Words Shape Us

2017 10 19 - 05:13

Language colours you in ways you never realise. A language shapes a culture, as much as the culture shapes the language. Language shapes how you think, and the way in which you view the world. This concept got driven home to me the other day as I was waiting for the bus, and I noticed that there were some new knock-down sticks at the corner of the next street.

Knock-down sticks. What a utilitarian word. Functional. Dull. Then you look at most of the cars passing these functional sticks, and you notice that their colours are mainly utilitarian as well. And the people driving those cars are mainly wearing dull-coloured coats - brown, black, grey. There's so little variety, though that is changing. I think North American culture has too much grip on it by the Protestant pragmatists of our past. It's created a culture where we put less and less 'art' into some things, because we assume that black, or white, or grey, will appeal to a wider customer base than soda pop orange or electric yellow or pink or sage. It still makes my head turn when I see a purple car, or bright green, because those colours are so rare in the average every-day vehicle. The utilitarian nature of colour also caters to a belief that something cannot be artful, graceful, or creative, and still be as functional as something that has no 'personality' to it at all. It seems, also, that a lot of people take something's viability a lot less seriously, the more 'creative' or out of the norm it appears. It might also speak to why a lot of people still don't take art itself seriously as an activity, a profession, or a contribution. If it doesn't serve some kind of quantifiable, functional purpose, then it has no use or value.

In the UK knock-down sticks are called "bollards"; presumably because they resemble the posts that boats are tied when moored. In the UK they refer to ball-point pens as biros; which is an oddly more functional term than the word 'pen'. Well, not really; just more recent. Pen relates to a Latin word for "feather"; as in the feathers used to create quill pens. Biro is the name of the person who invented the ball-point pen. How have word-differences like that shaped their version of English, and thereby their culture, differently than our version of English has shaped us? I'm starting to wonder what knock-down sticks are called in Japan, because that's a culture that has - in so many ways throughout its history, at least to our Western eyes - turned life itself into an art; or maybe it just seems that way, in comparison with our own way of living. I remember reading something quite a few years ago that mentioned that Japan didn't have art galleries in the way that we in the west understand them; or they at least didn't at the time. And I thought that the reason they didn't, might largely be due to the fact that they don't need them, since the very act of living in some places, is the art. Some cultures put a great amount of effort into their dress, their habits, their writing systems.

Which makes me think of the importance of symbols, of names as signifiers. A number is as useful a term as any to label a thing by, but every time I get a customer from somewhere out west where this is common, I wonder how much of a pain in the posterior it must be to remember your address when it's all numbers. In B.C. and Alberta it's very common for streets not to be named, but to be numbered. It's so common in fact, that when I do get a customer that lives on a street with a name, I'm surprised. Someone's address could be something like: 1223 8186a St. NW, now throw an apartment number onto that as well. But saying 1223 Apple St. is simpler and easier to remember. People in New York have dealt with it just fine; some of the most famous street names in Western culture not being street 'names' at all even, but numbers; so I suppose folks get used to it.

In Hamilton we still use the term "West 5th", at least amongst older generations, when we're referring to the psychiatric hospital; because it's on the corner of Fennell Ave. and, you guessed it, West 5th.

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Me too

2017 10 17 - 02:59

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The cards

2017 10 14 - 09:24

I allowed an old gypsy lady (really, just an old friend, but she has been somewhat nomadic in her life) to do a tarot reading for me while I was out at art crawl this evening. I haven't bothered with a tarot reading in over twenty years. I never was a believer; but it was more enjoyable an activity than bingo, or other things one could throw one's money to. She brought up something during the reading though, that I already know but never think about - about having got to a stage of contentment in my life, about becoming comfortable in my own skin, about - for lack of a better way to put it - having reached a phase where I rarely give many fucks about what people think about me, my opinions, or what I do.

It's true, to a great degree. I am not completely comfortable in my own skin, but I am more so than I ever was as a young person. My life is finally becoming my own. I do what I like, think what I like, live - mainly - how I like, and those who find fault with it can sod off. Well, I'd never actually tell anyone to sod off - but I might really want to.

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Universal basic services could work better than basic income to combat 'rise of the robots', say experts

2017 10 13 - 16:00

UK citizens should receive free housing, food, transport and internet access to counter a “rise of the robots” that threatens to eradicate millions of jobs, new research has suggested. Experts working for University College London’s Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) say the universal ethos of the NHS should be expanded to cover other areas of life to mitigate the disruption caused by technological change.

It's an interesting proposal, and one that is ultimately going to have to happen anyhow, or we'll have bodies in the streets piled up like cord wood. Increases in innovation and use of automation will eventually eliminate entire industries - as it is already doing - so there really will be no jobs to get.

In theory, you could offer things to people cheaper by buying/offering them in bulk in a way a government is adept, than it would be for the government to give people money and have that money spent paying commercial rates for things that would necessitate a raise in payouts yearly - hiked payouts that could be lessened by offering at bulk rates. The government can buy in bulk in ways that not even your local CostCo can.

High school never used to be subsidised. It was considered an extra, a luxury. But when it became obvious that secondary education was absolutely necessary in order for poeple to function in that changing society, it was subsidised. The same is happening for post-secondary levels of education now; and should have happened long since. Post-secondary education is absolutely necessary in order to function in the world we are currently living. Internet access is becoming that as well, with so many industries working entirely through that medium; and so many others who aren't, still doing all their job advertising and hiring through online ads and email only. Many employers are very specific in their ads these days, that they want contact through email only.

I'm not going to get into the moral arguments, because you should not need to be told why people are going to need this sort of assistance, and why it's a good idea to give it to them.

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Kilimanjaro Climb List

2017 10 13 - 10:23

Several years ago I became completely fascinated by a young man named George Atkinson who, at the age of 17, completed the Seven Summits Challenge by getting to the top of Everest. I figured that if he could do it, there was no reason why I couldn't do something similar.

Now, I have no desire to ever attempt Everest (for many, many reasons; not the least of them being that I don't like camping), but I did do some research and found out that Kilimanjaro - being one of those aforementioned Seven Summits - was not a climb so much as a walk. You do not need any mountaineering or climbing experience to complete it, unlike with all the others. There's really only one spot on the climb that requires a bit of scrambling up some rocks; but if that legless dude from Oakville could manage it, then the visually impaired woman in Hamilton could manage it. It takes just over a week to do it if you pace it properly enough to become accustomed to the change in altitude.

The idea of eight to ten days without a shower though...

It's never going to happen; though it would be nice, on my deathbed, to be able to say I'd done it. It's too expensive an undertaking. It's twelve to twenty thousand dollars - for travel, for gear, for guide fees, for medications and shots not covered by OHIP (*), etcetera. It's why a lot of people who do these climbs, get sponsorships and do it for charity. Who knows, if that lottery win ever happens...

You spend relatively little time walking each day - maybe six to seven hours - at a pace that someone once described as "imagine a 90 year-old arthritic walking backwards". That's how slow they want you to go. So, ultimately you spend a lot of time sitting around each day, not doing terribly much, so you need to find other ways to fill your time. That said, everyone's seen that desert island playlist question at some point in their lives. I started making up a Kilimanjaro climb list - a different album to listen to each day for every day up and down the mountain. I didn't complete it, but I did get so far as:

Still need to choose two or three more. I couldn't decide on which Bowie album - still can't.

(*) It cost - at the time I did the investigating - about $1800 alone, to get the rabies pre-vax; nevermind the half a dozen or so other things you need to get shots or meds for - and the six months of implanted birth control to ensure you don't get your period during the climb.

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Misuse of the word "rant"

2017 10 12 - 15:43

Rant is losing its meaning, and it is doing so because of clickbait.

Due to clickbait and clickbait-like use of overly-emotional and grandiose terminology and other forms of exaggeration used solely to get someone's attention, the word "rant" is going to shift in meaning from "speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned manner" to something that denotes or indications either only "speak at length", "speak in any manner that refutes or negates a listener or the topic at hand", or "speak openly about a potentially contentious subject". I've seen this term misused in this way more times than I care to count. I know that language shifts, but this seems a more noxious shift than others have become. It is not a shift of accident or necessity, but merely one based on advertising, ignorance, or desire to dupe the audience. It cheapens the language for no good reason.

If they aren't yelling, gesturing emphatically, or being somewhat uncontrolled, they aren't ranting. If they are merely speaking at length, speaking on a contentious subject, or simply refuting or negating a listener or subject, they aren't ranting. If they aren't acting crazily, actually being crazy, getting in your face, or pontificating from a soapbox, they aren't ranting.

Rant is a far more emotional reaction to a subject, than merely discussing that same subject; regardless of how contentious the subject is. You either rant or not rant about breakfast cereal, as much as you can rant or not rant about raising the minimum wage to something survivable, or the efficacy of religion.

It is not a word tied to a subject matter; but is tied to how one discusses that subject matter.

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Face

2017 09 28 - 09:45

Sometimes when I bump into someone I know in an environment where I'm not used to seeing them, I don't recognise them right away. It happened yesterday when I was taking the bus to the dojo and found one of my budo buddies taking the same bus I was. There was another time I was going to my (then) tattooist, and wanted to avoid someone who worked there, so I went on a day I knew they usually didn't work. I walked in, and he came towards me, and I didn't realise it was him right off, because I wasn't expecting him to be there.

I know that prosopagnosia (face blindness) exists - that's a cognitive condition which can have either congenital or acquired roots, but is not an of-the-moment condition. I wonder if this momentary inability to recognise people is some sort of mild form of that, or something else entirely. One of my friends refers to it as an "out of context error"; which is as good a way as any to describe it.

Whatever the root cause of it is, it's compounded by having poor vision. Or, perhaps in my case, it's entirely about that.

Addendum:

I have had people accuse me of all sorts of bad behaviour because I couldn't see them.

In fact, this has come up a couple of times in specific relation to the getting and noticing of male attention. It never occurred to me until one of my friends pointed out many years ago, about the eye contact game people play between each other when they're interested. I can't play it. I wouldn't know if anyone was trying to catch my eye, and who knows how many people thought I was trying to give them the eye, when really I had no idea I appeared to be staring at them. On that note specifically, my oldest bestie wanted to beat me up in high school because she thought I was staring at her all the time - this was before we met - but one of her friends pointed out that I couldn't actually see her.

If you aren't within an arm's swing distance of me, I won't see you. You really have to get in my face if we're passing on the street, for example.

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Simple Math

2017 09 17 - 12:46

Today I can only afford to buy one of the things you sell; but if they raise the minimum wage to something liveable, then I will be able to buy two or three of the things you sell, maybe more sometimes, and so will all of my friends and family members who can also only currently afford to buy one; some of them even none. But if you think that you must raise your prices because the minimum wage has gone up, then we're back to me being able to still only afford one, and some of my friends none. So you've made nothing, because you bought into the scare tactic that all prices must go up if the wage goes up.

So there you are, now selling 30 or 40 things a day - maybe more - and they're affordable now because you didn't raise the price, so all of my friends and family tell all of their friends how affordable the things are, and they start coming in to buy the things too. Maybe you have to hire another staff person, but you're selling enough things now that you can cover that wage easily, cover your own wage, cover the rest of your overhead, and still have a little extra on the side.

That right there is the issue, you see. When the scare tactic gets trotted out that higher wages mean higher prices (or costs), what that really means is that profits for the business go down. They're not willing to take a little punch to the profit in order to make life better for everyone - a punch to the profit that will end up not simply ending the stranglehold on the status quo, but actually increase profit by sheer weight of volume; because you will be better off selling 20 things at $10 per, than continuing only to sell 10 things at $15 per, because you preserved your status quo. It is not a hit to baseline needs/costs that businesses are worried about, it's that precious profit margin.

So it's not the leaps of a lottery win into wealth and riches that you were hoping for from your business; but business is steady, your staff content, and goods go out as fast as they come in. What's that old saying: Slow and steady wins the race.

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Oddio

2017 09 07 - 23:22

Two buildings away from me is a restaurant that, over the years, has seen a few iterations; at one time being quite the jazz and blues club. For a long time, though, there's been no live music there. As I was walking to the store tonight to acquire myself an unhealthy snack, I saw that someone was there in front of the mic singing away and playing guitar, so I stopped for a few minutes to listen. What he was singing, I couldn't now tell you, it didn't matter. All that went through my head was how much I admired, and envied a little, the fact that he had the balls to get up there and do it.

I do not have the balls.

I wish I did.

I know I can sing. I know I don't suck. I can carry a tune. I have a decent range for a non-professional. I have a good ear, a natural affinity for music. I have good relative pitch; which, amongst other things, means that I can listen to others while I sing and adjust myself to work with them. I have a good sense of where a piece of music is going, even if it's one I don't know well. I feel my mistakes and can correct myself. I can do it. But I can't do it.

I used to sing in a choir in high school, and had been on stage a couple of times. In groups, it's not so bad. All the pressure is not on you. And when I did have to sing solos with the choir, I was in a choir loft, where the only people who could see me were my choir mates. You aren't the only thing being scrutinised in a group situation; and that, right there, is the issue. Being under scrutiny. I don't like to be stared at like that. I don't like, in fact, to be the centre of attention in any kind of group.

I'm never sure if talking myself into it is ever going to work; or if I'm just going to have to rip off the band-aid and do it one day, without any kind of prep or preamble. One of my friends thinks I should try karaoke, because that's a situation where no one's going to give a crap how I sound at all, and anyone who might actually be listening is going to be too drunk to have a cogent opinion. I can see the sense behind that, behind it being the safest environment one could imagine outside of one's shower, but I hate karaoke. I have no need to do it in order to make myself sound better by comparison to the raft of drunk bar patrons up there - which I think was also a bit behind my friend's suggestion I try it. I don't want to prove I'm better than someone else, and don't need to. I need to do it to prove something to myself.

One of these days I do have to stop just talking about it, though.

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Diva of Dissatisfaction

2017 09 07 - 10:31

I used to spend an enormous amount of time as a young person, staying up late watching movies on TV. Anything, really. It's how I developed a love for old Hollywood. Then, when I'd stay over my high school bestie's place at weekends, we would - as kids are wont to do - stay up late watching movies on the telly. When we weren't doing this together, we'd often have ended up watching the same stuff separately, so it happened that one week we'd watched the 1981 French film Diva - the plot of which I won't detail overmuch. Suffice it to say, that it's a thriller surrounding the illicit recording of an opera singer, prostitutes, and corrupt police. I remember quite liking it.

Well, a couple of years afterwards, and gawd knows how these things ended up being made, that same friend gifted me with a pocket notebook that happened to have the movie's poster on the front of it (which features a knife - this is key to the story). Sometime after that, I ended up at a neighbour's for tea. She was a nice enough person as I recall, but a thoroughly nervous born again Christian. I had taken the notebook out to write something down, and accidentally left it there. When she returned it to my grandmother, she had some kind of hushed, 'concerned' conversation about how she thought I was worshipping the devil because of the content of the notebook cover - the knife, in specific. (Couple with the fact that at the time, I was going through my late visually punk heavily wearing black and a leather jacket phase).

I don't think my grandmother was really worried, but she did bring up the conversation with the neighbour when she gave the notebook back to me. I explained the plot of the film to her, and that was that.

I've been seeing a lot more - old and new - stuff lately, about what it means if your child is listening to certain kinds of music. I didn't listen to punk because I was looking to rebel - I listened to it because I liked the sound of it, the feel, the rough edges and raw energy. I would have rebelled anyhow; punk just happened to come along for the ride. It did help lift me out of a mousey personality that I should never have had, and give me a vehicle to express something that yards of Bowie albums - much as I loved him - was never going to do.

I'm still rebelling a little I think, and still about the same thing - against a person I do not want to be. In a good way.

* * *

The movie poster in question:

Diva
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