I Call Bravo Sierra

Common sense isn't very common.

On Friendship, Part 3

Posted by Keen Observer on July 25, 2014

I was having a discussion with my best friend some days ago, in which she was engaging in some of her trademark obsessive behaviour, while simultaneously fretting about being in this obsessive mode.  This is something I have experienced with her on previous occasions, and it’s not something that bothers me beyond the fact of disliking that she tortures herself like that.  In fact, during this iteration of obsession, I realised a few things:

  1. I like listening to her obsess about things (which may surprise her).
  2. I like being the person to whom she feels she can obsess about these things (which shouldn’t).
  3. I like that these interactions are non-judgemental and entirely reciprocal (she takes her turns absorbing my own outpourings).
    • With the proviso that sometimes judgement is necessary, and is performed in both directions as appropriate.
  4. The connection we have/share is so profoundly deep that any other concepts that do not support these statements are entirely unthinkable.

The last item was kind of the key one in my moment of “Eureka!”  During our conversation, I noted it thusly (with improvements):

You are so much a part of my life, that when you ‘go off the deep end’ [as she put it], I just stand and let it wash over me, the rock on the beach sitting immobile and stable, as the stormy waves crash around it.  I observe and analyse and advise, but ultimately, I am apart from it in such a way that lets me fully accept the action of your storm waves without being drowned by them.  And at the same time, I provide an outlet for you that isn’t damaged by the force of the storm.  But the key is that you and I have such a deep, powerful connection that I can no more turn away from your rage or insanity [her term] or sadness than I can my own.  And so, I exist, and you exist, and we complement and support each other.  Profoundly.

As these words came out of me, I realised them for essential truth.  Or Truth.  I thought on this for some time after and realised that as much as I see myself as her rock, I equally know with certainty that she is mine (and I have also waxed poetical in this vein).  She provides a stable barycentre about which I may revolve, or the heavy storm anchor that keeps my fragile hull from being smashed to flinders, as I am tempest-toss’d by the hurricane of my emotions.  And I am confident in this relationship to the marrow of my bones.  I know her, and she knows me, in profound and complete ways.  We know the other’s flaws, and they don’t matter in the least.  We don’t love each other in spite of those flaws; we just love each other, flaws and all, because those flaws are part of makes us who we are, and we understand this intrinsically.

Though the metaphorical rock acts as an impervious observer to the stormy ocean, in another, very real sense, the solitary rock is enveloped by the calmed ocean, an ocean that surrounds and just…is.  An ocean that is accepting and supportive and tranquil and…there, gently reminding the rock that it is never, ever alone.  The ocean’s presence ebbs and flows, as these things do, but the constant contact between water and basalt echoes how one soul brushes up against and soothes the other, their presence a universal constant.

And as all of these thoughts passed through me, I realised another Truth:  I have little doubt that there are people out there who have never–nor will they ever–have so deep and honest a friendship.  These people I pity with all the strength I can muster, for I have been in that state and am indescribably glad to have escaped it.  Of all the things that exist in my life at this time, she is currently what makes me feel the luckiest, the most valued, the most understood, the most appreciated, the most…well, the list goes on.  I’ve finally gotten over the dazed bafflement at having so wonderful and awesome a friend, but the wonder and awe of her remain.  I have even been so lucky as to have developed other close friendships that I value highly as well, but she’s definitely special, and I believe she has been instrumental in me being able to see and accept these other friendships, to have given me the ability to once again let others see who I truly am.  To risk.

She has been such an incredible gift to me, that I can’t really imagine that life is possible in her absence.   My best friend centres me, stabilises me, gentles me, encourages me beyond my limits.  The reality–the solidity–of the connection we share grounds me so perfectly, that I can no longer feel that I am without also the parallel of she is palpably within me.  I could no more turn against her or hurt her than I can harm myself, because to hurt her would be to hurt myself.  And because of how she gives and supports and loves in return, I know the same holds for her.  The connection is truly soul-to-soul.

And to me, that is the nature of a perfect, true friendship…or as close to it as makes no difference.

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Remembrance of Things Past…

Posted by Keen Observer on November 11, 2013

Nothing to do with anything in this post but the title, but I remember reading some of the above bit of painful prose in the original French. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember reading it, and only vaguely how some things can spawn an “involuntary memory”. The original title is more along the lines of “In Search of Lost Time”, but English editors of French works can be a little pompous and can feel the need to change authorial intent. I was never a fan of Proust, but that little kernel of truth is quite profound, as it relates strongly to interconnectedness.

That aside…

Today was Remembrance Day in Canada and the Commonwealth, and marked in different ways in other countries. Canada uses the day–though not a national, public holiday–to honour its fallen heroes, its war dead, a tradition dating back to the end of World War I. The poppies come out about two weeks before the day. Generally, at no other time during the year is there any mention of such things in the “popular” press, and come the 12th, the poppies disappear from the talking heads on television, and also the public consciousness.

There has been some talk in recent years of a so-called “white” poppy, that’s intended to represent peace, as though the red poppies (there are other colours?) are meant to honour war and killing. People who would believe this tripe are ignorant, stupid, or misled. Or all three. People who think that another type of poppy is needed have no idea what a “Remembrance” poppy represents, and they probably don’t care to learn, either.

War is hell. Period. Some have said it’s the failure of diplomacy, which is probably true enough, but diplomacy is often used just as another military manoeuvre, and is often the opening salvo in the war, or the base causus belli. And sometimes, diplomacy is just another way of saying, “Please turn around, so I can stab you in the back.” Friends close, enemies closer. There are people/entities/national actors in the world with whom diplomacy is impossible, because they are not rational actors. With groups like those, war of some type is inevitable, and it’s harder to fight off, both because they are not rational actors, and because we often give them the means to destroy us.

War is hell. It has a huge cost, beyond military budgets and economic/environmental damage. War kills generations, whether the war is “won” or not. War is a horrible, horrible thing and should be avoided–unless it can’t be. And if it can’t be, that war should be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible, to ensure that your side doesn’t bear the cost of it any more than it has to. It should be as nasty, brutish, and short as possible, and preferably destroy your enemy’s ability to make war again for a very long time. People who have studied war’s history, and the history of wars, understand this, more so if they have military experience. Politicians, as a rule, do not, and they are often eager to increase the cost of a war that they do not personally have to pay.

War veterans understand the hellish nature of war at a bone-deep level we “normal” people can’t possibly understand, and for this we should be grateful, because it means that we have not experienced it. And we “normals” have trouble understanding why anyone would volunteer to go out and kill or die to serve a political or necessary end for people they know nothing about. But they do, and they die. It is this that the poppies represent: their sacrifice, not for a glorification of war. The poem “In Flanders Fields” encapsulated this fairly well, which is why it has stood the test of time. They died, that others might live. They died, that those who started unnecessary wars might be defeated in their goals. They died, that evil might be fought to a standstill and destroyed. They died, that people might say egregiously-stupid things about poppies without being imprisoned. They died, and we live. They died, and we wear poppies once a year.

There is a problem, though, in that as we get further away from the global wars of the past, the memories around them fade. And schools slowly stop teaching about the true causes and costs of war. And the sacrifices of the honoured fallen are gradually pushed to the side, so that generations of people grow up not understanding what happened in the past. Memories fade, and people stop seeing the warning signs of oncoming global conflict, leaving us unprepared in the face of existential threats. Memories fade, and people stop appreciating the freedoms they take for granted every single day, freedoms bought with the blood of young generations, something that today’s young generations don’t want to confront. And they fail to see that the price of those freedoms is eternal vigilance, because there is always someone out there who wants to restrict your freedoms, to control your lives and thoughts. Honouring and supporting a military that is the only bulwark against external threats of that type is about the least you can do. And the simplest way to do that is to wear a red poppy on the left side of your chest for a couple weeks around Hallowe’en. If you feel particularly punchy, you can go for a yellow ribbon as a year-round display. But we must not forget. Or there might come a time when we need the help of the warriors to protect us, but they are not there, and this time, it is we who will die, but there will be no one to remember us.

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Sex Workers’ Rights Day (Friday the 13th)

Posted by Keen Observer on September 16, 2013

Sex work is work, as they say, and sex worker rights are human rights. Per the link below, I’m one who comes at this from the libertarian side, the equal-treatment-under-the-law side, the women-have-the-right-to-choose-how-their-bodies-are-used side, the not-seeing-sex-work-as-immoral side, and the not-treating-working-girls-like-pieces-of-shit side. For the record, I’ve never patronised a sex worker (heh…did you see what I did there?), but trying to make/keep this consensual activity criminal is beyond stupid.

http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/friday-the-13th-again/
(Her blog is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended, and some is NSFW.)

Read her stuff. Maggie McNeill–a retired escort–articulates things I could never find the words for and describes things far outside of my experience. But society treating sex workers as pariahs is why Robert Pickton got away with murdering women–people who were wives, sisters, daughters–for as long as he did, and why other murderers, abusers, and rapists continue to do. And this is in Canada, a country where prostitution is itself not illegal. I mean, listen to the news: recently, two women were killed in Vancouver almost next door to each other. “High-risk lifestyle” is media/police code for “she’s just a whore”, where missing or murdered women are concerned. More often than not, it even means “drug-addled whore.” That they were connected to sex work should never have made it into the news reports, because at this point in time, it’s fucking irrelevant–and perhaps never relevant. Treat murdered/missing women as murdered/missing women, in the press and elsewhere, and maybe violence against women will decrease. That they were escorts may be a relevant line of investigation, but why publicise it or change how you approach the case?

If you haven’t thought about things like this before, read her well-written blog (she is intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful, though I don’t always agree with her), and you will. However, you might end up feeling a bit gob-smacked from time to time at the things you’ll learn, especially about how whores in America are treated, and how they’re trying to export their misguided morality and control-freak tendencies worldwide, where it’s just not wanted. And you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff that goes on around the world.

I stole someone's picture.

“Nice pussy you have. Shame if something happened to it.”

You may be shocked at how most feminist groups, who should be staunch allies of fully-sexually-actualised, independent businesswomen, routinely fight against efforts to humanise (read, decriminalise) sex work/workers: a woman is allowed to choose, as long as it’s not choosing to take money for sex. Slut it up and fuck whomever you want, just don’t take cash money for it.

So, though this post is now going up a few days late, I don’t think it hurts to remind people that sex workers are people too. Porn stars have sex with multiple partners for money, and they don’t face nearly the same stigmatisation as someone doing a straight-up financial transaction for sex. They also don’t get arrested for their activities; some are lauded and some run for political office. And as Maggie has pointed out a time or two, cops aren’t smart enough to differentiate between hookers and non-hooker females. In some places just having more than a few condoms in your purse is enough to get you nicked, and that’s utterly ridiculous. Other stories are more harrowing, and all are because of demonisation of sex workers and the illegality of sex work in many jurisdictions. Strangely, however, most people can’t tell sex workers apart from “regular” women: they look just like everyone else. And they are just like everyone else: trying to make a living with their native skills.

Posted in American, Canadian, general, life, news & journalism, opinion, politics, religion, stupidity, Uncategorized, World | 1 Comment »

Brief update

Posted by Keen Observer on September 3, 2013

To all those who still follow this collection of my brain farts, I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything in months. I just haven’t felt all that write-y. Nothing has caught my attention with enough intensity to make me want to barf out a post, but I’ve been feeling guilty about being silent for so long. Also, natural disasters, summer, and a busy work environment conspired (and conspire) to keep me occupied, and my adult-education class is starting up again shortly. Perhaps one of these days, I’ll learn some time-management skills.

Anyway, that’s all I really wanted to say.

Carry on.

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Wha?

Posted by Keen Observer on June 13, 2013

OK, so I’m confused: several of my posts say that the comments are disabled when viewing them, but in edit mode, the Allow Comments check-box is on. What the hell is up with that? I’ve done a quick search online, but I can’t seem to find anything that specifically addresses the issue. I’ve tried toggling the comments off and on again and updating the posts thusly each time, but there’s no change. How does this happen, and how do I fix it? Stupid WordPress.

Posted in general, stupidity, technology | 1 Comment »

On Friendship – Part 2

Posted by Keen Observer on May 21, 2013

I didn’t really plan to write this one, but the basic point I want to make has been rolling around in my brain for a few days, so I thought I’d kick the hornet’s nest and see what roils out. Usually, it’s more than I bargain for.

I used to think, pursuant to some things I had learned in school and elsewhere, that the optimal solution in a relationship was to be the best friend of whomever it is you choose to love. As a result of recent events, both in my life and in others’, I now no longer believe this to be true.

The common wisdom seems to be (to my eye) for a couple to be each other’s best friend, to be the source of all support and validation, the keepers of secrets, the discussers of weighty matters and problems, the accepters of all that makes us…us. This seems to be reasonably sound in theory, but I find that in practice this falls short, and it can, in fact, be somewhat damaging.

In a good relationship, things are usually fine, and this sort of issue generally comes up but rarely or inconsequentially. However, if a relationship is less-idyllic or trending sour–but still has value to both parties–with whom does one confide, if one does not know how to approach some issues with one’s partner? Parents or siblings are sometimes “outs”, or perhaps a clergy member (if you’re into that sort of thing). Some friends can be good friends enough that you feel comfortable talking to them about deeply-personal, potentially-embarrassing problems. But for people who make few friends, and who rarely have casual friendships, this is not a likely situation: private people don’t like sharing such details very much, especially if any of the details may show us in a bad light or create a sense of weakness or humiliation.

This is where a best friend comes in really, really handy. Some wag long ago said that a best friend is someone who knows all about you but loves you anyway. This is partly why I now think that this a critical resource to have outside your relationship. Your best friend–if you are lucky enough to have one–isn’t going to judge you and find you wanting for discussing your embarrassing (or whatever) problems with him/her; a true friend will be what you need him/her to be…listener, advisor, sounding-board, reality-checker, second-opinionator, tell-me-if-I’m-overreacting-er, calming-down-er-er, and so on. Even sometimes just a friendly voice on the other end of the phone call when you’re feeling too frazzled to deal with something just now, and you know you’re not in a stable frame of mind. I think this is a critical component of keeping peace, communicating well, and solving problems effectively in a relationship.

My reasoning is that sometimes, your confrontations with your significant other (SO) can become too emotionally-charged or too heated, and rationality can fly out the window. Stepping back and talking to a friend before saying something you can’t take back can often cool you down enough to make better sense of whatever problem it was that set you off, even if it’s just from the time it takes to step back and call your friend. Most of the time, your friend will support you and validate your position/feelings; many times, he or she will ask a question about the story being told that makes you stop and think about something a little harder than you had. Sometimes, your friend will even be strong enough to say, “I think you’re in the wrong here, bud,” which is a resource beyond price. But you have to be strong enough to accept such criticism. Sometimes, it’s not a heated exchange with your SO: sometimes, you’re just confused as to what to do, or you don’t understand what your SO is saying very well, and you know you’ll both just get frustrated trying to get to the same terms of reference to be able to resolve things without resorting to vases and dinnerware. A best friend can help you navigate those waters better without things blowing up in your face. They still might, but the odds are much lower, and you can go back into that conversation with your mind clear and your emotions more levelled. And as a side benefit, your friendship also grows stronger as a result.

And a best friend can also serve as just a general pressure valve, helping you keep emotionally grounded by talking about things that are just minor things of no real consequence, some of which you know your romantic partner has no interest in hearing about, despite protestations to the contrary. You don’t need to worry about that sort of conflict–or boredom–with your best friend, because you and your best friend are generally on the same page…connected on a very close level, but differently from the one shared by you and your SO. And talking about what’s bothering you can help you decide that you just have to bring some of these peeves to the attention of your SO before they become real problems, or it may turn out that hashing it out with your friend can make you realise something was really No Big Deal after all and set your mind at ease.

Nor is the role of best friend restricted to bad things. A best friend is also the receptacle for all your wondrous news and items of interest that might also bore a lower-quality friend to tears…or fly them into paroxysms of annoyance. These can be crazy fun to discuss, too, depending on the subject matter and level of shared interest…or opportunities for the gentle mockery and teasing that exists between true friends. And one of the reasons for this need is that people are, by their natures, fairly gregarious/social: they must communicate with others; they must have feedback and validation. But the audience capable of true interest in these very personal topics–and worthy of the trust implicit in hearing them–is very, very small. There is no better source for that–and interest come by honestly–than from one’s best friend.

The other side of this is that each person’s SO must acknowledge that there is a best friend that may be hearing very personal details of their relationship, which can create feelings of awkwardness. But I think it’s also important for the SO to buy into this, because it relieves the SO of having to feign interest for some things, and it off-loads some of the drama/stress elsewhere, so that the couple can focus on the issues that are actually important in their relationship, and not “sweat the small stuff”, as the saying goes. This can be a “dangerous” situation, though, if the SO doesn’t buy into it, because the knowledge of someone else knowing what goes on behind closed doors can turn from a chip to a crack to a fissure to a fracture to a rift to a chasm. And we don’t really want that. So, that could be a dangerous shoal to be navigated: only the people involved can judge the correct course.

On the whole, though, I think having a best friend to talk to is an integral part of any successful, romantic relationship. And I think it’s something you don’t automatically think of or realise, until you go through a dying relationship with no one to talk to about humiliating and embarrassing details, because your SO was your best friend and had been for more than a decade. And then you start talking about them with someone who becomes your best friend, and you realise how much more sense it makes to be able to step outside the relationship and get some sober second thought. Or a few wisecracks. Whichever.

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Blue

Posted by Keen Observer on April 26, 2013

Reviewing history, excising dross,
Cleansing me of my past.
Feelings of blue, kept inside,
Leak out with each memory.
Just like my eyes.

Posted in life, personal, poetry, Writing | Comments Off

Guns are tools

Posted by Keen Observer on January 13, 2013

Sandy Hook was a horrible, horrible thing. No child or its parents should have to suffer through what those people did. At least one teacher died a hero, not knowing if her efforts to protect her charges would be successful. People the world over could stand to emulate her behaviour.

Utoya was a horrible, horrible thing. No child or parent should have to suffer through what those people did. Premeditated murder of dozens of people not known to the shooter, while security forces were mobilised over a devastating bomb used as a mere distraction, is nothing more than psychopathy.

Both of these horrific crimes were perpetrated on innocent children for the most part. Both were perpetrated in so-called “gun free” zones, either by designation or de facto. The body count was much higher in Utoya, at least in part because the shooter wanted to kill as many people as possible In Sandy Hook, I’m not sure that was his goal. What was semi-ironic in this to me is that Utoya is in Norway, a country that has gun-control restrictions at least as severe as in Canada, and perhaps more so. Yet the shooter still managed to end up quite well-armed.

One thing that immediately leaps to my attention in both cases is how within hours, and wholly expectedly, the cries began to be raised before the bodies were even cold (or counted): Ban guns; Restrict Guns; Register Guns. In Norway, not much can be done, given the state if its laws. In the US, the semi-regular cries to make responsible firearms owners into criminals have taken on a fever pitch. Echoes of it appear in Canada, especially with the federal government recently striking down the legal requirement to register long guns that have been legally purchased.

The primary difference between gun-control arguments waged in the US and gun-control arguments waged pretty much anywhere else is this simple little sentence attached to their constitution via the amendment process:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

That’s it. The sum total of Amendment II to the US constitution, and it’s been argued over since it was written down. To me it looks pretty clear: “…shall not be infringed.” People mostly seem to argue over the inclusion of the Militia into this clause, but to me, based on the structure, it’s only there as a preamble and justification for allowing unrestricted access of the people to arms. Any kind of arms, since there is literally no restriction to this element. Though a howitzer would probably be pretty awkward to carry around with you. In fact, my reading posits that the only constitutionally-valid option available to the Americans is registration and licensing. That’s it. And Amendment X already has allowed that in place on a state-by-state basis, if so desired. And just as a reference, the state of Vermont has the fewest gun laws of any state in the Union (including Texas), and it also has the third-lowest total crime rate. The only law they seem to have is a “must-issue” law, in that if someone asks to be issued a permit for ownership or carrying, one must be issued to them.

Now, it is possible that Americans would genuinely want to restrict this stuff constitutionally. That’s fine. There is a process in place since the country’s founding to amend the constitution. Knock yourself out. But until then, it seems to me that the hue and cry being raised is all about increasing political capital and/or statist control, and not about safety or the children. Because you see, there is little to correlate increased gun ownership with increased violence, and almost nothing to correlate it to mass shootings on any sort of realistic basis (I wish I could remember where, but I saw one statistic that showed Canada had a higher rate of school shootings than the US on a per-capita basis). I’ve seen a couple of recent suggestions, in fact, that gun violence correlates pretty well to drug trafficking more than anything else, and can be inversely correlated to the removal of lead from paint and gasoline. A different study correlates an inverse relationship between increasing gun ownership and decreasing murder rates in the US, using the FBI’s own statistics.

But among all the various studies, what it comes down to–in my not-so-humble opinion–is people. People will kill. People will kill (if they’re of a mind to) using whatever tools are available to them. Guns are handy, but so are chemical explosives or cars or propane tanks or edged weapons. Japan or China has had about eighteen separate mass killings with edged weapons in the last five or ten years (don’t remember that source today, either). The worst was about eight people killed with a meat cleaver. The truth of the matter is, you can’t prevent psychotics or sociopaths from killing…at least, not until they expose themselves, and then dang it if you don’t wish you were carrying that day.

There were about a dozen mass killings in the US last year. Twelve people showed how fucked-up nuts they were. Out of a population of some 350 million. To my recollection, only Sandy Hook got this kind of coverage or reaction. And there were about 9000 non-justified gun homicides in 2011 (based on FBI stats and rounded off). So, because of these people, there is wailing and gnashing of teeth to abrogate the constitutional rights of the other 349,990,988 people (roughly), or else “you just don’t care about the children, you monster!”

In Canada, some firearms laws have been on the books since about 1935, because we have no such constitutional protections. A recent study by an ER doctor, Cailin Langmann, showed an actual inverse correlation between the enacting of the three main stages of Canadian fireamrs laws and crime rates. The more restrictions put in place, the worse crime gets. Anecdotal evidence from other places shows similar results, in that crime almost disappeared in a Georgia town after a law was passed to require gun ownership by the head of household. The states in the US with the most restrictions–Illinois and California–are also the most violent states. But you won’t generally hear this sort of thing in the “popular” news media, because it doesn’t fit the narrative: “Gun Ownership is Evil!” In fact the news article I read about this in the National Post ridiculed the results as being suspect, because Dr Langmann is a known supporter of gun ownership…without noticing the irony that they said nothing about the contrary position being held by an organisation dedicated to ending personal gun ownership.

I wish that I owned a few weapons some days, but I’m not going to, not in this climate. Even though the long-gun registry has been destroyed (fuck you, Quebec), just applying for and getting a Possession and Acquisition Certificate (PAC) surrenders rights to the state that ought not to be surrenderable. Even if I didn’t buy a weapon after acquiring the PAC, the state now has the right to enter my home for any or no reason at all and search the fuck out of it…just in case I store a bullet next to a gun, or some bullshit. The laws are incredibly restrictive and do nothing for anyone. And I don’t want to deal with that. And then I’d always have to worry about using such a weapon to defend myself in my home against an intruder. There have been too many cases of people doing that and getting arrested for it, which is absurdly wrong. If I don’t have the right to defend myself by whatever means necessary, then I have no rights at all. And as some others have pointed out, that right was enshrined in the Diefenbaker Bill of Rights (passed in the early 1960s), and it has never been contradicted in law. However, it seems that the courts need a specific law to hold their hands and explain things to them, so the sooner a Castle Doctrine is enshrined in law, the happier I’ll be. But the registry itself should be a warning to Americans: it just won’t work. Registered firearms kill people all the time. But most handgun murders in Canada aren’t with registered weapons, because, you know, criminals don’t register their fucking guns! And though it’s easy to be accused of Godwinism in any argument, the comparison with Nazi Germany is valid in this case, because they instituted gun-ownership restrictions on the Jewish population. See how that worked out?

Beyond the hysteria of the gun-control crowd, it boils down to this: firearms are tools, nothing more. A weapon is inert and useless, until it is wielded, and it must be wielded by conscious act. It doesn’t matter if it’s a gun or a knife or a bomb or a fucking baseball bat or a garden trowel. It just lies there until someone picks it up and uses it. Guns are especially inert, because not only does the weapon have to be acquired, it has to be loaded with ammunition that also has to be acquired, aimed, and a trigger pulled. And you have to hit what you’re aiming at, which may be dozens of feet away. To me, the only sane response to crazy people on a rampage is not to be helpless before them, not to be out-gunned by them, and not to let the state make us all into victims by preventing that and preventing preservational self-defence. Because a gun in your hand can be an amazing equaliser, and for an assailant not to know who is armed and who is not makes them less likely to attack randomly. Psychopaths will still be psychopaths, but a rampage is a lot easier to stop when someone besides the shooter is armed. And that’s another key point to remember: “When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.” Police aren’t a preventative measure. They are there to clean up afterwards, and in some cases cause the problems (but that’s a different rant).

So let’s do away with the hand-wringing and pearl clutching and the “won’t someone think about the children”-ing. I used to hate the phrase when I was younger, but you really can’t argue with it: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. But you just can’t seem to argue that proposition with the gun-control crowd. Because, “you’re an evil child-killer, you monster!” You can’t reason with the unreasonable, and you can’t argue someone out of a position they weren’t argued into in the first place. But hysteria serves no one, and I really wish it would stop.

Posted in American, Canadian, news & journalism, opinion, politics, stupidity | Comments Off

Memory

Posted by Keen Observer on November 12, 2012

Memory:  personal memory, institutional memory, corporate memory, cultural memory, tribal memory.  These are the types of memories that living beings tend to be aware of, even if perhaps not all the time or in a consistent way.  But they are there.  I hope I don’t need to go into details on them, so I won’t.

Most of these—if not all—were consistently shared between individuals and generations in a largely oral tradition in times earlier than this.  Histories and fables, facts and survival/prosperity tips, and other such similar things were handed down to the general knowledge base or to specific, “worthy”, recipients.  Because of the way memory works, sometimes knowledge was lost, and sometimes less-valuable knowledge was discarded if favour of something better or more important.  This is evolution of a sort.

However, the advent of modern technology changed that somewhat.  It started gradually, but it eventually became the way that technology displaced the mostly-oral tradition, and it was thought to be progress or “better”.  One could argue that this change started with writing and tablets, before moving on to scrolls, but even in those cultures where these things arose, there would have been a significant majority of any population for whom this technology was out of reach, and thus would have had to rely on continuing the oral tradition.  These simple forms of technology were all there were for centuries, although as time went on, larger (though still very minor) percentages of the various populations would have acquired the use of these technologies.  It could even be argued that in some societies, the populace were deliberately kept ignorant to keep them under the control of their overlords.  I’m looking largely at feudal Europe, here, especially the iron control of the Church.  Countries like China and India and Japan had better literacy rates at the same time, I believe, even if there were entrenched class systems.

A seriously-significant piece of technology changed Europe (and the world) permanently in the middle of the last millennium:  movable type and the Gutenberg press.  In addition to aiding in the relatively rapid dissemination of knowledge to all and sundry, it had an additional effect on the human use of memory.  It started to become less necessary for people to remember things themselves, or similarly for the various groups of people outlined above to retain and pass along acquired or historical knowledge.

Jump ahead a couple hundred years to the present day, and that trend has almost reached its conclusion:  few  people or organisations remember any more than they absolutely have to to get by in life or business/whatever.  The word “memory” is not used as it was in the past, except in rare instances.  In fact, it is almost ubiquitous in its usage as a technological construct in the form of computer memory (RAM) or less correctly as storage (hard drives, thumb drives, optical media, and the like).  If you asked a random person on the street, “How’s your memory?”, you’re about as likely to get the answer in gigabytes as you are to hear that he’s been having a harder time remembering names lately.  We rely insanely heavily on other things to do our remembering for us:  books, journals, computers, disks, libraries, corporate manuals, legal codes, and so on.  And because other things do the heavy lifting for us, we no longer have to do it ourselves.  It’s almost become that a person with a good memory is considered freakish, it’s so bad.

Our memory “muscles” atrophy from disuse, and it becomes harder and harder to remember things.  When I  was younger, I prided myself on my memory.   It wasn’t eidetic (to my chagrin), but it was pretty good.  There were times when I felt I was just a hair’s breadth away from being able to visualise perfectly a page which I had read, to be able to pull out of that page the specific phrase I was attempting to recall.  Frustrating.  But since I started to rely on other things to remember that which I needed to remember, the less my memory itself was used, a gradual trend over the past couple of decades.  And on top of that, the older I get, the harder I have to work to remember things I should still know, and it becomes harder to retain new information that I am learning or need to know.   And this annoys the crap out of me at many levels.

I see this trend away from using one’s own memory as something occurring society-wide, on a fundamental basis, and I don’t think this is a good thing.  I also think I see that the pace of it is increasing, with increasing amounts of technology being used in the classroom as though it’s a good thing.  Children are being encouraged and taught to rely on machines to remember stuff for them.  Smartphones (e.g., with their memo and calendar functions) and thumb drives are ubiquitous.  Even diaries have a state of impermanence, being stored on media that can easily be destroyed in ways that written hardcopy cannot.  I think—and this is just my opinion—that continuing on this path is not only detrimental to people and society, but it is actively contributing to society’s downfall.  People that don’t remember things on their own will not be able to react to problems quickly; they will not be able to adapt and overcome, if they must continually stop to check something on their phones or look something up on the Internet.  This is a sort of recipe for disaster, if you’ll pardon the hyperbole, because we must as a society be smarter than those who would wish to destroy us, if we wish to survive.  It also has the effect of reducing the candidate pool for highly-technical (or other) jobs that require that sort of mental flexibility and awareness.  This does not leave me exactly hopeful for the continued survival of our society.

Just some thoughts about memory.  And right on a thousand words, too.

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Heartbreak 2

Posted by Keen Observer on October 31, 2012

My heart yet quickens at her voice,
The sight of her still thrills.
That ship has sailed, transporting hope,
But the heart wants what it wants.

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