Racism in the UK ≠ racism in the Yukon

From “‘Racist’ job ad sparks investigation” on The Register today.

The ad, placed on jobsite.co.uk, said: “Minimum six years of experience in IT … The person should be a UK citizen with security clearance from the UK Government. Preferably of Indian origin.” … Tory MP for Monmouth, David Davies, said the ad was clearly racist …

From an ad in the Yukon News on February 19, 2010.

“…preference will be given to First Nation applicants…”

One offensive loose end in ‘The Cove’

I finally got around to watching The Cove last night and, yes, it is as shocking and thought-provoking as I had anticipated it would be.

One argumentative strand, however, very much served to undermine the entire film’s message.

(On a quick aside here, that’s not to say that I in any way condone the mass slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. I don’t.)

The filmmakers revealed their American-centric, manifest-destiny perspective a bit too heavily at one point in the film and they lost, to my mind, almost all credibility.

It’s when Ric O’Barry tells us that one of the the Taiji peoples’ arguments is: “This is our culture. You don’t understand us. You eat cows, we eat dolphins.”

This, from the perspective of someone living in the Canadian North, is an excellent point.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers dismiss it nearly out of hand.

O’Barry’s logic on the matter goes like this: “The truth is, that’s the big lie. How can it be their culture, their tradition, if the Japanese people don’t even know about it?”

Stating a “truth” and calling something a “lie,” that’s a huge claim, especially when it deals with a cultural issue. You’d better back that up. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t.

The filmmakers don’t investigate the validity of O’Barry’s claim by looking at Taiji’s history or its cultural food consumption practices.

No, they just hit the streets of Tokyo and ask a few people if they eat dolphin meat. Of course, they get the response they expect. (Or they just didn’t include the interviews with the people who do eat dolphin meat–this is where the credibility of the film begins to fall apart and the viewer begins to wonder just how heavily massaged the message truly is.)

The street-interview approach to supporting a major accusation was just so simple-minded and spin-ridden that it’s insulting to the viewer.

And it got me wondering: imagine an American film crew hitting the streets of Toronto or Vancouver and randomly asking passersby: “Do you eat caribou meat?”

The response would be, as the filmmakers would expect, a resounding, “no.”

Then imagine those filmmakers capturing footage of hunters on the Dempster or in Old Crow harvesting caribou and butchering them.

Just like that, you have The Flats instead of the The Cove.

Because the filmmakers so flippantly and ignorantly dismissed the cultural argument in The Cove, it left a gaping hole in their credibility. They researched and presented so many other arguments so effectively, but they left this one hanging out there.

As a result, I’m left wondering: is there a cultural tradition related to the consumption of dolphins in Taiji that we are left not knowing about? Because if there is, it would present an incredibly strong counter-argument to The Cove.

And maybe that’s why the filmmakers chose to ignore it.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t explore those questions. It should have. Then, if there was no cultural relationship and this is, indeed, just a purely economic venture that’s based on cruelty, their argument would be that much stronger.

As it stands, the film’s dismissal of the cultural claim is American ignorance at its best. It’s a McDonald’s mentality: stop eating dolphins, eat Big Macs instead. Our cultural perspective is right, and your cultural perspective is wrong.

And this severely undermines the argument of the film as a whole.

It’s too bad. In general, The Cove is a brilliant piece of persuasive documentary filmmaking. But that one loose end is just too offensive, to the point that the film overall is significantly less effective.

Whitehorse is a dog town, and that’s never gonna change

I was amused to read the CBC North story, “Whitehorse dog owners, ATV drivers face fines on trail“, the other day.

The story opens:

“Whitehorse city officials are promising to crack down on … dogs running loose on the Millennium Trail along the city’s waterfront.”

My first thought: I’ll believe it when I see it.

My second thought: it’s too little, too late.

Promising to crack down on off-leash dogs in Whitehorse is like promising to prevent Vancouverites from drinking coffee, or like telling an American he can never watch another baseball game.

Whitehorse is a dog town, plain and simple. No amount of enforcement will get dog owners to respect the law. From their view, they now exist above the law.

The reason that vast amounts of dog shit blanket every corner of the city and you can barely walk more than a block without getting accosted by a K-9 has nothing to do with enforcement; it has to do with culture.

To Whitehorse dog owners, leaving your dog off-leash is a fundamental right. Leashes are for wusses or, worse, city folk.

And clean up its excrement? Whatever. This is the Yukon for God’s sake. We don’t have to clean up shit in this bountiful wilderness paradise. Heck, I don’t see anybody cleaning up moose droppings.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s very nearly impossible to go for a walk in Whitehorse and not be bothered by some slobbering, filthy mutt that’s just sort of wandering on its own.

Of course, if the owner happens to be nearby and she happens to notice the fact you don’t appreciate her dog sticking its nose up your butt, she’ll just sort of coo and laugh and say, “Oh, don’t worry. He’s harmless.”

Every dog owner in Whitehorse seems to truly believe that their dog is harmless.

Even the one that nipped my ankle when I was out running a few years back, sending me sprawling.

The owner, several dozen metres down the trail, just waved his arm at me and yelled, “Sorry!” Then he called his dog to follow him.

Yeah, a bleeding, twisted ankle and a bloodied knee, that’s harmless.

Even the dog that ran up to my friend’s on-leash rottweiler and mauled it a few years back. As my friend fought to keep her leashed dog under control, the owner of the off-leash animal stood back and had a laugh at her expense.

That’s harmless.

Even the dog that nipped my son’s hand when he was just 2, down at Rotary Peace Park, that dog was harmless, too.

“I don’t know why he did that,” the owner said. “He never bites anyone!”

We didn’t hang around to test the truth of her claim, since even then she left it off-leash.

And just last year there’s the dog that chased my son around Rotary Peace Park as he screamed in terror.

The owner was nowhere in sight so I beaned the animal with a soccer ball to make it stop. When the owner finally arrived, she had the nerve to accost me for throwing a ball at her dog.

Because, couldn’t I tell, “He only wanted to play!” Yeah, tell that to my son as he lays in my arms sobbing.

It’s gotten that way in Whitehorse. You simply can’t go to a public space anymore without encountering dogs that are wandering free, off-leash.

As if that’s not bad enough, the owners expect you to indulge their animals.

And heaven forbid if you should remind them about the bylaws. When we arrive at playgrounds and there’s a dog off-leash running around, I used to spend some time identifying the owner and then politely ask them to leash their dogs.

Half the time the owner refused with a snarky retort. The other half of the time they just cast me a dirty look and left.

So my son and I don’t even visit parks much anymore. Dealing with the dog people is just too stressful.

Instead, we have taken to hanging out and playing at home.

But as the Whitehorse dog culture grows stronger, even that’s not safe anymore.

I live in Takhini North and the dogs roam free here. There are a very few local owners who leash their dogs when they go for walks, but not many.

In general they absent-mindedly stroll down the street as their animal roams the yards of neighbours, pissing and shitting at will.

I don’t own a dog (obviously) but every week I’m cleaning 5 or 6 mounts of shit from my front yard.

Three neighbours I’ve observed don’t even bother to walk their dogs. When they get home from work they just open their doors and let the animals roam free.

These animals seem to have a regular shitting patterns on various neighbours’ yards. Mine is one of those yards on their regular route.

And so it’s to the point I don’t even let my son and his friends out to play in our own yard. I’m sick of cleaning dog shit off his boots when he happens to step in it or off of his coat when he falls in it.

Sure, I could talk to those neighbours. But my experience with such dialogues has not been successful in the past.

For the most part, when you talk to dog owners who let their animals run free, reminding them of bylaws and common courtesy, they are offended. In some cases, they are aggressive.

It’s been my experience that dog owners who let their animals roam free play by an entirely different set of rules. Like I said before, they view it as a right to let their dogs roam free. The bylaws and common respect for neighbourliness, these things don’t apply to them.

Even if you do manage to get through to a dog owner who lets their animal roam free, it never lasts longer than a week or so. Then they’re back to their old form and there’s dog shit in your yard again.

To be honest, I don’t talk to those neighbours about the issue because I can no longer expect myself to be civil in the discourse. Over a decade dealing with this matter has left me somewhat angry about it.

I’ve just sort of resolved to the fact that I’m a non-dog person living in a dog town. The predominant local culture has elevated the value of dogs to a level greater, I would say, than even children.

I have changed my lifestyle to focus on avoiding dogs owners and their leashless kin. I don’t walk or run the trails anymore. I don’t walk on suburban streets. I rarely take my son to outdoor playgrounds anymore and if we see a dog off a leash when we arrive at one (and we almost always do), we leave.

It’s getting sort of ridiculous, though. There are fewer and fewer places you can go to enjoy Whitehorse’s outdoor recreational areas without stepping in poo or having a strange mutt hump your leg.

Unless you’re a hardcore dog person, Whitehorse is an ever more unpleasant place to live.

And, like I said, enforcement is very unlikely to change that. The dog situation has been left unchecked for far too long in this town, to the point that it’s now an integrated aspect of the local culture.

Yes, Whitehorse is a dog town. And there’s no changing that now.

Is iPad the end of geek culture?

It’s a smallish chunk of glass, plastic, and silicon that has stirred up debate about computer technology like no other device before it (not even the iPhone).

Apple fanboys, as one would expect, are almost embarrassing themselves in their earnest efforts to hail the device.

Meanwhile, folks from the other side of the tracks are relentlessly attacking it as though it were some sort of heretical anti-computer. Which it is; but that’s the point.

This latter group’s actions are so reckless and violent, in fact, that they resulted in the temporary closure of the public forums on the internet’s largest technology blog, Engadget.

All of this for a device that almost no one has seen or, more to the point, held.

But it isn’t so much the iPad itself that has everyone worked up, though the debate centres on this device.

It’s more about the future that beckons (or threatens, depending on your perspective), should the iPad’s driving philosophies take hold. Continue reading

It’s a Teen Cultural Revolution

If you’re a young person, somewhere between the ages of 13 and 18, you’re currently involved in the first great cultural revolution of the 21st Century.

You may not be aware of it, but you are helping to redefine how we communicate and socialize. You are inventing new ways to share thoughts, feelings, emotions, and ideas.

In a way, much as your hippie grandparents did to sexuality way back in the 1960s, you are turning the totality of social interaction on its head.

You almost certainly have a Facebook profile, and you maintain it regularly. This is an essential method for maintaining your personal relationships.

You probably have a second profile on Windows Live, where you engage with a different set of friends apart from your Facebook milieu. This is less important to you. In a way, it’s a social sandbox, where you can explore alternative versions of yourself.

It’s unlikely that you tweet, and it’s quite possible that you don’t even know what I’m referring to by that remark. But that’s okay, because the Twitter social model doesn’t jive with your mindset.

You more than likely have a mobile phone which you treasure more than pretty much any other possession. It is your lifeline, indeed your lifeblood. You maintain your most important and personal social dialogues through your mobile phone by sending hundreds of text messages every day.

You make plans, joke, flirt, shout, cry, and seek solace by text. And you’re always texting because, remarkably, you can even do it undetected in class.

You probably asked someone out on a first date using your mobile phone. You probably dumped your first boyfriend by text message. Maybe you dump them all that way.

You probably take your mobile phone to bed with you. Most nights you fall asleep to the glow of its screen.

There a distinct chance that your first sexual experience was had on your mobile phone. Maybe you sent someone a provocative photo of yourself. More likely, you texted dirty with your girlfriend.

You have an emotional bond with your mobile phone, and you experience extreme stress when it’s not in your possession.

Your mobile phone sets you free. Or at least that’s what you think. Because it’s also your anchor.

The teenage years are an important period for establishing independence from your parents.

Previous generations worked at defining personal identity in isolation, away from familial influence.

No more. Your mobile phone promises a steady line of communication with your folks. And not only are they repeatedly interrupting your life with phone calls and texts, but you are also homing in on them for emotional gratification, support, and feedback.

Where once a teen like you may have bought a new pair of shoes in spite of your parents’ tastes, you now vet your mom’s input via MMS.

As a result of this, combined with your tendency to multitask your social communications, you are having difficulty cultivating a true sense of self.

At any given moment, you’re probably simultaneously engaged in an IM session on Facebook, several text discourses on your mobile, and a face-to-face chat with your mom. In each of those communication environments you’re maintaining a different mindset, probably even a different personality.

Psychologists are starting to worry that many of you are developing split personality disorders.

And as a result of this impaired sense of identity, you are prime fodder for consumer marketing messages.

You may pride yourself in being impregnable to such messaging but, in fact, a consumer mindset is key to engaging in the new world you are helping create.

After all, consumer goods such as computers and mobile phones are absolutely essential for you to communicate. Not only are they technically required, but the sort of devices you select to use contribute to your sense of identity.

In other words, consumerism is the superstructure in which the new cultural environment you are building exists. Marketers recognize that this leaves you sensitive to their messaging. Beware.

And keep in mind that, as the old cliché goes, you are the future. Older generations are already feeling excluded from this strange new world you inhabit and one day you will use it to govern, build businesses, sell goods, and generally run the world.

Make sure you let the old folks in.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, June 26, 2009.