Friday, April 29, 2005

Happy Birthday to you, whoever you are...

My wife's birthday is coming up and our home now has a layer of birthday cards in its interior. My wife will not open any of them until her actual birthday, but that's another day's blog entry.

The point I want to make is this: I am terribly impressed by those who send birthday cards regularly. These people seem to me to be wizards of consideration and efficiency. I myself have tried to keep track of such things. I had a Palm PDA for a while but it died and I can't afford to buy any more disposable computers. I made a list of birthdays of people I know, but I've lost it somewhere in my desk, and even before I did, I forgot to check it regularly.

As for my brain, it has room for approximately six birthdays. I'm not kidding. I know mine, my wife's, and both of my brothers. I have a general idea of my parents' and my sisters. Oh, and I know Shakespeare's as well as anyone does. One of my neices was born on Groundhog Day and one of my nephews was born on Victoria Day so I sort of remember those.

And that's pretty much it. It's entirely possible, of course, that all this makes me a bad person. But I prefer to think it's normal and that Jane, Stacey, my Dad, and everyone else who remembered Vanessa's birthday in time to send a card are saintly models of virtue.

If any more cards arrive tomorrow, I may have trouble keeping up the illusion.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A Defense of TV

Recently, the Word-a-Day email list was flooded with posts about the evils of television. Here's what I sent in return.

First, while most of what is on television is nonsense, so is most of what is printed in books, not to mention magazines and newspapers. Those who imagine that "reading" is vastly superior to television really mean that carefully selected reading is better than simply turning on the TV and watching whatever is on. Perhaps, but the comparison is unfair. Of course there are brillian books to be read, but that doesn't mean that reading is itself an intellectually challenging or dignified activity. Indeed, I am appalled by the lack of really good fiction available today. I read novel after novel and find myself constantly slogging through tortured, self-indulgent prose (I pray for a well-chosen verb), the same tired themes (thank God for the modern novelist lest we think abuse and injustice are good things), and the same narratives over and over again (marginalized group has a hell of a time but maintains its dignity).

Even an average TV writer, by comparison, one who actually has to entertain a large number of people (rather than impress professors and granting agencies), is a master of economy and narrative precision (consider the best episodes The West Wing, or, more recently, House). Moreover, television is one place where our society retains its sense of humour, something that has been lost in too much fiction and too much of modern life, for that matter. I am grateful for frequent doses of Jon Stewart who, in the greatest tradition of satirists and other humourists, cuts through pretension and folly on the acclaimed (by those who watch) Daily Show.

Still further, television enables us to see things that men and women in similar circumstances would never have been able to see for most of the history of humankind. I recently witnessed the announcement of a new Pope. Such historic events, events that in previous ages would have been witnessed by thousands, were available to millions, if not billions via television.

Of course we should not encourage mindless passivity, but TV has no monopoly on that. If we were out to stop kids from sitting for hours without real intelletual stimulation, we should start with the public school system.

Monday, April 25, 2005

What you can do.

When I'm feeling down, I go to my bookshelf and take down my copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. It usually gives me inspiration, and today was no exception.

Today, I was struck by the following passage, and I thought I would share it with you, gentle readers. Marcus writes:

You cannot hope to be a scholar. But what you can do is to curb arrogance; what you can do is rise above pleasures and pains; you can be superior to the lure of popularity; you can keep your temper with the foolish and ungrateful, yes, and even care for them. (VIII.8)

Sometimes you need to hear what you don't know; sometimes you need to hear what you know.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Have a good weekend

I don't quite get it when people say, "have a good weekend."

I think they think the weekend is a fun time, free from the cares of the working week. Thank God it's Friday. Have a good weekend.

Maybe it's just me, but I kind of dislike the weekends. Not only does the TV suck, but there's always so much to be done. I work as much on the weekend as I do during the week and usually more. And a lot of that work is not the work I want to be doing, not the work I'm trained to do, not my job, but trivial drudgery like fixing the toilet or doing my income tax. The weekend is two days of hard labour that I endure until I can get back to what I want to be doing.

Thank God for Monday.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Pett Peeve: Washrooms

I understand that there is a certain logic to having washrooms designated for men and women, but surely that only applies when the facilities in question are designed to be used by more than one person at a time. There are at least two sets of washrooms at Cape Breton University of the sort that can only be used by one person at a time, and yet in both cases, they are designated men's and women's.


If there's only one person in there at once, what difference does it make who uses which? Worse than that, if there happen to be two men or two women in need at the same time, someone will have to wait while a perfectly good washroom stands empty.

What really bugs me though is that the only explanation for this phenomenon is that whoever is responsible for such things just did not bother to think about it. You have two, then one is men's and one is women's. That's just the way it is.

OK, so it's just a washroom. But it's a small example of a very dangerous principle: things must be the way they are because that is the way they have been.