Friday, 7 July 2017

Unhealthy Attention

What's the matter with people who radically change themselves for the worse?  Do they want their 15 minutes of fame?  Do they have some deep-seated mental issues?  Or are they being pressured into it?

A model who goes by the name of Martina Big had her breasts enlarged to the size of cantaloupe melons, and as if that weren't enough, went on to have injections that turned her skin as dark as a Carribbean native.

Bobbi-Jo Westley weighs over 500 pounds, and she wants to put on more weight just to have "the biggest hips" even though she knows this will most likely kill her.

Several women from various places around the world have spent a lot of money on surgeries just so that they can resemble Barbie dolls.  Model Pixee Fox even went so far as to have several of her ribs removed in her quest for the smallest waist.

This phenomenon isn't limited to women either.  There are men who are turning to surgery and radical body-shaping in order to attain the "ideal" form.  Singer Michael Jackson had several facial surgeries, and over time his skin became more and more white; there are conflicting stories over whether this was due to purposeful bleaching or a skin condition called vitiligo.

From the time we are children we are bombarded with products that extol the ideal form, from the TV shows we see to the clothes we wear.  Comic-book and animated characters, dolls, and action figures, are often highly disproportionate.  Ads for wrinkle-reducing creams, weight-loss programs, and impotence medication dominate the media.

Clothing retailers are constantly redrawing their size charts, and there are some who don't even produce clothing for people who don't conform to a certain size or body type.  Overweight people are shamed; fat is undesirable.  As an example: I am of average build and I am within the healthy weight range for my height.  However I was shocked a few years ago when I went to buy a pair of shorts and discovered that the "medium" size, which I had worn for years, no longer fit me even though my weight had not changed significantly.

All this causes the massive misconception that if we don't like the bodies we are born with, there is something fundamentally wrong with us that must be rectified.  There are an increasing number of people out there who purposely and dangerously alter themselves in pursuit of this imaginary ideal.  Many have died.  A society that creates an environment where people feel that they must take extraordinary measures to change their looks is not a healthy society.

(Of course there's the flip side of the coin where the morbidly obese turn to gastric bypass surgery and tightly controlled diet regimens, but this alteration is to save their lives and not for any frivolous reason.)

Tuesday, 27 June 2017


A letter written to this morning's local newspaper caught my attention. The writer criticized a columnist's decision to poke fun at the political situation in the U.S. in a recent piece, and then continued, "Love [Trump] or hate him, he was elected fair and square.  He has earned the right to govern and face the voters in 2020 based on his record."

I completely disagree.

More and more evidence is coming to light that the 2016 U.S. federal election was neither fair nor square.

In Florida, election employees were allegedly caught filling out stacks of stolen absentee ballots.

A pattern of voter registration irregularities was being investigated in Pennsylvania and other states.

In Michigan, thousands of ballot papers were reported to be missing because of broken polling machines.

Not to mention the embattled investigation into alleged Russian hacking, which has already cost several investigators their jobs.  Why would the President fire the director of the FBI unless he had something to hide?

The current President of the U.S. has earned nothing.  He has spent his entire life riding on wealth and privilege, and has a marked disdain for anyone who lacks either.  Time and again during his campaign, and even during his time so far in office, he has denigrated, mocked, and even fired anyone who dared to question him.  He has medieval attitudes toward women, the disabled, and many other groups.  The reason he ran for President in the first place was to prove that he could, not because he genuinely believed that he would be a good leader.

This is not the kind of person who is fit to lead a country.

And yet millions of people voted for him because they were duped by his inflammatory rhetoric or they were too disgusted by the alternatives.  When I listened to the election results on the news, I was physically ill.  How could so many people have been so stupid?

Now, whenever I see anyone on my social media feeds who says "give him a chance" or "he was elected fairly", I block them.  I will not engage in debate with people whom I already know will never change their minds.  They have been thoroughly brainwashed into believing that a person who cares about nothing other than himself can govern.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Marching Toward a Failing Society

On my mother's bookshelf is a series of books entitled "The Great Ideas Program" by Mortimer Adler and Peter Wolff (pub. Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1959).  Part of the preface reads as follows:

" high school we are told that we must begin to think how we are going to earn a living, and the prerequisites that are supposed to prepare us for that activity become more and more the ingredients of our educational diet. ... What is missing is education to be human beings, education to make the most of our human powers, education for our responsibilities as members of a democratic society..."

One of the books that I studied in university was The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom (pub. Simon & Schuster, 1987).  In a chapter about books, Bloom writes: "...whatever the cause, our students have lost the practise of and the taste for reading. ... I began asking my large introductory classes ... what books really count for them. Most are silent, puzzled by the question."

For over 50 years the educational system has been gradually failing.  Both my parents were high school teachers for 35 years and were witnesses to this failing first hand, as in their later years they had students who could not spell or do math adequately.  Other colleagues of theirs were reduced to having students draw pictures instead of writing essays. In high school.

The result of this educational failing is a population that does not understand the world around them, who are unaccepting of new ideas, and who think in terms of self instead of community.

One need go no farther than certain places in the United States, where there are people who believe that a woman can stop her period by gluing her labia shut, who claim that earthquakes happen when people swear a pact to the Devil, or who call on others to promote anarchy.

In a 2006 episode of the sci-fi show Doctor Who, there is this wonderful line: "You want weapons?  We're in a library!  Books!  The best weapons in the world!  This room's the greatest arsenal we could have - arm yourselves!"

Books such as the aforementioned Great Ideas Program, or "An Incomplete Education" by Judy Jones and William Wilson (pub. Ballantine Books, 1987, 1995, 2006) attempt to redress the educational gaps by offering reading lists, citing historical examples, and inviting discourse.  They should be a must on anyone's shelf.  If more people were willing to educate themselves, we would have a better society.

The philosopher and scientist Aristotle wrote: "If there is some end of the things we do... will not knowledge of it, have a great influence on life?  Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what we should?  If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is."

Sunday, 4 June 2017

If Wishes Were Horses

There has been another terror-related incident in the news, and once again there are people pointing at this and saying "This wouldn't have been so bad if the defenceless people had guns".

I'm tired of it.

Bear in mind that the majority of the police forces in the UK (except for Northern Ireland) do not carry firearms; only specially-trained officers have permission to do so.  However officers are armed with non-lethal alternatives such as Tasers or incapacitant sprays which are subject to the same regulations.

I don't hate guns per se.  I have family members who served in the military.  I know people who are responsible gun owners.  What frightens me is the "wild west" mentality, that there are too many people who use their guns as tools of intimidation, or worse.  The notion of open-carry makes me more nervous.

A few months ago I took part in a conversation with a gun enthusiast who, among other things, decried other countries as weak and said that they would no longer exist if the U.S. hadn't been involved in World War II.  He then went further and added, "We can walk right in if we wanted to and take what we want," before posting a photo of his personal sidearm.  I interpreted that action as a threat and immediately blocked him.

Someone I have known for a long time has, in recent years, become extremely pro-gun.  On almost a daily basis he posts gun-related articles and images on his Facebook wall and he fully supports open-carry.  That's his prerogative.  But when he began to encourage his fellow gun-owners to defy state legislations concerning background checks and other gun controls, that's when I had to draw the line and limit my conversations with him.  I eventually unfollowed him with great regret because I just couldn't bear to see his arguments any more.

More guns isn't the answer.  We should have more open dialogue with the disaffected.  There needs to be more services for people struggling with mental illness.  And there must be better controls so that people who are more likely to become violent won't end up hurting so many others.  Sadly, in many countries there isn't the money or the political will to do that.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Cruel Sport

Paul Simon wrote:
In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out, in his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving", but the fighter still remains

I have never liked boxing as a sport.  I don't believe it's even a sport; it's only called such to give a veneer of civility on what otherwise is simply cage fighting with rules.  It's people hitting each other in the hopes of winning large sums of money, for the benefit of bloodthirsty coaches and spectators.

This choice of career leaves both physical and mental scars, no matter how accomplished the fighter might be.  Statistics show that traumatic brain injury associated with boxing occurs in approximately 20% of professional boxers.  The most famous case would be Muhammad Ali, who was a boxing champion and Olympic gold medallist in his prime.  However later in life he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Syndrome which was attributed to boxing-related brain injuries.

Just recently a boxer in Saint John NB was taken to hospital for emergency surgery to treat a bleed in the brain after he was knocked out during a match.  A quick Internet seach reveals that there have been fighters who have died on the mat as a result of a hit.

This sort of carnage isn't limited to the boxing ring.  Hockey, American football, and other sports that involve players hitting each other all contain risks of concussion and injury.  No amount of safety equipment will prevent that; in fact, the more padding a player puts on, the harder they will get tackled.

The reason the fighting continues of course, is that one of the basic human instincts is to compete over something: food, women, land, resources.  In order to present the appearance of civilization we cloak competitions with uniforms and rules, and call it sport.  Unfortunately some sports lend themselves to easily to brutality, and terrible injuries will continue as long as the people watching keep cheering for it.  Even on "The Flintstones" animated show, the two principal male characters would get tremendously excited whenever one of them happened to score tickets for "the fights".

Hockey was once my favourite sport.  Not any more.  I've refused to watch professional hockey for over two decades because of the increasing number of in-game brawls and injuries from hitting.  Too many players have been forced to retire early due to injury.  Some have even killed themselves because they couldn't cope with the physical or mental trauma.

The fighting has to stop, but it won't as long as there remains a demand for it.