|[Photo by Jay Arnold]|
Is This Turkey?
<<Stuff I Done Wrote
|Plague vs. plague.
Thu, 08 Sep 2005
Here's an article I found interesting. The gist of it is that people assume the reason European settlers were able to so thoroughly trounce the native population of America and steal all their land was because of superior European technology. And of course, if the standard you're using is bigger guns and harder steel, then European technology was superior. But there are other fields, for instance agriculture and the weaving of fabric, where the Americans had the superior know-how.
So the meeting of the two cultures wasn't so much a case of pitiless machinery rolling through a defenceless Eden as it was a contest of different types of technology, where the combatants were fairly evenly matched. Europeans had their guns and steel, but the American bow-and-arrow was a more effective weapon than the single-shot musket, and American canoes were more manoeuvrable than clumsy European-designed boats; and so on. Where the settlers had the advantage was in their immunity to the diseases they'd brought with them. Once smallpox had wiped out most of the population of a native community, it wasn't much trouble for the new Americans to displace the old.
None of this is news, exactly. But for me the article raised a question that I don't think I've ever seen answered: Why was it that Europe had so many virulent diseases that took such a toll on the American population, while American diseases apparently had no effect on the Europeans? After all, in H.G. Wells' (and Spielberg's) "War of the Worlds", it's the colonising force that suffers from its lack of immunity to native bacteria. In real life, exactly the opposite happened. You'd think that each side would be equally vulnerable to the other side's diseases. But apparently the Americans had no really effective diseases fighting on their side. So why did the Old World evolve all the really potent microorganisms while the New World remained disease-free?
I ran this problem by Warren a few nights ago and he theorised that the Old World was a more favourable environment for the emergence of new diseases because it was filthy and overcrowded. I don't know much about relative conditions in America and Europe in the 16th Century, so I can't say whether the life of the average Spaniard, say, was that much filthier than the life of the average Aztec. But it's certainly possible. It would be ironic if it turned out that Europe's triumph over the savages of the New World came about primarily because we exceeded them in squalor.
But maybe there is no particular reason why all the most infectious diseases emerged in the Old World and not in the New. Maybe it was just luck. It's fun to speculate how history might have turned out if the Indians had had smallpox working on their side. Probably the colonies would have withered and died, as the earlier Viking landing at Newfoundland had. More ominously, the ships carrying goods back from America to Europe would have carried plague with them, and it would have swept through Europe just as the Enlightenment was getting underway. Difficult to concentrate on science and philosophy when you're burning with fever and covered with sores. Meanwhile the Indians were acquiring all sorts of wonderful new technology from the colonists, via trade and plunder: notably guns and sailing ships. So maybe the Indians would have seen the unhealthy condition of the European settlers and concluded that there was nothing to stop them from sailing across the Atlantic and doing what the Europeans had tried to do to them. In which case you and I would probably be living on reserves right now, somewhere in Ukraine or Portugal or County Cork, bored and depressed, and wondering where it all went wrong.
RE: Plague vs. plague.
Olin Valby wrote:Makes sense. I read somewhere that the next global pandemic will probably originate in southern China or southeast Asia, where the presence of large numbers of livestock (mainly poultry) living in close proximity to humans makes it more likely for diseases to hop from bird to human hosts.
It reminds me of how I used to get sick all the time when I was working at Mac's, taking money every day from the hands of filthy disease-ridden children. Once I moved over to the porno store, where I was taking money only from the hands of healthy perverted adults, my sicknesses decreased dramatically.
I imagine the unhealthiest environment in the world would be a chicken farm run by small children.
So. I witnessed a robbery over the weekend. About 3 AM on Saturday night I was lying in bed reading when a gang of teenaged punks pulled up in two cars and parked in the parking lot just below my window. Nine or ten kids tumbled out of the cars and began shouting and smashing empty beer bottles on the pavement. I turned off my lights and peeked through the blinds to watch them. (On summer nights I often amuse myself by watching the young punks rumble on the street outside.)
I was disappointed because the punks didn't start fighting, they just tucked a couple cases of beer under their arms and strutted over in the direction of the rowdy party house on the corner. So I crawled back into bed and tried to sleep.
A few minutes later I was roused by more shouting and bottle-smashings. The kids were underneath my window, conspiring loudly. One of them said, "Fuck, we'll just park down the fucking alley." The cars started up and pulled away. A few second later, there were two loud crashes.
I went to the window again just in time to see three kids sprinting across the road, from the direction of the drugstore underneath my apartment, carrying bulky cardboard boxes. I'm assuming they were full of pills. The kids hopped into their car, which was parked as planned in the alley, and sped away.
A few minutes later the cops showed up and I watched them prowl the parking lot and the alley with a police dog. I thought about going down to tell the cops what I'd seen, but they seemed to have all the angles covered. They even had enough sense to go over and talk to the kids at the rowdy party house, who undoubtedly masterminded the whole thing. Anyway, I was embarrassed to realise that I had absorbed no useful information about the identity of the robbers. What were they wearing, what colour was their car? Hell, I dunno. I'm not even sure about their number. Were there three or four? I couldn't be sure. Fat lot of good I'll be if I'm ever a witness to a serious crime.
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Mr. Charles, is the murderer in the courtroom today?
MICHAEL: I believe so.
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Could you point him out?
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Mr. Charles, that is the jury foreman.
MICHAEL: Well, it was either him or that short black guy by the door. Or maybe that tall guy in the sombrero in the first row. Or it might have been a space alien.
Anyway. I was tired, and it was drizzling outside. So instead of blabbing to the cops, I went back to bed. Am I a lousy citizen?
Anyone watch the new Trudeau mini-series on CBC last night? It's all about Trudeau's early years as a world-travelling intellectual playboy. I assumed the show would be idiotic, but it's kind of fun. The filmmakers nicely capture what an infuriating, arrogant sonofabitch he could be. I missed the first hour, so I didn't have to endure any cheap psychoanalysis about his relationship with his mother. I tuned in just as he was returning from his round-the-world tour. Here's the two-minute version:
TRUDEAU FRIEND #1: Ah, pity poor Pierre! So brilliant, but so contentious.
TRUDEAU FRIEND #2: I love him, but sometimes he makes me so angry!
Enter Trudeau, with an absurd beard, walking on his hands.
TRUDEAU: Hello, my friends.
FRIEND #1: Ha ha, Pierre, always making a spectacle of yourself.
TRUDEAU: By no means! It's a habit I picked up in the Punjab.
FRIEND #2: Well, you've arrived just in time for our meeting with a Highly Important Political Figure. Now, Pierre, you must restrain your superior intellect and be courteous when you greet our guest!
TRUDEAU: Of course, of course.
Enter a Highly Important Political Figure. Friends #1 & #2 kiss his ring. Trudeau hangs back, stroking his absurd beard.
FRIENDS #1 & #2: Your excellency!
HIGHLY IMPORTANT POLITICAL FIGURE: I'm sorry I'm late, I was delayed by a crowd of ignorant soup-eating Frenchmen.
TRUDEAU: Perhaps if our countrymen had a taste of the democracy they were promised, they would lose their taste for soup.
HIGHLY IMPORTANT POLITICAL FIGURE: Why, I never!
The Highly Important Political Figure storms out.
FRIEND #1: Pierre, you will never get ahead with an attitude like that!
TRUDEAU [in lotus position]: Perhaps not, my friend. Perhaps not.
He hops in a canoe and paddles out of the room.
FRIEND #2: Ah, Pierre, Pierre! He infuriates me so!
FRIEND #1: And yet we love him.
FRIEND #2: Yes, we love him.
Did I ever tell you the story of my archnemesis, Kevin Chong?
Back when I was 18 or 19 and living in North Vancouver with my dad, I entered a "British Columbia youth playwriting competition" sponsored by the Gastown Theatre. I won first prize. A kid named Kevin Chong took fourth.
Winning wasn't that big a deal; the contest hadn't been very well publicised, so there were only about fifty entrants, all from the Lower Mainland. I won five hundred bucks and I got to see my play workshopped by a real director and semi-professional actors. (Among the actors, incidentally, was Molly Parker, who went on to star in "Kissed" and has become a semi-famous Canadian film star.) After the workshop my play and Kevin's were chosen from among the winners for a one-week run at the Gastown Theatre.
Kevin's play was, I think, about as bad as mine. While I was clumsily imitating existentialist comedy à la Samuel Beckett, Kevin Chong was wallowing in Tarantinoesque hipster violence and pop culture references. In retrospect I think his play might have been slightly better, if only because it was more concise and conducive to staging. Mine had about a dozen characters and a ridiculous number of lighting cues; his had three characters and a gun.
Kevin was a friendly, gregarious young guy who liked to show off how clever he was. Everybody loved him. I was about the same back then as I am now - shy, morose, and self-critical. I made no friends at all. After the play ended, I lost touch with all the theatre people I'd met, including Kevin Chong.
Years later, while I was working as a clerk at an adult video store here in Saskatoon, I read a review in the Globe and Mail of Kevin Chong's first novel, "Baroque-a-Nova". Since then he's released a non-fiction book about Neil Young and written articles for the Globe, the National Post, and Saturday Night magazine. I believe he's writing a column for the Vancouver Sun now. If you do a Google search for Kevin Chong, you get dozens of hits.
If you do a Google search for "Michael A. Charles", you get two relevant results. One is the Sea Water Bliss site. The other is a page at the Mendel website for our rock opera. Due to poor self-promotion on my part, Andrew and I are listed only at the bottom of the page under "musicians", and aren't even credited as the authors of the show. I complained to the Mendel about this once, but they didn't do anything about it.
I used to think that if I kept plugging away at the creative side, I could overcome my utter incompetence at winning friends and inluencing people. But hearing our debut CD has made me realise that I'm not good enough to get by on creativity alone. I think I've got just enough talent that, if it were wedded to a strong work ethic, an outgoing personality, and a can-do attitude, I could probably be successful. Not Madonna successful, but perhaps Kevin Chong successful. But I don't think my personality is going to change.
Anyway, I guess I have to keep plugging away, because I'm not sure what else to do with myself. Sorry to ramble.
I'm in the men's room at Lydia's, standing at a urinal. A guy steps out of the stall at the end of the room. He's an ordinary-looking joe with a goatee and a ballcap. "Can I ask you a question?" he says.
"I guess so," I say.
"I'm sorry, I'm so fucked up," he says. He wanders over to the sink and washes his hands. Then he wanders back and stands right next to me. "You know what time it is?"
"No," I say.
He's still standing there. "I'm sorry to bother you," he says. "Do you go to the university?"
"No," I say. He doesn't go away. I can't continue the conversation while simultaneously attempting to urinate, so I zip up my fly. But I remain standing in front of the urinal, with my hands near my belt buckle, so he can see that I still have business there to complete.
"Do you live near here?"
"Are you here with anybody?"
"Oh. Alright, man," he says. "Sorry to bother you with all these questions." He gives me a friendly pat on the shoulder and walks behind me. He stops by my other side and looks down at my crotch. "Did you stop peeing because of me?"
"Uh, yes," I say.
"It's not like it's anything I haven't seen before," he says. I give him an uneasy grimace.
With a curt regular-joe nod he exits the men's room. I am free to complete my business.
A few minutes later Olin gets up to go to the bathroom. Through the door as Olin comes out, I can see him talking to the same guy with the goatee and the ballcap. When he returns to our table I say, "Did that guy hit on you too?"
"Yes," Olin says.
"What's going on?" Warren asks.
"There's some guy making passes in the men's room," I explain.
"Creepy," Olin says. "It'd be a different thing if he came and sat down at our table and started flirting with me, but in the men's room..." He pauses. "Creepy."
"Maybe it's different if you're into men," I say. "Maybe the men's room seems like the appropriate place."
"Creepy," Olin says. Warren and I nod our heads.
I spent most of Wednesday composing this message and then realised on Thursday that no-one really gives a crap about my views on Canada's declining birthrate. Then today I decided that people might be grateful to have something to read, however irrelevant, when they could instead be working. So I'll send it anyway.
I am not, nor do I have any interest in becoming, a demographer, a geographer, an economist, or a statistician. But many of my friends have heard me ramble on about The Future and what I think it should look like. I remember a conversation with Dean & Anne where I mooted the idea of starting a new provincial political party, the Evacuation Party, whose platform would be to return Saskatchewan in its entirety to the Indians (assuming they still wanted it) and move everyone else to BC. This wasn't really a joke. I believe that the declining birthrate in Canada and other western countries presents us with a chance to remake the architecture of our civilisation in a fundamental way; to bulldoze our ugly freeways and generic suburbs and let them return to nature, and retrench with a smaller and denser population to a more attractive climate.
That's my utopian vision of Canada: nothing but bison and bears in the middle of the country, with a small, cosmopolitan, and well-educated population living in cities along the coasts. But I have to acknowledge the fears of conservative writers like Mark Steyn, who believes that the West is low-birthrating itself out of existence. He's Canadian, but his argument deals primarily with Europe:
"If European politicians make no serious attempt this decade to wean the populace off their unsustainable thirty-five-hour weeks, retirement at sixty, etc., then to keep the present level of pensions and health benefits the EU will need to import so many workers from North Africa and the Middle East that it will be well on its way to majority Muslim by 2035."(I encourage everyone to read the whole article, which is much wittier and more astute than the above sample would suggest.)
The problem, as Steyn sees it, isn't so much that Europe will be predominantly Muslim, but that European culture may cease to be European. He fears that much of the incoming Muslim population shows little interest in embracing the values of liberalism, tolerance, and equality that Europeans regard as the foundation of their culture. These Muslims are happy to shelter under Europe's protections for minorities so long as they themselves are the minority; but will they retain the habit when Muslims are the majority and it is Europe's gays, gypsies, and Lutherans who need protecting?
It's easy to caricature Steyn's article as mere anti-Muslim paranoia, but his argument can be extended to other societies besides Europe. Take Israel; founded by secularists, but increasingly dominated in its politics and culture by high-birthrate Orthodox Jews who believe that it is not only strategically unwise, but an actual sin against G-d, to cede any territory to the Arabs. Or consider the U.S., where high-birthrate fundamentalist and evangelical Christians have shifted the political centre of gravity away from the liberal northeast and toward the more conservative south, resulting in the rise of George W. Bush.
Nearly everywhere that secular and religious societies live side by side, the secularists are declining in population and consequently in political influence. The reason is that secular women aren't that interested in having babies. Why should they be? Babies are unpleasant to have. They're a physical burden for nine months, and an emotional and financial burden for decades afterward. Most secular women seem to want to have one anyway - presumably on the grounds that Well, I've got this uterus, I might as well try it out at least once - while some are willing to go for two, and a few even for three. How many will go higher? The only women who continue to have babies in any numbers are those who believe that having babies is their duty; namely, very religious women.
Here's where I part company with Mark Steyn; he believes that secular women should put their careers on hold and start breeding like Somalis. I think women should give up breeding altogether and we should grow our babies in bottles. But regardless of one's politics, the demographic trend is worrisome, if we care about passing on liberal democratic values to the next generation.
(Maybe it's presumptuous of me to use the word "we". But it's probably safe to assume that everyone reading this, whatever his or her religious leanings, broadly favours the secular values of our society over the values of, say, Saudi Arabia, or even rural Oklahoma.)
So what can secularists do? (Short of having more babies, which we don't want to do.) As it's not viable economically to close ourselves off from the outside world - and anyway to do so would go against our principles - we have to absorb and integrate an ever-increasing number of high-birthrate peoples. And whether the incoming group is Muslim or Mormon or Sikh or Southern Baptist, we low-birthrate secularists, if we wish to retain our freedoms, have to somehow convince these very religious newcomers to accept laws and customs that may be deeply disagreeable to them; gay rights, sacrilege of various stripes, lewd double entendres on network television.
We have to ask believers in a Revealed Truth to co-exist peacefully with a plurality of other Revealed Truths. In so doing, we are effectively asking them to water down their Truth, while we cling tenaciously to our own; which is that there is no one Truth. But of course our Truth is a paradox - if there is no one Truth, then our Truth, too, could be false - while theirs is a banner, or a book, or a bloodline; something which can be rallied around and fought for. So our subtle, gnostic Truth will always be at a disadvantage against the louder, angrier Truths of the others; and that disadvantage will only be compounded by our numerical weakness.
Meanwhile the severer sort of Muslim (to take one example) has the opposite fear; that our Untruth is so seductive that if it isn't combatted with violence, he will succumb to it, and become an Unbeliever like us. And frankly, I hope he's right. That is to say, I really hope that western culture, from Dante through to "Desperate Housewives", from the Federalist Papers to the Bush Doctrine, is as toxic as the mullahs believe it to be, so that we may infect the downtrodden masses of the Arab world before their culture grows strong enough to infect us. I don't really mind if our descendants a hundred years from now (living in their lovely tree-lined cities on the BC coast) wind up speaking some other language besides English, and I certainly don't care whether their skin is brown or white. But I'll be deeply peeved if the women are lurching around under little black tents and the boy children are sitting in madrassas, cultivating their wispy beards, and learning that the truth revealed to the Prophet Muhammad is the only truth worth knowing.
Well, it's voting day and I still don't know who I'm going to vote for. I've always been an indecisive voter - I usually find myself marking the ballot with a vague sense of guilt that I'm too ill-informed to participate in the democratic process. Often my final decision amounts to little better than a coin toss. Luckily, I have been consistently spared the responsibility of having made the wrong choice: my chosen candidate is always soundly defeated. As I'm in a fairly safe Conservative riding it appears that, whoever I choose, my candidate will be defeated again today. I take comfort in the knowledge that my decision is inconsequential.
Voting must be so much easier for people whose views pile up neatly somewhere along the left-right axis. The folks who favour gun control, distrust big business, embrace multiculturalism, and think we're too cosy with the United States probably knew from day one where they were going to be parking their vote. Same with the get-tough-on-crime, traditional-definition-of-marriage crowd. It is my belief that this is not the way most Canadians - in fact, most humans - approach politics; talking with the average schmoe on the street you discover that support for gay marriage can coexist happily in his mind with a capital gains tax cut, that he may dislike George Bush's foreign policy but also favour privatising the CBC, he may hate Big Oil but hate the wheat board even more.
I don't think this is because the schmoe on the street is ignorant. It's because he's insulated from the tidy narratives of professional ideologues. He just doesn't realise, or care, that the environment is a "left-wing" concern and law-and-order is a "right-wing" concern; he prefers to order his politics à la carte, while the parties are offering only Combination Meal A, B, or C. For the schmoes - I should confess that I'm a schmoe - voting is a complicated, disheartening process of prioritising one's beliefs and settling on the least-unsuitable candidate. This is made harder by having to vote strategically in order to get the least-unsuitable party into power at the national level. It's way too much to think about. Yet somehow our half-assed decision-making averages out and we wind up with a moderately competent, transparent government that doesn't really please anyone but that most of us are willing to live with anyhow.
That's why I'm not too fearful of tonight's outcome. In 2004 Canadians repudiated the wild-and-woolly Conservatives; in response, the party hid away its more objectionable members in Stephen Harper's backyard fallout shelter and came out with the slightly less wild-and-woolly 2006 platform. Now Stephen Harper gets to be Prime Minister for a while, provided he behaves; but if his Alberta caucus comes storming out of the wilderness and smashing all the statuary, Canadians will just kick them out again in a few years. Round and round she goes. But that doesn't answer the question of who I should vote for today.
I just read an article (no longer available online) from the Australian press about the uncanny popularity of small-C conservative Prime Minister John Howard among that country's young people (dubbed the "young fogies").
I can honestly claim complete agnosticism on the subject of which political party should govern Australia, but I still found the article a little depressing. A retreat from the pieties of '60s-era liberalism is probably a good thing, but I hope it doesn't simply lead to an embrace of the pieties of '50s-era conservatism. I suppose we'll balance out somewhere in the middle. I'm just grumpy cos my particular pieties aren't doing so well right now.
Warren and I went for soup at Calories on the weekend, and discussed the theory that high birthrates among religious believers could lead to the decline of liberalism. At one point I mused, "Maybe technology could save us." But I didn't really follow through on my thought. What I was getting at was that reproductive technology could take some of the pressure off western women who aren't keen on squirting out a half-dozen children apiece just to balance out the fecundity of Yemeni mothers. Right now there seems to be a kind of prejudice against the idea of incubating babies in fluid-filled sacs, rather than in human uteruses. But there was prejudice against test-tube babies, too. I'm not saying every baby needs to be grown in a sac; only enough to bring our fertility back above replacement rates. Our current strategy of augmenting our fertility by importing all the smartest, most ambitious young people from Third World countries has the downside of leaving the Third World countries denuded of what should be their middle classes. Great for us, not necessarily so great for the Third World. Since we're trying to devise strategies that will reduce their desire to release anthrax in our shopping malls, this is something we should think carefully about.
Somehow this line of thought leads me to this article, which says that blonde-haired people are doomed to extinction. Or rather, that the trait of blondeness will be bred out of existence by sometime in the 23rd century. (NOTE: the article has since been corrected. Apparently blondes aren't endangered after all.)
Anybody remember the scene in "Bulworth" where Warren Beatty calls for the "elimination" of white people? "We need a voluntary, free-spirited, compatible, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just got to keep fucking everybody till we're all the same colour." Sounds great at first. Undoubtedly this would lead to greater peace and understanding. But what a boring world it will be once we all share the same light brown skin, the same almond-shaped hazel eyes, the same wavy dark hair.
But again, maybe technology could save us. Maybe people will find the lack of diversity boring and start messing around with their genes just to see what happens. Maybe racial diversity will no longer consist of Chinese and Swedes and Eskimos, but rat-tail people with rat genes, and rhino-nosed people with rhino genes, and glow-in-the-dark people with jellyfish genes. And the rat people could have babies with the jellyfish people, and their babies could breed with the monkey babies, and so on. What a mess that would be. But an interesting mess. I would sign up right now for Spock ears if I could.
The Regional Psychiatric Centre is laid out in a circle around a courtyard about a hundred feet across. In the middle of the courtyard stands what appears at first glance to be a piece of modern sculpture. Then you look again and realise it's just a thick pole topped with about a hundred high-wattage lamps pointed every which way. I'm not sure if these lamps burn all night. It would be pretty damn bright. Probably they only turn them on during escape attempts.
Ernie and Chris and I were there to drop off a couple of printers and to get a tour of the institution. I guess I was hoping for something out of "Silence of the Lambs" - buzzing fluorescent lights, clanging doors, creepy lunatics muttering in their cells. But it felt more like a hospital. Except that every time we went through a door our host, Shawn, had to look up into a closed-circuit camera so that the guards could visually identify him and release the lock. Shawn told us that he was trying to minimise the number of doors we passed through on our tour. "The guards get mad when they have to open a lot of doors for no good reason."
We didn't really spend much time in the areas where prisoners are kept. But the prisoners seemed to wander pretty freely, so we passed lots of them in the corridors. When we stopped to chat with one of the guards, Shawn told him, "These guys didn't even notice when we passed our local celebrity."
"You mean Crawford?" said the guard.
"Who's Crawford?" I said.
"John Crawford. Remember? He killed four or five prostitutes back in the nineties."
"Ah, they wouldn't have even recognised him," said the guard. "He gets fatter every year." They snickered, like we were gossiping about some washed up '80s rock star.
I asked Shawn if he'd ever had any trouble with prisoners, but he said there was nothing to worry about. He didn't even notice when a guy nonchalantly followed us through a door that we'd just opened. A guard's voice shouted through the intercom: "Staff only in this area!" "I think it's staff only right now," Shawn called after him as the prisoner walked briskly away down the empty corridor. But the guy just kept walking. Shawn shrugged. We didn't hear any sirens, so I guess we didn't allow any mass murderers to escape.
We stopped to talk to a very cute intern from the University of Alberta who was conducting a study on gang membership and recidivism. She told us about a study of sex offenders she'd recently participated in. "We put them into this little room, and they sit in this easy chair in front of a TV screen, and they strap on the apparatus," she explained, somewhat vaguely. (To give you an idea of what she's talking about, the "apparatus" is known as a "phallometric device".) "Then we watch them through a two-way mirror so that we can make sure their eyes aren't closed when they're supposed to be watching the screen. Then we flash different images on the screen and the apparatus measures their level of arousal." I wanted to ask more questions about this, but I thought it would make me seem pervy. What does a "phallometric device" look like? What kind of images do they flash on the screen? Porn? Violent porn? Child porn? If it's illegal stuff, where do they find it? Is there some psych intern out there getting paid to cruise the internet for donkey sex videos?
The other guys wandered off to discuss boring computer stuff, but I stayed to chat with the cute intern. She told me about how the Psych Centre works. For the most part, offenders are only there for the duration of a "program", usually lasting six to eight months, and then they're either sent back to their originating prison, or, if the treatment is deemed to have been successful, they might get moved to a lower-security institution. Most offenders aren't eager to leave the relaxed environment at RPC to return to the stress of prison life. That's why they're pretty well-behaved.
I asked what kind of programs there were. "Oh, you know, sex offender, substance abuse, gangs, aggressive behaviour modification..."
"So a prisoner at Sask Pen can be extra aggressive, and as a reward he gets to come to RPC for the aggressive behaviour program?" I asked. My question seemed to offend her. I wasn't trying to criticise the system, I was just pointing out a little irony.
"I wouldn't call it a reward," she said. "We're giving them an opportunity to change their behaviour patterns."
"Sure, of course," I said, trying to be agreeable. But apparently I'd violated some kind of psychiatric-care taboo, because my conversation with the cute intern kind of fizzled out. I rejoined the others and we resumed the tour. Shawn showed us the kitchen and the laundry and the office where there was recently an attempted sexual assault. "So they put a lock on the door," Shawn pointed out.
When Ernie and Chris and I returned to our office it was already four o'clock. We'd managed to fritter away the entire afternoon. The trip was well worth it - and I didn't even get shanked.
I thought I'd share the results of my recent attempts to rejoin the artistic community. As I previously mentioned, Jay and I recently applied for a small ($500) development grant from Paved Arts to film one of my short screenplays. We were rejected.
Around the same time, Andrew and I applied to take part in another Paved Arts project, a live radio "cabaret" to be hosted by CFCR later this month. And we were rejected.
Of course it's immature to be discouraged by these results. There are hundreds of valid reasons to reject us that have nothing to do with our sucking. For instance, the video grant people were probably looking for something artsier, or something more multicultural, or something with more Canadian content. When Warren and I went to see "TransAmerica" at the Broadway Theatre a couple weeks back, they showed two Paved video shorts before the main feature. One of them was about an elderly woman who grows Russian sugar beans. The other one was entirely in French, but it seemed to be about a woman who draws pictures of mermaids, and who may once have been a bush pilot. If these are the kind of project proposals Paved Art goes for, it's not surprising Jay and I got the brush-off. I thought the videos were a little dull and baffling, but hey, it's their money, they can spend it how they want.
As for the live radio "cabaret", who knows what they were looking for? Again, probably something artsy. Andrew and I proposed a musical re-telling of the siege of Syracuse during the Peloponnesian War. Upon reflection I can see that this probably has as little artistic appeal as it does commercial appeal.
Granted, my efforts to reach out to the wider human race have been fairly limited. It would be ridiculous to conclude, based on a handful of rejections, that the whole world is aligned against me. But I've collected enough evidence to conclude that I have a handicap in all my artistic strivings, which is that I'm not artsy enough to be an artist, and not commercial enough to be a mainstream success. I think this means that if I want to make movies or record albums, I'm always going have to pay for them my own damn self. Which, when you think about it, is not unreasonable. Why should I be any different from the average basement train-hobbyist or stamp-collector or painter of cast-iron miniature Lord of the Rings figurines?
Incidentally, I also applied for my first credit card recently. I'm not optimistic.
For those of you who aren't regular readers of Foreign Policy magazine, you might have missed this article (subscription required) which basically reiterates (using longer words) my comments from a few months back about low birthrates and the impending death of liberalism.
Very depressing. Of course, baleful predictions about the end of the world as we know it usually turn out to be wrong by approximately one hundred percent. Remember that forty years ago the Gloomy Guses were going on not about low birthrates but about overpopulation, and the biggest fear wasn't global warming, but the oncoming ice age. Still, civilisations do collapse from time to time, so you can't be too smug about it.
But we're not talking about the civilisation collapsing, just changing in a fundamental way. And that's pretty bad, too, if you're at all invested in things remaining the way they currently are. Probably our descendants, sitting in Bible-study class in their ankle-length skirts and kerchiefs, will look back on our licentious era with horror, as a dignified Victorian gentleman might have looked back upon the bear-baiting excesses of Shakespeare's age. The Victorians of the future will regard their litany of petty taboos as signs not of repression but of enlightenment, and, just like every culture, will celebrate what stifles them. They'll be content. But we don't have to be. Although we won't survive long enough to be appalled by the backwardness of those who come after us, we're alive right now, and we have every right to worry that our cultural heirs might be a bunch of prudes and uptight a-holes. If only we could disinherit them, and pass on our culture - with all its kinks and perversions intact - to someone who could be trusted to preserve it - a race of space aliens, maybe, who would continue masturbating to internet porn, and quoting liberally from old Seinfeld episodes, and neglecting to procreate, just as we'd wish them to, beneath the surface of one of Saturn's water-bearing moons.
But till those masturbating aliens come along, we're stuck with the dilemma of how to preserve our culture here on the planet earth. As I see it, there are three possible strategies:
1) We outbreed the cultural conservatives.
Option 1 is a non-starter, unless we develop new reproductive technology to enhance our fertility. Maybe if all the downtown-dwelling bachelors and bachelorettes could be convinced to clone themselves, we could keep pace with the rural South Dakotan housewife who thinks permanent pregnancy is her sacred duty to God and the Founding Fathers. But the technology isn't developing fast enough for this solution to be viable. By the time I drag Michael v2.0 naked and shivering from his fluid-filled sac, the demographic battle will already be lost.
Option 2 isn't really feasible, either. To coercively limit the birthrate, as the Communist Party did in China, goes against the very principle of liberty that we're trying to preserve. Which leaves Option 3 - the one we're already pursuing, by default - the corruption of the youth. This is a delicate operation. Obviously in order to coax the kids over to our side we need to make decadence and unrestrained free expression as attractive as possible - which isn't difficult - but, if we go too far we'll provoke a reaction from their vigilant parents, who'll just lock their sons and daughters in the basement, slap a V-chip on the television and an internet content filter on the computer, and ignore the outside world as it parties itself to extinction. Also, we can't cop to our strategy or else the parents will figure out what we're up to - you can already hear them muttering about "activist judges" and the "homosexual agenda" - so it's difficult to coordinate our scattered efforts to undermine the traditional family.
Unfortunately, we're not likely to live long enough to see whether our plan has been successful. Or maybe that's a blessing. If these really are the Last Days of the Roman Empire, as the survivalists and conspiracy theorists have been ranting for years, we can only hope for a pleasant death in a nursing home, with Seinfeld reruns on the TV, while the barbarians glower at us through the windows.
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