Friday, 29 March 2013

Girls 3

Let's talk about sex.

Sex is the most important thing that happens on the planet. If you don't believe me, try growing food without it. Everything that lives has to eat, and only the simplest lifeforms reproduce asexually. Of course you could still have a planet with only the simple lifeforms, but that's not what life itself works towards. It works towards complexity, and it did so a long time ago. Sex is what has created the world we know, so we should laud it for what it is.

In most animals, and in plants, the timing of sex is governed by cycles, be it oestrus or pollination. Humans (and rabbits) are "ready" for sex at just about any time. Quite why this is, is a bit of a mystery. We are only fertile at certain times (unlike rabbits), so the urge to have sex does not correlate with the ability to fertilize.

It stands to reason then, that in humans (and indeed in other animals, not just dolphins, no matter what you've heard) having sex is NOT only about reproduction. It is about pleasure. Yes, animals are often stimulated to have sex from the smell caused by oestrus, my rams leave the girls alone at all other times, despite running free with them. But many species, not just so-called higher animals, presumably do it because they like it. We don't know for sure, because we can't ask them, but it takes effort to have sex, on the whole. Energy is used up. Animals do not expend energy for no reason at all. That is a prime rule of nature. The reason for it may not be a good one, and it may not be obvious, but everything we do has a purpose, even if that purpose is only pleasure.

Of course it may not be pleasurable for both parties. Ducks are notorious gang rapists, and it's quite plain that the female is not having any fun at all. She doesn't get a choice, and may not personally benefit from it in any way, but her species gets to continue, because her eggs are fertile. Remember, when it comes to it, the whole "plan" is that, not the benefit to the individual. The drive of life is to continue, and it's a very powerful drive. If you've ever seen a tree growing out of bare rock, a beetle with several legs missing, dragging itself around, or indeed the flowers on bomb sites, you can't help but be reminded of this. That drive is what causes animals, from hormones mostly, to have an urge for sex.

As humans we like to think we are not animals, but we are. We have animal urges. Yes, even the female of the species. Women are blessed with several things other animals may or may not have:

1) Men who are ready for sex at just about any time.
2) The ability to enjoy sex; to do it for no other reason than fun
3) In the modern world, the ability to enjoy sex without risk of pregnancy.
4) In theory, in the modern world, the ability to choose when we don't want to have sex.

Of course that last one is in theory, because unfortunately, all too often the male sex drive is so strong it causes men to break the law, and harm women, by forcing sex on them against their will.

There is this idea, put around by men, that they can't help themselves. That they are completely controlled by their hormones, their sexual urges, and that the poor dears should be understood as the potential rapists they are. It never ceases to amaze me that men would want to admit that they are pathetic, helpless beasts that can't stop themselves from doing something that is morally and legally wrong. But this is the reasoning used to excuse them. This is why in so many cases they blame the woman for being just so damned alluring.

Rape is not a new crime. It was mentioned in all the ancient texts, including the Bible. Unfortunately the Bible often condones it, but at least its writers were aware of what it was. Even when there were strict laws against rape it only applied to certain women, for example Hammurabic law only protected virgins, and indeed laws against rape within marriage are new, being created only in the last few decades.

Laws (and attitudes) with regard to sex with young girls has varied widely over the centuries and across the planet. In the modern world, in most developed countries, there are laws to do with age of consent, that is to say, any girl under that age is deemed to be too young to choose for herself whether she is ready for sexual behaviour or not, and the law protects her even in situations where there is no suggestion of rape. This age varies quite a bit. In Tunisia it's 21, in Angola it is 12. In Bolivia it is "at puberty". In most of the world it is 15-16. But let's not pretend that these laws actually protect girls from unwanted sexual activity.

The fact is simply, that anyone with half a brain can recognize that there is a time when a girl is not ready. Bolivia is at least being logical in a biological sort of way. Before puberty a girl is obviously not intended (by nature) to have sex. Puberty is sexual maturity. A female animal is no longer a child, she can reproduce. Does that mean she is ready to do it?

Let me give you another farmer anecdote. Last year we sold all our female lambs, because our flock was at maximum. We only have a small barn, and overcrowding leads to problems. Therefore this year we didn't have any yearlings having lambs. The result was a great lambing season with very few losses, and in all cases the losses were not the fault of the mother. It is common, to the point of normal, for a yearling to be a poor mother. She is just clueless, and we can't talk to her to tell her what to do. Animals have to have the right instincts to tend to their babies. Sometimes with enough encouragement they can be persuaded to allow the lamb to feed, but results are patchy. By the time she's another year older, even if it is her first time, she'll do better.

If a human girl was to have a child at the age of 12, she'd need massive support. She's still a child herself and although she may be fertile, she's not ready for the responsibility of motherhood, and also there can be damage to her body from enduring a pregnancy before she is fully grown. So puberty is not, instantly, a sign that she is ready for all that sex can lead to.

But there's something else. Humans have very complex psyches. Unlike most animals, we often can not dissociate the act of sex (physical) with the emotional ramifications. There is some dispute as to exactly how much of this is taught (cultural). It could be argued that if a society routinely allowed or even encouraged everyone to have sex with anyone, at any time, with no restrictions, and if girls were brought up to expect that, that they might not suffer from the experience of constant sexual activity, even unwanted. Bonobos behave in this way and do not appear to be harmed by it, in fact it appears to be what holds their society together. However, the fact is that human society is NOT the same as Bonobo society, and women DO suffer from unwanted sex, unwanted attention, and from sex too early.

To avoid the risk of girls being taken advantage of, we teach them various ways to avoid sex. In some cultures they simply don't get the opportunity to be alone with men. In the west we teach them that they have rights, and that they must scream when assaulted, and report assaults if they have been unable to avoid them. We assume that for the most part, men will leave young girls alone, due to laws, morality, and common sense. It doesn't work.

That's enough for now, I'll continue, thanks for all your kind words about this blog series:)

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Girls 2

Yesterday I made a rather long point about how women are not equal if they define themselves by their relationships with men.

It's pretty bad that it's 2013 and anyone in the west is still having to point this out. It shows just how far we have to go. And, again, I stress, while the problem stems from centuries of patriarchy, it is women - mothers - who have kept it going.

To take an extreme example, consider FGM. Look that up if you don't know what it is. Widely practised in parts of Africa, there are women who arrive as new immigrants in the west who try to keep it going. That is how brainwashed they are. If women will continue to inflict such horrors on their daughters from cultural programming about gender roles, what will it take to convince "modern girls" to raise their daughters as equal independent members of society?

Some of the problem lies in the fact that these women are doing it unconsciously. They don't actually tell their daughters "all you are good for is being a chattel of a man". Obviously not. They don't SAY that. The way they teach it is subtle. Much is taught by example, of course. Girls watch their mothers' behaviour. They watch relationships, whether their parents are a happy couple, or split and in other relationships. They overhear remarks intended for the ears of parents' friends. They collect messages that are every bit as powerful, and possibly more so, than "all you are good for is being a chattel of a man". They are getting this message repeatedly.

The girls getting this message are not rare, not even a minority. So they have a peer effect too. They push it onto friends their own age, and girls who are unsure (no bad messages at homes, but no good ones either) can pick up on the idea from the general culture in school. Peer pressure is very powerful, and without sufficient good messages at home, in the absence of a positive, guiding attitude, the prevailing one will be received.

It seems inconceivable that in 2013, the prevailing attitude in a classroom of girls aged 11 is hardly changed from that of 1813, but how else do you explain the insistence of mothers who tell you "I had to buy her a bra, because all her friends have them, and she was being picked on". I heard that with my own ears. None of the girls in question had anything to put in a bra. It was effectively a fashion statement.

There was a time when we would pride ourselves as parents on saying "yeah, and if all your friends jumped off a cliff............?".

So, let's talk about fashion. What is it?

Read this:

Do not ignore the target ads on the page, they are pertinent to the discussion.

Note "sexual availability", "sign system", "need for tribal belonging", "rĂ´les", and so on. If anyone honestly believes that it's just fun, that it's just a bit of harmless vanity, then they might like to explain how it became a multi-billion dollar industry, and one in which people will take great risks with their health.

Of course men take part in this too, but have you ever seen a headline critiquing the fashion choices of a male politician?

Please read this:

This is constant, even normal. We apply a different set of standards. It could be argued that people in the public eye are always going to be assessed in this way, but that's not the point. It's the fact that it's only the women who get the assessment. The worst I've ever seen written about a male politician is that he looked "rumpled". As a matter of fact, he did. He looked like he'd slept in his suit. Can you imagine if a woman had got up in front of the cameras in an outfit that needed ironing?

And, as has been often pointed out, women are often the guilty ones for making these criticisms.

I don't think you need me to tell you that women spend much more of their (usually lower) income on hair appointments, make-up, wardrobe, dry cleaning, shoes, beauty treatments, and so on. Or that they are far more likely to be starving themselves to achieve a fantasy body shape. You've heard all this before.

The question is why?

OK, some will say they enjoy it. They love clothes. Ohmigod they love shoes. The manicure is so relaxing. It's not for me to argue this.

But others will say they do it because it's expected. Because they won't get a job, or a promotion unless they "dress for success". Some will admit they wear a short skirt in interviews.

Sometimes, it just becomes a habit. Women get so used to complying with an unwritten cultural dress code that they forget why they are doing it. It goes on a long, long time. Why do women wear skirts and men wear trousers? Was it always so? No, of course not. No more than men having short hair, and women having long. These are norms that settled into the cultural mindset at some point, and subsequently became considered correct. Out of habit, and absolutely no other reason.

There is no record of how this began:

The practice of binding the feet of Chinese girls so that they were tiny, lasted 1000 years. Men interviewed at the time it was being phased out admitted to sexual arousal at the sight of these tiny feet. What they had in mind of course were feet covered in shoes, because once uncovered the deformity was obvious. I will spare you the photos here, please read the WP article if you want to see examples, including X-Rays.

And from that article it says "For men, the primary erotic effect was a function of the lotus gait, the tiny steps and swaying walk of a woman whose feet had been bound. Women with such deformed feet avoided placing weight on the front of the foot and tended to walk predominantly on their heels. As a result, women who underwent foot-binding walked in a careful, cautious, and unsteady manner. The fact that the bound foot was concealed from men's eyes was sexually appealing. On the other hand, an uncovered foot would also give off a foul odour, as various saprobic microorganisms would colonize the unwashable folds.
Another attribute of a woman with bound feet was the limitations of her mobility, and therefore, her inability to take part in politics, social life and the world. Bound feet rendered women dependent on their families, particularly their men, and became an alluring symbol of chastity and male ownership, since a woman was largely restricted to her home and could not venture far without an escort or the help of watchful servants"

Now tell me what's different about these:

I expect objections about this comparison, and of course the deformity is different.

I'll return tomorrow.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Les Miserables

I'd been looking forward to this movie since the day it was announced, never got to see it on the big screen, so I was jolly happy when #2 son bought the DVD for my birthday. And I did enjoy it, but it wasn't perfect. Maybe I was expecting too much?

If you know the show, the first problem you will encounter is that the editor used a scythe. OK, they couldn't make it as long as the show. I know. But it was done at a gallop. Whoosh. I suppose that was just inevitable. I have no solution for the timing problem. It meant that some songs were reduced to just a few lines, and some were just not there.

Most of the criticism I've heard has been aimed at the singing of those who are chiefly actors by profession. You know, they really weren't off-key. That was unfair. What they did do, however, almost all of them, was sing nasally. Is this a trend or something? I need an expert to sort that one out for me.

With regard to the musical arrangement, it felt like something was missing. You know how it is when somebody serves soup and forgot to salt it? Well it was that sort of feeling. Got it. It needed drums. There were several places when drums were conspicuous by their absence. This was especially noticeable in "Do You Hear The People Sing?"

But mostly it was good. The costumes, sets, lighting, make-up, hair, etc were all first-rate, and they didn't try to do anything weird or "clever" with the cameras. And my only other issue really, is with part of the storyline (nobody falls in love that fast), but it's not the first time they've done that.

Oh and Amanda Seyfried looks like a fish. But that's just me being catty.

Girls 1

The other day a little thing on Facebook started a big discussion, and not surprising really, it's an important topic and it's a big topic. In fact it's too big for one blog. I am going to split it up into several, and continue over the rest of the week.

The original issue was over an article where a man objected to Victoria's Secret selling underwear aimed at girls of under 13 which had slogans or styles that he felt were inappropriate for the age group.

I think we all agreed that this is very much a supply and demand thing, if nobody was going to buy them, they wouldn't be selling them. So, obviously there are parents who will buy these for their daughters. Perhaps we should aim our objections at them. Still, I do consider it optional for a company to sell a product, and I do believe in such a thing as business ethics. After all, other articles going round the internet demonstrate J. C. Penney's defiant support of LGBT rights, this is a calculated decision on their part to choose one customer base over another, based on ethics. We can infer whatever we want from such decisions.

Nothing I do or say here will have any impact on the vendor, so I'm not even going to bother.

I'm going to begin by looking at the girl of 11 or 12. I've been one, and I've raised two of them. I've known quite a few. This is not a foreign creature, by any means.

The pre-teen girl is in a very strange place. The usual thing to say is that she is confused by the changes taking place in her body. That may be so, but what she feels may or may not be confusion. It may feel very straightforward and certain. But it isn't going to stay the same. It's a step towards maturity, it isn't maturity. At the time, it may feel like maturity, because it's new and because she has no idea how the next stage, and the next, will feel. This is true of every stage in our lives. As we are today is what is familiar, and we may think we've finally got a handle on it, but in ten years time we'll look back and realise we were still learning. The difference at 11 is that this process is happening much faster.

Everyone blames hormones, which is partially fair. They directly affect the brain, which itself is developing. Thought processes at 11 are not the same as those at 13, or 16, or 25. Decision-making is based very much on immediate wants and needs, less on plans and caution.

However, no matter what is going on inside her, the girl is affected powerfully by outside forces. Everything she sees and hears affects her decision-making processes. Peer pressure, media and advertising, parental advice, and so on, all filter in, and depending on how important they are to the individual girl, they have a greater or lesser effect. Her own self-esteem is already in place, based on experiences so far. Her own set of role models are around her, and therefore in her head. Each girl is different, but none of them are immune to the opinions, actions, and direct intervention of others.

Some of this is cultural norms. I grew up in a society where girls and boys were allowed to mix freely without supervision. We had no chaperones. In other societies it would be very different. A million years ago it would have been different again. All of us have expectations, which may be tacit or explicit. I knew at 11 that I was not supposed to show certain parts of my body to strangers/boys/the public/cameras. It wasn't hard to work out what was and wasn't supposed to be shown - it was easily guided by the bikini I wore swimming. In another culture there might be far more restrictions, but I grew up in that one, the norm for the modern west, and it was pretty straightforward.

But I had definite advantages. Culturally, it was a permissive time, but a much simpler time. There was no pressure by the media or advertising to force me to grow up faster than I was ready to. I had a good sense of who I was, and good self-esteem from a stable homelife, a wise mother, good people around me generally, all the right messages really. The only bad message that still lingered in the early seventies was that of women being somehow not quite as important as men. We still haven't quite conquered that one, but at least I didn't believe it. Neither did my mother, and THAT is very important.

When a girl believes, and is raised by people who believe that women are equal to men, it makes a massive difference in attitudes, and therefore decisions. Above all it means she does not define herself by her value to men. 

There are still girls today being raised to believe that all you need to be is a pretty thing, and then men will take care of you. That attitude is at least 100 years out of date, and was never, actually, a good thing. It was perpetuated by women as much as by men, and let's not forget that. It is mostly mothers who pass this on. It keeps women in bondage, effectively, it keeps them scared, it keeps them down. It causes them to make bad choices, and ultimately it causes great unhappiness. The emancipation of women was not about voting. Here's a statement from the Magnus Hirschfeld Archive of Sexology:

The emancipation of women, i.e. their liberation from religious, legal, economic, and sexual oppression, their access to higher education, and their escape from narrow gender roles is not easily achieved. The struggle for sexual equality has a long history and is likely to continue for some time. Even if it should soon be won in the industrial nations, it may well rage on in many "underdeveloped" countries.

In traditionally patriarchal societies any improvement in the status of women has far-reaching consequences and produces fundamental political changes. Therefore it is always resisted by the established powers. However, it seems certain that they will ultimately have to relent, because the emancipation of women is both necessary and desirable. It will provide for a greater degree of social justice and thus benefit everyone. Indeed, from the beginning, the great "feminists" or champions of women's rights have always insisted that they worked in the interest of the whole human race. The feminist movement therefore has always been a humanist movement. Some of its representatives were reformers, others revolutionaries, but virtually all of them worked for a better, more equitable, and more humane world. Much can be learned from their experiences. They often suffered ridicule, persecution, and defeat, but also won admiration, support, and victory. Gradually, they achieved many of their goals. Their opponents, on the other hand, learned that a just cause cannot be suppressed forever. Where needed reforms are consistently blocked, revolution becomes inevitable.

I can't add to that.

A woman is not emancipated if she believes (because she is taught) that her role is subservient to men. No matter what freedoms her society give her, legally or culturally, if deep inside she feels that her place is to be at the beck and call of a man, she is in bondage. It really is that simple.

I'll continue tomorrow.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Wake Me When It's Over

It would be so nice here to say that I'm so opposed to violence, that I refuse to watch "acted" violence on principle. But it wouldn't be true. One of my favourite movies is "Once Upon A Time In Mexico". And I really enjoyed "Kill Bill" too. I had no problem with the punch-up in "Sherlock Holmes" (2009) and let's be perfectly clear here - if you swing at me, I'll swing back.

No, I don't approve of violence but if it's necessary in self-defence, or if it's choreographed really well, that's fine.

But I cannot stand battle scenes on movies. They all go on too long, although frankly, the 2 minute ones are 1:59 minutes too long. It doesn't make any difference what sort of battle it is, be it orcs or spaceships, or just the jolly old cavalry. Let's just take that bit as read, and move on the story.

Why is this? Why is the action scene that everyone else looks forward to the part that bores me silly? It's not that I don't like action, I love a good car chase. It's probably more to do with my disinterest in sport. I fast-forward through Quidditch games too.

Sport just leaves me stone cold. It's supposed to be exciting, but it's just another battle. I wander off, find something to do.

And this probably goes some way to explain my lack of interest in most modern video games. They all involve fighting, one way or another. But again, please don't get any idea that I'm virtuous, and that it's against my principles. That would be nice, but I can't claim it. I just can't be bothered. It's repetitive, unsatisfying, and has absolutely no appeal.

Shooting things? Where's the fun in that? Give me a target, now that's worth shooting. There's a way of measuring skill. That's something that would amuse for for at least ten minutes.

I'd much rather paint the target. Or make the gun, come to think of it.

My drive is to create. Destruction is just too easy, and it only becomes interesting at all if there is art involved. There usually isn't.

There is something fundamentally not me about destruction. It's not pacifism, as much as I wish it were. It's just boredom.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Banging Your Head On The Wall And Then Complaining That It Hurts

Human beings are funny creatures, they often complain to thin air.

I am guilty of it too, grumbling about the weather, for example. I think there is some natural instinct to do this, because I've seen animals grumble. I think we can allow a bit of grumbling. There isn't always a real authority to complain to.

When there is, when a person or organization exists that we could make an actual representation to, how often do we do it, rather than complain to anyone who'll listen?

I challenge you this morning, to promise to yourself, that next time you have a complaint about anything, you will do the following.

1. To "get it off your chest" you will write out, in full, carefully, exactly what it is that grieves you. Include the desired solution. If you don't know what that is, then you can't expect anyone else to. Now, consider - is that solution possible? I don't mean easy, or fast, I mean possible. For example if the solution would be to be 20 years old again, then it isn't. If it is to obtain $20,000, then it could be. But if it is to obtain $20,000 by this time tomorrow, then it probably isn't. Either come up with an alternative solution, or admit there isn't one.

2. Having found a solution, address your complaint to the person, persons, or organization (yes, even if it's the government) who can actually make that solution happen. Do this quickly, and use what you just wrote out.

3. If there is no solution, or if there is, but it will take a long time, or there is a chance that who you complained to will ignore you or reject your solution, find a way of dealing with it other than whining constantly to anyone who doesn't actually tell you to shut up. Because chances are, most people will listen, kindly, to your frustration. I recommend blogging as an outlet. People then have an option to not read it.

You see, we are often justified in our complaints, but justification isn't enough. If there is a solution, and we do not seek it, then it's no longer a complaint but a whine. If you have a grudge against your partner, your boss, your neighbour, your mother, your teacher, the post office, the bus driver, the police, the prime minister............yes, there will be times when you feel the urge to offload to your friends, and being friends they will listen. But nothing changes that way. So your friends will have to kindly listen again, in a week or a month's time. They may ask you, gently, if you have made a formal complaint to the appropriate party. Even if you say no, they will kindly listen.

Why should they? Why are you abusing your friends in this way?

If there is no solution, because you cannot change the laws of physics, things are a little different. Your friends may even share your frustations, and indulge in a bit of negativity right along with you. You may even find it helps a bit to get it out. But don't make a habit of it. People who whine constantly are extremely tedious.

I recently had a person offload to me that he had very few friends, and those who remained didn't spare much time for him. He did a very silly thing - he asked me for my honest opinion. He asked me if I knew why. I did. He has abused the whine rule. This rule says that if whining is the bulk of your conversation, then even the kindest people run out of patience. It will cause you to be alone, and then you'll have something else to whine about, especially since the solution is in your own hands.

The fact is, if there is a solution, and instead of actively (and perhaps repeatedly, if need be) trying to achieve that solution, you choose to blather on to others (who can't help), then you are simply full of it.

It is my contention that people who do this don't actually want a solution, they just want attention. Well, we all need attention, but that's not the way to get it. It is a form of loud sulking, of saying "it's not fair". I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but life is rarely fair, and in particular, people with power over you are rarely fair. But some of them can be appealed to. Try it sometime.

Rising Above

I often raise the subject of tolerance because...tis a tricky one. We like to think of ourselves as tolerant, but we are also aware that tolerance is not the ultimate attitude. It's often simply the best we can do. But if we have any values at all, there are things we won't tolerate, and in fact that's how it should be. For example, tolerating cruelty makes you an enabler. If you stand by and watch a person taunting somebody else, or an animal, and you say nothing, do nothing, when you could, and you allow it to happen, then you may as well be joining in.

Tolerance is not meant for that. Yet I have been criticized for being intolerant of the intolerant. It's a ruse they use to try to get back at you for criticizing them. Word games are often used by unpleasant people.

Which doesn't mean one always needs to join in any argument they witness. If two people, evenly matched in  years and intellect, are having a bit of a ding-dong, I frequently leave them to it. Tom and Michael get into it quite a lot. I feel it's actually good for them, it reminds me of two kittens practising their fighting skills on one another. It would be different if one was repeatedly and effectively bullying the other (yes, even in words), but it's a very even match. What I do there is tolerate the noise. There is a time limit, however, and I will tell them to shut up or take it elsewhere if it goes on too long.

If I did intervene, I would mess up their dynamics, because usually it's not long before they are getting along just fine again.

Peacemaking in general usually works better by not taking sides, and in fact two people arguing can often be calmed simply by a having a third presence who is avoiding it.

A friend was talking yesterday about taking the option of walking away rather than getting into an argument with a known irascible person, and in particular of the complication of being seen to be rude for walking away. This is no different to the accusations of being intolerant of the intolerant. It is a 100% "blame the victim" scenario, and it simply doesn't wash.

Another example. My husband has an old school friend who has taken to posting racist "memes" on Facebook. I am told he isn't really a racist, he's just frustrated by the immigration situation in England, which is definitely out of control. But one must take care with the issue. There is a numbers problem, and that is not in question. A small island has finite space and resources. The existing population is probably about as many people as it can manage, new arrivals create a strain. Nevertheless if the objections are aimed at a specific sub-group of new arrivals, then it is still racism.

I have seen this here. I am an immigrant. I've listened to people complain about immigrants to Canada, and I say "Er hem, I'm one". To which they reply "Oh well that's different". You bet it is. I'm from the right part of Europe.

So I know exactly what they are saying, and it's rare for it to be anything to do with numbers. It's to do with difference.

The question then, is do I stand by and watch, or do I speak out? It's not as easy as it sounds. There is a duty for ethical people to point out injustice. But there is still a time and a place for it. Getting into an argument is futile here. Finding it on my Facebook feed is not tolerable. Removing the man from my contacts could be offensive. So I just unchecked "show in news feed". Problem solved. I chose to walk away this time.

If the post had been from a friend of my own, I may have instigated a discussion. But I have nothing invested in any friendship with this person. I can rise above.

As we go through our lives, there will be many things we don't like, don't approve of, don't understand. We still have choices as to how we deal with it. Getting angry every time is not necessary. Getting even definitely isn't. Speaking our minds is absolutely a choice, and a lot of things are in play. These decisions are one at a time, each situation on its merits. It is our decision too, nobody else's.

I choose to rise above, increasingly. When I choose to speak, I then choose to do in such a way that I'm likely to be heard, without personal attacks or sarcasm. These are my choices, and they work for me.

Friday, 22 March 2013


I doctored this "meme" because it had the word "Karma" at the top, and it's nothing to do with Karma. I've never heard of the Law of Mirrors either, but whatever. The point here is pretty valid though. There's a sort of chain reaction. People with poor self-esteem lash out with insults and jibes, intended to harm others. It (apparently) makes them feel better about themselves. Not quite sure how, but there has to be some sort of motivation.

Something I've been looking at a lot lately, due to a couple of the courses I'm taking, is the topic of deep racism. Now, racism is a tricky thing to define. It has been suggested that it is prejudice with power, in other words when the negative feelings of a person towards another person actually manifest as an ability to harm them. But it's difficult to define harm sometimes.

If a person's prejudice leads them to harm a person by physically attacking them, or preventing them from having the basic necessities of life, the harm is obvious. If we decided to imprison everyone from Finland, and give them only gruel to eat, it could be construed as a) racism, because of the selectiveness of it, and b) harmful by just about any standard.

However, having the power to harm others is often far more subtle than that. Refusing to hire a person based solely on ethnicity, or perhaps refusing to rent a home to them would also qualify as racism.

But when it gets down to insults, where does the power lie? There has long been the idea of sticks and stones, and the more modern version is that we all have the power to choose how we react to insults and slurs.

Do we? Do we really?

I think it's sometimes much easier than others. Repetition is a big factor. No matter how much you honestly, deep inside you, believe you are worthy (in any way), if you are told that you are not, often enough, it will have an impact. It doesn't necessarily mean you will believe it, but it will HURT. At the very least it just gets annoying.

So, the question really is how much harm can words do? Well, they can do a lot. It's a question not so much of the immediate impact they have on the person who they are aimed at, but by others listening, particularly the young and impressionable. Nobody is born a racist. It has to be taught.

That was ahead of its time. Sadly, it fell on deaf ears for the most part.

I was raised by a very open-minded mother, and racism was unknown in my home. So I thought. However, I've had to think again about that fact recently, as I've considered just how insidious it is. My mother was, I realise now, anti-Catholic. Not in a ranting sort of way. She had friends who were Catholic, but just as you can't prove that you are not racist by having had friends of different ethnicities, she simply made allowances for them. This is very common, of course. It's an exception clause for social convenience.

Why was she anti-Catholic? Because her father was. There was no other reason as far as I'm aware. She was just taught that Catholics were lesser. Why was my grandfather anti-Catholic? Because his father was. I can probably go on. I'm not imagining it either. I recall stories told. How far back it went, I have no idea. But it was entrenched. It had been going on so long, they didn't know why they were anti-Catholic. And that dear reader, is what happens.

It also explains how the exception clauses are possible. Faced with a person of the "wrong" group, there appears to be no actual problem. They meet them, they like them. They have lots of things in common. They become friends. Something in the back of their mind says "But we don't like this group" and common sense says "But I like this one". It would be a perfect opportunity to understand there is a problem here, but it gets missed.

Fortunately, every so often it doesn't get missed. Somehow despite being raised in a family of extreme bigots, a child can spontaneously and unilaterally decide he doesn't agree with the prevailing culture around him. This amazes and thrills me, and it also comforts me. I see it as a sign of hope. This is free thinking, refusing to run with the pack, and it is actually very brave.

But I have a theory as to at least one example of why the prejudice and insults continue. Bigots are bigots all round. It's a mindset. The father who teaches racist ideas will not stop there. If he has the ability to be cruel with his words over others, he is also capable of doing it to his own. And sooner or later he will. It may only happen under duress, but it will happen. He will show his true colours. And when he does he will insult, criticize, and belittle his children. And they may react to that by doing it to theirs. Giving them just enough of a ding in their self-esteem to use insults as a projection onto others. Until they become aware of the cycle, it will continue.

As for me, how come I didn't turn out anti-Catholic? Well, because somehow I could differentiate between leaders and followers. Between an institution and an individual. Because I never fell into the trap of tarring a whole group of people with a broad brush. But that doesn't mean I am innocent. I have had plenty of my own prejudices, and despite years of effort, I am still aware of a few. I'm also aware now that some of it is racial. Racial prejudice is not limited to black and white or anything quite so obvious. I opened my mouth this morning and the word "redneck" fell out, when correcting my son's grammar. What he said was incorrect, I have a duty to correct him, but that was the wrong way to do it.

We all have to be on our guard against this, because it's so easy to do, and there are no damn excuses.


Nothing deep today, you'll be relieved to hear. This is just waffly journal stuff. The boys are fighting over the bathroom, and I'm leaving them to it.

It has snowed all week. All week. It started Monday and it's still doing it. We managed to avoid a snow day, but the ploughs have been kept busy, and so has Tom. He has lost count of how many times he's cleared the path, and the walls of snow either side of it are above his knees. And he's 6' 4". It's got to stop soon. This time last year I had peas in the ground. When it thaws the fields will turn to lakes.

My indoor cat, Jeff, is a bit too clever for his own good. He's one of those "talking" cats. I don't mean he speaks English, but when he wants something he speaks cat at you, and then leaves you in absolutely no doubt what he wants. This is straightforward communication. He walks up to me, speaks, and then waits for me to follow him. He then leads me to the place of importance. This morning it was the dog bowls under the kitchen table. Yeah, I get it. You want something to eat that isn't cat food. There's cat food in the basement. If that runs out he leads me to the basement stairs. It's different. So he has a bowl of gravy left over from dinner last night and he's happy.

I am staff.

My neighbour has been supplying us with hay all winter, at a very fair price. When we got the latest bail he told me it would be the last one, as the remaining bales are all sold to somebody else. This leaves us in a bit of a situation, finding a hay source suddenly in March is a bit tricky, as arrangements are normally made in the Fall, and so I have to make a phone call this morning and keep my fingers crossed. It may only be a few weeks until we have pasture, but that's a few weeks, so I have to find some somewhere. Prices generally this winter have been high and we may have to pay quite a bit for it. We need a good season this year for hay and grain, or we are all going to feel it next winter. If you think food prices are high now, you just wait. Please support local farmers by buying direct, if at all possible.

As some of you noticed, I started a separate blog to waffle about my studies, so I don't bore you with it here. Some of my friends mentioned that I hadn't blogged in a few days. I do, I blog every day, usually more than once, I've just got it spread over several blogs. It's an organizational thing.

Food goes here:
Studies go here:
Gardening (not much happening) here:

There's another one at Word Press, but not much there yet.

We are trying out Bebo, and it's crap. It serves a purpose for private communication among those who need it, but the format is a mess, comments are in several different places and don't connect up, e-mail notifications don't arrive and the whole thing is amateur. Is there NOTHING online that works like Multiply used to? Or is that too much to ask. I don't mind paying. I just want a place that works well for blogging AND bantering. This is a great blog site, so is Word Press, they are really nice for blogging. They suck for bantering. It's a good thing I like talking to myself, because that's what it feels like most of the time. Facebook saves me from lack of social contact, so I just link my blogs there, and a limited amount of discussion can occur. And whatever you say about Facebook, its notification system WORKS.

Anyway, life is good, I'm keeping busy, the weather WILL get better, and I'll see you at Facebook.

Monday, 18 March 2013

My Truth

Why do we write? It is to be read. It doesn't matter how modest you are, if you don't want to be read, you don't write. Or you'd put it on paper and burn it afterwards. No, we write to share our thoughts with others. That's the truth. Of course, we also write for ourselves, just to get it out. When we organize thoughts in a piece of writing it is almost the therapist's couch. For that reason, if no other, there is no point writing anything that isn't honest. The truth.

I saw one of those little "memes" (I do wish they'd called them something else, but that name has stuck now) going round, that said "I do not write to sway the opinions of others, but to let others know they are not alone in their thoughts". There's a lot to be said for that. It's like self-help groups. Knowing you are not alone is very uplifting. But once again, it is critical that what is being shared is sincere. The truth.

So, when one has an opinion, it is always acceptable, even if it's offensive. I have to work at remembering that. There are two rights within the concept of free speech, the right to voice our opinions, and the right to object to the opinions of others. Which is of course why even the fairest commenters get into arguments.

I have noticed that when I speak my mind, my personal truth, my deepest held feelings, and somebody objects to it, I don't care. I can shrug it off with no difficulty whatsoever. Often, I don't even bother to argue because there's nothing to be said. There's certainly nothing to justify. I have arrived at that position after time, careful reflection, repetition, and I know it is my truth. And if it's not yours, well, sometimes it just doesn't matter. Other times it simply means that I'll avoid the topic with you in future, and occasionally it means I don't want anything to do with you.

However, I've also noticed that sometimes I am concerned when my opinion causes objection, and on these occasions it causes me to re-visit that opinion. Have I not been thorough in my reflection on that issue? It's not just a question of being open-minded, there is a real concern there that I may have mis-judged it. Of course, it also depends on who is objecting.

I like to think of myself as a good listener, and also a fair person. I avoid jumping to conclusions, or at least I try to. I'm especially careful with issues that I don't personally know much about and rely solely on third-parties for information. It's vital then to choose carefully where I get my information from. Then, with a bit careful, critical thinking, I form my opinion, aware that it's an "outsider" opinion.

So it is then, that twice in the last week, kind friends, intelligent people, deep thinkers, have objected to my opinions on two men. Men in positions of leadership. I shall begin to explain my opinions by not naming them, because the positions they hold are possibly the key to my objections.

Deep inside me, I am an anarchist. A true anarchist. One who rolls her eyes at the very idea of "anarchist organization". I, personally, me, Melanie, do not need any authority, save that of the Laws of Nature. Those among you who are atheists can call it the Laws of Physics, those of you who are believers can call it God. It doesn't matter to me what you call it, but we're all on the same page really. Those I can't fight, and have no intention of doing so.

But other humans? No. I answer to nobody. I never have. Of course, a tyrant can take over my country, imprison me, torture me, and so on, I can't fight that either, but it doesn't mean I defer to him. I am my own authority by choice.

I am aware that not everyone is able to do this, or chooses to do this. In fact, this is why anarchy as a way of life for human beings is not possible. By nature we are leaders, followers, or independant people. Independant people are also often natural leaders, but they are also pretty good at refusing the job. Please nod if you are a natural leader who prefers to remain independant but gets co-opted to lead with great regularity. Yes.

The worst type of leader is one who is not a natural leader at all. If they think they are, and usurp the leader's position, they become tyrants. If they simply find themselves in that position, they struggle. Many kings have struggled. Some cope. Just.

It's fair to say that as a species we need leaders. That's we, you see. I don't, but the many do. They really do. They will find them too. There are plenty of people willing to be leaders. There are plenty of people who seek being leaders. Some are better at it than others. Some guide well, despite personal flaws. They're only human after all. Some let power go to their heads, some abuse it, and some are horribly corrupt. Some are a waste of time, talk out both sides of their mouths trying to appease everyone, and some are cruel tyrants. Some are in it for the money, glory, and power. Some are born to it. And some don't quite know how they got there. Some are victims of the Peter Principle.

The question often arises, can we respect the position, even if we don't respect the man? I came face to face with that fresh from school, head full of anarchy, in my first job, where the "boss", ultimately, was military. A major. An idiot. A man with a silly hat and pips on his sweater. A man with a fat red face, a ridiculous laugh, and a sense of his own self-importance marginally below that of Mussolini. So I drew cartoons of him. Nobody knew who'd done them except one colleague who tried to explain to me how I should respect the fact that he was a major, even though I was a civilian, and not make fun of his personal appearance (agreed, but how else do you draw a cartoon?) and treat him with the respect he deserved. Deserved, hmm. No, sorry, couldn't see it. Every time he opened his mouth, he said something stupid. How could I respect that?

Elton John wrote "Texas Love Song"

So it's Ki yi yippie yi yi
You long hairs are sure gonna die
Our American home was clean till you came
And kids still respected the president's name

Obviously a conservative view, but as we all know, there's not much respect shown for the president by conservatives.

How about the other way around then? Can we respect the man if we don't respect the position? Often, it is not relevant to us. Not our own personal authority. I suppose we should at least respect the fact that it is an authority for others, of value to them, and our feelings towards it are not relevant. Yes, the masses need leaders. They do.

It can't be easy being a leader. If you are elected, you are always trying to lead anything up to half of a population who didn't elect you. They may resent every single thing you do. They may thwart all your aims, even if they might benefit from them, on the basis of ideology. They may spend all their time trying to remove you from office, which you then have to spend time fighting, preventing you from getting anything done - which they will then lambast you for.

If you arrived at your position without democratic election, then the chances are that much of your effort will involve staying in power by quelling rebellion, one way or another. But this is assuming you don't have overwhelming majority support to begin with. In a few rare instances, there are leaders who are foisted upon the followers in a rather different way. The two gentlemen in question here are in fact spiritual leaders. One was chosen at the age of two, one was chosen by his peers. The masses had no say in the matter, but they accepted it, because that's how it is.

There are many differences between these two men, but also many similarities.

1. While being spiritual leaders, they are also unable to avoid politics. Leaders are by default, politicians.
2. Being spiritual leaders of very old religions, they are automatically politically conservative.
3. However, both men purport to promoting social justice, which is normally a left-wing position.
4. There is an instant paradox here, which makes them look even more like politicians.
5. Being spiritual leaders, they are also followers...of their respective religions. They are most certainly not independant people.

If you haven't figured out by now the two men in question, they are Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama.

I shouldn't be criticizing either of them. I've never walked in their shoes. I am not one of their flock. Most opinions I form are based on third party information, which may be unreliable, from mis-quotes to outright lies, but even if it's accurate, I don't understand the ins and outs of beliefs held, reasons behind decisions, and so on. I cannot justify my opinions, and therefore I should probably keep my trap shut.

But, if I'm honest, if I tell my truth, I'm not a fan of either of them, and there's really not much point pretending otherwise.

There's the whole humility thing, which doesn't impress me. But it's inevitable, and I can shrug that off. If I found myself in a position of fame and and power, I'd bloody well enjoy the luxury and servants too.

There's actual doctrine I cannot possibly agree with, but I am fully aware that you can't change thousands of years of tradition suddenly. In a rapidly-changing world, ordinary people, the little people, have got quite enough to cope with, and they need the security of tradition. I get all of that, and yet there's something that just sticks in my craw.

I've heard all the criticisms, all the rebuttals of the crticisms, and the rebuttals of the rebuttals, you probably have too, and quite frankly, I've decided against hashing them out here. You can Google them if you like, it doesn't matter. You don't have to agree with me, and we don't need to argue over details.

There's something else. I freely admit I hold people in positions of great power to a higher standard. That's probably wrong, it's probably unfair, but I do. I expect them to do their job. What is their job?

Here's where I have no right to an opinion at all, and in fact here's my strongest opinion.

If you are the leader of a massive and ancient religion, in a modern world, you are also a politician. That is unavoidable. But you cannot please everyone. So, the right thing to do is stick to the principles of the religion you represent, the principles you claim to espouse. These religions are so very different, but we are being led to believe that the foundation of both them is love.


Is that what I'm hearing? The answer is sometimes. I'm also hearing "....but...."

Again I could cite examples, from both men, where I am not hearing love or kindness, but something quite different. But if I give details it detracts rather than emphasizes my point. If you share my view you'll know them anyway. If you don't share my view, you'll excuse them anyway. It doesn't matter. Nothing will change.

Perhaps I should keep my opinions to myself, in situations like this, but we all know I won't. My opinion counts for nothing, and if I'm just tactful, probably doesn't matter. I will deal with my own concerns about these judgements in my own time:)

Friday, 15 March 2013

Don't Miss This!

In case you missed the Facebook post, I'd like you to watch this:

Depending on your previous knowledge of physics that may have had the same effect on you as it did on Alan (I had a few moments there myself), but I do hope you enjoyed it. I certainly did. I know several of you share my love of learning.

I am not the same person I was a few weeks ago. Playing catch-up on my education has had a profound effect, and I'll figure out what exactly later on, because it's ongoing and I cannot predict when it will level out. There has to come a point when it does, but we'll just wait and see.

What I recognize is that much of the more serious writing I've done on blogs and other online outlets over the years was an attempt to get at knowledge by digging a hole under it. Now I feel like I've been given a key to the door. Of course this is why we have such a thing as school, and I'm more resentful than ever that my opportunity back then was limited by so many things. But better late than never. At least I know my kids have had a decent education, because when we discuss the things I'm learning, they seem to know what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Gender, Sex and All That

My lack of girly came up again this morning. I thought it would be interesting to go over the different bits of that.

Clothing: As I've pointed out before, in current society/fashion, women are allowed to cross-dress. I think this actually began a bit with wartime necessity, girls rolled up their sleeves..... or even donned overalls. Women's uniforms and work clothes were still different but much closer to men's. The bicycle was instrumental in allowing us to wear pants, did you know that? But fashion after WWII really picked up the pace there. By the sixties girls in jeans was normal. I was born in 1962 and my mother, who was a tomboy and a trousers-preferring kinda gal herself, dressed me very boyishly. She believed it was practical. Photos of me at all ages demonstrate my preference for "tomboy" clothing. And of course nothing has changed. I'm more interested in being able to move freely than "style". Add to that my HATE of synthetic fabric, and you can see that typical "ladies clothing" doesn't really have much going for it, for me.

Habits: This is where it looks funny, frankly. I actually do more "female crafts" than the average girly girl. I knit, crochet, sew etc. So what does this really mean? Are they female pursuits or aren't they? I'm just as happy doing woodwork or cleaning out a barn. Dirty outdoor jobs don't bother me, although I confess to letting my sons do the bulk of the farmwork these days. But once they've all left home, it'll be again and that's fine. I don't read chick lit/watch click flicks. I don't like the run of the mill romance. I don't buy women's magazines. I'm not interested in girly conversation. Women dither too much, that's the problem. I can't abide dithering.

Men: People assume that tomboys are closet lesbians, or at least bisexual. Oddly enough, I've never even had a crush on a girl. I'm actually more heterosexual than average. This rather messes with the whole thing. I like my men very manly too. What's even more of a contradiction is this...have you noticed that the type of women who are anti-gay are usually very stereotypically feminine, and have weak men? I'm very, no, not just very,.......... fiercely supportive of my LGBT friends. Something to think about there. I think it's also fair to say I've been a good wife.

Fertility: No secret. 6 babies, and only one was actually planned. And she happened faster than expected. So while my brain may be lacking female hormones, my ovaries aren't.

PMS: None. Zero. Go figure.

Ability: Even some scientists now believe in the right-brain, left-brain phenomenon. If you look quickly at me, because I'm creative you assume the right brain dominates.Then when you listen to my brand of logic you think there's a left-brain thing going on. Well, I've done several tests and apparently mine is balanced, almost 50-50. So maybe that explains everything.

Attitude: I think this is the most interesting area, but maybe it says more about stereotypes than it does about me. I've been called Spock, but I am not cold. I can cry at sad movies. I admit I tend to be less sentimental than average, but that's personality type. There is this idea that men are rational and women are emotional, I think that's just judgemental. I think wisdom is the ability to combine rationality with compassion, so that emotions don't cloud your judgement, but are there in enough quantity to stop you being a cold-hearted brute. I think people use the word "emotional" wrong anyway. Cruel people often display hate in large quantities. Are love and hate emotions? You choose, but you can't have it one way and not the other.

When people read my stuff online at first, if my name isn't attached to it, I am often mistaken for a man. Why? Again, you choose, but the assumption that just because something is clearly written, fair and balanced, unemotional etc, it must be written by a man, is simply latent misogyny. Stereotypes again. And I'll be damned if it isn't often women making that mistake, so look what damage that stereotype has done.

In a nutshell women are not from Venus, and men are not from Mars. We are all just who we are.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Humans Are Social Animals

That lasted a few months anyway. But I've just had to reduce the comment access of this blog to registered users only. Anyone can still read it, but no anonymous comments. I apologize if that inconveniences anybody but there has been a lot of spam lately and the latest was hardcore porn. Have to draw the line somewhere.

Right then, yes, I AM up early. Lots to do, so may as well begin here.

I am here this morning to let you into a little secret. I had no idea it was a secret, but apparently it's still not common knowledge.

I don't take myself very seriously. It would be lovely if that were due to modesty, but it isn't. In fact I'm quite full of myself, but I still don't take myself seriously, and if that itself sounds like a contradiction, oh well...just read on. It'll all make sense eventually.

I have noticed that some people take themselves very seriously indeed. I don't know why, and I can't, because they probably don't know either, but I think a lot of it is that they never think about that sort of thing at all. They never ponder their place in the scheme of things, never question their own motives, never stop to ask why very much...ever. Their loss.

But it goes like this. They behave in a way that just puts other people off them. They're not behaving terribly badly. They're not cruel, they're not dishonest, they're not rude. They're just boring or mildly offensive in some way, and they either haven't noticed, or whatever.

As a result of this they don't get a lot of attention. They may have friends, but it's loyalty for whatever reason rather than really enjoying their company.

Anyone with half a brain would say "It's me, I'm not much fun, so I get forgotten." And bloody well do something about it.

But no, instead they whine, to anyone who'll listen, about being lonely, about being misunderstood, and how nobody cares. Wah wah wah wah. OK, that's not very sympathetic, but really, this is all a bit "bang your head on the wall and complain that it hurts". Isn't it?

We all like to be liked. Attention is nice. But it takes effort.

I am one of those people you either like or you don't. I'm more annoying than boring, but we all have different tastes, and I'm not to everyone's taste. Especially locally.

In the area where I live I'm a minority "type" and consequently I am absolutely NOT part of the local community. Local people fall roughly into two categories.

1. Old families. Farmers and children of farmers. Many can trace their families back to the first European settlers in the area, in the 19th century. Solid country people with a solid country person's outlook. Simple needs really. Give them simple food, plenty of it, a nice big TV, some beer, some hockey, and they're happy. They don't bother anyone, and they have hearts of gold. Kind and gentle, but they don't get me at all, so they smile and wave and keep going.

2. The wealthy or highly educated (or both). Professional or business people who either rose out from the above, or arrived from elsewhere, mix among themselves, and "do" things. They may play golf, or travel, or keep local restaurants in business, but the important thing is that they spend a lot of time and money on leisure. They like me to start with, then discover I'm not one of them, and that's the end of that.

I'm used to this. Not only do I accept it, I find it funny. Maybe I love it. Anyway, it isn't going to change.

So my circles, both on and offline, tend to be people like me. Not because of their occupation, or background, or social group, or anything like that, but simply because they are square pegs. All of us square pegs relate to one another, and shun the rest and we kinda like it. Go on, be honest.

So it sort of jolts us a bit when we run into someone who is desperately trying to fit/join in with people that don't want them.

When Tom started High School, I was worried about him. Alex told me to relax. He said "He'll find a group of weirdos and geeks and they'll all stick together". He was right. He found his own people, his own set of square pegs, and he was fine. That's how it's supposed to work.

In actual fact, those trying desperately to fit in when they don't, to be liked when they are, frankly, unlikable, rather break your heart. But feeling sorry for them is not going to help anyone. If you befriend them you'll be sorry. What they absolutely have to do is stop taking themselves seriously, and nobody can teach them that. They have to figure it out for themselves.

Monday, 11 March 2013

It Was A Really Bad Idea

So, you know (or you live in a cave under a volcano) that I've been doing some online courses. Let's not pretend that prior to that I was a complete doofus, because I wasn't, and false modesty is revolting, but it's the first formal education I've done in over 30 years. And I'm enjoying it. And I'm doing well. And so on. Fine.

So, it's had a funny effect on me. Most of which is pleasure, but some of which has really shaken up my attitude.

Two things. OR one thing in two ways. Neither of which are right, or pretty, or anything, they just are.

I have completely lost all patience with two groups of people.

Those who are stupid in my sense of the word (i.e. ignorant with intent).

Those who sneer down their noses at the uneducated.

I meet the first group all over the place. I want to hurt them.

I meet the second group mostly among my fellow online students, but not only there. They are a minority but they repluse me. They cause a deep nausea.

These are two extremes of wasting the brain one was born with.

I am so done with both groups that I could almost accept poisoning them. But that makes me as bad as them so I will find a way to kill them slowly and leave no trace.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Whole Wide World

If you look at the little map thingy down there on the right, you'll notice I'm getting views from some far flung places. Two of them are friends who live in Asia, but the rest? No idea. Don't even know if they are bots or real readers, but it's fun. Some visitors don't even show on the map, but do on my stats (and vice versa). All in all, I have an international audience.

My initial purpose from this blog was to have a place to do brain dumps, with the intent that anyone I know could read them. I could at that point have locked it down so that random visitors couldn't read it, but decided not to. When I post it at Facebook, many of my friends there read it, who do not have Blogger accounts, and I wanted them to be able to.

There's a self-imposed restriction here. I have to watch what I say a bit, because I never know who's reading. I think this is good for me.

However, among my friends are people who need more security online, and cannot be so open. These include people who were part of my circle at Multiply, some of whom I knew before that. Multiply had great controls with regard to privacy and up until now we've not found anything to replace it. If you apply too much control here, nobody can read it, we've tested it out. Not much point blogging to yourself.

And sometimes it feels like I am. That probably sounds a bit attention-seeking, but I think (hope) you know me better than that. The last thing I want is people responding to my blogs with high fives as a sort of etiquette thing. No. Unless you are inspired to write, please, don't worry.

But I miss the banter at Multiply. I miss the long complex discussions we had, sometimes putting the world to  rights and sometimes being incredibly silly.

So, I'm trying out Bebo. Not instead of a blog, but in addition to. For banter purposes.

But I need your help.

I can't test it out unless a have a couple of friends there.

Does anyone already have a Bebo account? You'll find me there as Chovhani, with a Cat in the Hat avatar. It may be a load of rubbish but there's only one way to find out.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Spring Cleaning - Part One

It's March Break next week, so Michael will be home, and I confess I take full advantage of him. He's a Virgo. They are ever so slightly OCD, but not in a harmful way, it's useful. Just naturally tidy, with an urge to clean and organize. I mean, how boys of almost 17 do you know who keep their room clean and tidy without having to be asked? His personal hygiene is best described as metrosexual, he does his laundry separately to keep his whites bright, and he dons an apron when cooking. He's a bit odd really, but he's great around the house.

We will be painting most of the house this year, due to Sian's wedding being here in September, but right now I just want to clean and tidy at a deeper level than usual. So I'm planning a bit in preparation. Thought I'd share, if nothing else I have my plans here to edit/print out, but it might entertain somebody. While I was cleaning up this morning I noticed a few things that we must do.

Main floor plans today.


Sort the damn cupboards out. Can't find anything lately.
Lower level:
Cupboard 1 (Next to fridge) Mixing/prep bowls. Nothing else. 
Cupboard 2 (Corner) Large bowls, strainers, large jugs, giant saucepans.
Cupboard 3 (Next to stove) Saucepans, frying pans, and lids.
Cupboard 4 (Under sink) Bins. Needs cleaning really really well.
Cupboard 5 (End) Baking/serving dishes.
Drawer 1: Cloths
Drawer 2: Prep tools.
Drawer 3: Cutlery
Drawer 4: Cloths
Upper level:
Cupboard 1 (Over Fridge) Needs total re-think. Dangerous things. Matches.
Cupboard 2 (Baking cupboard) All baking stuff, measuring stuff, and NOTHING ELSE.
Cupboard 3 (Corner) Mugs, butter, tea, coffee, teapots, gravy boats.
Cupboard 4 (Over stove) Needs total re-think. Dangerous things. Animal stuff.
Cupboard 5 (Spice cupboard) Complete clean out.
Cupboard 6 (End) Plates, bowls, glasses. No junk.

While they are empty, clean them inside and out. Also clean off top of fridge.

Wash lights. Eww. Fly poop.
Clean cooker hood.

Empty pantry. Yes, empty it. Clean the shelves. Put it back in a more sensible manner.

Clean window and surround, all black gunk to be gone. Put curtain in laundry.

Pull fridge and stove out, vacuum and clean behind them.

Dining Room

Pull furniture and small fridge out, vacuum and clean under/behind it.
Empty, clean, and re-organize bar cart. Organize all drawers.
Wash dining chairs.
Wash lights. Eww. Fly poop.
Clean window and surround, all black gunk to be gone. Put curtain in laundry.

Living Room

Pull all furniture out, vacuum and clean under/behind it.
Clean windows and surrounds, all black gunk to be gone. Put curtains in laundry.
Organize all drawers.


Empty bookshelves, and clean them.
Re-organize books (MICHAEL) according to library system.
Clean window and surround, all black gunk to be gone.

Downstairs Bathroom

Empty it.
Clean it.
Put it back.
Wash lights. Eww. Fly poop.
Clean mirror.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Communication - An Executive Decision

The reason I bore you on language is because I think communication is really important. It's who we are. We are social, co-operative animals. For all the downside to it, the remarkable achievement that is modern civilization, was only possibly because we can explain precisely what we mean to one another, and many generations have been able to make a jump start on knowledge using both the oral and written word. No creature could build a city if he had to spend his whole time learning everything his ancestors did from scratch.

I have a new policy in my business. I had to decide, as a small Ontario business, how I was going to deal with Quebec. It's not as simple as it sounds. If you are not familiar with the issue, I'll explain. For a long time the Quebec laws have included special provisions for the French language to be treated as superior to the English language. This has led to things like it being compulsory for signs in French being larger or in front of the English equivalent. There are also certain rules regarding documents within businesses, and so on. It's all petty and silly, but for the most part one can shrug it off and ignore it.

In France itself they have similar laws, some sillier than others, but France has one national language, and they are entitled to do this. Canada has two national languages, and the rules are lopsided. I won't go into the details, but suffice to say, just lately it has all become ridiculous.

Articles like this have caused much mirth:

But there's a far more sinister aspect to it, with children losing access to English language education, and a definite racist view towards English speakers in Quebec.

I would be shooting myself in the foot if I ignored the need for customer service in French, and I am able to offer it. I'm not fluent but with the aid of a dictionary I am fully capable of dealing with customers in French by e-mail. So I do.

I have stopped short of listing items with French subtitles (except for ONE item, just because I happen to like the French word so ner ner ner ner ner), or creating a French description. I could do it, I've done it before, and I would happily do it on request. I get a lot of business from Quebec, and it's possible I could increase it if I offered a fully bilingual site.

However, I also get a lot of business from Sweden, Poland, Kazakhstan (yep), Italy, and South America. How many languages should I translate my site into? Anyone online has the option to translate a web page into their own language through Google or Bing and I leave that up to them.

There's one area though, where I have been undecided. I have considered sending out my customary "Thank You" confirmation e-mail in French to Quebec customers, as a courtesy, unless their name is obviously not French. I've been thinking about this for a long time. Take the high road, sort of thing. Never mind the silly attitude of the Quebec government, individual people are quite different. Not their fault.

Yes. It is. If we are going to get some sanity back into this entire situation, the people of Quebec have to do it for themselves. If somebody cannot cope with written English, and contacts me in French, as a polite person, I will continue to respond in French.

But I will not be offering French as an alternative automatically. The people of Quebec must get a clue, and tell their goverment to stop it. Cut it out. This is stupid. This is harming Quebec children, harming relations between neighbours, between provinces, and making the people look dumb. We know the people aren't dumb, so it's time they demonstrated it. They vote and they lobby. They have to do it. I can't.

This Is A Confession

I'm going to talk about a lot of words I don't like. If you use these words, please don't take this as criticism. You have every right to use whatever words you please, and if my opinion of them bothers you, ignore me. If anyone actually criticizes how you speak, ignore them louder, just stand up for yourself. Don't take any notice of language bullies. Remember we all have the same rights. You have the right to use whatever words you please, just as I have the right to dislike certain words. And of course, vice versa.

There are a lot of buzz terms, neologisms and slangs that just make me shudder. It's not that I'm anti-slang, I'm just selective. Some I like, some I don't. That's just how it is.

I don't like "bling". I don't know where it comes from, but I wish it would go back there. Used as a joke, fine, but there are other words, with a bit more specific meaning. The language is in fact rich with such words. This is half the problem with some slang. I have no issue, not really with the words "stuff" or even "shit" used to describe your general belongings, or a collection of items that you are referring to, but let's vary it up a bit.

I like language to be elegant, and have the ugly words saved for effect, in ugly situations. So much of what I dislike is just sounds that grate on my ears. Bling is an ugly word, used to describe something beautiful (or possibly trashy, but INTENDED to be beautiful).

While I'm at it, I don't like to hear any hip-hop words spoken by white people, and that's the end of it. I don't even like yo. No, I especially don't like yo. And I'll tell you what's up, the ceiling. And all those izzle words are just...done. Stop it.

I don't like racial epithets, I think that goes without saying, if you think that's me being politically correct, too bad. It's a question of fairness and good manners. It doesn't make you amusing or clever to call people names, it makes you a jerk, actually. And here's an exception to my advice about language bullies. Just cut it out, for everyone's sake.

Incidentally, I don't like the Australian and French habit of chopping off the second half of a word and adding an O. Why two nations both came up with the same ugly thing, in two different languages, I will never know, it has to be a coincidence, but ugh, just ugh.

I don't like people calling full-grown dogs puppies. They're not. And while I'm at it, I don't like hearing kittie for a cat of any age, particularly by an adult. OK, there's a whole category of words there that offend me, baby talk, except it's not suitable for babies either. Children are supposed to be learning English, not a dumbed down version of it.

A lot of words I dislike revolve around the family. My kids even know what one of them is, and use it on purpose to drive me crazy. I dislike "Mother" being used as a name. It's is not my name, nor is it a title I opt for. Call me "Mom", call me "Mommy" if you are trying to get round me, or even "Mama" if you are being funny, but don't call me "Mother". It's stiff, it's cold, it's way too formal, and it has a ring of attitude about it. (Which is why they do it).

But that's just my kids being clever. One that offends me deeply is "Baby" being used as a name. I have no problem with people skipping the name, and saying "My baby", and for others to say "Your baby" or even "The baby", but "Baby" on  its own makes my skin crawl. That is NOT its name. You used to see it quite often in older literature, and it made me growl - "Take Baby out for a walk in the sunshine". Grrrr.

While I'm here, I'm going to object to an objection. Some very silly people object to the word "kid", saying it's slang. I remember my mother-in-law: "Whats is he, a goat?" No, you silly woman. The word kid is older than the word child. They both come from the same root as the German "Kind". It's not new, it's not slang, it's a variant, and a very old one.

But I'll tell you what I don't like, and that's kiddie or kiddo. These are incredibly popular, and they make my skin crawl. What's even worse is kiddiwinkies, but thankfully, only used in jest.

I don't like words being used in the wrong way. For example people say irregardless, when they mean regardless. They say literally when they mean figuratively.

I have never actually heard anyone say ax instead of ask, but if they did, my face would tell all. I have heard asterix.....he was a Gaul, not a punctuation mark. And it's orangutan. There's no g on the end. Likewise yin yang. Spell it right, say it right. And there is no s on anyway. Ever.

I don't like words being butchered, like library pronounced as lie-berry. I can even raise an eyebrow to Feb-you-erry, although I'll say nothing, it's so bloody common. Antarctica has a c in the middle. Use it.

And while I'm here I like swear words, especially fuck. I like fuck. It's a good clean Anglo-Saxon word and it says what it means, and no messing around. But I don't like the C word. It denigrates women, and it was meant to. I don't like dafuq. This is my boys' current favourite, and it's really starting to get old. Like many of these things, it was funny the first 100 times, but I'm done now.

I'm quite certain I've annoyed everyone in this blog. I expect all of you were reading along, nodding, smiling, and then at some point went "HEY! Wait a minute!", because there was one of your favourite words listed. Well, that's just how it is. We all have our preferences.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Don't Read This Blog

Just using a bit of reverse psychology there.

This blog is for my own amusement. It's about one of the online courses I'm taking. So you can click X now if you're bored with hearing about that.

When I was at school it was well-known and obvious to anyone that I was into language(s) and history and sociology and arts, we might say I was a Humanities student, except nobody even taught me that concept at that time. There was just this feeling, that these were the things Melanie was good at, all hail the right brain.

But school requires a "rounded" education (even if they fail at giving one) so I also had to study mathematics and sciences. You've heard my ramblings on mathematics.

Science is easier. It's stuff you can see, play with, experience. There is math IN science, and no escaping it, but it's only part of the whole. Physics wasn't offered at my school, because we were girls (edit rant) and we had a choice of regular biology or human biology, I took the latter. I also took chemistry because I thought it would be fun. I did well, me and chemistry got along just fine.

If you had asked me, back then, to draw a small image to represent chemistry, I would have drawn a bunsen burner with a flask of liquid bubbling in it.

Among the courses I intially ignored at Coursera was "Chemistry: Concept Development and Application". Been there, done that, passed, "got it" enough for everyday life. Besides, the title suggested a more in-depth version of study, and it put me off.

After I discovered that by rearranging my day a bit, including getting up earlier, I could actually fit more of these courses into my life than I first thought, I went back and added more. Very glad I did, as many of my "second choices" have turned out to be better than some of my first ones.

Among these, I decided to have a proper look at what the "Chemistry: Concept Development and Application" course involved.

What I first noticed was the image used to represent the course. Not a bunsen burner, but a diagram of a molecule. That scared me, frankly. But the description suggested that this was a novel approach to understanding Chemistry, and I'm all for novel approaches.

I still wasn't really sure if this would turn out to be a refresher course, or something "advanced". It is neither.

If the first week's lectures and reading material are anything to go by, this is actually an idiot-proof approach to really, really understanding Chemistry.

I come away from this first part feeling like I invented the entire science. Feeling like those who discovered the evidence of atoms felt. OK, they did the actual work, so it's not the same, but you know what I mean.

I'll be damned - simple mathematics conclusively demonstrates the existence of atoms. We weren't taught that in school. We were taught what atoms were, what they were made of, but never how we knew they were there. Without seeing them.

Because that was how it had to BE. You can't go looking for something, especially something invisible to the naked eye, until you know it must be there. This is so obvious, so clear, so..............

It was much the same in the world of biology of course. This I knew forever, don't even remember it being taught, but at some point I learned that we knew there had to be germs BEFORE we found them, because the evidence was in. People got sick, and something was travelling between them.

But this...this Atomic Molecular Theory, this makes sense. It makes much sense as 2 + 2 =4. If I'd been around 200 years ago, given the right laboratory equipment, I could have figured it out, I'm sure I could.

Now, I hate to repeat myself but once more here we have a reason to tell the anti-evolutionists to STFU.

We knew there had to be germs, before we had the equipment to see them, and we knew where to look, and eventually we saw them. There they are! Can't deny them now.

We knew there had to be atoms, before we had the equipment to see them, and we knew where to look, and eventually we saw them. There they are! Can't deny them now.

We knew there had to be evolution, before we had the equipment to see it, and we know where to look, and we are slowly but surely seeing it. It's there. Stop denying it before you make fools of your selves. The math is there. OK, I admit the math in evolution is melting my brain, but it's still there, the concept is obvious, evolution is a mathematical certainly. It's not "only" a theory. Atomic Molecular theory and Germ theory are not "only" anything. They are what leads us to seeing what's there.

Yeah, I know you did all this 40 years ago, but I didn't. I caught up eventually.

And Here Endeth The Second Lesson

I get up in the morning, do all the bathroom stuff, call the boys, let the dogs out, throw some logs on the fire,  and check my e-mail. In my e-mail was exactly what I needed. Note that word need. Doesn't matter what, just - there it was. I had a little chuckle to myself, and then went to Facebook to do what I complain about other people doing - post something cryptic. I posted this:

Then I was talking to a friend on her blog and the second lesson of the day happened. The topic was, in a round about way, whether or not you need to "be there" to "get it". Let me enlarge on that.

There is an idea out there that unless you have suffered in some way, either by the toss of the dice that is life, or by your own actions, that you are essentially clueless. I don't agree with this, and conversely not everyone who has had a lot of ruts in their road learns from it. But some do.

And here's where it gets complicated, is there a lesson to be had from a person who learned their lesson the hard way?

We won't name names, or go into great detail because you never know who is reading, but there is a man, an acquaintance, a friend of a friend, who I run into regularly, but actively avoid, who had a very, very hard lesson. It would be easy to pity him, or in fact admire him because it did change him. It changed him almost totally.

Politically it turned him on his head. He went from the right to the left so fast, there was a blur. Life smacked him upside the head, and he "saw the light".

This isn't so very uncommon.

I'd like to briefly mention something here that I read in another forum, and this was an opinion stated by an educator. That could make it quite wrong in itself, due to the obvious bias shown, but I'd like you to just accept it as is.

"Taking a statistics class one year, the professor was rather political and he and i would sometimes spar about issues. He was liberal; I was from a liberal background but in a "conservative phase"...He was one day talking about some form of corruption on the part of some (American) conservative politicians. I countered by saying the same exists on the (political) left. Then he hit me. He said something that literally changed my life, and I never forgot it. He said, in so many words, that, there is no equivalency of value systems, (the context of our discussion was American politics). He explained that conservatism and liberalism do not represent two sides of the same coin, but REPRESENT TWO VERY DIFFERENT VALUE SYSTEMS AND WAYS OF BEING IN THE WORLD. (Much like we are studying). Now, I would argue that what is equivalent may be the degree to which human beings ever authentically live out their value systems (always problematic). But I was dumbstruck because deep within me I recognized that what he had said is true. THERE IS A QUALITATIVE DIFFERENCE IN WORLDVIEWS............As a political person, I have studied this question all my life. My statistics professor was absolutely correct: conservatism represents a way of living and being in the world, and a value system which inherently lends itself to injustice and the perpetuation of inequity and exploitation in society. Full Stop!"

Let's not pretend I've never stated a similar view about value systems. I have. And I've been taken to task over it. I've been told, in no uncertain terms, believe me, by self-proclaimed "conservatives", that they are the ones with the right values, that they are, for example, every bit as caring and compassionate as those further to the left, or more so. They take exception, very much to the idea. I said as much, just to be fair (yes, Melanie stood up for the conservatives, don't faint, although I also questioned the definition of "conservative"), but I confess I do see two different value systems.

No matter how you look at it, there is truth in that. Doesn't matter which you consider to be the "better" one. They are different.

It is for that reason that when a person crosses over from one to the other, it is a fascinating phenomenon to watch.

I really ought to be very "pro" this guy and his change of heart. He now shares my values and my views. What's stopping me?

Well, when he was on the right he was very hard on the left. Critical. Rude, even. The lack of empathy was extreme, and as a result of his attitude, I developed an intense dislike of him. As I've pointed out many times, it's not a person's politics that I can't abide, it's their attitude. I know many good people on the right. They sincerely believe that the right-wing attitude is the best for everyone. I don't agree, I think they are mistaken, but their intentions are good. They are well-meaning, and that's why I like them.

This man seemed to me to be uncaring about those in need, blaming them for it, leaving no room for mercy.

After his life-changing experience he appeared to have developed a heart. But now, his vitriol, his bitterness is aimed at the right. He now attacks anyone who espouses the beliefs he used to have. He is critical, and rude.

I am finding this hard to overlook. I know I should forgive him, but I'm not a forgiving person. I don't understand how someone can face such a lesson, learn from it in one way, and still not learn the bigger lesson, which is tolerance. To me in the most important way of all, he still hasn't "got it". In fact it seems WORSE now somehow, that he is raging against a mindset he knows. Or maybe that's why he does it, who knows. They say what we hate most is what we see in ourselves.

Of course, by my rejection of the sincerity of his new value system, based purely on his attitude towards the old one, I am not being tolerant either. This is my problem, and I suppose I'll figure it out eventually.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


Among the many pages at Facebook that I "Like" and which show up with updates in my newsfeed is Blackadder. I assume most of you have watched one of more of the Blackadder series. Today the Blackadder page sent me a one-word status update: Bob.

Here's the first time we meet "Bob".

If you remember, Bob was a girl dressed as a boy, Blackadder fell in love with her. She cropped up again in a later series. Anyway, that's got you all digging out your Blackadder DVDs.

The reason I bring it to your attention today is to explain something to those of you on this North American continent.. We foreigners from across that pond talk funny, according to you. We think of it as normal, the Queen's English, of course, but we are modern, open-minded people and have no issues with North American variations of English. We sometimes tease, as you do us, but no harm is meant by it.

I get quite annoyed, in fact, when British people accuse Americans of bastardizing the language. No, I won't have it. Language is a living thing, it adapts and changes, and it would be really bloody boring if we all talked the same anyway.

If I can just remind everyone, there is no such thing as "no accent". Everyone has an accent. Otherwise you would not be able to talk. You can't lose an accent, only gain a new one. No accent is better than another (personal preferences notwithstanding) and there is no right or wrong accent. There are only differences.

And, if I can be serious for a moment, I will fight to the back teeth, the idea that North Americans talk badly, wrongly, or anything else negative. It's bigotry, plain and simple, by ignorant members of the Old World that take that attitude.

However. By the same token, we cannot allow the Americentric idea that American English dictates spelling. NO.

English spelling is a bit of a game quite frankly. There are rules that don't work, rules that used to work, rules that work in some places and not others, and lots of examples of no rule. In fact, you just have to memorize most words as you meet them. You can love or hate English spelling, it is what it is.

So when new words are invented, there are no real rules to follow. In fact most new words are more or less phonetic. Except they are not. Phonetics don't work when more than one accent is involved.

Listen to the video clip again. Listen to the middle vowel. The "o" in "Bob". That is a very English vowel. No American uses that vowel. In fact if Bob was a new word, and it was supposed to be pronounced the way an American would say it, it would be spelled Bahb. If you wanted it to sound like Bahb, you could write Bahb, and MOST English speaking people would immediately know how to say it. They'd say Bahb.

Yes, we KNOW Americans read Bob and say Bahb, but many others DON'T. Therefore spelling it Bob would not be particularly sensible, would it? It would be fine within North America, but these days things are more international. You have to think outside the box. Plan ahead. Cover all bases.


A very popular breed of dog in recent years is this:

This is a Dachshund, pronounced dahks-und. It's a German word, although that's not what they call them in Germany. But many people just say daks-und. Daks rhyming with snacks. It's wrong but it common enough. In fact some think you are being affected if you pronounce German words as German words. A ridiculous but popular anti-intellectualism, or something.

So, a person was telling me about her Doxie. In writing. I had no idea what she was referring to. In my head I heard the word in my accent. That means - using that "o" vowel up there, as in "Bob". An English O. What came into my mind were the biting fairies in the Harry Potter series. They are killed with doxycide. Don't think she meant that.

Doxy is an old English word for prostitute. This did not compute either.

There is also orthdoxy. 

And this sublime piece:

Eventually, I figured out she meant a dog, by the context, but I assumed it was the dog's name. I assumed she was a Miles Davis fan or something. How was I supposed to connect Doxie to Dachshund?

It's all very well contriving a new name, even if it's nauseatingly cutsey-pie, but for pity's sake spell it in such a way that it makes sense to everyone?