Wednesday, December 28, 2016

To Carrie on without her.

Imagine a young actress who has already become an icon in film. She is going to act in a movie that is guaranteed to become the biggest motion picture success of all time as the character that made her famous. Now imagine this description of a scene she will perform:

"You are captured and shackled by a vile and monstrous gangster. And you will take your chains and strangle him to death with the very chains that hold you and escape."

Oh my God, this is a feminist dream! The symbolism! This is will be so inspiring to women and young girls everywhere!

"... and you will do this while wearing a metal bikini. And make it look sexy - you should probably lose a few pounds for this."

Yeah. Liberating.

So what did she do? She nailed it, looking sensual and mighty at the same time. She could have effectively wrapped that chain around George Lucas' own neck. (Isn't it curious that Lucas, like Jabba the Hut, really has no visible neck?)

She followed up that performance by making a career out of mocking the fact that she had to wear that outfit. That is a woman who has strength deeper than any of us can imagine. I think the expression we're thinking of is that she "has balls" (although seeing her in that outfit makes it obvious that she does not!)

When I was 6 years old I was sleeping with Carrie Fisher. She was on my Star Wars bed sheets! She was already part of my life - before I was even old enough to know that I was supposed to find her attractive. She became a hero for me before she was sex symbol to me. Maybe I'm fortunate that way, and that could have helped shape the way I view women. I can't say that I'm not sexist, as we all have implicit biases that are cultivated by the patriarchal society we live in (SJW in the house, what!), but I try to be a voice for equality wherever I can. With Carrie Fisher, I have always seen her as a rebel against the power, rather than simply the model of physical beauty that she was and always has been.

Bless you, Carrie. I will miss you.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

What I would like to hear Hillary say

My wife is very frustrated with me right now. I guess it's hard to blame her, because at a time when I should be packing and preparing for our 3000km road trip that starts this weekend, I am spending every night watching the Democratic National Convention; just like last week when I was watching the Republican National Convention. Gina finds politics in general to be distasteful, and American politics especially incomprehensible. I, on the other hand, can't look away.

Waiting for the show, amirite?

As a Canadian, I am a fan of American politics in much the same way as a person from Eastern Canada might be a fan of an NHL hockey team despite the fact that the nearest team is located an 8-hour drive away. I have known many hardcore Boston Bruins fans (rest in peace, dear Reg) or Leafs or Habs, or even New Jersey Devils (wahoo!) who have never seen the team play, and for geographic reasons would never be able to attend a victory party. Yet, hockey fans can pick a number of reasons to choose one team and shout at their TV sets every Saturday night.

I am (as I have said before) an unabashed liberal, so it makes sense that I would naturally be a fan of the Democratic Party in the US: and I am now rooting for Hillary Clinton to become the next President of the United States. I think many other Canadians are with me on that one, as we are naturally more liberal (with a small letter "l") than our American brothers and sisters. We have had universal healthcare for eons, and have never felt the need for our citizenry to walk around bearing firearms (neither for our own protection, nor in case we feel the need to overthrow our government), and we mostly understand the reality of climate change and the necessity to treat women, minorities like LGBT or ethnic and religious groups fairly. These are all things that the Democratic Party stands for, and the the Republican Party can't seem to find a path on.

Pictured - a Republican looking for support of gay rights in the party platform. I hope they brought a lot of rations...

In fact, I find that a large number of my Canadian friends judge Hillary Clinton as being not liberal enough, and were hoping that the Democratic Party would select Bernie Sanders as their nominee. I have never agreed with that sentiment, but I certainly understand it. Regardless, Clinton now faces the challenge of gathering the support of Sanders' fans within the Democratic Party - mostly young, extremely liberal newcomers to politics; along with the moderate or independent American voters - a lot of middle-aged non-educated white guys who don't know much about politics, but they know that they don't feel secure in their manufacturing jobs and they are hearing one candidate promise to end immigration, or off-shoring, or anything that would jeopardize those jobs in favour of foreigners. I don't think it's a stretch to say this is not an easy task for her.

Add this to the fact that a large number of American instinctively don't like or trust her. I don't know why this is, although I have a theory. People would probably claim that it's because of Benghazi, or the email server affair, or for giving speeches to financial institutions. But let's be honest, these "scandals" have been seriously overblown by a Republican Party that has been looking for ways to publicly discredit her. They have known for 8 years that the day would come that she would be their prime enemy in an election campaign, and they have been working hard to find ways to have voters dismiss her. How else can you explain 2 years taken, and millions of dollars spent and hundreds of interviews performed on the Benghazi inquiry when it was fairly clear from the start there was nothing to be found? She is game, and the media is never going to ignore a hunt.

No, I believe the attention to these things are a result of the distrust of Clinton, not the cause of. For any average politician, we would laud their ability to spend 40 years in the public eye and not get caught at any time doing anything untoward. In politics this is usually called "success." I think a man would be talked about differently in the media and would be considered a strong leader under the same circumstance. Yet Hillary is called names like "bitch" and "c*nt".I would argue that in many American political scandals there has been clear evidence of men doing worse things than what she is only accused of (not least of which is actually Donald Trump, who has left a trail of litigation in his wake), yet these men are not subject to the scrutiny and suspicion that she has. For the most part this is done by us subconsciously, but it is tangible.  I could be wrong, but this is where I think the root of her disapproval is.

Austin is not convinced that such a strong personality as Hillary's can  actually be a woman.

That being said, how does she overcome this? There have been some fantastic speakers at the DNC this week, including Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama himself. They have all been praising Hillary unreservedly, vocalizing their respect for her and talking about her career of service, and lambasting the other party for their policies and their candidate (more on that in another post). They are saying, "I trust Hillary, and you should too." Will people believe that? There's no way that this message will take unless they see the candidate herself and observe that everything lines up.

So, here is what I think Hillary needs to do tonight. She needs to keep on the issues, like she has been doing. She needs to talk about her team, and her party, which she has also been doing. She should not spend a lot of time talking about her opponent, other than to present how much better her policies will be than his. This is all basic stuff. But I think she needs to appear genuine - and this is where it gets difficult. Hillary is naturally cautious, both in her actions and her speech. She cannot make you believe her words are from the heart, because they are not - they are from her brain. She is not an engaging storyteller like Bill, and she is not an soaring orator like Obama. So she needs to admit this explicitly. Roughly phrased, she needs to say something like:

"I am not an inspiring speaker like Barack Obama or my husband Bill, and I do not speak off the cuff like some other candidates, so I am going to just say what needs to be said honestly, even if not candidly. If I don't have the emotional flourishes that some other speakers do, that's not because I don't care - it's because I care so much I 'm not going to flippantly say something that is of more risk than it is of value. I want you to know how hard I worked on this. I can't promise to be a cheerleader, but I can promise that when I speak to you it will be no-nonsense and well thought out. America doesn't need someone who just speaks and tweets whatever is in their his or her. American needs someone who can work hard on its problems and can get things done."

This, I believe is the kernel of what her message needs to be. With this, she validates her style, and can get people focused on her message. She may have occasions like when she cried during the 2008 primaries that her emotions break through. And at the time, it helped to humanize her and it boosted her support. But she can't manufacture moments like that - instead, she will always look a bit robotic in front of a crowd. She needs to run with that; not promote it and advertise it, but occasionally remind people that her personality is guarded by nature and it is for a reason, and it's part of what makes her great.

I keep coming back to how we would see this if it was a man, rather than a woman in this situation. We psychologically expect women to be warm and mothering, and when we don't see that ease in a woman she is seen as aloof and uncaring. Yet a man who appears unaffected is seen and strong and fatherly. In a way, it's ironic that these same personality traits that she required to get to where she is are now her greatest liability. It's an unfair standard that we need to acknowledge, and Hillary needs to find a way to work around it if she wants to earn the trust of those who, for whatever reason, have decided they do not like her. The glass ceiling will only be shattered once and for all when we no longer "dislike" a woman because her image of power is a threat to our men.

But I do like her - I don't get to vote, but I can still cheer. And I hope the victory party is grand. It will at least be historic!

I know this is fake, but I couldn't help myself.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The war on jarts

Do you remember Jarts? Or lawn darts, as they were also called?  Maybe if you're younger the question would not be if you remember them, but rather have you ever heard of them at all?
Jarts was a wonderful game that we had in my childhood that consisted of a set of darts similar to those you throw at a dartboard, except large enough to wrap your hand around at the tail, and heavy enough to lodge themselves in the ground when thrown up into the air. The game was played by placing a ring on the ground and throwing the darts into the air, trying to make them land in the ring the same way you would try to land a horseshoe around a post. 

Large, heavy projectiles with pointy ends, launched into the air by children or drunken adults on a summer afternoon. What could go wrong?

Look, I'm not going to pretend that there were no problems that arose from the occasional game of Jarts. Some people got hurt. But I think it's unfair that the irresponsible actions of a few Jarts players ruined the game for all of us. 

And when I say ruined, I'm not exaggerating. Try to find a set of Jarts at your local Walmart. You will fail. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but at one point the game virtually disappeared. Actually, that's not entirely true. I do know when the game disappeared - in Canada it was 1989, when they were completely banned. This was following a similar ban in 1988 in the US. It seems that in 1987 a little girl in California was killed when a game of darts went awry, and her father saw fit to petition the government until they took action. But really that's small potatoes. One child here or there - these things are bound to happen. What's important is that most Jart owners are responsible, and would never have let that kind of thing occur. 

The truth is, children should never be playing with Jarts. At least, not without proper adult supervision. And adults should never leave Jarts where children can find them. Obviously, this is not a problem anymore, since the government has taken away the Jarts.
It's too bad the founders of this country didn't know about Jarts, since they hadn't been invented at that time. They could have put something in our charter of rights to ensure that the right to play with Jarts was accounted for. However, times change: those kinds of documents omit important details just as often as they include items that might outlive their authors' intent. Like Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3.

I am frustrated by this, though. I'm disappointed that the Jart industry didn't fight more on behalf of Jart owners. I have to assume the profits available to Jarts manufacturers was just not enough to entice them to take up the fight. Because of this, you can't buy Jarts in stores at all. I believe it's probably still possible to buy Jarts if you go outside the normal channels. In the end, a law-abiding citizen can simply not get his hands on Jarts these days. 

It is a shame. Personally, I only ever used my Jarts to practice my accuracy, although I do know they could be used for self-defence. Not nearly as effective as simply avoiding Jart combat altogether, but sometimes you don't get to make that choice. After all, the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a Jart is a good guy with a Jart. And what's to say the next criminal you encounter isn't carrying a couple? I know they say that owning Jarts is more likely to be dangerous to the thrower himself or those close to him than it is to their intended target - I simply refuse to believe that. I know how well I can throw a Jart!

Maybe I'm just nostalgic. Times change, and I miss the old days. It seemed like a simpler time when we could all throw our Jarts in the air, and we never bothered to worry about where they might land. But I know that things will probably never again be the way they were then; so I will strap on my motorcycle helmet, fasten my seatbelt, and hope that the choices that are being made for me are for the best, even if I can't understand why.