Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.
Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.
Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.
But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.
The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…
This could be the most important article I will ever write. Far beyond the knuckle-clacking tensions of dog people vs. cat people, Shelly Long fans vs. Kirstie Alley fans, or bacon-eaters vs. people who don’t know better, there lies the conflict of toilet paper orientation. The solution offered by both camps (the ‘over the roll’ and ‘under the roll’ dichotomy) can divide an otherwise happy household.
Toilet paper orientation is more than a product of habit; my son spent the first 18 years of his life beneath a devout over-the-roll roof, yet he prefers to mount his TP so that he’s pulling from under it. This is a domestic deal-breaker, a precarious pendulum that could sever a marriage quicker than a differing of perspectives on child-rearing.
I would have thought this to be a matter of inexplicable preference, an open-and-shut debate. But digging through the matter uncovers a wealth of psychological, anthropological and socioeconomic dissection, as well as some math. This is a legitimate topic, worthy of at least a thousand words of analysis. As I have happily devoted many of the last 910 days to the careful nit-pickery of the utterly trivial, I’m happy to unfurl the secrets of this issue.
For those in the middle, just leave it on your bathroom counter.
Notre Dame University has what sounds like a brilliant sociology course on its calendar: The Social Construction of Reality. In that course they look at the basic application of sociological principles to things like personal space, urinal etiquette and of course, toilet paper orientation. Students explore, through their own research and through the weird research of others, gender, race, age and social class distinctions in these seemingly innocuous day-to-day affairs. There is a surprising amount of research on this divisive domestic issue. Read more…
There is a scene in the Kevin Smith film Clerks 2 in which a character (a very white character) decides he wants to “take back” the term ‘porch-monkey’ so that it can shed its racist connotation and act as a slur against lazy people of all tints and hues. The joke, of course, is that he is far too pink to spearhead any reappropriation effort. That sort of collective shift in perspective has to take place within the group who had been thwacked and battered by the word to begin with.
This is why I get physically jolted by a mighty douche-chill whenever I hear two white guys refer to one another as “nigga”. That not only betrays the linguistic rules, it comes across as patronizing and – as much as the intent may not be there – at least mildly racist. Oh, and put your damn hat on straight. The brim has a functional purpose, squank-bag.
The unholy n-word is probably the most famous case of a word being reclaimed by its one-time victims and re-introduced into their lexicon – albeit only into theirs. But all across the cultural spectrum there are reappropriation missions underway, consciously or unconsciously shaping the way our language will taste and smell for the next few decades.
Sorry, white people. Even if we’re quoting Chris Rock bits, it’s still not cool.
For a minority to capture a word that had once been used as a pejorative slur against them, to tame it, then to re-release it into the wild as a neutral or even a positive thing, that’s an act of true empowerment. A perfect example is the word ‘gay’ – once fired as a derisive snip toward homosexuals, the word was forcefully taken back with the advent of the Gay Pride parade in 1970. So much so that the word is now commonplace among gays and non-gays alike. Unlike the n-word, those outside the box are allowed to use it. Read more…
Today I’d like to talk to you about math.
Not “math” in the numbery, equationy, algebra-y way, but an ethical sort of math. Every time we find ourselves staring down the barrel of a moral conundrum, a little light flickers in our brain’s mathematical wing, weighing the heft of the pros against the heft of the cons. But is simplifying a dilemma into quantifiable terms really the best way to assess the situation?
Probably not. Each scenario has its own circumstances and personality, but that should never prevent us from making sweeping, knee-jerk generalizations – not to mention some judgy finger-wagging – to tell one another what we ‘should’ do. If ethics boiled down to nothing but math then the most soulless and sociopathic among us would have the easiest time at life. The heart always has its say.
But without the math, the heart would be the only one steering our moral ship and we’d never get anything done. No hypothetical ethical tightrope exemplifies this quite as well as the Trolley Problem. At least none that I found today, from the moment I decided not to write about the history of the mechanical pencil and instead opted to write about this.
The Trolley Problem starts out like this: there’s an out-of-control trolley racing down the tracks. No one knows why, maybe Daniel Tiger just decided he was fed the fuck up with King Friday’s tyrannical taxation and someone needed to pay – it’s not important. Five people are tied to the tracks and cannot escape the trolley’s path. They are facing certain death. Except you notice a switch within your reach. If you pull it, the trolley will get diverted down another track, where only one person will die. Do you do it? Read more…
For those who dance the steps of atheism, agnosticism, Jediism and so on, this world has always been a precarious place. It seems odd that one person’s lack of belief in an established monotheistic principle – even if that person is an otherwise caring, giving, deep-down good dude – can lead to such harsh hatred and judgment by the alleged “moral” majority.
It’s not a big deal these days to forsake the Biblical tenets held dear by so many of this country’s founders. We have lived through the 60’s, through new-age mysticism, through wacky spiritual hoodoo and comet-worshipping cults. To most everyone, a stranger’s religion is not a big deal anymore. But leap back in time to just over a century ago and you’ll find that the best a non-Christian could hope for in this part of the world was tolerance. Not acceptance, not a back-slapping welcome into the community, just tolerance.
One man decided to fight back. He created his own community, a land where atheism was to be the norm and where people could pontificate amid boundless intellectualism. John Lennon said, “Imagine no religion.” 91 years earlier, George Walser made it happen, cranking up the volume on atheism until it achieved the same intolerant, finger-pointing cacophony he had spent his entire life rallying against.
Welcome to Liberal, Missouri.
George Walser was a successful lawyer, a devoted agnostic, and by 1880 he had developed into a staunch anti-religionist. To George, it was offensive for those who do not follow the Christian faith to be branded as amoral, societally detrimental and the cause of all the world’s ills. He yearned for a utopian escape, a place where like-minded folk could go on about their lives without being persecuted by Christians. His solution? Persecute the Christians. Read more…
Much like economics, I tend to steer widely around politics on this site. For the most part, I find the current state of partisan-led showboating to be uninspiring, unproductive and most importantly, unfunny. Besides, I work full-time, I’m in school full-time, and I’ve got a full-time commitment to lifting up the hearts and spirits of millions of people by writing on this site every day. I can’t spend hours of each week following the nuances of politics in order to provide intelligent, astute observational prose on the subject.
Also, I don’t want to devote a lot of space to spewing my own liberal agenda. There are Republicans (and up in this country, Conservatives) whom I respect, despite the fact that their parties of choice appear to be mired in antiquated and backwards policies. Think about it – there were Republican nutjobs calling for the secession of Texas after Obama’s win last year, many of their media campaigns would have us believe the ‘other guys’ want to quash our rights (or take away all our guns), and their campaign against human rights (gay marriage) has been fierce and unrelenting. But once upon a time, the seating arrangement around the table of common sense was flipped. Here’s the story of a Democrat from back when the Republicans seemed to hold the market on sanity. Meet Clement Vallandingham:
You walk into your local convenience store, peruse through the salty offerings of starch-based stoner food to accompany your quiet night of magic mushrooms and Nicholas Spark movies, when you decide you’d best grab a beverage. Little do you know, behind the double-pane glass of the store’s cooler lies a battlefield. An unrelenting, unforgiving, and unflinching war for the back of your throat. Whichever icy beverage gets to plant its flag in your uvula may win because of its flavor, it may win because of your mood this evening, or maybe its victory will be a triumph of someone’s marketing department.
Such is the condition of the Cola Wars.
Choose your side. Just stay away from the Miller Lite – that stuff will rot your insides.
Ever since the mid-1980s, soda companies have been upping the competition for your thirst-quenching dollar. Coke pried Bill Cosby away from his Jell-O Pudding Pops, so Pepsi slapped a can of their product into Ray Charles’ hand. Coke stuck a computerized head in front of some line-art graphics and somehow talked us into caring about Max Headroom, so Pepsi lit Michael Jackson’s hair on fire. Coke changed their classic formula, and Pepsi… well, they never did anything quite that offensive. Read more…
What can we make of Lola Montez?
On the one hand, here’s a woman whose claims to fame are being sexy, dancing on stage, and being sexy. On the other, we have a 19th century woman who looked at the ‘proper’ place for women in society and said “screw it”, proceeding to live her life as she saw fit.
Lola was born Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Grange, CountySligo in Ireland. Her soldier dad was stationed in India, so the Gilbert clan packed up and shipped out. Her father passed away from cholera shortly after their arrival, and the next year her mom married this guy:
Well, not really. But I did a search for ‘Patrick Craigie’ and that’s what came up. Non-famous people from the 1820s don’t have a lot of photos posted online.
Craigie really loved little Eliza, but she was a handful – spoiled rotten and a little bit of what child psychologists refer to as ‘kooky’. Read more…
Having grown up as a Dallas Cowboys fan, I never much liked the Washington Redskins. Of course, I live nowhere near an NFL city, and over time I’ve softened my loathing of the ‘Skins, especially since they acquired the most interesting draft pick this year, Robert Griffin III. I watched this Sunday’s game, hoping Washington would get the ball as much as possible, if only to see how many times Griffin would fool the camera guy with his deceptive play-fakes.
But this week there was more at stake. Once every four years, the media runs out of pre-election postulation ideas, and they look at the strangest voodoo they can find to pick a winner on Big Tuesday. The Redskins Rule always pops up now, probably because it has been so frighteningly accurate.
Which is more than I can say for the Redskins’ sack-bleeding offensive line this week.
Rumors of this phenomenon fluttered among the marble halls and paper-drenched offices of Washington as far back as 1992, but it was first thrown into the public spotlight for the 2000 election.
Here’s how it works: if the Redskins win their last home game before a presidential election, then the incumbent party wins on election day. If they lose, the other party will win control of the executive branch.
Sounds ridiculous? It sure as shit does to me. But we have had 18 elections going back to 1940, and the rule has been upheld every single time. Well, except once.