Thursday, March 29, 2007

Damn (Good) Kids

Good news for a change.

These two Boston teens started out trying to raise money to help their cousin, who is a U.S. soldier in Iraq, pay his cellphone bills--calling home from the war zone gets very expensive, apparently. But when they found out that many of his fellow soldiers were racking up big debt loads trying to stay in touch with family, they took the cause even further. Now they're not only helping to support soldiers who, everyone has to admit, are in a desperate situation--they're also helping to save the planet.

When teenagers do something so honourable, it's somehow even more inspiring. Maybe because the teenage years aren't noted for their selflessness.

Gives you a little glimmer of hope, doesn't it?

Visit their Web site at

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Jesus-/Bong-Lovers Unite

Had to comment on this story from today's NYTimes:

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus"

It was supposed to be a Jackass-like stunt, led by bored and frankly uncreative high school senior Joseph Frederick of Juneau, Alaska. He wanted to "get on t.v." So in 2002, when the Olympic torch passed through town on its way to Salt Lake City, good ol' Joe thought it would be funny to hold up a massive banner carrying the funny line he'd seen on someone's snowboard.

It is kind of funny, in a Jackass kind of way.

His principal didn't think so, though. She ordered him to take the banner down. When he didn't, she flew into a bit of a rage, tore it down herself, and suspended him for a couple of weeks.

So Joe decided to do what Americans do best: he sued under free-speech legislation. The Bush administration, via the Supreme Court, sided with the principal and the school board of course.

So far, pretty straightforward stuff. Except then the religious right got involved.

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus"--not exactly a quote from the New American Standard or the St.James bibles. Yet--prepare to have your mind boggled--the religious right is siding with wee little Joey boy.

Here's the clincher: they're doing so because they want Christian kids to be allowed to worship/talk about/promote Jesus in school.

In a way, their position makes sense. As the religious right moves further into the fringes, they are increasingly occupying the "dissident" space and, as one law expert put it, "The status of being a dissident unites dissidents..."

On the other hand, uh...hellow? Religious right? Tell me you aren't siding with him because the word "Jesus" appeared on his banner? Look me in the eyes and tell me you really see this kid as a "dissident." Tell me you don't see a political opportunity here and are willing to brush aside the very convictions you say you're trying to protect in order to win.

Here's a question for the religious right: which is worse? Insulting Christianity and the name of Jesus and associating it with bong hits...or siding with someone who does so in order to achieve a political end? Because that's what this comes down to for the Christian right: a political position. And it seems to me that they have chosen political power over spiritual rectitude. I mean, don't you think they sold out, just a little?

This is a case of an inextricable medium and message. If Joe Frederick had decided to write "Gay Rights Now" or "Legalize Marijuana" on his banner, there would still have been an inherent tension between his position and that of his far-right supporters (they probably wouldn't have supported him in fact)--but it wouldn't have involved blasphemy. But he chose "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," and last time I checked that message resides somewhere along Blasphemy Boulevard.

So if there was any doubt that the religious right is more concerned with man's laws than God's...well, they're the ones who are always talking about the "slippery slope."

It seems Jesus isn't as important as the right to use his name.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The power of the gaze

Do you ever have those existential kind of out-of-body days where you feel like an observer on the outskirts of your own life? You're kind of moving through the day like you're in a a little silver pinball just banging around from one thing to the next. What is that? Is it ennui? Depression? Fatigue? Brain gas?

I'm in a gaze-out-the-window kind of mood.

I visited x17online for the first time ever last week. I'm not gonna link to it because that would be like passing along scabies.

It's a celebrity site. They pay photographer-terrorists to stalk celebrities 24/7. It's interesting in a social-experiment kind of way. You get to see what life is like for celebs hounded by photographers 24/7, if you're into that kind of thing. But even if you aren't into that kind of thing, it's still kind of fascinating to think that Lindsay Lohan can't get her hair coloured without a swarm of photographers shoving lenses--literally--in her face, blocking her car, screaming at her, asking her personal questions, etc.

The cumulative effect of all the paparazzi video is sort of mind-numbing, especially when you realize that you're mostly watching video of people video-taping famous people. The whole idea of the "gaze" (Schroeder, Mulvey) and the power relationship between observer and observed is fascinating in this context. In some way, the dynamic now is: we (regular people visiting x17online) sit at our computers judging the scummy paparazzi, who are judging celebs (in the sense that the camera has no mercy), who fascinate us (regular people), so we visit x17 online watching video of paparazzi, whom we're judging...etc ad insanitum.

I'd get into the celeb obsession thing more, but to be honest, I find it a little tedious. Not the obsession itself (well, yeah, that too), but more the obsession with discussing the celeb obsession. Although...What are your thoughts on this? Do you think about celebs often? Are you tired of seeing them? What is your opinion on celebrity's place in our culture at the moment? (Someone will say that "celebrities need the paparazzi as much as the paparazzi need celebrities"...but I'm not talking about that so much as what's driving the whole crazy carnival ride? Is it us? Is it money? Is it sex? Is it technology?? I need answers!)

Speaking of the gaze of power, I've also been thinking about Marie Antoinette a lot. The woman and the movie. Rented the DVD not long ago. I understand why it was booed at Cannes, and yet I disagree with the booers. I think Antonia Fraser, who wrote the book (which I'm now reading) upon which the film was "based" (loosely and yet specifically...Coppola really pulls out only specific fashion and lifestyle-themed parts of MA's life...but when she pulls them out, she does so verbatim), said it best: "Marie Antoinette doesn't belong to me or to the French...she is a historical figure and she belongs to everyone." That would be my response to the French film critics who booed it at Cannes.

It's a visually affecting movie if you're someone who is at all drawn to the kind of esthetic that would make you, say, be sure to visit Versailles if you are in Paris (I've been to Versailles twice). It's sort of the...maybe the Pretty in Pink?...of today.

But it's largely about the gaze, on many levels that Coppola may or may not have intended. M.A.'s whole life was lived under the gaze, and eventually she lost her head because of it--an event witnessed by thousands of eyes. Princess Diana lost her life because of it too. Britney lost her hair and, seemingly, her sanity because of it. It's a powerful thing.

Speaking of which...back to my window I go.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Just a flesh wound sir...

Ranting time.

The Canadian medical system: what's happening and why are we in this handbasket?

I was in Nashville last year and a cabbie there chose to lecture my husband and I on how superior the American medical system is to the Canadian one. I had to work hard to hold back the snarky laughter. Since America doesn't seem, in fact, to have a medical "system" per se. At least not a state-sponsored one like ours.

Oh, how superior I felt. Poor little American cab driver, thinking they have it so much better with their pay-per-use hospital visits and people going bankrupt from lack of insurance.

Well, the smirk has been slapped from my face.

In Canada today, the only way to get to see a doctor quickly is to 1) go to the U.S., or 2) go to a clinic and wait for an hour to see a physician who knows nothing about you or your medical history.

In my experience, "family" doctors are a thing of the past. We recently moved from Ontario to Quebec and my husband happened to get in with a local family practitioner. When I called to book an appointment with the same physician, they refused.

Me: "Huh?I thought he is a 'family' doctor?"
Snarly secretary: "He is."
Me: "Well, my husband's one of his patients, and I'm my husband's family."
Snarly secretary: "That's not what family doctor means."
Me: "Excuse me, I'm holding the Oxford Canadian right here...let's see...D...E..F...fairyland...fairy tale...fake...fall behind...fallacy...ah, here it is: family. 'A group of people related by blood, legal or common-law marriage. Or adoption.'"
Snarkretary: "M'am, I'm very busy..."
Me: "Well, by that definition, wouldn't a 'family' doctor be one who treats....families?"
Hellion: "He's not taking any new patients, m'am."
Me: "But...but what if one of us has cancer? What if we have a venereal disease we're passing back and forth? What if we had a kid or were trying to get preggers? Wouldn't it make sense to have the same physician?"
Jerkass: "[dial tone]"

That has been the pattern for my relations with the Canadian medical community for the last decade or so. I know someone who couldn't get an appointment after she miscarried, for God's sake. They promised to call her back with a time-slot, and just never did.

Now I've got a bit of a skin condition that I'd rather treat sooner than later (don't worry, nothing contagious), and I'm told I need a referral. But can I get in to see my physician (yes, I eventually found one...*) to get a referral? No. I'll have to go to a clinic, wait for 2 hours, see someone for five seconds who will look at me, see that I obviously have the skin condition, and set up a referral. Meantime, I've wasted HOURS of my time--not to mention precious moments of theirs.

And what, I ask, is the point of a "medical file" in such a system? Why waste the trees? My medical file is rotting in the back of some forgotten drawer, attracting dust mites.

*My search for a "family" physician has been a bumpy ride. First there was the time I got booked in at my mom's doctor, who made me wait an extra hour (standard in this "superior" medical system), then walked into the (cold) examining room, looked me up and down, and said "I'm not taking new patients. Why are you here? What is the problem?" To which, gobsmacked, I replied, "....?"

She: continuing to glare. Me: continuing to stand there in shock with my mouth opening and closing, trying to articulate something along the lines of "...but doctors...they're supposed to help people...they're healers...they're heroes...nice to people...make booboos feel better...mommy don't let the bad lady put the bigneedle in me!!! mommy!!!! mommeeeeee!!!!"

I picked up my bag, blinked at her once, and left the room. I asked the secretary why she had booked me in if the doctor wasn't seeing new patients. To which she replied, "....?" So I told her they'd better not submit for OHIP funding (that's the way it works in our state-sponsored system...the doctor sees you, then submits a bill to the government instead of to you. The government uses your tax money to pay the doctor. See the potential for turnstile-like patient treatment there?). She said they would. I said I'm going home to report you to OHIP immediately. Which I did. And they never ended up getting paid, or so OHIP told me.

Finally, I found a new doctor. And by new, I don't just mean new to me. I mean "new" as in the stench of medical school is still hanging on his yet-unwrinkled doctor's coat. I mean about 28 years old. Male. Doing physicals. On me. Gawping at my bits and pieces. My first sexual experience was less awkward than my last pelvic exam. Let's just leave it at that.

Now, part of me feels guilty for complaining. Because we Canadians by nature don't want to 'rock the boat.' But you know what? We are taxed more exhorbitantly than every other people on Earth except the Swedes. I pay forty-two percent of my income back to the government. FORTY-TWO PERCENT. So screw guilt. I want some goddam results, here.

It's easy to run a medical system when you don't actually have to deal with those pesky patients. I've paid for the service, and I want what I paid for.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go to the clinic. I hear the line-up's still pretty short.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Irish, English unlikely to "Basque" in idea of shared ancestor

I had a best friend in high school who was Spanish. Well, Spanish-Canadian. Because in Canada you're always "dash Canadian." Her parents were from Spain, though, which gives her more direct immigrant cred.

Being Spanish, she was fiery and passionate about her Spanish origins and Spanish culture. She was, as I once informed her...deeply ethnocentric. But then again, Spanish culture is a great one to be ethnocentric about.

I'm a fair, freckled, blue-eyed redhead. She is a fair, unfreckled, blue-eyed very light brunette with lots of strawberry in her colouring. In fact, in Spain they call her "rubia" which essentially means blonde. She has northern Spanish colouring--where her mother's family is from.

We used to talk about our ancestral origins and the close proximity of Spain to Ireland (where my forefathers were from on both my maternal and paternal sides), and how interesting it was that people in Ireland often have dark eyes and hair (black celt) and people in northern Spain often have blue eyes and reddish hair and that maybe that indicated some kind of genetic common ground at some point in the past, since we usually associate each culture with the inverse.

When you think about it, Ireland was under a mile or two of ice for thousands of millenia. The people there now weren't there until at the earliest 15,000 or so years ago. They had to come from somewhere.

Thing is, Britain was under ice too. So they had to come there from somewhere as well. Is it possible that two separate peoples individually settled the British Isles and Ireland, or was it one people that branched off under the pressures of various cultural invaders and integrators?

According to today's NYTimes, some geneticists are claiming that the Irish, Scottish, Welsh...and English...are decended from a common genetic ancestor that came from Spain and spoke a language related to Basque.

I'm predicting riots and car burnings.

Also, if you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of my grandfather rolling in his grave like my hydro-meter on a -40 day.

The article gets into alot of blather about Y chromosomes and linguistic origins. Bottom line, if you introduce the phrase "Y chromosome" into an article you can get away with mostly hype and not much solid content.

The main point, if I've got it right, is if you go back far enough, people from these seemingly distinct cultures share a common geneaology. That's earth-shattering, that is. Next thing you'll be telling me all humans are descended from a common ancestor.

Still, Dr. Oppenheimer's book will spawn a cultural controversy that should lead to much hilarity on the Irish and British blogging circuits--personally, I'm all a-quiver with anticipation. Muintir na Breataine and muintir na hEireann, start your engines.