Friday, February 25, 2005

Artist Fartist

I’m an artist. Are you an artist? Sure you are. Everyone is, or haven’t you heard? We’re all artists. Society has artists coming out of its ying yang. You don’t have to have any talent. Just write a bad novel and poof, you’re an artist. Record a CD that no one buys, you’re an artist. Make a sculpture out of cow dung. Yep. That makes you a bonafide arteeest.

When my daughter was an infant I saw some excremental matter in her diaper that exceeded the quality of what most of today’s so-called visual artists produce. Sometimes there was a bit of flatulence. I think she’s an artist. After all, one man’s art is another man’s fart, or something like that. I’m a dummy. I should have called the CBC and told them that the gas and poop were symbols of anti-Americanism. They would have loved it. They would have made her a star. I could have coined the word fartist and made a fortune.

A little while ago, I read about a woman who made a dress out of meat. It was displayed in a gallery. The media gave it oodles of coverage and gushingly referred to the woman as an artist. In another era she would have been more accurately called an idiot.

Honestly now, isn’t anyone else tired of hearing no talent hacks call themselves artists?

Michelangelo, DaVinci, Shakespeare, McCartney, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Burns, Astair, Poe, Dickens, Nureyev, Olivier, Tennyson. No one disputes the fact that they are artists.

So, if they are artists, what is a person who makes a dress out of meat? Shouldn’t she be called a butcher or meat cutter or something?

I work in downtown Toronto. In the area where I work there is a sculpture garden where artists get to display their work. Currently there is a big boulder sitting there as a work of art. A simple, unaltered boulder. It is labelled with a metallic plaque as an “Erratic Boulder”. Oh, I get it. A regular run of the mill boulder is unimportant. But once a so called artist calls it an “Erratic Boulder’ it’s worth $50,000 in tax funded grant money. Of course, there is a written description of the boulder on display describing in big fancy words the purpose of the boulder. It apparently represents some important social issue or something. To me, it’s just a boulder. I wonder, is the boulder the art, or are the fancy words that describe it really the art? It appears to me that delusion and illusion must be an crucial part of being an artist these days. Producing real art through unique talent is secondary to making what the artist sees as a socially relevant statement.

Maybe I’m just old fashioned or something but I always thought that art was supposed to be something that requires special talent. Geez, anyone could pick out a boulder. And, when it comes to boulders, isn’t God or erosion or someone the real artist? Or maybe it's the backhoe driver or trucker who lugs it to the site. Aren't they artists too? I cannot help but wonder, why are we allowing these grant funded pretentious pretenders to call themselves artists? And who is selling us this damaged bill of goods?

Why, the government and the media, of course.

We live in an era where there are millions of tax dollars available to artists who please their government benefactors. And there are thousands of TV stations, magazines, radio stations, and newspapers that all have Arts sections and shows dedicated to the promotion and sometimes decimation of artists. And grants must be given, print space must be filled and air time must be occupied. Hundreds upon hundreds of bureaucrats must find someone to give grants to. And thousands of so called media critics and reviewers must find something to talk and write about. So the grants flow and the talking heads talk. And they call the subjects of their attention, artists. In turn, the subjects of their attention feel entitled to call themselves artists. They feed off each other. Without each other, they woudn't even exist in the minds of the public. Certainly, they have no reason to.

If any of these people had to make their living producing something of lasting value and of relevant interest to normal people, they would starve.

These days most of our music stars are dressed, made up and packaged by record company executives. The music they make is the music their corporate bosses allow them to make. They parade their plastic, record-company-invented personas and music in our faces and claim to be artists. Yet, they have as much control over what they say and do as a bank executive. They are nothing more than empty shells, answering only to their corporate masters.

Of course, most of what these so called artists produce won't last long in the public perception or memory. In fact, most of it has no reason to exist in the first place. But, unfortunately, we have all been conditioned to recognize them as artists.

Well, I don't think they're artists. I think they're self deluded frauds living on the attention their media pimps give them. Their so called works are tripe - forgettable, disposable and unimportant.

I have written previously about how our language is being dumbed down, downgraded and disrespected by people who either have no clue as to what words mean or whose interests are served by exploiting language to serve their own selfish purposes. Well, it pains me to say that the word “artist” seems to be the latest victim of these manipulative snake oil salesmen.

Tell me, if every wanna-be who manages to produce a disposable novel, song, film, poem, dance number, sculpture or painting is an artist, then what exactly is Michelangelo, DaVinci, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Nureyev, Dickens, Olivier or Tennyson? Are we not disrespecting the timeless work of these real artists by allowing so many corporate schills, grant funded no talent hacks, and media mouthpieces to usurp the title ‘artist’ for their own gain?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Homeless Hockey

Lord Stanley came to me in a dream last night. As we sat, sipping scotch on a terrace at Rideau Hall, he regaled me with stories about his time as a member of the British Parliament and his tenure as Governor General of Canada. But mostly he talked about hockey and his cup.

“It’s a damn shame”, he said, “that no one will know the joy of winning my cup this year. It is simply an unacceptable state of affairs.”

I mentioned to him that Canada’s current Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, had suggested that the Canadian and American Women’s national hockey teams play for the cup. This both interested and amused him. “It would send a excellent message on several levels” he said. “But, still, I can’t help wondering if there isn’t a better way to show those pea brained billionaire owners and ingrate millionaire players how disappointed we are at their selfish betrayal of our game and our nation.”

I sat quietly for awhile, marveling at the complex flavor of his 18 year old scotch, and thinking about our nation, our city and our game. Who could we get to play for the cup? “Well”, I said at last, “the players would have to reflect Canadian values and they would have to have more class than Betteman and Goodenough, that’s for sure.”

“More class than them?” Lord Stanley retorted “Well, that shouldn’t be too hard. Unfortunately, they don’t make suits or skates to fit weasels and leeches have no legs at all. So, who do you suggest?” he asked.

That’s when it hit me like a Todd Bertuzzi ambush. We would get Toronto’s street people to play for the cup. They have a heckuvalot more class than Betteman and Goodenough and ten times more than any greedy NHL owner or crybaby player. And they represent Canadian leftist values and our failing socialist welfare-state better than just about anyone.

We will call it “Homeless Hockey”.

Better yet, we could have a cross-Canada tournament with teams made up of homeless people from all major Canadian urban centers. We could get corporate sponsorship, put it on TV and use the proceeds to build affordable housing.

What could possibly reflect Canadian values more than hockey, homeless people and assisted housing? Of course some of the more leftist politicians and social activists as well as those who make their living in the homeless industry across Canada would likely oppose this initiative claiming that it would exploit and degrade the homeless. Giving them sleeping bags and patting them on the head while doing nothing to help them be self sufficient is apparently OK though.

This could work, I thought to myself. It would raise the profile of the homeless and draw attention to the sheer ineffectivness of the people who claim to be acting in their best interest. Maybe we could start a discussion about what they can do to help themselves, not only what society must do to help them. After all, self respect is something that is earned through attaining goals and being self sufficient. I bet that if our homeless are given the proper support and encouragement, many of them will be able to rise to the level of our expectations. Of course, first, we’ll have to expect something of them. And maybe hockey is the answer.

I gathered my thoughts and blurted out my brainstorm to Lord Stanley. “What do you think?” I asked him. “It would shame the players and owners while helping a lot of people. Maybe something good can come from this lockout after all.”

He looked up at me and opened his mouth to comment. That’s when I woke up. I hope I run into him again tonight when I go to sleep. I’d sure like to know what he thinks of my idea. Maybe he’s got more of that 18 year old scotch. I hope so.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Are We Really Better Off?

I like being a Canadian and a Torontonian. People of many different races, expectations and loyalties live here in apparent peace and harmony. We have a great standard of living. The world is our oyster.

However, as nice as it is today, it was better a few decades ago. In fact, if you look at the facts, you might conclude that we, as a city and a nation, peaked in the 60's and have been in slow decline ever since. For those of us who remember our past, there are some things going on today that indicate that we have already seen our best days.

Yesterday we knew and trusted our neighbours and our neighbourhoods were an extension of our homes. Our children could leave the house, find their friends, and play with them all day with parents showing no concern. Today we anxiously require our children to cling to us and stay close to home. We trust few people and know few of our neighbours. Our neighbourhoods, the very fabric of our society, have been lost to us.

Yesterday, families stayed together. Kids had fathers and mothers that lived with them, taught them and loved them. True, some families were less than ideal, but most made out just fine. There was stability. Today, many kids are born with no father living in the same house. Others go through divorce, end up living away from one parent, and are forced to live with total strangers who their parents take up with. Many children are drugged by parents who just don't have the time to deal with their shenanigans. Certainly, no one could rationally argue that these are positive societal changes.

Yesterday there were few gun crimes. Murder happened infrequently and when it did, it was a big deal. These days shootings and gun crimes happen daily. It is common for several to happen in any given weekend. We no longer feel safe in our city.

Yesterday there were virtually no homeless people wandering our streets. The mentally ill were housed in facilities geared to dealing with their difficulties. They had a warm bed and three squares a day. There were boarding houses for the drunks and unfortunate. Families were larger and people took more responsibility for their kin. These days, the mentally ill, addicted and other remarkably dirty vagrants are everywhere on our streets, begging for money and sleeping anywhere they please. Boarding houses became non-existent years ago as our litigious lawyer-dominated society took form. It’s just too risky to house the unfortunate these days. If one tripped in the kitchen, there’d be 50 smarmy lawyers scratching at the door salivating at the thought of a lawsuit.

Yesterday, kids respected adults. They took no for an answer and didn't talk back. Rude, disrespectful kids got a swipe upside the head. They learned important life lessons about respect, deference and humility. They were not the centre of the universe and they knew it. Today, kids talk back and rudely oppose their parents and other adults with impunity. Government funded, loonie leftist groups petition the Supreme court to make spanking a criminal offence. Parents treat their kids like they are the centre of the universe. Kids are no longer compelled to give respect and deference to adults, rather, they demand it from them.

Yesterday, virtually everyone was able to pay their own rent. There were precious few welfare housing units. These days there are 60,000 state subsidized apartments in Toronto. Imagine. 60,000 families depending on government to put a roof over their heads. And this is progress? I think not. It’s more like the creation of a society where people feel comfortable depending on the state to house them.

Yesterday, our streets were clean, water flowed through solid, sound pipes and pot holes were promptly repaired. Today, government has bigger fish to fry. Litter and filth clog our sidewalks and plazas, water pipes bust daily, and ubiquitous pot holes destroy passing cars. Meanwhile, our government debates which ethnic group should get grant money and creates a new department to fine people who cut a limb off a tree on their property. Basic services are a pesky inconvenience to them. Social engineering is a far more important priority.

Yesterday teachers were respected and trusted. They wielded discipline with an iron hand and taught our children how to read and write. Parents stood behind them. Today, teachers strike frequently and focus on teaching our children social values. Parents have responded by trusting them less and denying them the right to discipline their kids. Parents now have to spend too much time helping their children to read and write to compensate for the new socially sensitive educational focus. Maybe the change in the parent’s view resulted from the change in the teachers approach. I’d like to see a study on that.

So, here we are in 21st century Toronto, Canada. We don't know our neighbors or trust our neighborhoods. Many kids grow up in fragmented families with no stability. Many have no dad at all. Shootings happen all the time. Our streets are a battlefield. Homeless people are everywhere. Our kids are self absorbed and disrespectful. Parents work too much and parent too little. Our streets abound in filth and our infrastructure crumbles while our politicians spend our taxes on things they think are more important. Finally, our education system has become a social indoctrination centre focusing on teaching our children state sanctioned liberal values rather than ensuring that they are literate.

Anyway, I could go on all day. Many people think that we are advancing as a society and are better off than we were in years past. I think, in many respects, we are worse off. I leave it up to you to decide.

Fast Food Physics

"Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun"

Can you say it without reading it? Me too.

It was a part of my culture while I was growing up. I know it better than I know the lords prayer. Sometimes when I look at a crucifix, I actually see Ronald McDonald in my mind superimposed over the image of Christ. That’s what Ronald means to me. Sigh.

And apparently he means just as much to a lot of other people too.

Has anyone seen the movie “Super size me” – a documentary by Morgan Spurlock? Yeah, me too. I rented it a few months ago. Scary stuff. While I was watching Spurlock get fatter and fatter, I found that my mind was racing along a politically incorrect side road. And I got to thinking: “How is it that we have gone from gathering around the dinner table every night talking and eating a nutritious meal, to gulping down sodium filled fatty junk food in a car?”

Well, I think I have the answer.

Have you noticed that the first scene in this movie is about Spurlock’s mother. He was a lucky boy. Apparently his mother, like mine, like many mothers years ago, actually cooked a wholesome meal every night for their families.

This simple fact could have been the central theme of the movie. His mother fed him and his dad stuff that she cooked every night and they stayed healthy. The movie could have ended there. No McDonalds, no fast food epidemic. Spurlock, however, being significantly wiser than me (and needing to fill up about 70 more minutes of movie time) chooses to ignore this fact. And from that point forward in his film he focuses on the symptom rather than the cause.

He may blame McDonalds and other fast food outlets for causing today’s obesity epidemic, but in his heart, he knows the real cause. Think about it. Don’t say it out loud though because you will be vilified and ridiculed as a sexist misogynistic knuckle dragging Neanderthal.

Here it is - The health of our entire society depends on mothers staying at home to nurture and care for their families.

Oh, oh. I’m definitely in deep trouble now. Such utterances are simply not permitted here in Canada.

Ok. Seriously though. This is a tough subject to deal with. Pity me for having this sorry neurological disorder that forces me to write about things that piss people off and challenge our politically correct preconceptions. Anyway, lets see if I can get through this with my skin intact.

First off, let me say that I work for and with women. Some are a lot smarter than me. And that’s cool with me. I can understand how it could be perceived as a waste of their intellect for them to be stay at home moms as opposed to challenging themselves in the workplace. It's also true that, in this day and age, some households need two incomes. If I was a mother, I would likely work outside the home too. So, please recognize that this is not about laying blame. This is about telling the truth and recognizing that often, when someone gains, another person loses. Or to put it another way, everything comes with a cost.

Now, clearly, there wasn’t some insidious plan by career mothers to turn everyone in society into junk food scarfing blobs. It didn’t happen on purpose. Clearly, it was just an unforeseen, inadvertent result of mothers abandoning their traditional stay at home roles.

But, inadvertent or not, the connection is impossible to ignore. Here’s the sequence of events for the history books:

1. Mothers left the home to work
2. No one was home to cook good wholesome meals every night.
3. Families found themselves with a shed load of dispensable cash as the result of mommy’s income.
4. With capitalism being both the ultimate provider and parasite, fast food outlets immediately sprang up on every corner to fill this urgent social need.
5. Kids got fat. Dads got fat. Moms got fat. (Ronald bought a castle in Scotland and a Bowflex. He never ate at McDonalds anyway. It was all just for show.)

It's simple physics really. With every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. All you physicists who are mothers can think about that little euphemism while you head out to tend to your fusion reactors. Too bad your kid's an inert, blob, eh?

OK, that was uncalled for. So, to protect myself from assassination, I better mention that this is not just a mom issue. It's also a dad issue. After all, dads could pick up the slack and stay at home with the kids. Some do. And the few who do are surely an advanced breed who have taken the next step in the evolutionary process. However they are few and far between.

The reality is that there are certain pesky social realities and genetic predispositions that prevent this sensible solution from becoming reality. For one thing, men don't appear particularly eager to stay at home with the kids, with no income whatsoever, living off their wives. And while most men want a woman who contributes financially to the household, they don't seem to want a women who makes more than they do and who wants them to stay home with the kids. As for women, they don't seem too anxious to marry a man who makes less than they do and most would likely be less than thrilled if their husbands decided to stay at home with the kids, supported totally by them.

There's also the pesky issue of chromosomes. You know, our little buddies X and Y. Y has no innate maternal instincts. X has ooodles. This makes a big difference too, despite the dunderheads who try and convince us that X and Y are the same. Equal? Maybe. The same? Not on your life.

So I guess we're stuck. Societal obesity and fast food abuse is not going away. The die is cast. Women are working. Men are not about to start staying at home in any great numbers. And to boot, society has already adjusted itself economically to encourage two income households. So, we'd better just get used to it.

But, take heart, I have an idea. you simply need to start buying shares in McDonalds, Burger King, Taco bell and all the other fast food conglomerates. Their profits are sure to increase as Canadians become more and more unable to find the time to prepare their own meals. And as their profits increase, so will your investments. That way, when you and your children get heart disease or diabetes you will have enough money to seek fast treatment in the U.S. rather than wait months in line for treatment in Canada's disintegrating health system.

Or, you could just keep buying lots of stuff with all the extra income you earn as a dual-income family. That way, you'll have lots of belongings to sell if you ever have to raise money to go stateside for health care.

Either way, at least you'll be doing something to prepare for your inevitable health problems. And that's better than just standing there in the headlights waiting for the McTrain to hit you.

Welfare and Self Respect

Today the Toronto Star kindly published one of my letters. I was responding to an article written by their fine columnist Royson James about a recent national task force which has been formed to study the supposedly frayed state of Canada’s welfare system. The following expands on my letter.

When the government forms a task force to study welfare, we can all be sure of one thing - the resulting report will moan and groan about how welfare recipients are so hard-done-by in Canada. It will paint them all as victims and chastise Canadians for not doing enough to help them.

This will be the message. It is inevitable. After all, here in Canada only one side of the story ever gets told. The government funded side. The Liberal side. The side that blames every negative outcome in Canada on everyone except the person experiencing the outcome. And the side that always has the same solution - expand or create publicly funded programs to save people from the pesky responsibility of taking ownership of their own lives.

Think about it, when was the last time you heard anyone, funded by the government, speak up against the welfare state and actually lay some of the blame on the welfare recipients themselves. Never, that’s when. Always, our government funding goes to people who paint welfare recipients as poor unfortunate victims. No one is ever chastised or told to make more of an effort. Never is it suggested that freedom and opportunity is everywhere and able bodied people on welfare should be ashamed of themselves. Gasp. Heavens no. That would hurt their self esteem.

And never should we ask people on welfare how they got there. After all, we already know the answer. It’s society’s fault. Even if it’s young women who purposely get pregnant just to get a ‘free’ apartment away from their parents. (And don’t think this doesn’t happen. I have heard of several such situations just from my small circle of relatives and friends). We may know that these people exist, but we must never point it out in public or we will be shamed and vilified as cold, cruel and un-Canadian.

Clearly, welfare is a social necessity. It must exist because some people have a legitimate need for it. Especially disabled and elderly people. As well as people who need a temporary leg-up. However, we must not fool ourselves, welfare is also an insidious trap – a shining attraction to the less resolute and ethical in our society. Some people take lifelong comfort in it and use it to live a life free from effort and discipline. Some end up on welfare because they take silly chances and make inappropriate life decisions that they would not have otherwise made if the welfare net was not there to catch them and absolve them of their stupidity. For some, welfare is not just an end, it is also a means.

This, I think, should be what we study. We need to know how people came to be on welfare. We need to ask the hard questions. How many girls get pregnant and immediately go on the dole? How many have additional babies while on welfare? How many welfare recipients have parents who were also on welfare and who saw it as an easy way to get through life. How many are on welfare because they choose to drink too much or do drugs? How many are just plain unmotivated and lazy? And, most notably, how many able bodied recipients actually avoid working because they feel they are better off on welfare.

I have always suspected that families on welfare have it pretty good in comparison with a lot of people who work at low wage jobs. I see it all the time. Their children dress the same as the kids of working parents. They eat as much take-out food and they have the same DVD collections. And while low wage working parents make an effort to contribute to society, our government punishes them by taking their taxes to provide non-contributing welfare families with free dental and drugs, generous clothing and rental allowances and higher GST and child tax credit kickbacks.

And yesterday I read a comment that confirmed my worst fear. The co-chair of the task force mentioned above was quoted as saying that, given the abundance of generous benefits associated with welfare, it is a wonder that any rational person on welfare would want to work, unless they can make $12 or $13 an hour. Let’s see if I understand this correctly.

What he is saying is that only irrational people work for less than $12 or $13 an hour. Rational people go on welfare and get all the freebies.

Geez. I wonder what happened to self-respect?

People used to be proud to contribute to our society, pay taxes and earn their own keep. It was what gave them self respect. Even a minimum wage job was better than living off the efforts of others. But those days are gone, I guess. In today’s Canada a minimum wage job is for suckers while welfare is a badge of honour reflecting the intelligence and superior discretionary abilities of the welfare recipient.

Apparently we have reached the point in the development of our welfare nanny state where we, as individual Canadians, would trade the self respect and dignity that comes from earning our own keep for a few extra dollars in welfare handouts.

Something is very wrong with the system when it encourages such irresponsible, shameful behavior. It’s a good thing that there was no welfare a few hundred years ago when our nation was being built. Heavens knows, most people would have chosen to go on the dole rather than work for low wages. And we’d still be living in sod huts.