Domestic Violence

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There was another domestic murder near Ottawa yesterday. A man, who clearly intended violence since he brought a gun, confronted his ex-wife in her father’s home. His former in-laws and his two children were present. The father-in-law intervened in the argument and he was the first to die. The ex-wife was shot next and then he turned the gun on himself. He died of his wounds while the woman has life-threatening injuries. According to reports, the grandmother and two children ran away and were ‘unharmed.’ Other than having their lives destroyed, of course.

We point to a lot of reasons that such things happen. Violence against women is endemic. Men are raised in a society that says, implicitly at least, they ‘own’ their families. We don’t have enough women’s shelters or enough penalties to punish violent men or programs to cure them. All true.

Some even blame feminism – that is to say; uppity women. You’ve probably heard variations of that expression in other contexts.

There is another factor that has only recently been talked about. It can be summarized in the expression: spare the rod and spoil the child. Some people believe that striking children is a necessary part of good parenting. It teaches them a lesson. And it does: it teaches them that violence is an answer to their problems.

My father, on occasion, struck me. It was very much a special occasion – not more than a handful of times in my entire childhood. Mostly I got a clear explanation of how I had failed to meet his high expectations of me – far more painful.  Still, to resort to violence so seldom was pretty good, considering his father had, on occasion, used a horsewhip on his children. I recall one time when my brother and I had committed a particularly egregious crime (and in this case it was an actual crime – theft). I can still hear my father’s words to my mother more than fifty years later. “Get them out of my sight; if I start on them I don’t know that I can stop.”

And that is domestic violence in a nutshell. Once begun, where does it stop? Violence always escalates – whether during a single incident or over the course of a series of them.

And it often begins in childhood. Children who are routinely physically punished – and here I am not talking about horse whips but what most people would refer to as a spanking once or twice a month – are more likely to become schoolyard bullies, more likely to strike their own children or domestic partners, more likely to commit domestic murder, more likely to go to prison for violent crimes, more likely to fail at life.

See. They learned their lessons well.

Sadly, society has done little to stop systematic violence against children. Think of it, we haven’t prevented acts against little kids that would otherwise be considered assault. The criminal code actually condones the use of reasonable physical force against children between the ages of two (two!!!) and twelve. The definition of reasonable is left to the parent (or teacher). My father’s words come back to me – “I don’t know that I can stop.”

Fortunately, the law is going to change – if the new government is to be believed – and that exception will be removed. Parents who beat their children will have no defence under the law. And maybe, twenty years from now, a few children will be spared losing their parents and grandparents to violence. We can only hope.

And that’s ten minutes.

Nannygate

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So Trudeau has had his first misstep – or has he? According to certain media commentators, most of whom work for Postmedia, the tone deaf media conglomerate that more or less shred their last vestige of credibility during the dying days of the election, Trudeau is being a hypocrite for allowing the state pay for his nannies. After all he made a point of saying that rich families like his didn’t need to get a child care cheque every month.

And of course, Rona Ambrose – Canada’s worst ever Minister for the Status of Women – and Lisa Raitt have piled on, proving, as I’ve known for a long time, that you can be a powerful successful woman without being any kind of a feminist.

Because this is a feminist issue. They aren’t questioning the gardener or the chef who are required to keep the house functioning for visiting heads of states. They certainly don’t question the salaries of the often redundant security guards who hover around Ministers and almost certainly watched Harper’s kids when they went to school. Security is manly-man stuff and you can’t pay enough for that, my friends.

But child care? That’s women’s work and why isn’t Trudeau’s wife doing it? Well, I’m sure she does a lot of it. But she – as the Prime Minister’s wife – is a busy person, too. Providing secure reliable child care – among other household functions – makes sense as part of the whole package. Why doesn’t Lisa Raitt whine about the bloated salaries of her corporate friends – none of whom is as important as the PM?

But why should the taxpayer pay for the care of Trudeau’s children? Because they are the Prime Minister’s children and, frankly, I don’t want my Prime Minister or his wife worrying about the care of their children while dealing with important national and international issues. Just as I don’t object to the fact that the former PM’s children were driven around or watched by security. Though I did think that the taxpayer paying for a hairdresser was wrong – it’s just a value for money thing. Because, well, helmet head.

It’s true that the PM is well off. Guess what, the last PM wasn’t poor – nobody asked him to pay for his chauffeur. There is not a means test to be a politician.

I understand – the Conservatives are desperate. They just lost – quite badly according to most analyses – and they are hurting. There appears to be something to gain by piling on these nannies. After all, there is a certain smallness to the Canadian mindset. Don’t we all like to chant in the face of success: Not as good as he thinks he is?

But there are more serious matters ahead. The Throne Speech is tomorrow. And who knows? Maybe there will be something in it about childcare for everyone else out there needing a hand up.

I don’t have children myself – but I don’t resent others getting help with theirs. Even if it comes out of my taxes.

And that’s ten minutes.

Sleep Deprived

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Let me start with a caveat. I never had children; I’ve never had to spend much time caring for them. I’m sure a kid who won’t go to sleep is annoying. People have written books about it. Still, the two times I was asked to get a reluctant child to go to sleep, I succeeded both times. So, in baseball terms, I’m batting a thousand.

Still, some things seem like common sense to me. Like, giving your children drugs to help them sleep is not a good idea. Even if they are naturally occurring substances like melatonin. Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance but you wouldn’t give that to your kids (unless you are some sort of psychotic monster).

This little thought came to me while listening to the CBC interview a mother who was having trouble getting her eight year old to go to sleep. She went to her health food store and they actually advised her not to do it because it might be unsafe. Good for them! She held off for a year until ‘a friend she trusted’ said: no it’s okay. Her naturopath agreed. It is naturally occurring in the body so maybe there is a lack. No tests were done to verify this conclusion. (Do naturopaths do ‘tests?’)

She gave the kid the drug and, glory be, he went to sleep. In the old days, you gave kids tonic to help them sleep. It didn’t have melatonin; it had alcohol and plenty of it. Worked a charm. These days you might also try valium.

When asked if she had consulted her doctor – you know a real M.D. – she said not about the melatonin, well, not about the sleep issue at all. When it was pointed out that doctors don’t recommend melatonin for kids, she retorted to the effect that it wasn’t like heroin; her kid wasn’t jonesing for the stuff when the cut it back in the summer. And besides as a parent, you have to judge risk versus reward.

Yeah.

Since the main reward was that she and her husband no longer had to spend their evenings getting the kid to sleep it seems to me – just commonsensically – that her formula is a bit askew. Of course, if I was in the position, I might agree that drugging the kid was preferable to smothering him.

We are often under the impression that a general education – say a B.A. in history – a good job and being articulate substitutes for paying attention to evidence or science. It’s a bit like the anti-vaxxers; they sort of sound reasonable (well the ones who aren’t raving lunatics) until you actually listen to what they say. Then they sound like members of the flat earth society or your run-of-the-mill climate denier.

Being progressive in many things is no protection from being dumb. When asked about a colleague who was pursuing UFOs as a topic of research, a Nobel laureate in physics replied: A Ph.D. is no inoculation against foolishness. Neither is a B.A.

When the interviewer asked if she thought her parenting was being judged. I answered for her as I turned off the radio. Yes, you’re damn right it is.

And that is ten dyspeptic minutes.

Comic Books

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When I’m nostalgic, I think of comic books. Not graphic novels, not movies or Marvel Universes but comic books – those slightly dusty smelling 32 or 48 page magazines with glossy covers and newsprint interiors. Those are the things of my childhood.

I can’t remember the first books that caught my attention but by the time I was 10 or 11, I was accumulating comics of every kind. I was as likely to be reading cowboy stories from Dell, a Gold Key Tarzan adventure, a Classic adaptation of Robinson Crusoe as I was to be following the heroics of Superman or the web-crawling angst of Spiderman.

I collected them and traded them with friends. My earliest intense friendships were built around a common love of comic books. Age didn’t come in to it. My best friend was three years older than me – a huge gulf when you are 12 years old.

Being a comic book collector in a small town in Nova Scotia was not an easy thing. Only a couple of stores carried them – usually in a single rack in the corner of the store. You soon learned which store was most reliable in getting the books you wanted – even knowing when the books would appear on the shelf. I was such a regular at one store that the owner set aside my books for me so I wouldn’t miss an issue.

I was an enterprising lad. I mowed lawns, shovelled snow, sold greeting cards door to door, delivered newspapers and eventually, when I was fourteen got my first part-time job at the town library – a natural haven for a book worm like me. All that effort driven by the love of comics.

But local purchases weren’t enough. They kept you caught up on your favorite stories – I was buying 25 comics a month – but what about back issues? Some I got through trades – giving up lesser favored lines for back issues of those that obsessed me. To fill in the gaps, I started hitchhiking 40 kilometers to Moncton to find piles of used comics in the United Book Store. I was 14 by then and it was a good thing my mother didn’t know – I suspect my comic book days might have been numbered if she had.

Still, I found plenty of treasures: the first appearance of Thor in a Marvel comic and a #3 issue of Spiderman. I planned my weekends around trips to used book stores and even garage or estate sales in the hopes of finding a rare gem. I even once bought the entire collection of a boy who was moving away – just to get a couple of issues I coveted. The rest made great trade material.

I joined the Merry Marvel Marching Society – complete with membership card and special subscription rates. For a while I had comics come by mail direct from New York but didn’t like the way they were folded – creating a permanent crease up the middle. I’d lie awake at night hoping to hear Cousin Brucie on WABC give one of his occasional insights into my favorite heroes.

By the time I went to University, I had 2000 comics; raids from fellow students soon reduced it to 1500 and I kept them locked up after that (and spent a fortune replacing the missing issues). Then came my first divorce and my collection went away like a puff of smoke. And I’ve never felt the same about them since.

But that’s ten minutes.

Insults

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Laws against blasphemy make the least sense of all laws. If god is all powerful why would he possibly need anyone on earth to protect his name from insult? After all, she gets all of eternity to punish the blasphemer. And in the face of eternity the entire life of a heathen — or whatever the right term is — is only a blip.

Well, of course, most states that have laws against blasphemy, such as Iran, also have laws against insulting the Supreme Leader. There is a Canadian sitting in an Iranian prison right now on some such trumped up pretext. So this might be a real clue.

Laws against blasphemy are not to protect god — despite all the mealy mouthed arguments to the contrary —they are to protect the secular power of those who wield it in god’s name.

Power is a drug. Once people have it they want more of it and they will construct every possible argument to justify why they should have it, why they should keep it. Whether power comes from some spiritual realm or from filthy lucre the results are the same. Powerful people will always try to subvert society, the law and the state to serve their own purposes.

That’s a pretty simple thing to see — nothing profound here folks, move right along — but the ubiquitous nature of power addiction does present real problems for people who sincerely want to have a re-ordered less hierarchical world. Who not only view such a world as a just moral goal but as a practical useful thing for society. Not only does power corrupt the individual (including the reformer) it corrupts social life itself.

Poor people are not as intelligent or as productive as people who are less poor. Lots of evidence shows that children who are born poor have less of a chance to succeed than those born to well-off families. We used to think that it had to do with socioeconomic status alone — better opportunities and so on — but now we know that being poor creates a biological impediment. Staying poor only makes it worse.

As someone who is not poor and who even as a child always had the essentials if not the luxuries of life, I care very much about eliminating poverty and any form of social inequality.

I care not only because of my strong belief in social justice but because I know that raising up the large number of people who are impoverished or discriminated against or made powerless by domestic, community or society wide power differentials will lead to a wealthier and healthier society. Which is good for everyone.

So my rejection of things like blasphemy laws (you thought I forgot) comes from the same place. They don’t come from the fact I’m an atheist and just think they are meaningless (they mean a lot to those who act on them) but because — just as hunger and powerlessness impoverish the physical lives of people, blasphemy laws or other social structures that enrich a few ‘special’ people impoverish their souls.

And that’s ten minutes.

Gone Fishing

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I fully intended to delve deeper into philosophical issues like the central tenets of post-modernism or perhaps the role of the police in a democratic society but I’m tired and obsessing about the tasks that stretch ahead of me on this so-called day of rest. Frankly my brain has gone fishing so I shall, too.

Some of my fondest memories centre around fish. Or rather the catching thereof. When I was a kid my dad would often take us fishing. Sometimes it was just me; others it included my brother (who was less keen) and our friends. After a week spent on the road (he was a traveling salesmen) he would pile us in the back of the station wagon and drive us twenty or thirty miles (this was before we all converted to kilometers) to one of his favorite fishing spots. It was called the Red River but it was more of a creek – not more than two or three feet deep and perhaps a dozen wide at its broadest part. Most of it was heavily overgrown and you had to find a way into the water and mostly wade through the stream or, where it was deep, crash along through the brush on the bank.

It was a great place to fish because it was so hard to get to. A dirt road off a gravel road and then a fifty yard hike along a barely discernible path. You couldn’t even put your rod together until you got to the stream. Most people couldn’t be bothered so the fish were plentiful and not too shy. Almost anywhere you dropped your line you would get a bite so even the youngest of the kids would get rewarded by pulling a shiny fish from the water. There were both brown and speckled trout and some of them were a good size — seven or even nine inches was not uncommon. Anything shorter than six we threw back but there were always enough to have for lunch cooked over an open fire in a clearing not far from the brook.

We went there for several years and then one year when we went back it was gone. A logging company had bulldozed the stream to create an easy road to access lumber. No more fish. No more anything. Companies were allowed to do such stupid things back in those days; all they needed was a licence to cut on crown land and everything was fair game.

Fortunately we do a better job now protecting fish habitat — or at least we did until the recent government gutted environmental protection laws to aid commercial development. Companies still can’t get away with what they could in the early sixties but that may change too if we continue to put profits over people and a quick buck over sustainable development. Just another reason why I’ll do all I can to see a change is made come October.

But that’s ten minutes.

Performance

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The first time I went on stage I was thirteen — a grade eight boy who only got involved in drama to escape a whole class detention. I remember how nervous I was. In the play, I was supposed to light a cigarette (imagine smoking on stage in school) but my hands were shaking so badly, I couldn’t keep the match lit. That was when I discovered I had a knack for improvisation. On my second try, I said. “You know, I think it’s time I quit smoking.” We incorporated it into subsequent performances.

The reason I remember that day so clearly is because it has been repeated every time I’ve had to perform, give a speech, do a reading or appear in public. When I was still doing improv murder mysteries, I would swear for an hour before the show started that I was never going to do another one. Even as I prepared for my one hundredth such performance (and two hundredth) I made the same assertion.

What I discovered was that once I was out there I had no problems. I always knew my lines, could improvise when others didn’t know theirs, could connect with an audience, and could in fact perform. Most people have no idea how I feel before the start because they never see it when I’m actually doing it.

When the show or the appearance is over, I’m generally pumped, as excited after it’s done as I was anxious before it began. Still, I’ve never felt the post show high was worth the pre-show jitters. At least I didn’t vomit before every show like a friend of mine. He didn’t last long in the performance game.

Why on earth would anyone put themselves through that? Well, we do it for the moment of magic. While the post-show excitement didn’t outweigh the pre-show pain, the moment of magic, when you hit just the right note, catch the perfect emotion, connect with one person or a whole audience. It is in some ways better than writing because there is no mediation. It is your body, your face, your voice, your emotions — right there, right now — and there is no possibility of re-writing or second guessing. It happens and then it is over. Until the next time, when you know it will be different. It might be worse or, magically, it might be better.

That is why people who are scared do what they do: because they want to be bigger than their fear, bigger than they imagine themselves to be. So the next time you feel overwhelmed by the feeling that you are not good enough, maybe you can think of that scared 13-year old up on a stage he never aspired to be on. He made it through and maybe you can too.

And that’s ten minutes.