Holi Bhang!

I hear that today is the beginning of Holi,  the spring festival of colours in countries like India, Nepal, Srilanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The highlight of the festival is a great riot of face painting and throwing of coloured powder and coloured water at each other and everything in sight.

 Holi is also about bonfires, eating lots of good stuff and about the consumption of bhang (cannabis) in milkshakes and other bhang-laden sweets.

Linda recently spent some time in India and, as usual, had some lovely photos to post. Even when they’re not celebrating Holi, I couldn’t help noticing the brilliant colours with which the people of India surround themselves. Here’s one of the stunning photos from Linda’s blog.

I love Linda’s photos. She always manages to capture an image or a detail that evokes a whole range of emotions, thoughts and ideas and/or somehow magically tells an entire story.

So, this series of photos from India got me thinking about all the other nations and cultures in which colour features so much more prominently than it does in ours. And I’ve come to the conclusion that people in warm climates are much more colour-oriented than we are. Think of the traditional and even every-day dress of people in Africa or the Caribbean or South America. For instance, market day in South Africa:

Now compare this to market day in New York:

Think even of the colourful homes in Florida or Hawaii or other warmer states compared to the brick or white aluminum sided homes up north.

 Why?

You’d think those of us who live in a cold, drab climate would want to surround ourselves with as much light and colour as possible whereas people in warm climates are already surrounded by flowers and blue skies and bright yellow sunshine all the time.

The only exception I can think of to this phenomena is Newfoundland where they paint everything every colour of the rainbow:

Compare this photo of downtown St. John’s Newfoundland to a shot of downtown Ottawa:

And that’s on a bright, sunny day! Yawn.

Why would Newfoundland be the exception to the colour- climate relationship? Here’s a province where the hottest summer day might reach 20 degrees Celsius (70 F) and the coldest winter day can plunge to minus 50 (in any measure). It’s the windiest province in the country and is shrouded in fog a good part of the year. And it gets some terrific snowfalls.

This is a highway.

Anybody have any theories about this colour-climate relationship and/or why there are exceptions like Newfoundland? Maybe there isn’t even a relationship and I’ve just had one too many bhang milkshakes?

Happy Holi!

The Worst Walk Ever

She shuffled along awkwardly, arms floundering; feet wide apart like a sleepy toddler with a full diaper. For the last three days, wet, heavy snow had fallen non-stop, leaving behind an ankle-deep or deeper morass of wet, icy slush that drowned the sidewalks, streets and gutters of the city.

Beneath the bitter, soggy bog that swamped the pavements, lurked a film of the slickest, oiliest ice – ice as slippery as a teenaged girl’s lipgloss — so slippery that only the most foolhardy would dare to set foot on it. The woman was foolhardy. She was foolhardy about walking. She walked in all weathers; in all conditions. People often stared at her ploughing through a blizzard or plunging through a rainstorm. They stared and shook their heads from the sheltered safety of their vehicles. Sometimes they laughed with delight at their own good fortune of never having to walk outdoors.

The woman, however, enjoyed these adventures. No day was quite like the day before. Some days the walk was light and easy and beautiful. Some days the weather tossed her challenges. But, she had the shoes and clothing and other gear to match and cope with whatever nature had in store. This day, however; this day of Slushmageddon was one for which no human being could ever possibly be prepared.

The woman’s boots were waterproofed and had good treads, but were no guarantee of sure-footedness in these conditions. Nevertheless, she persevered. She persevered despite the strong winds that buffeted her along sometimes faster than she intended or would have liked. She persevered despite the wind blowing her scarf over her eyes causing her to misstep more than once. She persevered despite the wind, that impish Katzenjammer Kid,  picking up slush from rooftops and tree branches and pitching it at her as she made her careful way through the mired walkways.

Not daring to pick up her feet, she slid along, thighs aching with tension, trying to keep as far away from the street as possible. But soon, that was no longer possible, and then there she was – just two feet away from traffic and from her arch-nemesis on this foulest of foul days – the SUVs. And sure enough, in the not-so distant distance their glowing headlights loomed; front grills gleaming evilly like the toothy smiles of dastardly villains anticipating the satisfaction of a deliciously despicable deed.

This gang of tyrant vehicles descended on the woman with breathtaking speed. She opened her umbrella, swung it to her side and tried to hide behind it, but to no avail. The traitorous wind swung the umbrella away from her body at the same instant the SUVs exposed to her their massive, pulsating wheels and defiled her, one after the other, with their filthy discharges.

And then, as quickly as they arrive, they were gone.

And then the woman hurried away, shamed and numb and cold. Her only thoughts were to get to the next short-cut, away from the street and further humiliation. When she reached it she relaxed a little. There was some snow left on this short-cut that hadn’t turned to slush, which made the walking a little easier. The woman cleaned herself up as best she could and assessed the damages. Nothing too serious. Nothing she couldn’t brush off with a damp cloth. Nothing an hour or so in her arid workstation couldn’t dry up.

“Oh well, at least it’s not raining,” the woman thought to herself, philosophically, examining her umbrella, which had been destroyed by the wind and by the wake of the SUV gang.

And then, quite suddenly the skies darkened and a volley of viscous precipitation appeared from above.

Things that are ridiculous today

Killer Whale: I know I shouldn’t be amused by someone dying, but you’ve got this “killer” whale (named Tilly) who’s already “killed” two people before at other aquariums and then gets confine to yet another swimming pool and is forced her to learn stupid tricks in order to amuse people and make lots of money for  Seaworld and then everyone is shocked (the crowd, reportedly,  gasped) when she kills her trainer? 

Why don’t we leave these animals in the ocean where they belong? No Killer Whale has ever killed a human in the wild.  It is really important to anyone’s life to watch a captive whale bounce a beachball on his or her nose? Okay, so this one turned out not to be so funny after all.

See how happy and unkilly they are in the ocean?

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Mel Gibson:  He’s been making me laugh for a long time in an “why are people still paying money to watch this guy” way. Now we get to laugh even more because he’s written some poems which are being set to music for his girlfriend’s latest CD. Mel says:

I always felt the poetic urge coming, so I’ve been providing lyrics and stuff for a few of her songs. I’ve been writing poetry and stuff since I was a teenager. Didn’t want to admit that to my friends.

And by “poetic urge” I think Mel means “insane racist rant”.  I don’t know what he means by “and stuff”. Maybe that’s just an example of the poet in him talking.

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Maxime Bernier: Former Conservative cabinet ministers are almost as hilarious as current conservative cabinet ministers and former and current prime ministers. Bernier issued this statement the other day:

The Conservative government would be irresponsible to spend billions of dollars to reduce greenhouse gas emissions given the contradictory science available.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said, ” Mr. Bernier’s expertise lies more in Jos Louis than climate change.”  Sounds like some sort of inside joke.  I wish he’d explained the inside joke, because it’s probably pretty funny. Here’s a Jos Louis for those who may not know:

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Wieners: Turns out wieners aren’t as funny as we thought they were. As Lebowski mentioned in a comment last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wants manufacturers to redesign hotdogs so that they stop killing our children. Apparently, wieners kill 1.6 children a year in the US. That’s only the ones killed from choking on wieners and doesn’t include the ones killed by the sodium nitrates and/or internal beak lacerations.

 Other killer items the AAP is looking at changing are: hard candy, nuts, grapes, popcorn, marshmallows, peanut butter, chewing gum and raw carrots.

Seriously. That’s what they said.

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Oprah: I know, I know – it’s really old and boring to mock Oprah, but it’s just so damn easy. Now Oprah is auctioning off her clothes, purses and shoes. The online auction will  run from March 1st - March 11th on this eBay site.

How awesome would it be to be able to wrap up in an old bathrobe that actually enveloped Oprah’s wet, naked flesh?

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…

Have you ever been in a really bad relationship and when you’ve finally had enough and manage to get yourself away from this “toxic” person – be it a spouse or a friend or a family member -  they come crying saying they’ll change, if only you’ll give them another chance?

Have you ever heard about career criminals who find religion or education or something in prison and claim they’ve changed and are new people now?

Have you ever been in a workplace where they think with a little training they can turn that reclusive egghead huddling in the corner cubicle into a dynamic team-player who will be able to go across the country and give dazzling presentations to clients?

Do you believe any of these? Do you believe people can change like that?

I don’t think people can change who they are. I think people can learn certain skills. I think people can acquire knowledge that will help them modify their beliefs and thought processes. I think as people mature and/or as their life circumstances change,  they make adjustments to their behaviours or to how they live their lives.

I think a good program and lots of support will help an alcoholic or drug addict stop drinking or taking drugs, but that does not stop them from having an addictive personality.

Anger management might help stop the abusive spouse from physically lashing out at people, but will not stop him from being an abusive person.

And my employer can send me on a million team-building workshops and I will never play well with others. I will learn how to pretend I don’t want to slash my own wrists next time I’m put on a team project, and I may accumulate some tools that will help me survive the project, but I will never be a team person.

Becoming a parent (and old age) has modified my behaviour so I go to work like a good citizen every day; I don’t stay up late; I don’t engage in risky activities; I set a good example. I’ve also mellowed in my reactions and judgments on things. And I think – I hope – I’ve learned a hell of a lot more over the years about all sorts of stuff. And that has also shaped who I am today, but basically, I’m the same person I’ve always been.

Because, sometimes, when I hear a song from my youth, or smell a certain scent or look at an old photo …. how I long to shake off these decades of relative respectability and just do something really stupid again. It’s like an actual physical craving – like there’s a demon idiot lurking deep in my psyche somewhere, long supressed, just waiting for an opportunity to let loose.

I imagine this must be something like how the addict feels or the pedophile who’s been “cured” or the guy who spent 20 years of his life robbing banks and has been “rehabilitated” for a while. No matter how many layers of therapy or good intentions or years of being straight they’ve wrapped themselves in; they are who they are at their core.

I don’t think anything can change that. And, I don’t think it would take too much, depending on their level of self-discipline, to give in to that craving.

I don’t know. I’ve never known anyone or heard of anyone who’s undergone a real transformation. Have you?

Blog Commenting

I was having lunch with some bloggers the other day and the conversation turned, at one point, to how difficult it is to leave comments on some people’s blogs.

I’ve been wanting to mention this for a while, but thought maybe it was just me that was irked by this so I decided to leave it alone. But hey – seems that I’m not the only one after all.

So, let me preface by saying that while I enjoy writing and spewing my thoughts into the blogosphere, probably the best part about blogging is the comments and discussions that result from the blog post itself. Do you usually read the comments after you read blog posts? On this blog, I think the comments are often the best part. The people who comment here have so many interesting, intelligent and just plain hilarious ideas, thoughts and stories. It would be a damn shame if you didn’t read them.

I will assume, therefore, that other bloggers also enjoy comments on their blogs. Some of you make it really difficult though.

While I try to get through most of my blog-roll at least once a week, I always read the blogs of people who’ve left comments on my blog, first. It’s helpful, therefore if your comment links directly to your blog. People often forget to provide their url when leaving a comment or somehow end up leaving a link that leads somewhere else. So I have to go find you in the blog-roll. It’s not a big deal, but it takes extra time.

Then when I do make it to your blog and leave a comment, I want the process to be as quick and painless as possible. For most blogs, I arrive there from my blog, I can usually just type my comment, click submit and away I go. However: 

  • Some blogs require me to go through all manner of acrobatics. I have to type in my name, email, url – sometimes more than once since it only accepts certain “styles” and I can never tell which one is required.
  • Then, when I think I’ve got it right, up pops a “captcha” thing and I have to type in some word or set of words that are all messed up and difficult to read.
  • At this point the blog sometimes just eats my comment and I never see it again.
  • Or some people have a screening process that doesn’t publish the comment until it’s been scrutinized by the blog owner. While I guess bloggers have a good reason for doing this, it makes having a discussion very difficult.
  • Then when I try to leave the blog and go back to my own, sometimes it won’t let me. I get trapped in some people’s blogs and I have to sign out and sign back in again to get home. What is that? Some business blogs do that, too, to increase the length of their hit times or something. I think it’s mean.

I assume these are all choices bloggers make to earn money or to avoid spam or to fool their enemies or something, but it makes a lot of busy people reluctant to try and leave comments or even visit the blog in some cases. Producing a relevant and half-way intelligent comment already takes time and thought. It shouldn’t take twice as long to actually get the comment published and get back to your own blog, should it?

And on the topic of comments — and this is just my opinion – I like blogs where the comments are acknowledged by the blog owner in some way. I always respond to comments because I think of the blog not as a “here’s my post now give me comments” exchange. I think of it as a discussion: 

  • Here’s my point.
  • What’s your point?
  • Oh interesting! Here’s my response.
  • Maybe you have a come-back?
  • Maybe someone else wants to argue with you?
  • Maybe I have something else to add?
  • Maybe you do?
  • Etc…

When I visit other blogs where this type of back-and-forth discussion happens I tend to visit the same post several times to see what other people have to say or to see what the blog owner has to say in response to the comments. It also makes me much more interested in leaving a comment in the first place because I know it will be part of a bigger discussion. But again, that’s just me and this stuff might not be important to everybody.

So, in conclusion, if you’re not getting many comments, perhaps people are having too many technical difficulties and maybe you could make things easier for them? And,  if anyone experiences any difficulties leaving comments on this blog please let me know so I can fix whatever needs to be fixed. You can let me know by email: urbanpedestrian@gmail.com. Thank you.

For Your Own Good

On February 1st, 2010, Ontario joined the more than 50 countries and jurisdictions around the world that ban the use of cell phones while driving.

The new law means it is illegal for drivers to talk, text, type, dial or e-mail; use hand-held cell phones or any other hand-held communications/entertainment devices such as game or video players. In North America –  British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have similar legislation in place.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation says the ban is needed because driver distraction is a factor in 20% of all road accidents. One U.S. study found texting boosted the risk of a collision 23 times.

Some people aren’t in favour of yet another law that strips adults of their rights. They say that they are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves whether or not it’s safe to make a phone call. They would argue that cell phone users, like drunk drivers are usually only caught when they’ve had some sort of accident. Picking out, one-by-one,  possible reasons for having accidents and banning them is ridiculous and offensive to people who know how to drive safely. They maintain that the laws should be against people who are dangerous drivers not against specific activities.

It’s an interesting argument.

Studies are showing that there is actually no decrease in the number of collisions in jurisdictions where cell-phone usuage has been banned.  And, in fact, there was never any increase in the number of accidents since the introduction of  mobile technology in the first place. So why the ban?

I’m not the first one to deduce that a major cause of vehicular collisions is driver distraction in general – talking to someone next to you, eating your lunch, drinking hot coffee, screaming at the kids, changing the radio station, putting on mascara, etc.

Maybe what we really need is better educated drivers and stiffer penalties for any driver with dangerous driving habits.

Paternalistic laws quite often have a tendency to completely miss a central issue and even sometime create many enormous problems – much like overprotective parenting – while they’re trying to solve one smaller problem.

Look at what the drug laws have wrought, for instance. We make it illegal for people to take drugs that might harm them and end up creatinge an unmanageably monstrous illegal drug industry that has caused untold harm to millions.

We have several bizarre laws around prostitution in order to protect some people from some thing —  although no one is too clear on who is supposed to be protected and from what. Again, these laws are protecting no one and harming many.

That’s not to say that legal paternalism is always a bad thing. When seat belt laws were first introduced a lot of people were incensed and outraged. Same thing for helmet laws for motorcyclists and for certain sporting events.  Same thing for the ever-more-complex child safety seat legislations. People protested. People refused to comply and fought the fines. And now, these things are second nature. Even if they lifted the laws tomorrow, not many people would drive without wearing seat belts, or strapping their children into their protective shells. And no one in their right mind would drive a motorcycle or play hockey without a helmet.

So, in these cases, didn’t laying down the law achieve, relatively quickly, what would have taken forever to achieve through trying to educate the public on safer practices? So maybe we do need a cell phone ban to train us to remove this particular distraction while we’re driving and maybe, by extension, we’ll become aware of, and try to avoid other distractions – eventually.

The question that remains then, is: Why are we so stupid?

Why do we need government to tell us that falling off a motorcycle could hurt our heads? I don’t know, but a relatively new ethical theory called “desire utilitarianism” applied in the case of paternalism by the Atheist Ethicist  may have an answer. He states in part:

Desire utilitarianism is built on a theory of behavior that says that a person always acts to fulfill the most and strongest of their own desires, given their beliefs. More specifically, a person always acts on the most and strongest of their current desires. Future desires have no effect on current behavior.

This is how addictions are possible. Addictions are particularly strong current desires that tend to thwart future desires. Because future desires have no direct effect on current behavior, it is quite possible for an agent to be fully aware of the fact that the addiction will thwart future desires, and still not be able to keep from giving in to the addiction. To beat an addiction, the agent must somehow muster current desires that outweigh the force of the addiction or weaken the addiction below the level of other current desires.

One of the implications of these principles is that the future person – the person an agent will become – is entirely incapable of defending his own interests. There is absolutely nothing he can do to bribe or coerce his earlier self into doing the right thing. Again, in the realm of morality and of law, we tend to be strictest in our impositions on people when they are dealing with those who cannot defend themselves. If the potential victim is a child or otherwise disabled, we are more inclined to impose limits on what others may do, not less.

So, the agent is fulfilling a weaker current desire at the expense of more and stronger future desires. It is not always the case that an agent does what is in his own best long-term interest.

It’s a though-provoking argument, I think. What do you think? Are you in favour government laying down laws that protect people from themselves? Do you think these laws are really designed in the best interests of citizens or are there other agendas behind them? What’s your opinion on driver/cell phone legislation ?

8 Mysteries of Womanhood

Note to Male Readers: If the title is makes you think this is going to be about “female” things, it isn’t. So don’t worry. By the same token, if you think you’re going to get some answers, you might be disappointed. But who knows. Other people might have answers. I think the truth is that women are as mysterious to other women and to themselves as they are to men.

There are quite a few things that women do that I, as an actual and long-time woman, find confounding. And when I don’t understand something I ask questions. So, I want to ask about the following:

  1. Make-up. I wear a little make-up. Slapping on a bit of colour in the morning makes me look like I’m awake and alive and not so drab. But it takes me less than 5 minutes and I’m good for the day. I don’t have a fishing tackle box full of products. I have maybe three, four products – tops. I see women in the washrooms at work several times a day with their tackle box, pulling bottles, tubes, boxes, cases and brushes and other things out of them and applying all manner of liquids and powders and colourful lines to their faces with them. Why? Why do you need to keep adding more make-up to the make-up you already have on? Where does the original make-up go? Why do you feel the need to bury your face beneath several layers of stuff? Also, I have never understood foundation and lipstick. Both of these only look good for about 9 seconds after you apply them. Foundation gets all dry and flaky and mostly makes your face look either dead or orange. What exactly is it the foundation for? It looks horrible. And lipstick? What’s that all about? It wears off instantly and leaves your mouth looking like a 6-year-old’s who’s too many eaten no-name brand Cheezies.
  2. Nails. I find it odd that so many women are obsessed with their fingernails. They get manicures regularly. The manicurists do stuff to their cuticles. They soak, buff, file, trim and paint their nails. They glue on fake nails. They put little jewels and decals on their nails. They charge them money for all this and then send them on their way. By the time the women and their fancy nails get to their cars, their nails are beginning to chip. How do you live your lives with long, colourful nails? How do enjoy a meal knowing there is all kinds of crud and bacteria crawling around under those long nails with which you are handling your food? How do you….nevermind…I don’t want to know.
  3. High Heels. So many, many women are passionately in love with high heels. I don’t, for the life of me, get it. Don’t get me wrong — I love shoes. I love shoes that are comfortable and durable, that I can walk in and that look “nice”. High heels meet none of these requirements. Sure, they make your calves look like baseballs and give you some height and men seem to think they’re sexy, but so what? They cause bunions, blisters, back problems, twisted ankles, falls, sprains and you can’t walk in them. Women in high heels hobble along, looking like they’re going fast, when they’re actually getting nowhere, slowly. Walking more than 10 feet is uncomfortable and I suspect men only think they’re sexy because they make women look like they’re vulnerable and unable to escape.
  4. Home Decorating. Many women I know drool and talk for hours over things like colour swatches, paint chips, furniture, home “accents”, window treatments, knick-knacks, seasonal décor, china patterns, stemware, flatware, pillow shams, etc., etc., etc. I can’t seem to get excited by any of this.  I’d like to, because other women have nicely put together homes with stuff that matches and “works” and I can admire that, but when it comes to the crunch, I just don’t care. As long as my home is clean and tidy and things are pushed against the wall so I don’t trip over them in the night, what more do I need?
  5. Taking pride in being overworked. So many women talk, blog and complain about how very, very many things they have to cram into their day. They don’t have a minute to themselves. They’re stretched in all directions. They have little or no help. They get only 4 hours of restless sleep every night. Why do they want to live like this? They sound fierce, yet miserable. You never hear a guy talking about all the stuff he has to do except when he says, “Ummm, nah..I can’t do that, I already have enough to do.” Men know how to say “no”. Why don’t women? Why do they cram every minute of their lives with stuff they have to do? Some people mock me for being impatient and in a hurry, but I’m only anxious to rush through the stuff I have to do so I can have more time to do nothing. I spend a lot of time doing nothing. I like it. Do other women like running around from morning ‘til night? If not, why don’t they stop? I really need to understand this.
  6. Fretting over their bodies. I could never see the point of doing strenuous, uncomfortable, exercisey things and/or not eating things you enjoy to try and shave pounds off. Or undergoing surgery to make things bigger, smaller or smoother. Who are you doing all this for? So you can look in the mirror and say, “Oh look, I now look plastic?” Or, “Oh look, I look like I’m about to gnaw off my own thigh because I’m hungry, my blood sugar is non-existent and I’m miserable?” Why not put all that energy into just being healthy? Find a way to enjoy good, real food and find a way to enjoy doing something that keeps you vertical for a good part of the day.
  7. Hormones. A lot of women are inordinately proud of their erratic hormones. They cite hormones as reasons for eating a pound of chocolate; for being extremely unpleasant and irrational; for not wanting to do stuff; and for killing their spouses. Men never get to say, “Whoa, my testosterone is way high today so hike your skirt up and bend over the kitchen table, woman or I’m gonna have to do the Starbucks barista on my way to work.” I’m probably doing a grave disservice to the sisterhood, but I think women are diminishing themselves as human beings by presenting themselves as slaves to their hormones. Don’t we still have brains and intestinal fortitude and other stuff with which we can keep our hormones under control?
  8. Weddings. Maybe I’m unnatural, but never in all the years I’ve walked this earth has it ever crossed my mind that I’d like to envelop myself in a thousand yards of white lace and spend a billion dollars on hair, make-up, food, drinks, photographs, wedding favours, cheesy bands, boutonnières, cars covered in paper flowers, candied almonds wrapped in mesh, a towering cake with plastic dolls on top and a Man of God trying to make me promise stuff. As a general, abstract concept I get the idea of partnering up with someone that you figure will generally enhance your life, but why the medieval hoopla? Women get positively rabid about getting “their special day just right.” Even women who ordinarily seem like rational human beings! I don’t care how carefully you try to explain it, I will never understand this. I’m sorry.

So? Now you know. I’m maybe not a bona fide woman. I have no answers for any of this, just a lot of questions. Does anyone out there have answers to any of these questions? Does anyone have any more questions? I know I do.