Archive for the ‘Musings on diversity’ Category

It’s got to be an Audi

I recognise that it might be a stretch to shoehorn this into any kind of musings on diversity – random or otherwise – but as an equal opportunity automobile fantasist (since I can’t afford any of them) I have got to say that there is no more exciting car on the road today than the Audi.

I was driving downtown the other day when one of the new Audis came up on my left. It’s hard to explain, but where other cars have to make some visible effort to accelerate, the Audi just goes faster. I was struggling to explain to myself why I had that impression and the nearest I can come is to say that where other cars roll, the Audi levitates. It’s always tempting to anthropomorphize, but instead of some human analogue, what springs to mind is a Cylon – and not the jerkily moving toaster model that it resembles (the front bank of lights look like the sweeping light that Cylons use to scan the environment), but the fluid, effortless glide of a Number 6. Maybe it’s that combination of machine parts and human expression.

The visible part of the car looks serene and ‘motionless’, while underneath there must be some frenzy of activity equivalent to Fred Flintstone starting his car – that you just don’t see. Maybe it’s that Autobahn heritage, but the Audi’s only desire seems to be to get ahead and to go as fast as space will allow – and it never breaks a sweat doing it. It accelerates, it sweeps into openings in traffic. It never seems aggressive or agitated. It just moves calmly, but relentlessly forward.

Japanese cars perform, but have no personality. The other German cars are merely pretenders. Whatever the designers at Audi have going on, no one can touch them right now.And if Audi sees fit to send me a car to thank me for the plug, ethical imperatives would compel me to tearfully decline – unless they’re really persuasive.

Categories: Musings on diversity

Language on life support

I’ve got to admit the title is a bit dramatic. What I was actually thinking about was the tension between correct grammar and syntax, or more precisely, those who think they matter for some reason (of whom I am one)  and the popular tide.

I was thinking, as I was sitting in traffic, benchmarking the success of my applied driving strategy against a car beside me that I’d chosen to be in competition with – this is a guy thing, right? It’s not only me . . .

Anyway, I was thinking that my target car was fewer than one car length ahead of me. And then I started thinking about how few people would bother to use ‘fewer’ in that sentence, since ‘less’ has so clearly won the battle between countable and uncountable nouns. What does correctness mean in this case? Is it really an indicator of sloppy thinking to use incorrect grammar? Or is the whole concept of correct grammar some outdated elitist fantasy of how life should be.

When I told my son that data are, he was was shocked. Media has been singular for so long that even folks in the media don’t bother to acknowledge that they are a plural, not a unitary bunch. And don’t get me started on ‘neither of us are’.

After spending a lot of time teaching English, I have a large tolerance for variations on the language in pursuit of communication. And I don’t generally have a lot of patience for arbitrary rules and processes. But I do have an attachment to precision in language for those for whom it shouldn’t be an insurmountable difficulty – the oblivious and the indifferent.

Categories: Musings on diversity


28 May 2010 2 comments

I have to apologise for not having posted for a while. I’ve been too involved with the hockey playoffs to care about much else, but the perilous state of the world has finally roused me to keyboard.

I often rag on North American, individualist, capitalist culture because I’m convinced that the planet cannot survive it unless something drastic happens to mitigate our approach to life.

Two more signs of the apocalypse under the general heading of Hubris that make me despair for our futures even more. If you don’t know what hubris means, check it out on Wikipedia and come back when you’re done.

Sign number one: Everyone is following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As of the latest newscast, ‘Top Kill’, which I understand is an attempt to cap the well by injecting junk into the hole – rocks, old tires, DVDs of seasons 3 and 4 of Heroes, whatever crap no ones needs that could be used to bung up the well . . . but I digress, which is the whole point of this exercise as far as I’m concerned . . . but I digress. Anywho, Chevron, I think it is (sorry if I’ve got it wrong and call off the legal team) is planning to drill a well A MILE DEEPER than the one in the Gulf, in the North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Should this well go south (no Gulf pun intended) it would take 11 days to move a rig from the Gulf of Mexico to drill a relief well . . . and if drilling a relief well would solve the problem, why hasn’t one been drilled in the Gulf, where the rig that would drill the relief well in the North Atlantic would come from. And after 11 days to simply drag the thing over, while thousands and thousands of barrels of crude seep into the ocean, it’s unknown how long it would then take to dig that well, AND, it’s also unknown whether it would work. SO, as we watch the Gulf spill overtake the Exxon Valdez as the largest disaster in petro history, should we learn a lesson about HUBRIS and decide to forgo that well in the North Atlantic, just in case sh*t happens, as it is wont to do? I doubt it. After all, what are the odds of ANOTHER huge, unmitigated, devastating event . . . pretty small, eh?

Sign number two: Scientists in California have created life by replacing some poor shnook bacterium’s DNA with DNA, not previously found in nature, that they cooked up on a bunsen burner next to the microwave in the lunchroom. So, let’s see . . . man-made DNA, not previously found in nature, used to turbo charge a bacterium with a hole in its heart and a yen for revenge. What could possibly go wrong in this scenario?

But our scientific-rationalist model just can’t leave well enough alone. After all, homo sapien is the pinnacle of creation and we can do no wrong. Imagine the economic potential in home-made life forms! Not to mention the thrill of playing Gods. If it’s possible, some idiot will do it.

Not much has changed since the Greeks invented Hubris, and Pandora’s box, and Oedipus, and Cassandra and all those other cautionary tales meant to protect us from ourselves – at least not here in the West where I live (in trepidation).

2 Minutes for Hooking and Personal Responsibility

5 April 2010 Leave a comment

This has little to do with the topic at hand, but there’s a band (or there was a band) called 5 for Fighting, which I loved for having a name that would instantly resonate with many Canadians, and be complete nonsense for anyone else. It’s always interested me how much we need and enjoy in-group references and other ways of distinguishing ourselves – even in the groups we belong to. Inclusion is the holy grail, but everyone enjoys an in-joke to make them feel special as well. For those of you who don’t understand what ‘5 for Fighting’ could possibly mean, e-mail me and I’ll explain.

But today’s musings do have to do with hockey. I can’t figure out whether I should be encouraged that at my age there are still some pretty fundamental things left for me to discover, or in despair at that fact that even at my age there are still fundamental things left for me to discover! I’m reasonably certain that I’m going to have that cartoon light bulb going off over my head even as I draw my last breath. It’ll be good to have something to think about in the afterlife – keeps the mind active.

Anyhow, I was thinking about the last time I played hockey, a few weeks ago. I was playing defence and one of the opposing forwards broke past me and had a breakaway. I was chasing as hard as my body will permit these days and trying to impede his shot by hooking his hands from behind.

The other guys on the ice started calling ‘stop hooking’ because ours is a ‘geezer league’ in which the baseline rules are ‘no hitting’, ‘no slapshots’, and no impeding someone who gets past you. Now the latter is a rule in any form of hockey, but the consequence in competitive hockey is that  it results in a penalty. We have no penalties in our league (or refs, for that matter) so there are no consequences except for the other players taking umbrage (which is not a consequence to be sneezed at). But in competitive hockey it’s something a defenceman has to do to – knowing that it will result in a penalty – in order to try to prevent a goal after having been beaten or outsmarted/outpositioned by an opposing player.

These basic rules in our league are subject to individual amendment – consider them sidebar agreements. There are certain guys who engage in bumping in the corners and in front of the net, for example, or will take a shot that is as close to a slapshot as possible, while still leaving them with a sliver of plausible deniability. These individual caveats are generally understood and we play accordingly.

Now, as a defenceman (with hands of stone, to boot), I put preventing a goal above everything else – because there’s a premium on that in hockey, as I said earlier. But I later realised that I had been abdicating my personal responsibilities by engaging in illegal behaviour in order to avoid the consequences for my own personal failings – that’s a lot of $5 dollar words for a discussion about hockey, eh? In competitive hockey there’s a ‘do whatever is necessary’ ethos and if you have to spend 2 or 5 minutes in the penalty box as a result, you still gotta do what you gotta do. But to engage in that type of behaviour in this league, where there is no greater goal to pursue than the enjoyment of each individual game, is really unconscionable. So if any of my teammates are reading this, I hereby pledge to become an ethical hockey player and let whoever gets past me have an honest shot at glory. There’s nothing more fundamental to making our society work than taking personal responsibility.

Plastic Bags

2 April 2010 Leave a comment

Plastic bags bring 2 questions immediately to mind.

What is it about us that enables us to invent a new substance that is pretty much indestructible? Have you heard the expression, ‘stubborn as a plastic bag in a landfill?’ ‘Nuff said. And by us, I mean Euro-American capitalist culture.

What is it about us that makes the act itself of inventing stuff more important than the consequences, or even allowing us to step back, take a deep breath, and decide that maybe we ought to put less value on the intrinsic thrill of discovery and more on thinking through the consequences? Nuclear power? Yeah, I’m sure that someone will figure something out, in the millions of years it will take before the toxicity dissipates. Hey, there might be a Nobel prize in her somewhere!

And the second question is whether, had that discovery occurred in some other culture, they might have had the sense to say to themselves, OK, plastic seems like a really cool thing, but what are we going to do when we start drowning in the stuff?

It could be that the facility to create – that drive to find cool new stuff –  is inextricably linked to the ability to ignore the consequences. I’m sure there are platoons of phd candidates in social psychology busily cranking out dissertations on that very relationship. If we didn’t have that drive, would be all be Na’vi? And would that be a bad thing? Obviously, I wouldn’t be blogging about it if we were . . .

Life Gets in the Way

26 March 2010 Leave a comment

I hadn’t realised what a heavy psychological burden came with having a blog. Every day I don’t post something weighs heavily. Of course, there are days when I don’t feel I have anything to say, but we had a death in the family lately and I haven’t had much appetite for the concerns of the real world – even the virtual part of it.

There are many ways to experience and appreciate the wisdom of our cultural heritage, but never so deeply as when going through the rites associated with death.

In my cultural tradition, there is a 7-day mourning period that starts immediately after the funeral. It’s basically a week-long open house, with friends and relatives dropping by at all hours – bringing food and comfort. The photo albums come out . . . stories are told. As one of our friends put it, “What did comfort us was to know that people cared about our grief, that our grief, our loss mattered to them.”
By the end of the week, the ache has dulled and you’re ready to drag yourself back to out into the world.

We’re often so quick to dismiss cultural traditions as being old-fashioned and no longer relevant to our ever-changing, fast-paced lives. And if we’re quick to dismiss our own traditions, we’re even quicker to dismiss the traditions of others as quaint or suited to the ‘old country’ but not to our modern, sophisticated society.

But birth, death, and the other significant milestones in our lives give pause and occasion to reflect. And in these quiet moments, the strength and value of culture and of our traditions shine through the patina of modernity.

Conspiracy or cultural imperative?

7 February 2010 Leave a comment

This post on cross-cultural misperceptions will appeal mainly to fans of Japanese sumo, or the enigma that many perceive Japanese culture to be – although, happily, anyone with a fondness for conspiracy theories will feel right at home.

There’s quite a bit of angst among Japanese sumo aficionados (as opposed to non-Japanese aficionados) over the dearth of yokozuna of Japanese origin. Yokozuna is the  highest rank in the sumo hierarchy, usually translated as ‘grand champion’)  The highest-ranked and best rikishi (sumo wrestlers to the rest of us) are all from Mongolia these days, except for the odd Bulgarian. Before that, it was Hawaiians of Samoan descent. Anyway, it’s been quite a while since the Japanese dominated their own national sport – back to the days of Takanohana II, one instance where the sequel was better than the original.

Speaking of Hawaiians, it was ozeki (one rank below yokozuna – I can’t remember what it’s usually translated as – champion, probably) Konishiki who first played the discrimination card when he was refused promotion to yokozuna despite compiling a record that would have earned it for a Japanese wrestler. There was a brief hue and cry, but the consensus (among all sumo fans, not only the Japanese ones) was that Konishiki didn’t really have the ‘right stuff’, and not promoting him was probably best for the sport after all. The Konishiki kerfuffle did pave the way for the subsequent wave of foreign-born grand champions with Konishiki ‘proteges’ Akebono and Musashimaru achieving yokozuna rankings. And then came the Mongolians.

Asashoryu, the yokozuna who won the New Year’s basho (tournament) with a 13-2 record, has always been a bit of a bad boy. He caused an uproar for playing soccer in his native Mongolia while on a break from wrestling. I can’t remember whether this tempest in a teapot was because he was risking injury while indulging in this frivolous pursuit or because he was supposed to be already injured and getting caught playing soccer was akin to someone on workman’s comp getting caught playing tennis when he was supposed to be in traction.

Anyway, speaking of the right stuff or the lack thereof, after the last basho Asashoryu went too far. Maybe it was because despite winning the basho, he lost to his arch-rival, fellow Mongolian yokozuna Hokuko for the 8th straight time. He ‘allegedly’ got drunk and got into a fight with some civilian, breaking the poor shnook’s nose in the process. The Japanese Sumo Association is one of the most hidebound and conservative entities in Japan – and that’s saying a lot because hidebound and conservative to establishment Japan is like rainy to Vancouver. And the JSA forced him to resign from sumo as a consequence because he had disgraced the rank of yokozuna.

But, as a student of Japan I would have to say ‘fair enough’. There is really nothing else they could have done because he really had gone too far. Forcing him to resign was a cultural imperative.

Popular sentiment in Mongolia, is that Asashoryu was forced to resign because he was getting too close to Taiho’s all-time record of 32 basho wins – and that the Japanese couldn’t stand to have a foreigner own that record. There is a precedent for that, unfortunately. In the ’80s, Randy Bass, an American who played for the Hanshin Tigers in the Japanese professional baseball league, was closing in on Sadaharu Oh’s all-time single-season home run record. The Tigers’ last game was against the Yomiuri Giants (the New York Yankees of Japanese baseball) the team that Oh had played for throughout his entire career and then gone on to manage, and the Giants refused to pitch to Bass or to give him a legitimate shot at the record. He was intentionally walked every time at bat – an incident that, for my money, will live in infamy longer than Pearl Harbour. The irony is that Oh’s father was Taiwanese so, by Japan’s own citizenship laws of the time, he wasn’t actually Japanese himself . . .

This time, however, I’ve got to side with the Japanese. I think they (the Japanese) have come a long way from the days of Randy Bass and Konishiki. Taiho’s record may be sacrosanct (rumour has it that yokozuna Chiyonofuji was also forced to retire after he’d reached 29 basho wins on the pretence that he could no longer wrestle at the level required of a yokozuna. From the sidelines, he still looked pretty formidable to me).

So Asashoryu was not a victim of racism, he was the victim of his own lack of class and the Japanese cultural imperative that people take responsibility for their actions with public acts of contrition. I know that cultural imperatives are difficult to export, but if any Western politician is listening, the cultural imperative to actually take responsibility for one’s actions, would be a great import to start with.

George Carlin Would Have Had no Career in Japan

3 February 2010 1 comment

For some reason or other, some folks on the radio were talking about George Carlin, perhaps best known for his bit called the “7 Words You Can’t Say on TV”. George was fascinated with the power of words and how a word like ‘cock’ could be perfectly ordinary and in a barnyard context and send censors scurrying for their bleepers in another.

This reminded me of a conversation I once had with my cousin, who was a pretty good Japanese speaker in his day (and still holds his own – should he happen to read this blog) about the fact that you can pretty much say anything you want on Japanese television – there being no list like Carlin’s, of prohibited words. He (my cousin) decided to test my theory by trotting out every offensive and ‘dirty’ word he could think of in Japanese – ain’t it strange that obscenities are almost inevitably the first words a new immigrant learns . . . maybe it’s only the people I hang out with – and I weighed them in my mind, turned them over, and assured him that ‘yep, you can say that on Japanese TV’. Truth to tell, I have never heard the ‘beep’ of a censored word on Japanese TV – something you hear all the time on TV in North America.

Lenny Bruce used to do bits where he would take offensive words, like the ‘n’ word (don’t have the courage to even type it in this blog for fear of offending someone . . . everyone) and repeat them and roll them around his mouth until they became nothing more than nonsense syllables, robbed of their power to hurt and offend.

The work I do with the DMIS (Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity) has trained me to look at the things that push my buttons, including language and to look within myself for the source of my response. I’ve found that if I take a second to stifle my knee-jerk reaction and look deeper into what is actually causing my knee to jerk, I find that what used to cause my blood pressure to sore and often resulted in angry confrontation (or worse, stifled anger with its resulting frustration and stress) is not worth even a second thought.

Categories: Musings on diversity

Cultural Relativism and Hair Extensions

19 January 2010 2 comments

Further to my last posting,  a rant about shedding the bonds of cultural relativism in order to be able to pass judgment on the dubious values of redneck cretins and the skanks who purport to love them – as long as it means appearing on a reality show, I’ve decided I ought to reconsider my position on his hair extensions . . . because hair extensions are merely something that make me cringe, but don’t violate my sense of what’s morally or ethically right (gross violations of my aesthetic sense get a pass – but still make me cringe).

Before I started to work with the DMIS (Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity) I used to get worked up about all kinds of aesthetic crimes – backwards baseball caps – and I still have no idea why any person with the sense God gave an oyster would feel compelled to wear a baseball cap at all times – let alone a backwards one. Come to think of it, except for wearing a toque to protect one’s ears from freezing in a prairie winter, why on earth would anyone wear a hat of any kind . . . unless you’re appealing on Mad Men or some film noir . . . but I digress. Ditto, those pants that simultaneously defy gravity while showing too much butt crack to leave anything to the imagination – thank goodness guys seem to have moved on to wearing pants that wouldn’t confound Newton or Einstein. And, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, what’s the deal with people who wear shorts all year round. This is Canada, people, not the tropics!

But egregious as all these crimes against fashion and common sense might be, they don’t affect me in any material way. They don’t insult my (non aesthetic) values, or sense of justice, so I’ve decided to let it all go. It’s amazing how much easier that makes relationships with one’s children and others who ought to take my sage advice, but for some mysterious reason, refuse to.

That’s one of the joys of overcoming cultural relativism and learning to make value judgments that matter. It enabled me to let go of all of the knee-jerk reactions that used to keep me in a constant state of agitation, a hair’s breadth away from a rant.

Categories: Musings on diversity

Cultural Relativism

13 January 2010 Leave a comment

People from ‘mainstream’ culture who are grappling with cross-cultural issues often feel that they are always the ones required by political correctness  to make all the accommodations. After all, they reason, if every culture is supposed to be of equal value then my standards are just one set among all the rest. So that means I have to accept everything that goes on in other cultures because there are no objective yardsticks’.

That is the definition of cultural relativism – the necessity to accept every culture’s behaviours because there are no objective standards to judge them by.

But an interculturally sensitive cross-culturalist does not have to give up the right to make reasoned judgments on whether they are prepared to accept behaviours from another culture or not.

I was watching a reality show called Rock of Love, featuring a redneck cretin with hair extensions who for some reason had a dozen or more skanky trailer trash women with bleached big hair and artificial boobs vying for his attention. In order to win a date’ with said aforementioned redneck cretin, the women had to submit to contests devised for them – the one I saw being a hockey game (that would be ice hockey, for all you non Canadians) against professional women players who were permitted to body check and otherwise physically abuse them. The contestants were wearing bikinis and one of them was knocked down and slammed her head against the ice where she lay moaning for more than a minute (on the ice, in her bikini) until someone in a vaguely paramedic injury came out to haul her to her feet – concussion anyone? neck or spine damage?

The winners of this contest were awarded the opportunity to go on a group date with redneck cretin. His idea of a dream date was apparently to take them to a strip club and coerce them into getting on stage and dance for his – and all the clubs other patrons’ – enjoyment. The one ‘winner’ who refused to pole dance or show her ass to the crowd, was chastised as a buzzkill, by redneck cretin, and risked being eliminated from competition and sent home (to her 3 children).

Cultural relativists would say that I shouldn’t judge his behaviour in demeaning and humiliating these women (who for God only knows what reason were clearly willing to do anything to ‘be with’ redneck cretin) because the women were more than willing and in redneck cretin culture, his behaviour and values were perfectly acceptable.

Not so, say I. I’m not rejecting what I saw simply because I think that redneck cretin culture is beneath me and nothing they do could meet my lofty educated liberal middle class standards. I’m rejecting what I saw because I’ve examined my own value system and believe that I am justified in rejecting redneck cretin’s treatment of women as toys with which he can amuse himself , no matter how abusive he is. It just ain’t right. It’s not how one human being should treat another. His behaviour, and the women’s acceptance of it, debases and demeans all humans.

Seriously, what on earth do they see in this guy? He’s a total douche.

Categories: Musings on diversity