floundering for a foothold

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Quantum, Tantum

There is too much.
There is so much to read that there is nothing to write.
There are too many assignments.
There are too many distractions.
There is so little sleeping.
I am worried.
There is doom, on the horizon… looming.
There is too much.
So much to do.

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Emphasis in English: Misunderstanding verbalized pauses and swearing

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English’s syntaxical structure poses a problem for those of us who want to emphasize and privilege certain words in our conversations.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides an interesting definition of emphasis as a rhetorical device:
a. special and significant stress of voice laid on particular words or syllables.
b. stress laid on particular words, by means of position, repetition, or other indication.

We need the ability to effectively put exclamation marks on either side of a word in our speech patterns, but English no longer uses verbalized markers (and neither do most modern romance languages). Furthermore, our syntaxical structure requires a very specific word order for sentences to make logical sense – you can’t even give a privilege of place in the sentence (putting the more important word first or last) without confusing the hell out of your listener. Some of this problem is overcome in the written form, where we CAN use italics, bold, capitals and punctuation to set off different portions of a sentence from other portions, but it is difficult to convey typeface when speaking.

Where is this all going? I am OFTEN criticized for my incessant swearing. I also use to be a chronic “like” inserter. I thought it was a sign that i thought faster than i spoke (which i still do), but i don’t think that’s the correct analysis anymore. Nothing makes a word stand out in a sentence as much as inserting either a “fucking” in front of it or a “like” on either side of it.

Example 1:

a) We had great weather today in Toronto.
b) We had fucking great weather today in Toronto.
c) We had great fucking weather today in Toronto.
d) We had great weather today in fucking Toronto.

Example 2:

a) Those cookies Veronica made were as good as sex.
b) Those, like, cookies Veronica made were as good as sex.
c) Those cookies Veronica, like, made were as good as sex.
d) Those cookies Veronica made were, like, as good as sex.
e) Those cookies Veronica made were as good as, like, sex.

I am not arguing that either of this verbal crutches are not also signs of a poor vocabularly, incompleted thoughts or other intellectual faux-pas, but i would like to argue that SOMETIMES they serve a purpose.

We need to revive enclictic endings to ends of words to make them POP when you here them… any suggestions?

“Never Again”: Keeping the Promise Alive – Draft One

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Combating genocide, ethnic cleansing and other forms of hatred all too frequently is not a top priority even for those of us who ostensibly promise to apply the lessons of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust: Countries cannot be trusted to protect their populations nor are crimes against humanity perpetrated without a ‘rationale.’ From November 9th to November 11th, scholars, activists and concerned citizens gathered at the University Ottawa for the Continuing Crisis in Darfur Conference to better understand the horrors in Sudan, the media portrayal (or lack their of) of the killings, mass rapes and forced expulsions, and the options for realizing change in the short-term.

A panel composed of Prof. Error Mendes of the University of Ottawa, Hon. Irwin Cotler, MP (Liberal) and Mr. David Matas of B’nai Brith Canada addressed the international response to the crisis and did not shy from explicitly drawing analogies between the Final Solution and the Darfurian genocide.

“IDP camps no better than concentration camps”

Prof. Mendes was at pains to point out the relationship between ethnic cleansing and land clearings for the development of natural resources. The Khartoum government stalls and ignores both international sanctions and its own agreements while “genocide by attrition” is effected. Land and wells are defiled or re-settled with nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples while those fleeing from mass murders and rapes to IDP camps die of starvation and disease. Khartoum builds at break-neck speed with funds from the World Bank and IMF as its population is decimated. The reverberations of Lebensraum sent chills down a listener’s spine.

“International community dithers while Darfurians continue to die….a betrayal, repudiation and affront to historical lessons”

Hon. Irwin Cotler, MP, argued that perhaps the biggest obstacle to change is a “failure to acknowledge.” In the six-week election campaign of 2005, not one of the party leaders mentioned Darfur in their campaign nor were they asked about their views in a publicized interview. Cotler’s verdict: “Genocide not on the radar screen.”

The former Justice minister proposed a nine-point plan for ending the crisis – with or without Sudanese support and consent because “we cannot be hostages to the perpetrators of genocide.” Key items included the immediate deployment of the UN hybrid force, a bolstering of the African Union Mission, the withdrawal of unconditional financial support of the Khartoum government, divestment and the end of the current culture of impunity that permits treaties to be broken without repercussion.

“Genocide occurs in verbal camouflage”

David Matas approached the battle against genocide from the unique perspective of B’nai Brith Canada and recent attempts at holding the perpetrators of genocide accountable for their atrocities. Arguing against a 2005 UN report that characterized the crisis in Darfur as “war crimes”, but not genocide, Mr. Matas deplored the use of racial bigotry, couched in terms of self-defense, as a defense against accusations of genocide. Genocidal intent should be about how the perpetrators determine who should be killed – and if “rebel” is equated with ethnicity, that’s genocide.

Mr. Matas showed concern that the current mis-categorization of the massacres, mass rapes and forced expulsions as crimes against humanity but not genocide will prevent juridical justice from being brought to bear on those responsible. He proposed an answer for concerned Canadians. Instead of depending on the international court at La Hague, we must apply universal jurisdiction. Trials against perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide can be undertaken by any country that ratified the UN agreement. We ought to prosecute the complicit as soon as they cross our borders.

During the question period, a representative from STAND Canada asked the obvious, “What can we do?” The unanimous answer was “ask pointed questions, like ‘what have you done to promote the Canadian Pension Funds divestion of the Khartoum government?’, of our MPs to shame and embarrass them for shirking their responsibilities.” Where there is political will, there will be a way.

Roses make you the centre of attention

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I picked up a dozen yellow long-stemmed roses as a belated 50th birthday present for my aunt before getting on the train to Ottawa. Walking through the Eaton Centre, onto the subway and sitting waiting for the gynormous line of people to board the train from Toronto to Ottawa with stops at Kingston, Smiths Falls, etc., i realized that a bouquet of flowers, like a baby and pets, suspends the usually followed rules of NO STARING AT STRANGERS.

The train ride was both long and horrific. Seated just out of my line of sight was a 30-something overweight blonde woman who felt the need to monologue about every aspect of her life to her two companions, with baby. The baby was less irritating. I started counting, and the word FACEBOOK came up in conversation no less than seven times in four hours and 14 minutes. Perchance the lady thinks that her allegiance to facebook maketh her cool? Facebook has gotten out of control. This woman needs a blog to inflict her rambling on only those people who choose to read/listen. I could not have been happier about getting off that train.

In the continuation of a good food week, the auntie and i went to Kelsey’s for salads. The auntie is on a designer diet and has lost 16lbs. The list of foods she is permitted is only 2 pages long. I shudder at the thought of not eating diary products for a full four months.

With eggs in my belly and a copy of Thomas L. Laqueur’s Solitary Sex (excellent!) under my arm, i head out to a panel at the Darfour Conference being held at the University of Ottawa this morning.

I have a work-able novel plan… more news on that later as i continue to brainstorm about the details. You will be happy to know that it has both beginning AND end. I also bought webspace Thursday evening – gearing up towards my 500th post and all.

feelings of inadequacy

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as the express Via-Rail train from Montreal to Toronto speeds past this bumpy, pokey bus, i can’t help but reflect on missed opportunities and untaken chances.
I’m struck by the dank prospect that forevermore the trip home will be accompanied by anxiety over the increasingly lengthy list of contacts i am unable to maintain to my satisfaction. Nostalgia will replace a genuine sense of security and happiness. The buildings’ new coats of paint will be evaluated through the equally new shade of my rose-coloured glasses.
I continue to drift from person-to-person, feeding off moments of intense connectedness in passionate conversation – and worry about the possibilities for this continuing. Something, however, needs to help overcome the aching maw in the nape of my neck caused by how far i have come, how long it has taken, yet how much further there is yet to go.
sometimes i wonder if forgetting would not be a blessing in disguise – and then a stifled moan of anguish, bittersweet, rises. i cannot, shall not, let it go. not yet.

Politically incorrect joke warning:

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While perusing the headlines on the Jerusalem Post for work (it’s my last day! whoot!), i encountered an ad with the following text: “What’s the Jewish answer to Jews for Jesus?”

My response: “Umm… we told Pilate what we thought the first time…”

It must be Thursday. No wait. It isn’t. No excuse.

I think this may be the first remotely funny joke i have made all summer. At least there was one.

My home is not the place for legislation

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The following is a reprint of an email i sent to Margaret Wente in response to her August 23rd, 2007 article “Time to just say ‘no’ to cannabis” that ran in the Globe and Mail [reprinted below]. Ms. Wente is one of my favourite columnists – hence my need to write her when we disagree.


Dear Ms. Wente,

After reading your recent article, i felt the need to argue against increasing spending on anti-drug campaigns. I know my thoughts draw heavily from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.

Firstly, the decline in smoking rates over the past decade is not necessarily due to public awareness campaigns. Taxes have also increased and smoking is no longer allowed in public areas – making the habit much more inconvenient. Furthermore, any campaigns to publicize the dangers of marijuana usage would need to distort the effects in order to make them as noxious as cigarettes – the government should not be engaging in blatant lies to the public.

Secondly, the negative characteristics you have listed that are related to marijuana usage can also describe many licit substances, such as caffeine and alcohol. More importantly, however, Canada aspires to be a liberal democracy – as the government has no place in our private bedrooms, it has no place in our private habits as long as they are not endangering others. Though i feel compassionately for the wife in question, one must wonder what possessed her to believe a marriage with such an individual would work out. Such irrealistic expectations are not solely the bane of wives of pot-smokers, but also the spouses of philanderers, work-a-holics, overly enthusiastic sports fans and compulsive shoppers. It is not the government’s place to dictate my choice of vice: be it playing Bingo or spending exorbant amounts on used books.

Lastly, education should be about teaching children skills, not values. Money does not grow on trees and though perhaps in an ideal world schools and governments would have the resources to run every program for the public good imaginable, until then, i think money would be better spent on better books, after-school tutoring, public transport, health care and even the armed forces.

Parenting is for parents.

Thank you for providing the opportunity for me to re-evaluate my conceptions about marijuana usage in Canada with your insightful and well-written article.


Margaret Wente, “Time to just say ‘no’ to cannabis,” Globe and Mail (Toronto: August 23, 2007).

2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

I know a guy who does a lot of weed. It’s not a happy story. He started smoking dope in high school. After university, his friends began working hard and building their careers. He smoked dope instead. His friends got married and had kids. So did he. But he couldn’t ever keep a job for long. He had lengthy spells of unemployment. His family was always broke, because he inhaled every cent they had. Eventually his fed-up wife threw him out. Today, well into middle age, he’s scraping by somewhere, living in some basement.

So don’t tell me marijuana is harmless. Don’t tell me marijuana doesn’t destroy people and their families. It does.

This week Tony Clement, the Health Minister, promised to launch a new public-health campaign against drugs. It’s about time. We’ve raised a generation of kids who think marijuana is invariably benign. That’s by way of contrast to cigarettes, which, of course, can kill you. Many of them grew up lecturing their own parents about the demon nicotine and snatching illicit smokes from their trembling hands. As for marijuana, though … hey! It’s practically legal now. Isn’t it?

Um, no. But it’s no wonder the kids are confused. The adults can’t decide whether pot should be barely illegal, decriminalized, legalized or what. According to many progressive, liberal-minded adults, there’s nothing really wrong with pot and the authorities should, like, chill out. Kids hear this message not just from the reefer lobby, but from leading lawyers, academics and newspaper editorial boards. You can scarcely blame them for believing that marijuana is less harmful than obesity, trans fats or lawn spray. As for booze – it’s certainly less harmful than booze. Isn’t it?

Well, maybe not. Today’s pot is to the stuff I used to inhale as whisky is to beer. Recent research indicates that some people, because of their genetic makeup, react badly to the chemicals in cannabis, and are at heightened risk of psychosis. More commonly, the effects of regular indulgence include apathy, self-centredness and disengagement from life in general. A recent 10-year study found that regular cannabis users did far worse than drinkers in terms of mental health, occupational success and relationships, and were far more likely to be taking other drugs.

“Cannabis really does look like the drug of choice for life’s future losers,” said George Patton, the study’s author. It’s not too good for your lungs either. A couple of joints inflict about the same damage as a pack of cigarettes. In Britain, the government has begun a major policy reversal on marijuana after dozens of top experts in the field condemned it as a mental health risk. Even the permissive Dutch are doing a re-think.

Thanks to our permissive attitudes, marijuana use in Canada has doubled since 1994. Meantime, smoking rates have hit record lows. So don’t tell me public-health campaigns won’t work. Obviously they can, and do. Young people are notoriously resistant to public-health messages. Still, if we can teach them to recycle, there ought to be a place for teaching them how to live healthy, drug-free lives.

Wars on drugs have a bad name these days. No doubt the reefer lobby will be warning that the Conservatives’ Bush-inspired war on drugs will revive the bad old days, when we made criminals of innocent 16-year-olds for having a couple of Js. So far, however, nobody is advocating this. The cops should stick to busting grow-ops and traffickers and street gangs. And the health minister should be leaning on the medical and public-health and education establishment to get the message out. It won’t be easy. Most of the public-health officials currently involved with drug issues don’t seem interested in the “prevention” part of drug campaigns. They’re far too busy lobbying for more injection-drug sites, more needle exchanges and more free crack-cocaine kits to hand out to addicts.

Influencing public behaviour is no mystery. You start by changing public attitudes. You try to get everyone – government, the media and schools – to give the same message: No. And if that message is too righteous for you, please recall that cannabis is the lifeblood of your friendly street or biker gang. You know, the ones with guns. Have a nice day.