaccinations generally demonstrate that the benefits of preventing suffering and death from infectious diseases outweigh rare adverse effects of immunization. However, since vaccination began in the late 18th century, opponents have claimed that vaccines do not work, that they are or may be dangerous, that individuals should rely on personal hygiene instead, or that mandatory vaccinations violate individual rights or religious principles. These arguments have succeeded in reducing vaccination rates in certain communities, leading to increased outbreaks of preventable, and sometimes fatal, childhood illnesses.

Wikipedia: Young Earth creationism
Young Earth creationism (YEC) is the religious belief that Heavens, Earth, and all life on Earth were created by direct acts of the Abrahamic God during a relatively short period, sometime between 5,700 and 10,000 years ago. Its primary adherents are Christians and Jews who believe that God created the Earth in six 24-hour days, taking what they regard to be a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative as a basis for their beliefs.

Discover Magazine - July 31/2011
We are (temporarily) vaccinated against Jenny McCarthy
A couple of years back, Oprah Winfrey offered notorious antivaxxer Jenny McCarthy her own show on Oprah’s health network. Needless to say, a lot of people were unhappy about this, including me. Ms. McCarthy’s ideas about health and medicine are not only demonstrably wrong, they are what I consider to be a public health threat. She actively promotes people not taking medicine known to work, and to try things we know don’t work.

Amazon: published 2011
The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear by Seth Mnookin
Who decides which facts are true?

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist with a history of self-promotion, published a paper with a shocking allegation: the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine might cause autism. The media seized hold of the story and, in the process, helped to launch one of the most devastating health scares ever. In the years to come Wakefield would be revealed as a profiteer in league with class-action lawyers, and he would eventually lose his medical license. Meanwhile one study after another failed to find any link between childhood vaccines and autism.

Yet the myth that vaccines somehow cause developmental disorders lives on. Despite the lack of corroborating evidence, it has been popularized by media personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jenny McCarthy and legitimized by journalists who claim that they are just being fair to “both sides” of an issue about which there is little debate. Meanwhile millions of dollars have been diverted from potential breakthroughs in autism research, families have spent their savings on ineffective “miracle cures,” and declining vaccination rates have led to outbreaks of deadly illnesses like Hib, measles, and whooping cough. Most tragic of all is the increasing number of children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.

2012-01-03

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