Dear America,  I Still Believe In You

Dear America,

I am not angry at you. I am sad for you.  

I never imagined for a moment that a candidate so thoroughly unqualified, so mean spirited, so lacking in maturity and intellect, so remorselessly dishonest, so paranoid, so gullible, and so unsuitable would ever stumble his way into your top office. I never imagined the Republicans so foolhardy that they would allow their distaste towards minorities to push them this far down the road to totalitarianism. Most of all, I never believed you had enough people that were okay enough with racism, misogyny, bigotry, ignorance, and sneering criminality that they would hold their nose and vote Donald Trump into office.

I still don’t believe it. I really don’t. No one thought this would actually happen. I did and still do believe you are better than this, America. I went to bed last night feeling certain that Hillary would win and you’d get another four years of status quo.

I don’t blame you. Not really. So many people are so dissatisfied, disaffected, and disenfranchised in your country today that it must have seemed too tempting to reach for that promise of making America great again that they reached for it even though they probably knew it was a lie. Even though they knew the man peddling the idea to them wasn’t very trustworthy or even very decent.

Now you all have to live with the results though. The Republican Party has won all three levels of your government which means they have a clear mandate without checks and balances. The Republicans have been making a lot of promises over the last eight years that they now will be making good on. Gender and sexual minorities will be back in the firing line and they are going to suffer greatly for what happened yesterday. Muslims are also going to bear the brunt of people’s anger now that they have no one in the halls of power to protect them. I cannot see the poor and working class that so desperately want Trump’s promises to be real actually thriving under another term of Republican policies; they won’t get better wages, better medical insurance, or better infrastructure under any proposed policies I currently know of.  

Most unsettling of all, in my opinion, is that I think the Republicans are finally going to get that war with Iran they’ve been hoping for. Who’s going to stop them? Only the threat of war with Russia could stop America from that and a man who rage-tweets at Rosie O’Donell now has his finger on the nuclear button. I just don’t see that being something most of the electorate thought through.

I sincerely hope this new reality works out, but I think it’s more likely that your economy is going to take a dive and the best we can all hope for is your newly minted government doesn’t start a war from which none of us can recover. One thing is certain: the racists and bigots of America have had all of their worst behaviour validated in a big way today.

To my American friends, I wish that I could hug you and tell you that everything is going to be alright. I would if I could. I know it would be a lie because some of you are gay and some are minorities and all of you are feeling very unsure of your place in your own country right now for very good reasons. One day, I hope that those who voted for this will tell you sincerely that they are sorry for what happened to you as a result. Most of all I hope that whatever happens over the next four years will pass over you like a raincloud and you’ll come through no worse for wear.  

Please stay safe and know that I love you, appreciate you, and still believe in you.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Defence of Non-Binary Gender -or- Pronouns Are Important And We Need More Of Them.

Since this is a note that I have decided to share publicly I thought that I should first explain that it is a response to this article:
Which was shared by a person I like and respect as a person and an intellectual but, in my opinion, erred in his endorsement of this article.

Dear Dr. B
With all respect and fondness I could not disagree with this article more if I were trying to. Beyond here I address only the article itself and it’s author and am in no way addressing you or your endorsement of this article.
Let me start by applauding the molten hypocrisy of a man who states in a derisive fashion:

“The first answer is that the confusion redounds to the benefit of the self-confused, who get to compel other people to play along with their idiosyncratic dreams of unreality. Elwood P. Dowd not only has his invisible friend, the six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey, but will take you to court unless you shake Harvey’s hand and register Harvey in at the hotel. Harvey must be your friend too, or else. Christian bakers who have retained their hold on reality can tell us what will happen to you if you say, “But there is no Harvey here, nor will I pretend that there is.””

Who goes on to say such things as:
In that very quote, “Christian bakers who have retained their hold on reality” (for refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian couple because…. I don’t know… God?)

And further styling his opponents as, “all rebels against Nature and Nature’s God”

Apparently invisible friends are okay, just not “that guy’s invisible friend”.

To him, people who believe in tall, invisible rabbits, or in non-binary gender are “self-confused” but those who believe in a modified henotheistic Sky-God that sits at the head of Catholicism telling people not to bake cakes for the gays, that person is in full command of their faculties.

Bravo to you sir! Bravo! I would like to espouse that much hypocrisy in my own life, I just can’t. I guess it’s part of that whole thing where I was taught to live according to “logic” and “fairness”.

As an aside, let me dispel the notion of Christian bakers being the real victim of the culture wars as well as throw down the gauntlet against the towering asshole who attempts to create them as such (I’m sure he believes he’s a perfectly nice person, most people who thought black people are an inferior race believed themselves to be perfectly nice as well, they turned out to be mistaken; they were assholes).  

Gender and sexual minorities in the US are still not protected from discrimination in over half of the states. You can still be fired, evicted from your house, or refused many services for no other reason than being a sexual or gender minority in thirty states without any legal recourse whatsoever but hey, what about those poor people who were almost paid to bake a cake?! Furthermore, the heroic, reality-laden bakers to which he referred didn’t just break the local anti-discrimination laws under which they obtained their business licence, they also broke federal laws (and the law of common decency) by sharing their court papers on social media exposing the lesbian couple’s name and home address to over a half a million people, many of which took it upon themselves to make death threats against the lesbians AND their two young children. This couple have gone broke and hungry several times moving their family and quitting jobs to escape the people who are still actively threatening them and their children.

The bakers? Well, they’ve gotten press tours, become media darlings of the right wing, and been given over a half million dollars in donations to their “legal fund” (quotations since Liberty Counsel represented them pro bono. Their current attorney, C. Borden Gray is a former advisor to the Bush White House, I wonder how Oregon bakers secured such a high-profile attorney?)

As far as I’m concerned, if those bakers had even a modicum of the “sense” this author graces them with their press tour would be nothing but a constant litany of tearful apologies and earnest repentance for the nightmare they purposefully put that poor couple through. As yet, they are still playing at being the real victims. [1]

So, I reiterate, towering asshole!

Now that I have that all off of my chest let me set aside my personal feelings for now to address the merits of the argument at hand. The argument, I might add, about an extremely complex neurological phenomenon being made by the professor of English Literature (honestly, Dr. B?).

Here’s the facts. Gender is non-binary [2]. Pretty much every person who has studied gender will tell you it is not a binary. Studies and evidence are mounting every day despite the hyper-paranoia of some pseudo-scientist who sees enemies of his prejudice as enemies of culture itself. He claims it’s obvious to see what gender a person is. Really? I could volunteer transgender friends to take part in a social experiment whereby he would most assuredly never be able to identify the trans person in a line-up with an assortment of people who were born in their gender. Does that disprove him? It certainly should, but of course he wouldn’t accept that. This person’s arguments are pathetically weak. 

He opens with the “it’s obvious” argument. Well, no it isn’t. Is it really a physical reality? No. first thing he has forgotten is that there are people who are literally, physically speaking, neither sex… or both… or not really either of those options. They’re called Intersex people and in the good old days when bigots held more sway than experts these people had their sex physically reassigned at birth (usually with preference given to the gender in which they were most likely to be procreative). After decades of research the experts found that this process caused crushing, lifelong psychological problems for these people. That’s okay though, right? So long as we get to stick to two pronouns and none of us “important people” get hurt or even have to bother challenging our preconceived ideas and prejudices, right? 

By the way, these people still do get their sexes physically reassigned without their consent all the time…. even though people know it does great harm to the people involved.[3]

More than that though, physical reality and physical sex don’t always match in a mutch more visibly indistinguishable way. Neurological studies have found that transgender people’s brains ARE transgender or genderqueer. In layman’s terms people’s brains (a physical reality) do not match their bodies (a physical reality) [4]. I’m guessing that these physical realities, with the studious research that underpins them, do not matter to this person because they don’t suit his argument.  

Thus I find myself descending to his last argument which is two pronged though the two are really just abuses of the same idea: an appeal to the majority and to “culture” whatever that means. The author suffuses his language with appeals to the majority and to the culture; suggesting that these are the sensible people and culture must be right by virtue of themselves. These arguments are not only fallacious but also dangerous. I doubt I have to say much in this vein myself, as philosophers down the ages have already exploded these delusions. The idea that a wrong idea can be made right by virtue of the majority of people believing it to be true is obvious to anyone, perhaps most so to Copernicus and Galileo. Despite virtually everyone believing the earth was at the centre of everything at the time, our planet spun around the sun uncaring of their desires. As to the appeal to culture I would assert that we are hardly the first culture to consider the notion of non-binary gender; the fact that our culture has a paucity of gender specific pronouns is evidence of a flaw in our culture, not an actual lack of need. I have noticed that most people, and I doubt this person is any exception, who appeal to culture or majority withdraw their boisterous support of same the instant it disagrees with their preconceived prejudices. When culture agrees with them they are such a wise and noble counsel, when it disagrees they are ill-educated and lack context or proper judgement.

Having dealt with these paltry arguments allow me to return to the individual’s character because it does have import in assessing the quality of arguments being put forth. Even were the arguments considered on their own merits they are failures, but considered in conjunction with this person’s obvious character flaws they amount to what I would go so far as to suggest they become hate speech. Let us take a look at this passage where this individual lays bare insecurities and ignorances:

“all rebels against Nature and Nature’s God, who would be happier to see a man leave his wife and children to take up with another man than to see a young woman turn away from the hothouse of a lesbian relationship to become a wife and mother after the ordinary way of nature.”

All gay men leave wives and children behind? Lesbians don’t have children? They are not wives or mothers? This notion that gender and sexual minorities only enter into relationships in order to satisfy craven sexual deviancy, as well as its opposite, the idea that heteronormative couples only have pure and moral family intent, is so idiotic it is truly insulting to any thinking person. These are the fever dreams of the bigot who, in characterizing an entire section of society as a caricature of sexual deviancy, tells us more about that individual’s character than it does of the assembled hordes of this individual’s imagined enemies. More insulting still that such idiocy is taken as serious by so many who couldn’t or won’t be bothered to think for themselves. This person is committing the selfsame sin he is accusing others of: demanding we recognize his own ignorances, prejudices, and nonsense as if they were gospel on the say-so of his six-foot-tall bunny friend, Harvey.  

No, I say, no! Transgender people around the world suffer at the hands of this ilk. They are beaten, persecuted, demeaned, insulted, brutalized, and killed. This person would have us believe he is the true wronged and threatened party because we won’t use the words that this person likes?

I accuse you, Anthony Esolen, not only is your argument logically unfounded and entirely specious,

You are a massive hypocrite, a towering asshole, and a flagrant bigot.

I invite you to grow up.

Links for further reading:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fighting Terrorism The Canadian Way!

I felt like I needed to take a moment today to put aside a project that has become my most research intensive writing project to date and say a few words about recent events. As many of you know by now my country, which I dearly love, was attacked again this week. A young man, Nathan Cirillo, was tragically murdered by a deranged individual. This individual left his home armed in preparation for taking human lives, luckily he wasn’t very good at the task and was himself killed after only taking one life, but that isn’t very lucky for Nathan Cirillo and his loved ones. Nathan Cirillo died a hero standing on guard protecting something he believed was important, his murderer was a coward who died trying to cause widespread, senseless destruction and heartache. There is no clearer way I can put it than that.

I wanted to write this post because certain members of the media immediately latched on to the narrative that the attacker was a recent convert to Islam and conjecture about this being a terrorist plot against Canada. It seems that nowadays it only takes the word Islam to send the media, and resultantly most Canadians, into hysteria about terrorism. Disappointingly, many Canadians, and some of my friends are among them, are insisting that Muslims condemn this extremist neophyte. I could not disagree with this idea more. Only a few short months ago a gun-toting extremist who had an arsenal and an abiding hatred of the Canadian government went on a rampage where he murdered three RCMP officers and wounded two more in Moncton. This individual was labelled a “gunman” or “shooter” by the media, not a terrorist, and no one expected any of the other gun owners, gun enthusiasts, or even gun shop owners of our country to condemn or apologize for that young man’s actions. Oh, and good luck finding any news coverage that even mentions his religious affiliation or outcry calling for explanations from his coreligionists. Why is it so different for Canada’s Muslims?

The fact that whenever an Islamic terrorist attacks we expect every Muslim to get in front of a camera, condemn the attackers, and apologize on behalf of Islam serves as proof that our country harbours an unhealthy bigotry towards Muslims. When the Westboro Baptist Church holds one of their despicable protests we don’t expect every Christian group to apologize; when militant Christian Anders Breivik went on a well planned rampage murdering 77 people, most of them with a rifle one at a time, no one expected all of Christianity to condemn him either (in fact, the news media made careful effort to avoid mentioning and minimize his religious beliefs despite the fact that he saw them as a major motivation for his attacks). We all understand that these and other isolated groups of whackos do not represent Christianity. In fact, large Christian groups speaking out against these types of people would have the opposite of the desired effect: it would bestow upon these despicable people far more legitimacy than they deserve.

So why do we expect Muslims to explain Al Qaeda or ISIL? Because we’re bigots. I’m sorry to say it so directly, but I won’t lie about it and I won’t sugar-coat the issue; Canadian culture has become infused with a variety of ignorant and misleading ideas about Muslims. The Islamaphobia we suffer from, largely bestowed upon us by the media, boils Islam down to a uniform and faceless mass of ideological homogeneity where Osama Bin Laden is just as authentically Muslim as Rumi or Omar Kayyam. It stinks! Let me assure you, at 1.5 Billion in the world there is an extremely wide variety of Muslims to choose from; if even ten percent of the world’s Muslims were as extreme as al quaeda the world would be a parking lot by now. Quite to the contrary, not only are the vast majority of Muslims NOT extremists but the vast majority of the victims of Muslim extremism are Muslims!

We would all be better off to remember that Muslims suffer far worse at the hands of Islamic terrorists than we do. For instance, did you know that a string of well coordinated terrorist attacks last year in predominantly Muslim Iraq claimed the lives of 75 people and injured over 350 others? That’s twice as many people killed in one day than have died in Muslim extremist attacks in North America since 9/11. You didn’t hear that news story? Well, that’s understandable because those attacks happened on the same day as the Boston Marathon bombings, I guess it just wasn’t as newsworthy. Part of me can’t help but think that it doesn’t pay in news media to report attacks that are made on Muslims. Of course, we are all hearing a lot about extremists in Iraq now but again it seems we only hear about it because westerners are being victimized. Our news media tends to give a lot more airtime to the handful of westerners ISIL has executed instead of the droves of Syrians and Iraqis they’ve murdered, brutalized, or enslaved.

This is part of a growing trend since the 9/11 attacks where our public discourse has become very insular and ethnocentric. We style Muslims as outsiders, or worse, the enemy. It is one of the most shameful things I can tell you about my beloved country that we are quite Islamaphobic. A recent Gallup poll found that 54% of Canadians are Islamaphobic with gusts of up to 69% of people in Quebec and the Maritime provinces having a negative view of Muslims. Many, if not most, of these people have never even had a single five minute conversation with a Muslim in their lives. Canadians have behaved very disappointingly in respect to Islam because we’ve allowed ourselves at the level of our cultural discourse to be manipulated by our fear.

I am quite passionately against Islamaphobia because I have seen its effects close up in my own life. You see, I happen to be deeply in love with a woman who, among the many other amazing things I could tell you about her, is also a lovely shade of brown. This has always meant that she encounters a certain level of racism and ignorance in her everyday life; mostly the racism she encounters is fairly muted and motivated by simple ignorance but some of her stories are completely shocking. For instance, one of her elementary school teachers was really quite racist toward her and she had to deal with that for a whole school year. Then there was the time my own grandmother took us out for dinner and her and her boyfriend proceeded to explain to my wife that, and I quote: “all the people who come here from India are murderers and criminals”. The thing that amazes me the most is the grace with which my wife handles racism like this. I doubt I could be as calm; I know that over dinner with my grandmother I certainly wasn’t.

However, no stories could prepare me, or indeed her, for the new reality of being a brown person in Canada on september eleventh, 2001. Previous to this my wife’s experiences with racism were isolated experiences from a relative minority of individuals. On september eleventh she went to the University as usual to find herself getting nasty looks from people in the halls and several people who actually said really inappropriate things to her, like “what are you even doing here?”. Of course, it was worse other places; a man was arrested when he showed up, armed, at a Muslim elementary school in Calgary because he “just wanted to talk to them”. Believe me when I tell you that the september eleventh terrorist attack effected me deeply too but I understand in a way most white people don’t that it effected the brown people of Canada very differently.

This heinous level of bigotry died down eventually but has never gone away. Today in North America hate crimes against Muslims, and anyone that looks particularly Muslim like Sikhs, are ten times higher than before the September eleventh attack, and they’re more likely to be violent than before. Of course, there remains the fact that the amount of people who hold a negative view of Muslims in North America is over half across the board, which means if you are a Muslim every person you meet is statistically more likely to dislike and distrust you for it than they are to like you or be indifferent. There are a lot of things I can say about this reality. I could tell you it’s not right, that it’s sad, that it’s stupid, that it isn’t based on the facts, that it’s bigoted, that it’s offensive, or that it disgusts me and insults my intelligence personally; all of those things are true but they are not the most important thing I can tell you about this sad new reality. The most important thing I can tell you about the way our culture has been saturated with this skewed, bigoted view of the relationship between Islam and terrorism is that it is exactly what the terrorists want.

When people use terror tactics to fight their battles it is because they are small and marginalized and therefore must depend on the vast majority of people to fight amongst each other and generally make bad decisions trying to fight an enemy that they can’t find, Islamic terrorism is no different. In fact, I’m done calling these people Islamic anymore, I know enough about Islam to know that terror attacks are unconditionally condemned in both the Qu’ran and the Hadith so, from here on, I will call these people murderous scumbag extremists. Murderous scumbag extremist is a better descriptor anyway, and it can be used across all religio-political lines. When murderous scumbag extremists use terror tactics they do it because it inspires fear and large groups of scared people have not been known, historically, to make prudent and wise decisions about what to do to handle the problems they face. When the murderous scumbag extremists can connect their brand of extremist garbage with Islam and successfully make large swaths of people afraid of, not just the scumbags, but all Muslims that works tremendously in their favour. Basically, this means that the scumbags can count on Islamaphobes to do most of their heavy lifting.

When people expect other Muslims to explain, defend, or apologize for the actions of a few scumbags who claim to share a religion with them it is an insult to their dignity. It works so beautifully well for the scumbags because it creates a false dichotomy where decent Muslims are somehow responsible for the scumbags in their midst and they must either condemn them or they are considered implicit. In my mind no notion could more clearly spell out to Canadian Muslims that we think they are a “them” instead of part of us. Perhaps take a moment to consider how that situation must look from the perspective of the Muslim community: you are told you have to apologize for the actions of people you don’t like to get the approval of people who don’t like you. I can’t imagine why more Muslims wouldn’t be lining up for that deal. Terror groups love this type of alienation because not only does it help them accomplish their goals but they also largely depend on disaffected, disenfranchised youth to grow their numbers. It’s like the most depressing Chinese finger trap you can imagine: the more we fear Muslims the better it gets for the scumbags, the better it gets for the scumbags the more terror they can create, the more terror the scumbags can create the more we fear Muslims. If you’re anything like me this crazy cycle can get a bit depressing. It is okay because I want to share the one truly radical act we can all participate in that can break this cycle of craziness, and it’s possibly the most “Made In Canada” solution I could think of.

Those of us in Canada, and anywhere else for that matter, who are not Muslims need to find and hang out with some Muslims!

The best thing we can do at an individual level to fight extremist scumbags around the world is to be invested in the lives of Muslims in our communities. Find a Muslim, or better yet a Muslim family, grab a coffee with them and just get to know them. Challenge yourself to not even bring up Islam, they’re probably tired of explaining themselves anyway. Find out what they’re like, where their kids go to school, if they like sports, maybe you like the same TV shows, you’ll never know until you ask. For your own sake more than theirs simply take some time to connect with any Muslim human being so that next time the media or someone on Facebook tries to paint Islam as some faceless, homogenous mass of scariness you can put a human face on the religion and stop the bigotry in its tracks. The more Muslims you can do this with, the more you’ll grow as a person and the more your life will be enriched by the experience. The more Canadians can do this and the more we will grow as a country and possibly the best side effect of this whole process: life will get better for brown Canadians.

This may sound simplistic, or worse, naive! *gasp* But friendship and understanding will fight extremism better than a bullet any day. The extremists love it when we kill them anyway, in their mind it gives their cause more legitimacy, reinforces their rhetoric that we’re evil, and creates a martyr for them to idolize. When we associate Islam and all Muslims with extremism the better it is for the scumbags because they want Muslims to feel isolated and be reviled by the rest of the world and they also want Muslims to resent the people who treat them this way. Most of all, the scumbags want Muslims and non-Muslims to fear and hate each other because people who fear and hate each other don’t come together to fight their common enemies; in fact they spend most of their energy fighting each other. Thus far we have allowed the extremists agenda to control our public and media discourse on terrorism, but we need to stop that. It is the nature of extremism to always benefit from the fear and hatred of others, this is why terror tactics work so well for these scumbags. No sane person can effectively fight that level of insanity.

So, what should we do? We should fight extremism the Canadian way: Muslims and non-Muslims should get together and have some coffee. Let’s face it, the responsibility here is mostly in the court of non-Muslims because most Muslims in Canada already have some non-Muslim friends; we’re going to have to pick up some of our slack if we want to meet Muslim Canadians half-way. Every cup of coffee we share is a blow to extremism, every new friendship forged between Muslims Canadians and other Canadians is a victory for us. Extremism can only gain by keeping us apart and it is a win-win if we can bring ourselves together. Let’s start fighting extremism where we have the advantage, at the hockey rinks, playgrounds, and Tim Hortons of our country. You might actually make a life-long friendship out of the deal, but at the very least you’ll get some coffee and a donut and that can’t be a bad thing.

Fight terrorism! Go make a friend on purpose!

Posted in Bigotry, Canada, Compassion, How to Fight Terrorism, insanity, Islam, Religion, stupidity, Terrorism, The Human Condition, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Oh Captain, My Captain, We Will Miss You.


(Robin Williams, The way I will always try to remember him)

After the tragic suicide of Robin Williams I wanted to talk about mental health, which is really about talking about mental unhealth.  Williams was so widely loved by so many people, myself included, that his battle with depression, a losing battle as it turned out, should serve as confirmation of what most of us know: depression doesn’t discriminate.  It doesn’t matter how many friends you have, you can still feel alone.  It doesn’t matter how many people love you, you can still feel unloved.  And it doesn’t matter who you are, you can always still feel like nobody. This is why I want to talk about a topic that is very important to me: the unfortunate link between suicide and mental illness.

I hear a lot of people say that suicide is a “coward’s way out” or it’s “the most cowardly thing a person can do”.  Especially on a day like today I think we really need to address this idea because it is really holding us back as a culture.  Though there can be many reasons that a person might end their own life but the most common one by far is mental illness, more specifically, depression.  Depression is an awful disorder that can so profoundly effect your life that you live in misery every day.  Mental illnesses like depression need to be taken seriously because they can kill.

Depression comes with the added hardship of our mass cultural delusion that you can do something about it.  I’ve seen and heard people doling out advice on how to treat depression and the advice runs along the lines of “go out with some of your friends”, “get some exercise”, “just think happy thoughts”, or “do something to help someone else”.  Let me be the first to tell you, if it were that easy to cure depression no one would have depression.  Some people suffer depression so crippling that they can’t bring themselves to get out of bed, put on clothes, shower, or do anything at all; to tell a person who is suffering that badly to go out with friends and think happy thoughts is worse than useless, it’s ignorant and insensitive.  Don’t be that person.

 Clinical depression is not a mood swing, it is an illness where a person’s brain chemistry doesn’t work properly and it can dominate every aspect of a person’s life until it is treated.  I shouldn’t need to say this but I still run into people that say they had depression and they got better; it usually goes something like “I had depression once when I lost my job.”; that person was “depressed” they did not HAVE depression.  Telling a person who suffers from depression that you understand what they’re living with because you were really sad once is a lot like telling a person with cancer that you understand because “I’m a Cancer too!”.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t as though these people are trying to be rude, I’ve heard things like this from some of he nicest people I know, but sometimes you can succeed without trying which is why it is so important to talk about mental illness, because nothing cures ignorance like on open mind and a informative conversation.

Clinical depression largely suffers from bad terminology; it should be called “your-brain-will-make-your-entire-life-hurt” syndrome.  Being depressed is only one symptom of clinical depression, there are many others.  Symptoms of the disorder can include anxiety, irritability, irrational and extreme mood swings, anger, panic, as well as a whole host of physical symptoms as well because, guess what?  Your brain controls a lot of your physical processes.  Serious cases of depression can sink a person so low into the depths of sorrow, fear, and hopelessness that death seems preferable to the pain and misery of living.  A person who has sunk into a hole like that who takes their own life isn’t a coward, they’re ill.  People also like to accuse these people of being selfish because of the pain they inflict on their loved ones; again, the reality is much different, a person in the depths of depression doesn’t just believe their life has no value, they also believe their loved one’s lives would be better if they were dead.  That is definitely not a normal thought but when your brain chemistry doesn’t work properly abnormal thoughts seem normal.

I think that the main reason we need to stop saying suicide is cowardly, beyond the obvious fact that you don’t know what brought a person to that point, is because it is a cop-out.  If a mental illness can be so bad, so difficult, so unrelentingly crushing that a person embraces death rather than continuing a life of pain we have to ask, could we have done anything to help.  When we don’t talk about mental illness we prop up the culture of ignorance that puts barriers in the way of all of the ill people that need help; the culture of silence we’ve built around mental disorders makes the ill believe they shouldn’t talk about their pain.  We should be doing the opposite, we need to talk about mental illness, in fact we need to talk and talk and talk about mental illness until it becomes so normal a subject that anyone will feel safe enough to say they might have one.  When we stay silent we keep the ill in the closet where they hear people constantly say how mental disorders are easy to change and that people who succumb to the pain are selfish cowards and it makes them afraid to tell anyone because they believe it’s their own fault.  When we call these people cowards we collectively absolve ourselves of their struggle, we deny any role we may have had in their death.

Calling a suicide victim a coward means it’s their fault, it was caused by a flaw in their character not a flaw in our culture, we are not responsible.  It’s a very easy way out for us as well, they’re dead so they can’t protest, can’t set the record straight, as far as anyone will say, we’re right.  We call suicide victims cowardly because we don’t want to consider the possibility that we stood by in blissful ignorance while their mental illness ate them alive.  The reality is, however, shifting the blame to the one person that couldn’t possibly defend themselves is the true act of cowardice.  If we’re going to change the world for all of those suffering from mental illness we have to stop saying the sick are cowards instead of sick.  We need to stop throwing names at each other, stop blaming the victims, grow up and start honestly talking about how we may not understand mental illnesses but we need to talk about it.  It’s too late for Robin Williams, but the millions of people in our midst, suffering in silence need to talk to someone and, who knows, you may be the only person they feel that they can open up to about it.

You’d be surprised, a conversation could save a life.

 Actor-Comedian Robin Williams Dies At 63

(The way I am remembering him right now)

Posted in Compassion, depression, Mental Illness, Robin Williams, suicide, The Human Condition, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Manly Art of Childbirth.

This article was originally published in “Birthing Magazine”, for which I am seriously flattered!  WOW!  I had intended to republish it here but not until that edition of Birthing Magazine was no longer available: I also plan, at my wife’s request to write a “Part II” as this is only half the story.  With all humility (and humiliation) on my part, please enjoy:


The Manly Art of Childbirth.

Early on during my wife’s pregnancy I began to hear the term “support
person” used.  I didn’t really know what the term meant or whether it
applied to me but I was very interested in what my role as husband and
dad-to-be would be.  I came to understand that I was one of these
magical “support people” so it became important to understand what it
was.  In my particular case it meant that I should head down to the
local sport store and pick up some pom-poms because I was basically a
glorified cheerleader; don’t get me wrong, I had tasks to do, but it
became quickly very clear that my wife was doing all of the heavy

My wife’s labour came on very quickly and it’s funny that it took me
completely by surprise.  We were a week past our due date and I’d been
answering my cell phone in a state of panic for three weeks by that
point and yet, when my wife started complaining that her back was
really sore I never once clued in that the blessed event was about to
happen.  I went, blissfully and mannishly unaware, to the store at a
little past ten In the evening to pick up a hot water bottle (I was
determined to be as helpful as I could be in my menial support role).
At this point my wife informed me, with a somewhat quizzical tone,
that we might be having our baby.  Shock and awe was the only way I
could describe my reaction at that point; I had always found it
hilariously exaggerated in television and movies when this moment came
and the father-to-be went from a perfectly capable, intelligent human
being to being a freaked-out nutcase in the blink of an eye.  It was a
lot less funny now that it was happening to me.

We had a plan!  We had a midwife! We had a birth pool!  We even had a
flashlight! (to this day I have no idea what the flashlight was for
but it was in the tool list from our midwives so I had it!).  The next
couple hours I spent boiling water and filling our birth pool; I was
boiling the water because our birth pool had twice the capacity of our
hot water tank and I was thinking ahead!  I might have been a little
frazzled but I was holding it together.  Then the contractions started
and that was the real haymaker that knocked me completely off balance.
I had been prepared to not panic at this point because we had been
told that contractions are not a cause for immediate alarm; “plenty of
women have contractions for hours or days before they go into any kind
of real labour” I said to myself, “it’s nothing to worry about yet”.
The rule we had been given by our midwives was to call them when the
contractions were four minutes apart for one full hour.  My wife had
TWO contractions that were more than four minutes apart and then
settled into a three and a half minute rhythm you could set your watch
by!  It was pretty clear things were happening quickly and I was
really feeling the heat at that point.  After an hour we called our
midwife and she headed to our house.  This was when the wheels came
off at high speed.

In my attempt to do whatever I could to be a good support person I was
filling our birthing tub preparing with great expectation for a
waterbirth at our home. I had just finished filling the tub and was
uncoupling the hose from our bathroom sink at which point I was
distracted by something; I don’t recall what it was that distracted
me, my brain had left for happier shores by that point.  After I left
the bathroom the end of the hose fell out of the sink and onto the
floor, however, the other end was still in the birthing pool; experts
know this as “creating a hydrodynamic flow reversal” but lowly birth
support husbands know it as “OH CRAP!  I just flooded the bathroom!”.
As I watched water draining down the heating vent I quickly extricated
the hose and ran downstairs to grab some towels I could use to soak up
the remaining water; this was when our doorbell rang.  With as much
dignity and grace as I could muster, which is to say none at all, I
opened the door and invited our midwife in.  This was when I heard the
sound of rain coming from behind me; it was raining in my closet!  To
this day it still makes me laugh to think about what our midwife must
have thought, walking through the door to find me freaked out with a
handful of towels and water falling through my ceiling.   I swear to
you that I am not a hopeless idiot, but sometimes I can do a decent

Being a part of my wife’s pregnancy, labour, and delivery may have
been a little bit daunting but it was also one of the most amazing
experiences of my life.  A birthing woman is one of nature’s greatest
wonders and I was glad to take part in that process, even if my role
was fairly menial.  After it was all over I came to understand that it
was normal to feel useless during the birth.  Filling tubs, drying
towels, fetching things, and being a nervous wreck as the woman I love
most in the world performs a bona fide miracle really should make
everything I’ve ever done look pretty small in comparison.  For a
brief moment in time I was a butterfly in the garden of the gods.  I
know that my wife appreciates everything I did as if it were a big
deal, but for me, I’m just glad I got to be in the garden.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Doc Hollywood Needs To Shut Up, Please!

Recently Fran Drescher decided to kvetch about breast feeding (here’s a good link for the full quote  The bottom line is that Drescher, best known for her character on the TV show “The Nanny”, says that breast feeding causes your child to get CANCER!!! (I think CANCER should be written in all caps because that’s how most people read the word anyway).  Let’s leave aside for the moment that in her show her character really wasn’t much of a nanny (she spent a lot more time “taking care” of Mr.Sheffield than his kids) I think that when someone says something like this it deserves a little attention, I mean no one wants to give their child CANCER do they?  So, why does nanny Fran say breastfeeding causes CANCER?  She claims it’s because breast milk contains high concentrations of fire retardant, let’s just let that sink in for a minute.

Done mulling it over?  Good!

Allow me to unpack for you my dear reader this giant whopping, steaming pile of ……….  ahem, fuzzy logic.  The fire retardant she is speaking of are commonly called PBDE’s and they are an industrial chemical used mostly in manufactured products for homes and vehicles.  They are an object of public health concern because their long-term effects are largely untested (please note my use of the word “untested”, that will be important later).  The purpose of PBDE’s is to help prevent things from igniting into flames when exposed to sufficient heat or a source of fire; in this capacity PBDE’s are estimated to save thousands of lives in North America every year (if you’re curious, saving lives = good thing).  PBDE’s are an industrial chemical so they should be a valid object of public concern, but how do we get from there to breastfeeding causes CANCER?  Well’ you see, nanny Fran seems to think that our exposure to these chemicals is causing CANCER, in fact she implies that these are responsible for the rising CANCER rate in North America!  She also claims that because of this women’s breast milk has become super-concentrated CANCERjuice!  (all right, maybe I’m paraphrasing her on that)

“Wait!” you say, making a skeptical face “nanny Fran is saying this?”

Yes she is.  What makes her such an expert you might ask; That’s a very good question.  Fran Drescher is a bona fide CANCER survivor, she beat uterine CANCER a few years back.  I am the last person to say CANCER is no big deal, I have friends and family who are CANCER survivors and a few that were CANCER victims, CANCER is an awful disease and well worth avoiding if possible.  I will say, however, that there is a substantial and important difference between “CANCER survivor” and “CANCER expert”!  The latter goes by the terms ‘Oncologist’ and ‘doctor’ while the former goes by ‘poor sap’ and ‘lucky one’ depending on where they are in treatment.  The fact is, surviving CANCER makes a person only slightly more knowledgeable about CANCER than the average schmuck.

Do PBDE’s cause CANCER?  Maybe.  We don’t really know because their long term effects remain untested (there’s that word again).  Would I recommend drinking a few litres of them? Probably not.  Would I recommend getting rid of them? Also no.  They do prevent HORRIBLE, PAINFUL DEATH BY FIRE (I thought that should probably be in all caps as well) in some cases and a lot of fire related property damage and insurance claims as well. What I might suggest is to get a few experts to actually TEST these chemicals before some actress who played a substandard TV nanny who has no medical designation starts throwing around the word CANCER to scare impressionable mothers into not breastfeeding their babies.

This really is my point:  I doubt very much that nanny Fran has done any of the years of medical training, the double blind medical studies, the decades of research, and the extensive peer review that would actually be required to be an expert on the impact of PBDE’s on CANCER rates OR the concentration ratios of blood chemicals found in human breastmilk and the associated implications.  Still, she didn’t let that stop her from opening her mouth and letting CANCER paranoia spill out!  You know what is really bad for your health?  Having a radical hysterectomy!  So why did nanny Fran do that?  Obviously because, under the considered medical advice of her physician, she needed to in order to treat her CANCER.  No one in their right mind would ever suggest amputation, invasive surgery, or extensive chemotherapy without good reason, all of those treatments are terrible for you; yet, in many cases these treatments are necessary to prevent someone from dying of CANCER and it’s really important that that person gets advice from someone who knows what is the best way to treat their CANCER.  Who would you trust?  Your doctor, or the nanny?

This is yet another good example of Doc Hollywood being irresponsible for no good reason.  Here is a statement that every celebrity should have painted on their mirrors and front doors to remind them before they go out into the real world:  “Just because a lot of people are interested in what you think does not make the quality of your thoughts any better!”.  When Tom Cruise says postpartum depression doesn’t exist it’s not because he knows something you don’t; it’s because he’s just as dumb as the average person and, in that case, extraordinarily dumber.

I’m not here bashing celebrities either, everyone has blind spots, I’ve said some really stupid things in my time.  The main difference between Tom Cruise or Fran Drescher and myself is that when I say something that is bat-crap crazy or pure stupid from concentrate, I don’t do it in front of six million viewers on Oprah!  Also, I have a great variety of people around me who will tell me, lovingly, “dude, what you just said was both stupid and offensive, what is wrong with you?” ( in fact, before I post this blog my wife will read it over, as she does with all of my posts, to give me a few second thoughts).  Celebrities don’t get the same consideration.  What most celebrities end up with is some nebbish interviewer who wipes off all the stupid and/or crazy that has just been vomited all over his face long enough to nod and say “thank you Madonna,  please continue” before closing his eyes and mouth for a fresh onslaught because, hey, it’s just his job to ask the questions and no one cares what he thinks. This is the bubble that celebrities live in and it’s pretty hard to resist the temptation of believing you actually are smarter just because your opinion seems to matter to people and that you are right all the time just because no one chooses to point out exactly how stupid or wrong you are.

In the end, a misinformed or under informed  celebrity can do a great deal of damage by getting in front of a camera and opening up their crazyhole.  We tend to believe what celebrities say for bad reasons.  Everyone has a weakness for judging everyone else for their best days and themselves for their worst; when we see a celebrity telling us something our brains tell us “They must know what they’re talking about, after all, they’re on TV!  We’ve never been on TV, they must only let the really smart people -like Oprah- be on TV!”.  Fran Drescher stands up and tells new moms that their breast milk is CANCERjuice and people are just a little bit more likely to think she knows what she’s talking about.  Why is that?  When we stop to think about it none of us really knows why, we just sort of … I don’t know … trust her opinion?  Well I for one would like to ask nanny Fran and the rest of the collective “Doc Hollywood” to kindly shut up!  Being a new parent is hard enough without you slopping your ill informed issues and ridiculous prejudices all over the rest of us.

Allow me to take a moment to assuage your perfectly reasonable parental fears:  There are a lot of things in our technologically advanced culture that we should be concerned about, let me assure you that breastfeeding is not one of them.  The concentration of PBDE’s in the average person’s body is considered much too low for concern (the main exception is any person who does a lot of flying; the fact that commercial airliners have the highest concentrations of PBDE’s that you will come into contact with -for reason’s that are pretty obvious- coupled with the fact that the fuselage is a self-contained environment means that if you spend over two hundred hours on planes per year you may want to discuss some form of nutrition or therapeutic options with your doctor).  Your child will come into contact with far more PBDE’s in his or her car seat (again, for pretty obvious reasons) and the car it’s in (obviously!) than your breast milk and even then the levels are not a matter of great concern (although I wouldn’t recommend letting them pull the foam out of the seats and eat it).

Here is an article from National Geographic on PDBE’s and other chemicals that is an informative starting point:

One thing I will recommend (even though I’m not famous) is that the proliferation of chemicals in our environment definitely underscores the importance of a healthy diet with a lot of nutrient and antioxidant rich food, these are especially important for pregnant and nursing women.  Supplementing could also be something to talk to a doctor about.  The information that is out there is really hard to wade through, never be afraid to ask an expert, they’re a lot more helpful than celebrities.  As always, La Leche League international (  offers a lot of support and resources for breastfeeding parents, I recommend them as a good starting point for any concerns you might have.  Good luck and happy breastfeeding!

Posted in breastfeeding, CANCER, celebrities, PBDE, stupidity | 2 Comments

A Crappy Job, Why Would Anyone Do It?

I cloth diaper my daughter.

This is a statement that encourages looks and questions like throwing a piranha into the kiddie pool.  For about ninety percent of the people I say this to (the other ten cloth diaper their children too) the looks range from appalled disgust to… well, morbidly curious disgust.  The range of queries I get have a very wide array of formats, all pointing at the same exact theme: why are you so crazy?  The answer to that question might surprise you: I was against the idea!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m normally a very crazy person;  I have a religious studies degree!  people with degrees in philosophy or communications laugh at me!  I’m politically very leftist and I live in Calgary Alberta! (which is the heart of the right wing in Canada)  I have liked Albert Schweitzer, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, and Tony Campolo on Facebook!  I own a Dalek!  I like my mother-in-law!  And I cannot stand Tom Hanks! (I don’t know why, he always looks constipated to me)  I am by every cultural standard a certifiable loonie!  So why would I not be a natural cloth diaperer?  I, like most people, am lazy and disgusted by poop!

Poop is gross!  Poop is Icky!  I don’t even like to think of my own poop, let alone someone else’s.  If there was a way to put a tiny “black hole” into a garbage pail so that I could just take a disposable diaper and drop it in there I would do it! It would then cease to exist in both space and time for all intents and purposes and I would be very happy.  I would pay more for that than I would for a brand new flat screen!  That would be a great investment!  If I could train a helper monkey to clean little Mia’s backside (and sometimes her frontside, both her sidesides and all the way up to her shoulderbladesides) don’t think for a second I wouldn’t do it!  I thought about the dogs but I was far too afraid of what they would be using to clean with.

If you are not a parent yet or are a brand new parent (within the last hour or so) I am going to ruin the surprise for you; once your baby is born your life becomes all about poop!  Seriously!  I am so not joking!  You begin to talk about poop all the time (because you’re thinking about it all the time anyway) and you actually find yourself giving a crap about crap!  Poop becomes a topic of conversation; before Mia was born I had never asked the question “has she pooped yet today?” to anyone, EVER, now I can’t go forty-eight hours without asking that question.  Actually, that isn’t entirely true; I can occaisionally go longer than two days without asking because Sonya brings it up!  This is how that conversation goes:

Phone ringing  

Sonya:  Hello.

Travis:  Hi, How are you?

Sonya:  She just had THE biggest poop!

That right there was two adult people having a conversation!  Don’t believe me? that’s because you don’t have kids!  Replace the words ‘Travis’ and ‘Sonya’ with ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ and every parent will give a knowing smile and then wonder if their phone has been tapped.  In the end we’re obsessed with poop because having a baby is one long, smelly, messy, poopathon!  (I can already hear all the phone calls from the vasectomies being scheduled in response to this article)  It’s so weird that, in actual fact, we start worrying when poop isn’t happening.  Just today, for example, Mia hadn’t dirtied a diaper for almost two days and we had both begun to steel ourselves for what was about to happen… poop pandemonium!  This Morning.  At precisely 1222 hours.  The Albatross landed.  She was on her little scooter toy and she began “revving the engine” as it were.  It never ceases to amaze me how much sound a twenty pound child’s digestive tract can muster, it’s breathtaking!  But not nearly as breathtaking as the smell! This is the point at which I wish they not only made disposable diapers but dissolvable diapers so that I could just throw her in the tub and spray her with the showerhead until all the evil was gone!  But no, not me, I don’t get to do that.  Why, you may ask?  Cloth Diapers!

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, I cloth diaper my child.  Not only do I NOT get to banish my child’s filth and the abominable vessel it came in into a handy pool of molten lava, but I have to remove it carefully and fold it up so that, after I’ve cleaned my daughter and freshened her diaper, I can go to the washroom and spray all the poop out of her soiled poop-catcher with a toilet mounted sprayer so I can later wash said diaper and repeat the process all over again!  WHY, WHY, WHY!??!  You ask, dear reader, would anyone do such a thing?  Is he a crazy tree-bark eating hippie, obsessed with his “carbon footprint”?  Is he a bona fide cheapskate willing to sift through baby doodoo to save some almighty bucks?  Is he one of those weird, new age, crunchy people that believes in breasfeeding until his daughter goes to college?  Okay, while I may be a little bit of each of those things, I am in no way that much of a fanatic about anything, and I do not cloth diaper for any of those reasons.  Let me take a few moments to be a despicable human being:  1)  I would happily have a campfire burning copies of “Inconvenient Truth” in a pile of fossil fuels and styrofoam to not have to deal with poopy diapers.  2)  I would be willing to pay the extra money at retail with a tip if it meant I wouldn’t have to open up a diaper and hose it down.  3)  Even though I have become some kind of halfway crunchy, hippy parent I would gladly buy some doc Martins, a cardigan from Neiman Marcus, and sport an accent reminiscent of Thirston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island before dealing with dirty, stinky, evil, awful, wretched, lumpy, sticky, strange coloured, deceptively huge, possibly radioactive, physically unlikely, mindbogglingly dry-heave inducing BABY TURDS!

Okay, okay, I feel much better now. I’m okay!

Hopefully at this point you are asking yourself why do I cloth diaper (I know it crosses my mind all the time).  The best answer I can give is that my daughter didn’t give me a choice; I, like most parents before me, once laboured under the delusion that I was the one in charge:  I was dad, she was baby, end of story!  I also used to believe that my mother was the tooth fairy (that’s a long story but I assure you it was all her fault!) so you aren’t exactly reading from a world class genius here.  My daughter informed me very quickly that she was wickedly allergic to disposable diapers; I needed about a month of really bad diaper rash to figure out that she was allergic and in the end it was only because I used cloth diapers that I realized it.  That was my eureka moment; when I realized that there were so many good reasons to diaper with cloth.

My daughter’s rash (and it was a very bad one) cleared up in a matter of days of trying cloth diapers.  Before cloth we were doing everything we could find to help her rash and nothing helped!  Even the prescription strength cream the doctor recommended was slowing its advance without stopping it.  When we tried a diaper trial from a local retailer (“Babes in Arms”, if you live in Calgary stop in and say hi, they’re great!)  I thought for sure it wouldn’t work because you can’t use any barrier cream with cloth diapers; I figured we would be sending those diapers back in a matter of a few days and possibly covering our main floor with newspaper and letting Mia run around naked as, well, as a baby.  As it turns out, naked baby poo-poo bingo was unnecessary, she was fine with cloth and I was an overjoyed dad.

Now that the transition to cloth diapering dad had been decided beyond all shadow of doubt I decided to ask, what’s good about this?  I realized that other than some poopy discomfort for yours truly, cloth diapering was a great idea!  Here’s why:

1)  Cloth diapers are basically clothes that catch poop; they come in a variety of really cute colours and some truly awesome designs (don’t believe me, go here and check out “Lovelace” and “The Albert”  I put one on and she has clothes on!  On a warm day I don’t have to put something else on her and she doesn’t look like a kid running around in “just her diaper”.

2)  Cloth saves money!  The initial cost of cloth diapers is hard to take (our startup cost was about $400 but you can do it for a lot less depending on what diapers you use and how many you want) but they will begin paying for themselves long before your first kid is out of diapers.  Lots of studies would like to say it’s the same cost, the only logic I can see behind that one is that the studies are paid for by disposable diaper manufacturers; I am both a skeptic and a cheap old math nut so I did the math and we save a lot of money!

3)  Cloth is good for my baby’s health.  I know not all babies will have a skin issue like mine did with disposables but you might want to consider why my kid had those issues.  If you are looking for the ingredients used to make disposable diapers you won’t have much luck, which to me doesn’t mean they can’t wait to tell you how natural and healthy they are for your baby.  To be fair these things are used for babies so there probably isn’t any radiation concerns or heavy metals but still, what is in those diapers?  Cloth diapers generally have a fairly easy to understand ingredient list: Uh… cloth!

4). Cloth diapers work better than disposables.  You may not know this but cloth diapers are better built that disposables.  The biggest complaint I have of disposable diapers is the back.  The back of a disposable diaper (the entire back waistband!) is really a pressure release valve which causes what I call the “poop funnel effect”; the “poop funnel effect” basically means that when your child has a particularly energetic bowel movement (and if you don’t know this already some baby b.m.’s can be likened to an extremely smelly, squishy pipe bomb) the excess poop goes straight up the back gusset of the diaper and out!  This is a situation most parents refer to as “your turn!!!”.  You now have to carefully extract your baby from his or her disgusting soiled clothes (hopefully not getting too much poop anywhere else), carefully clean all the offending matter, get a new diaper on, carefully (read: using some sort of long tongs) carry the clothes to the laundry, and commence the two or three minutes of shuddering necessary to recover from the ordeal, and voila! You’re done.  Cloth diapers on the other hand have actual waistbands and legbands to keep the poop actually in the diaper, what a concept!

5). Cloth diapers are fun.  The part I find I enjoy most about being a cloth diapering hippy is actually the part where I tell people I’m a cloth diapering hippy: the looks I get and the responses people give are hilarious!  I may as well tell people I make wine out of frogs or that I’m a competitive snot puller; the reactions are that extreme.  The response I most often get is a shake of the head and an emphatic “you’re crazy!”.

they’re right you know, I am crazy.  I’m crazy, completely, head over heels in love with a little girl and she needs cloth diapers, that was one of the easiest choices I’ve ever made.  Seriously, what kind of man would I be of I was afraid of a little poop?

Posted in cloth diapers, fatherhood, Not being a sissy | Tagged | 7 Comments