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Philosophy of boredom*

Spending a Saturday morning in a conference on the anthropology and philosophy of suicide was a fucking awesome idea.

First of all, today’s conference combines the sheer incomprehensibility of Thursday’s sessions on the neurobiology of suicide with the mind-crushing boredom of Friday’s statistical representations of populational subgroups of suicide attempters and completers. (Yes, that’s what we call them. We’re totally human like that.)

Second, the current presenter’s main focus seems to be to question the validity of the hyper-specialization of science– in a room full of hyper-specialized scientific researchers– and this creates a delightful atmosphere on thinly veiled hostility in the audience around me.

Third, there are ample references to Michel Foucault, a deep thinker who baffled and demoralized me throughout an entire master’s degree.

And finally, although I consider myself fluently bilingual and work and teach primarily in French, the presenter’s monotonous Parisian accent is making me suicidal myself.

Where does this leave Humanity? Down a point for experts who decry the hyper-specialization of science in language too complicated for non-specialists like me.

The Apocalypse: 30
Humanity: 23.5

* Nobody wants to read pathetic excuses about months of blog neglect, right?


Montreal swingers score 2nd point for humanity

Having appointed myself arbiter of the fate of Humanity, I probably should have been live blogging the whole May 21st Not-The-Rapture-After-All. But my daughter went to her first sleep-away camp this weekend and it seemed a better use of my time to get drunk and have sex with my girlfriend. Especially since this time we had the foresight to arrange a kennel for the dog so he would not interrupt us making out on the couch by dropping drooly dog toys in our laps. So much for building my brand through search engine optimization.

I am too tired now for a long post, but I promised a couple of points this week for Humanity. Since I am still in the hazy good mood that follows being (copiously) laid, I’m going to see that through. This week’s point to Humanity goes to  Mouna Andraos and Melissa Mongiat for their art installation 21 Swings:

This exhibit is designed to be an experiment in cooperation, which is nice enough. But I walk by this several times a week and I can tell you that the real power of these swings is play. First thing in the morning, they are used by the urban poor– many of whom seem to be Inuit street people. As rush hour starts, you get professionals in business suits and high heels swinging away as they wait for the bus across the street. After school and weekends, it’s a mix of families and tourists, but with as many or more adults than kids. Swinging away, smiling. And if adults are willing to cast dignity aside and play on the swings, there has to be some hope for Humanity.

The Apocalypse: 29

Humanity: 23.5

Rest in peace, Boom Boom

Golden Retriever

Image by rkleine via Flickr

The May 21st Apocalypse is practically upon us, so I feel pressured to throw in at least a couple of points for Humanity this week.

The first one goes to Boom Boom, who taught my daughter a valuable lesson about life and love.

Boom Boom was a 14 year-old golden retriever who lived across the street. He was absolutely the heart and soul of my inner city neighborhood – he loved and was loved by everyone. And last week, his time came to an end. (If you have a dog you love, you may want to stop reading now.) After months of loving care and expensive veterinary treatment, his owner finally broke down and scheduled his final day. We were invited to drop by that evening before the vet arrived. Since my daughter’s most frequent question about our own dog is, “Mummy, how long can we keep Jack before he dies?”, I planned a quick five-minute goodbye.

When we got there, some neighbors had already arrived. We had all agreed beforehand that Chantal would need time alone with her dog, but she opened a bottle of wine and we started to talk. Another family with children joined us and she got out paper and stickers to entertain them. Before we realized it, we were swept up in an impromptu wake for a dog.

If you read even one of these posts, you will know that I am not the kind of person who could approach a wake for a dog without scathing ridicule. But there I was in this spontaneous gathering to celebrate the passing of a golden retriever. And it was beautiful. We told stories and we laughed. Every now and then someone broke down and cried. The children alternated between sitting on the floor petting the dog and running around the house. I watched my 8 year-old blink back tears, trying to be strong. And then the vet, Dr. Judith Weissmann, arrived.

I have to name the vet, because she is the most sensitive, caring health care professional I have ever met. I wish she treated humans too.

She arrived at 7:00. On a Friday. She took the time to greet everyone, to express her condolences, to get to know the kids. She waited patiently until Chantal was ready for her to prepare the injections. Chantal decided she didn’t want to go through the procedure alone, so we stayed. The children watched as Judith prepared the syringes and, sensing they needed to be part of it, she took the time to explain every step.

While this was going on, my girlfriend and I had to decide just how much our daughter could watch. She had never been exposed to death before and, as an adopted child, she has unconscious but deeply rooted memories of losing everyone in her life. We decided that it would be best for her to see and to understand, rather than having Boom Boom simply disappear.

We sat around the dog while Judith prepared to give him the anesthetic. We waited patiently while he went to sleep. Then, when Chantal was ready, Judith disinfected the site for the final injection – such an unnecessarily beautiful gesture – and gave Boom Boom a kiss on the nose. There was another long wait until Chantal was ready, and then the final injection. We sat silently while Judith let Chantal check that his heart had really stopped. And then the children cried.

Chantal had arranged for her dog to be cremated, so the vet stepped quietly outside to call Simon, who was waiting in his truck outside. When he came through the door, he took off his ball cap and held it over his heart, expressing his condolences with a silent nod. He wrapped Boom Boom in a blanket, gently lifted him on the stretcher, and he and Judith carried him down the stairs with the quiet dignity of pallbearers, the rest of us following behind. Chantal and the children said a final, sobbing goodbye, and the truck drove away. Then we all gathered at our house across the street to let the children play a little and to take care of Chantal.

This evening was an incredible gift for my daughter. She learned what is supposed to happen when someone dies. The community gathers. We tell stories, we laugh, and we cry. We make the passing as gentle as we can for those who are left behind, and we take the time to say goodbye.

I think Humanity deserves a point for that.

The Apocalypse: 29

Humanity: 22.5

Cracking down on Ashley Smith?

I should probably write something about the results of Monday’s federal election, but I am too damned depressed. For my… ahem… international readers, Canada just handed a majority government to the only Prime Minister in its history to be found in contempt of parliament. Roughly the equivalent to re-electing Richard Nixon after Watergate.

Still, the election does provide a bridge to this post, since one of Stephen Harper‘s first orders of business will be a “crackdown on the handling of violent and repeat young offenders.” This is ironic, given that the family of one of the most tragic victims of our existing treatment of young and young adult offenders has just settled an $11 million lawsuit against Correctional Services of Canada. (Note to aforementioned international readers: in Canada, $11 million would have been astronomical damages. Courts here don’t hand out millions because McDonalds failed to warn us that their coffee is hot.)

In 2007, Ashley Smith died in her federal cell of self-strangulation while her prison guards watched. She was 19 years old.

This morning I read the damning reports on her treatment as a young offender in a provincial jail and of her death in adult custody. It is depressing stuff. The story is long and complex, best summed up by saying that she was jailed at 13 for throwing crab apples at a mailman and spent the rest of her adolescent life being bounced between prisons, displaying increasingly disturbed behaviour that a ten year-old could identify as serious psychiatric problems but receiving next to no psychiatric help.

Ashley Smith was a deeply troubled and incredibly difficult young woman to deal with. She started showing signs of behavior problems as early as 9 or 10. Although the crab apple incident seems a ridiculous reason to send a youth to secure custody, she had already accumulated a long history of serious behaviour problems. By the time she was 13, she was already a violent and repeat offender. The reports don’t talk much about her mother, but there is no indication of an abusive or neglectful family, and lots of evidence of the early onset of serious psychiatric problems. At various points in her brief life, Ashely Smith had been diagnosed with servere Borderline Personality Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADD, and Aspergers Syndrome. None of these conditions were adequately treated. None. Instead, the system cracked down on her.

While in custody, she hit, bit, and spit on correctional officers, smeared feces on the windows of her cell, and tore up clothing and mattresses to fashion ligatures to strangle herself with. Pretty much daily. The sheer magnitude of her disruptive behaviour ought to have been a sign that something was deeply wrong with this young woman and that she needed serious psychiatric help, right? Sadly, it was not.

Probably the most depressing thing in both reports combined is a quote from a psychiatrist who evaluted her: “Ms. Smith clearly understands her responsibilities and their consequences and can control her behaviours when she chooses to.” (Note to psychiatrists: the fact that a person with a mental illness understands that their behaviour is wrong and is able to control it at times does not mean we can expect them to do this every fucking day.)

The reports don’t draw the line, but it’s pretty easy to imagine how that kind of assessement would lead to correctional staff to see her as bad rather than sick. That’s the kind of attitude that causes us to crack down.

If Ashely Smith is just a rotten kid, then she is choosing to be violent and self-harming. She has other options available to her and is able to use these options every single day, but somehow she prefers to be physically restrained, pepper-sprayed, tazered, straigtjacketed, and locked in solitary confinement for up to 60% of her time, rather than participating in the youth jail’s arts and gardening programs. This is her choice.

If Ashley Smith is mentally ill, even though she knows how she ought to behave and she knows that what she does is wrong, she often loses control of her behaviour and poses a threat to her own safety and the safety of others. She needs to be restrained, controlled, and even isolated at times to protect her and others. But she also needs treatment.

Ashley Smith spent five years in the correctional system with no comprehensive psychiatric treatment plan and almost no therapy. Attempts were made, but she was never allowed to stay in a facility long enough to be properly assessed and to get help.  In the 11 months before she died, she was transferred 17 times.

Segregation seems to have been the most popular element of cracking down on Ashley Smith. In the youth centre, it accounted for up to 60% of her time. And as described in the federal report on her adult incarceration:

In the weeks prior to her death, Ms. Smith spent all of her time in a security gown, in a poorly lit segregation cell, interacting with staff only through a tiny food slot and with absolutely nothing to occupy her time.

Experts agree that much of her very problematic behaviour was probably caused or exacerbated by being in segregation, where the only access to human contact she had for days on end was being physically restrained. As one report concludes, prolonged isolation leads to all the symptoms and behaviour for which she was being isolated:

 negative attitudes and affect, anxiety, panic, withdrawal, hypersensitivity, ruminations, cognitive dysfunction, loss of control, irritability, aggression, rage, paranoia, hopelessness, lethargy, depression, a sense of impending emotional breakdown, self-mutilation,  and suicidal ideation and behaviour.

Violent and repeat young offenders, by definition, need help. I am not saying they should not also go to jail, but a crackdown mentality is not going to make them stop. But the Conservatives have majority government now, so that means we will have no choice. Once again, Stephen Harper comes through for the Apocalypse.

The Apocalypse: 29

Humanity: 21.5

(Days left to the potential rapture of Stephen Harper: 16. Pray hard, readers. Pray hard.)

End of warranty blues

I’m having one of those days where if Gandhi even looked at me sideways, I would kick him in the nuts. Yes, I know he is dead. But I think my willingness to kick him in the nuts is the best way to express how I feel.

Growing old is supposed to be great. I am a feminist unfazed by body issues. I embraced my 40th birthday and have counted on things getting better and better for at least another ten years. And then I was subjected to a series of end-of-warranty medical examinations that sap my faith in the beauty of age.

I have to get a mammogram. I am only 43, but the fact that I have never been on the pill and my ovum have never been infiltrated by sperm means I have some kind of extra risk. Because I’m a lesbian, I get to have my boobs pressed in the titty-panini a full seven years early. And I’m not even a gold star.

And my doctor ordered a hemocult, which is the medical term for “smear some of your shit on a piece of cardboard for three days in a row and keep it in your fridge.” They do not make a ziplock bag thick enough for me to store fecal samples in my goddamned fridge. But I have to do this anyway, or she will order a colonoscopy, which is, of course, the medical term for shoving a video camera up your ass. Not because I am having any particular colorectal issues. Just because I am 43.

Had my eyes checked today and I don’t need bifocals. But he’s giving me another two years. And I get to see a specialist for a black hole at the back of my left eye which, if I understood correctly, is either nothing to worry about or my retina about to detach.

And that’s another thing that pisses me off. If you are going to refer me to a specialist, don’t fucking tell me that it’s probably okay. This will NOT stop me from having a goddamned anxiety attack- all it does it take away my right to make dramatic announcements about how my retina is about to detach. What the fuck is the point of having a problem with your retina if you can’t dramatically announce that it is about to detach?

Is it fair to blame all this on Humanity? Probably not. But I’m giving a point to the Apocalypse anyway, because Gandhi is not here for me to kick him in the nuts.

The Apocalypse: 28

Humanity: 21.5

Nominate Stephen Harper for the Rapture

I got it all wrong. I was ready to drop everything and lobby for all Humanity, missing perhaps the only opportunity I have to engage meaningfully in the Canadian political process. This Judgement Day business is our way out! If Harper wins, we could be saved by the rapture!

Accordingly, I have created a Facebook event to help Stephen Harper get saved:

Nominate Stephen Harper for the Rapture

You may not be aware of this, but a Christian radio station in California has established  May 21st as the Day of Judgement. As a devout atheist,  I may not have all the details straight, but I believe this means that God is scheduled to make his final choice on the sheep and the goats. Those who are saved will be beamed up directly to him, and the rest of us will be left behind to suffer the end days with the Beast.

If this is true, it presents a unique opportunity for the Canadian voter. If the efforts of Iggy, Jack, and Gilles are not enough to keep Stephen Harper from winning a majority government, we can pray for him to be taken up in the rapture.

It’s a win-win solution. There’s not enough time between the May 2nd election and the Judgement for him to ruin what is left of our democracy. And since Stephen Harper is a member of a fundamentalist Christian church and would be on the list of the hopeful, we would actually be doing him a favour as well.

Atheist, agnostic or member of another faith? Not a problem. Think how impressed Harper’s God will be when the unwashed heathens petition his behalf!

Given the bovine complacency and gullibility of the average Canadian voter, willing to hand this despotic right-wing nut majority control over our government because he took credit for a system of banking regulations that saved us from the worst of the recession (which, as a libertarian, he would have dismantled if he’d had the opportunity), this may be our only chance.

I humbly submit the following prayer for your consideration:

Lord, if Your judgement day is indeed slated for May 21st, I humbly beseech You to include Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Saved. I know, Lord, that he presides over a sinful nation of abominations like equal rights for gays, but I assure you that Stephen Harper is  a faithful fundamentalist Christian and, were he not hobbled with a heathen majority in the House of Commons and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he would have abolished all such progressive legislation years ago.

Lord, if you call home the Faithful on May 21st, please do not overlook Stephen Harper in the rapture.


And the point? For The Apocalypse, of course. Because the post-rapture world promises to be more democratic than a Harper majority government.

The Apocalypse: 27

Humanity: 21.5

The end?

The end is near, apparently. And the timing couldn’t be worse.

Canada is heading into a federal election which might give our right-wing nutwad prime minister, Stephen Harper, his first majority government. Stephen Harper is a top scorer for the Apocalypse, so for the next six weeks these posts would have written themselves.

After all, this is the leader who gave us a Foreign Affairs Minister so twisted by fundamentalist religion that he expressed doubts about whether our maternal and child healthcare initiatives could include birth control. When that blew up in his face, Harper scored again with a new plan for the G8 which includes birth control, but refuses all federal funding to any organization that provides access to abortions.

He contributed another point by spending a record $1 billion on the G8 summit in Toronto, most of which seems to have gone to building a fake lake in the middle of a media center and to gathering and deploying thousands of police officers to beat and detain peaceful protesters and bystanders.

And his most recent point, a plan to spend billions of dollars on new prisons even though crime rates have been dropping for at least 20 years, has led to his government being declared in contempt of parliament by its own speaker. That’s not only a point for the Apocalypse– it’s a first in Canadian history.

But sadly, I will not get to enjoy any of this election campaign. Family Radio Worldwide has established that Judgement Day is upon us- biblically confirmed for  May 21st- and I’m not going to abandon my readers to this fate. If you spend any time at all on this blog, you are not likely to be raptured, so I am going to drum up all the points for Humanity that I can on your behalf.

It’s the least I can do.