Mind The Gap!

One café in Melbourne Australia has started implementing a “Man Tax”. Male patrons are charged an 18% surcharge on their orders to account for the gender pay disparity.

The full additional funds raised by the surcharge are donated to a women’s service. The café is not making a profit- it is making a point. A gender surcharge seems unfair, discriminatory, and offensive, right? The point is that all of these adjectives are equally applicable to the gender pay gap. If our paycheques are 18% lower, should our bills not be 18% lower?

In short, no.

But… sort-of, yes. Let’s start with this ‘yes’ argument.

Women in Canada make 82% of what men do, according to the Statistics Canada census data just released. To break it down, women with a B.A. make an average of $68K versus $82K for men with the same degree. This is not just career choices. Fresh graduates in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) make $72K if they are male but only $59K if they are female. Even in female-dominated fields like nursing, men are making slightly more than their female counterparts.

Think of your daughter and son. If they both go to school and get the same degree, your son could take home the same pay, and then buy a new car every other year. Yes, exceptions exist. I am sure you can name one lady colleague who is as dense as a rock and currently out-earning your genius male friend. It is, however, an exception. The statistically proven rule in Canada is that women must pay the gender wage deduction.

Gender Pay Gap Deniers can be like Flat Earthers. Evidence of the gender pay gap and a spherical earth is indirect, can be complex, and requires a higher level of thinking. Some people need to see something in the simplest, most direct terms to accept it. This is particularly true when the concept does not line-up with their specific view of the world. Rapper B.O.B., for example, believes the earth is flat because the horizon always looks the same. Stephen Miller, senior advisor to Donald Trump, mansplains that women are paid less because women make the choice to have children, and have less demanding jobs.

We know (I hope!) that B.O.B.’s observation is right, but his conclusion is wrong. Similarly, Stephen Miller is partially right in his observations, but wrong in his conclusions on baby-making and job choice.

Women and men both make the choice to have children: two people are required. For every pregnant woman, there is an impregnator. On the other hand, one baby daddy may have several baby moms. By this logic, we can infer there must be more working fathers than working mothers. When the decision to create a child is made (on purpose or accidentally) by two, it makes no sense to say that only the female baby-maker should be punished in their final salary.

The gender pay gap is not softened or explained by the “women have less demanding jobs”, either. Looking at the per-hour wage, men make about $3 more than their female counterparts. It is troubling that career paths that hire more women tend to be compensated at a lower rate. But even at those jobs, women earn less than the men doing the same job. Even self-employed lady entrepreneurs make less than men! Harvard Business School academics explained that men and women are promoted in different ways once an employee has the job. Men are promoted for what they might do, whereas women are only promoted once they have successfully done it. Think about that for a second: who is going to advance in the ranks to a high-paying job faster?

Do not feel you have to believe me. Check it out for yourself! Have a look at the cold, hard numbers. I recommend Statistics Canada and Canadian Public Policy publications. We have known about the gender gap for well over a decade. These sources just confirm it is alive and well.

So what do we do about it?

Here is the ‘no’ argument on Man Tax. A simple slap-on solution for a historical and complex problem is not going to be the answer. We are a complex society. The solution needs to be equally complex, encompassing, and well-researched. We need to change our public institutions, our educational values, and our laws. This takes time and effort. Charging an inequality surcharge obviously presents a bunch of obvious problems: who do we charge it to? What about other, more marginalized groups? What about taxes? How about the kid behind the till who is trying to calculate this? The result of the man tax, of course, would be ridiculous and comical. I do not believe that the Australian café intended to make a public Man Tax policy. It was making a point. A great one.

Flat-Earthers and Wage Gap Deniers alike may need hard, concrete evidence of the feeling of absurdity, of arbitrary discrimination and of unfairness to feel the impact of the cost of gender. Slamming an extra $1-$2 drives a point home in a fun and viral way. For Canadian boys, instead of paying an extra $1 for your mancuccino, take a moment of your potentially overpaid time to consider the problem of the gender pay gap. If you’ve got a solid solution to eliminate the pay gap, you may have justified your own 18% yearly bonus.

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Beware of Zombies

I have criminals for friends.
The beautiful one? Criminal. The runner? Also a criminal. Silver fox? Yup. The redhead? Obviously. The baby-faced two-year-old? Not a criminal, yet. But he probably will be one day.

Sitting around on a Friday evening, I sneakily engage my otherwise well-behaved friends in a game of “You’re a Criminal”. Here is how I play: I toss-out activities into a conversation my friends thought were 100% legit. My naive friends admit participation. Bam! I reveal that they are criminals. 

Feeling superior to my poor felonious friends? Before you begin judgment, let me contextualize my friends’ illicit behaviour. You can be convicted for over 500 different crimes in Canada. Chances are, you cannot name all 500+ crimes, let alone avoid committing one! Still not convinced? Let us play, “You’re a Criminal” together now. This challenge has two categories.

CATEGORY 1: ZOMBIE LAWS

In the spirit of Halloween, how many of you have broken a “Zombie Law”? We use Zombie Laws to describe offences that are largely unknown to the public, no longer prosecuted, but still technically crimes. Put your zombie arms straight out for each of you little lawbreakers who have: 

• Water-skied without a spotter (up to 6 months jail and a 1 year driving prohibition)

• Challenged someone to a duel (up to 2 years jail)

• Pretended to practice witchcraft (up to 6 months jail)

(If you’re wondering: water skiing, duelling and practicing ‘real’ witchcraft are all not criminal offences).

If you’ve managed to dodge the zombie law bullet, this next set of laws will surely break your law-abiding bubbles. Worse: committing these offences will more likely result in criminal charges against you. 

CATEGORY TWO: DRINKING OFFENCES

You probably already knew and avoided many of these offences. You know that drunk driving is a crime. You know you cannot drive a car (a) with too much booze in your system and/or (b) when the booze you drank makes you a bad driver. If these basic impaired driving laws caught you by surprise, please re-take driver’s ed…. sober. Driving a motorboat, snowmobile, or E-bike drunk are also criminal offences. Surprised? Now you know. Keep these offences in mind when you discuss how to get home after the Boxing Day Bash.  

Now for offences that will really rock the boat. You can be charged with drunk driving of a “vessel” (a boat) even if the boat does not use a motor! As the laws now stand, driving any kind of boat/vessel drunk could lead to an impaired driving offence. For my final win in the “You’re a Criminal” game, let us wade through all of the crimes you have committed. All hands on deck to those who have:

• paddled a canoe drunk

• stand-up paddled drunk

• oared a raft drunk

• paddleboated drunk

• sat on a pool noodle drunk

As our cherry-on-top of these mind-blowers, note that cycling (even Todd Yourth’s super fast road bike) drunk on land is not a criminal offence. You can be fined under other, non-criminal laws.

Committing any impaired/drunk driving criminal offense is no laughing matter. The sentence for any of these bad lads includes: a criminal record, a minimum $1000 fine, a lengthy driving prohibition and a very real risk of jail. Yup. S!&$ just got serious.

To be fair, the Pembroke Court House does not have a backlog of drunk noodler trials. I have no idea how often impaired motor-less water offences are prosecuted in Canada. But they could be. You could be convicted. You could be sentenced.

The Trudeau government, in one of the least controversial political moves ever, has announced they are going to get rid of Zombie Laws. The State will go from not prosecuting pretend witchcraft to continuing to not prosecute pretend witchcraft. Good news for grade six sleepover participants everywhere! 

Here’s the rub. The government had the opportunity to finally put the paddling-while-drunk issue to rest. While they were removing the Zombie Laws, the government proposed changes to drunk driving laws. With these changes, you could only be convicted of drunk driving a boat if it had a motor. Drunk canoeing could still be dealt with by way of fines (like cycling) but it would not bring with it the potential to ruin your career, stop you from travelling or send you to jail.

Unfortunately, to look tough on crime, the government ditched the proposed changes. Drunk paddling is BACK IN as an offence. This is crazy. We must not criminalize people for being idiots, so long as they are not hurting anyone else. We should not spend costly tax dollars prosecuting drunk paddlers, noodlers and SUP’ers. 

How are some of the best people we know (yourself included) unknowingly unindicted criminals? The answer lies in bad laws that stay on the books. Bad laws are made as reactions to isolated events. When a lady was bamboozled by a fortune teller, a law was made forbidding fake witchcraft. Poorly-worded laws stay on the books because changing them is inconvenient. No politician wishes to be seen as soft on drunk driving of any kind – even drunk paddling. When we enact law based on emotion and political leaning rather than necessity and reason, we are left with laws that are regularly broken.

While “You’re a Criminal” is a fun cocktail game, we need to keep in mind that the consequences of breaking even silly laws are life-altering. We need to be critical of the limits we put on our freedoms and ensure that the laws we make are fair, reasonable, and absolutely necessary to protect the public from real criminal activity. If we want to ensure people take the law seriously, the laws we have must also be serious.

Until then, I will tell my little group of bandits to stop challenging one another to drunken pool noodle duels. Unless, of course, one reads my palm so I can bet on the winner.

 **This column is written for entertainment purposes exclusively. It does not provide nor can it be relied upon as legal advice of any kind and is not intended to create a solicitor-client relationship. **

 

#YouToo

I know over 50 men who have sexually assaulted or harassed women. None of whom are outing themselves on Facebook in the #MeToo campaign.

#MeToo took a large, collective step against sexualized violence (assault, harassment, threats and intimidation). Women used significant courage to “out” themselves as victims of sexualized violence on public, unprotected Facebook. The step was in the wrong direction. The #MeToo campaign sought to raise awareness. We are already aware.

Sexualized violence  is an ongoing part of most women’s lives. Even the biggest sexist is the first to denounce perverts, pedos or rapists that might try and screw “his” wife, daughter or mother. We do not need a gimmick, a meme or a hashtag to prove that women everywhere have endured or are at a very high risk of enduring sexualized violence. We have come to accept it – to expect it.

This.

Is.

The.

Problem.

Growing-up, girls fully expect to eventually “be a victim” of sexual violence in some way. We will be judged on our ability to prevent being raped and our ability to cope with however we are sexually violated.

Girls are taught: do not trust men, do not wear things that might persuade a male to rape you, beware of male university students who victimize girls at parties or “spring break”. Take and wear rape whistles as a flimsy sort of protection. We are told not to meet with men after hours alone in the office, to avoid “boys’ club” discussions where men joke about sexual harassment and assault (unless, of course, we can “handle it”). The males we are taught to fear are the students at the school, the men in our community, the men we might work with.

The males are warned differently. You might be accused of sexual assault, so be careful. Not you might be a sexual predator. You might need to defend yourself against these allegations. Not you might need to check yourself to make sure you are not being sexually assaultive.

The public outcry about Weinstein was not that actresses were sexually assaulted and harassed. We assumed they were. Weinstein clearly did not self-identify as a sexual predator. The news was that systemic sexual violence and the complacent attitude of the public was finally identified and dealt with. “Women are raped” is old news. “We identify and stop supporting men who sexually assault women” is news.

#MeToo is trending sexualized violence. It is normalizing it. #MeToo returns a woman’s individual trauma into the generic group experience we were taught to expect. #MeToo exposes victims while  predators stay shielded in anonymity and even ignorance.

Wait! There is an upside. #MeToo has raised awareness about something else. Unintentionally. The eye-opening negative responses to #MeToo. Sexual assault trolls. These trolling replies show us WHY people choose not to disclose what has happened to them. These trolling replies demonstrate WHY sexual violence against women is not only surviving but thriving. These trolling replies tell us that we still feel women must endure sexual violence.

What are we setting-up women for? I have made a quick list of some of the most common answers I have seen or heard to people disclosing sexual assault. Obviously, these replies seemed appropriate to someone at the time.

  • Did you tell him you didn’t want him to sexually assault you?
  • Maybe he thought you wanted it
  • This isn’t a great job for women – you knew that when you came in
  • This is why we don’t like hiring women
  • Were you wearing that shirt?
  • You don’t seem like his type
  • You were playing with fire
  • I have had difficulties in my life, too – you don’t hear me complaining
  • Stop playing the gender card
  • Were you drinking?
  • #MeToo – but I liked it.

Still a fan? Let us re-frame outside of the #MeToo disclosure in a way that will engage even the biggest sexists. If YOUR daughter, YOUR wife, YOUR sister, or YOUR mother told you her boss raped her, would you consider any of those responses appropriate?

None of these responses discuss the asshole rapist. The responses blame the victim. The responses assume women, did not adequately prevent sexual assault or are not coping well enough with this rite of passage. These responses prevent women from laying a charge and may even cause them to doubt whether they were “really” sexually assaulted. When these responses are triggered by #MeToo, we see the problem not about awareness of sexualized violence. The problem is that sexualized violence of women is too normal.

We need to change the dialogue. We need to move it away from victim-blaming to society-changing.  We don’t need to line-up women publicly to disclose the obvious, only to knock them down for it. For every woman who is disclosing sexual violence there is an unidentified sexual predator who is roaming amongst us. He relies on many of the responses, above, to justify his own behaviour. He may not see himself as a predator. For every potential victim of sexual violence, there is a potential sexual predator.

I hope that, rather than warning women to distrust men, we begin by warning men that they are at risk of being a sexual aggressor. We cannot stop sexual violence by warning potential female victims at every stage of their lives to watch out for men. We must begin by warning and educating potential predators: reminding men at every stage of their lives that they are at risk of sexually violating women. We need to move from #MeToo to #YouToo.

Band-Aid Solutions

I am a Country mouse. I love the rural lifestyle: the plentiful space, the low expenses, the juicy gossip. I, like other Country mice, embrace this lifestyle, giving-up the luxuries of big city living: the plentiful internet connectivity, expensive nights on the town and the Jamba Juice.

We can bike from Mount Martin Ski Hill to the Deep River Hospital in under 15 minutes, and walk the same in under an hour. Everything is accessible by the heel-toe express. We don’t have the luxury of public transportation. If our health, disability or injuries hinder our mobility, we can drive (or have someone else drive us) and park nearby.

Lucky for us Country mice, parking everywhere in Deep River is free.

In Deep River, we also enjoy high-quality free public healthcare. Like many public services, the Deep River and District Hospital struggles for cash. In November 2017, the hospital is monetizing its parking lot. The hospital would be the ONLY place in Deep River where you need to pay to park. The logic is confused.

Going to the bar? Free parking while you drink. Collapsed lung? Five dollars, please.

This is a City Mouse idea through and through.

Big City Mice are accustomed to paying for parking. Heck, they pay for everything else. Cities are different than the country. Crowded cities have paid parking everywhere. Parking is at a premium. The wealthy tend to pay parking because the wealthy have private transportation. Public transportation is available for those who are sick and injured. Our town takes the Country mouse approach: everywhere you park in Deep River is free, especially for those who need vehicles to access public services.

The hospital’s fundraising decision hopes to find money between the yellow lines of the hospital parking lot. This seems trivial at first glance. It isn’t. Putting a ‘tax’ on parking means putting a ‘tax’ on health care.

Free public access to health care is a pillar of Canadianism. We can go to the doctor’s and find out early that our freckle is not just a freckle. Kids can get the urgent care they need without bankrupting their families. From Far and Wide, Oh Canada, We’re Hospitalized for Free!

The health care parking ‘tax’ hits the Deep Riverites who are too sick or injured to walk hardest. It hits them at the hospital: the very place you need to go when you are sick or injured. The most vulnerable in our community, who must drive or have someone else drive them to the hospital, foot the extra cost of the hospital. The rest of us skip-out on the bill, but keep the comfort of having a hospital in an otherwise rural and secluded area.

Hospital funding is a political matter. If we are deficient in our ability to provide adequate healthcare, we need to look to our politicians, not our patients. The current Liberal government under Wynne has provided minimal increases to hospital budgets. Big money is found in big pockets: our elected government. If we are unhappy with the allocation of budgetary funds, we need to reconsider our election choices and, if necessary, lobby for change.

Until big change happens for the hospital, we need to resist the urge to make band-aid City Mouse solutions on the financial backs of the most vulnerable in our area. A wonderful part of Country mouse living is the small community living. We support each other, and we protect our sick, disabled and injured. Free health care in Deep River should mean just that. We shelter our sick and injured, we do not profit off of their backs.

 

Making the Cut

In grade five, I was one of two kids to be cut from the 30 + student cross-country team. I am fairly certain the other was a smoker. I watched the race and saw my friends cross the finish line, hugging each other. It felt terrible.

On the Deep River Discussion forum this week, a dad was concerned that his kids likewise did not make the cross-country cut. The kids had tried hard but were not quite fast enough. He asked, is it appropriate to leave young kids out of school teams?  We have two competing sides.

TEAM 1 – LET EM PLAY: Only 30% of school sports is about the specific sport itself, in my non-expert opinion. The rest? Socializing, school pride, trips, health, physical activity, teamwork and leadership. In school, you can put a ball through a hoop/in a net/past the touchdown line hundreds of times, sure. I bet that what you remember more, however, was the team you were with, the memories of trips, and the exhilaration of exercise and pushing yourself past what you thought you could do. Looking at all the great benefits of elementary and high school sports teams, the answer seems obvious: everybody gets a turn, nobody gets cut! Flowers and rainbows all around!

TEAM 2 – KICK EM OUT: Without a low there is no high. Without an in there is no out. And without the possibility of failure, success does not taste as sweet. The participation-ribbon mentality, it seems, might discourage the internal motivation to push one’s self to the limit. If everybody succeeds in school, kids may not be prepared for the inevitability of failure later in life. Setting the goal of qualifying for a team is a great exercise for kids, particularly when the goal is harder to attain. Would you really run eight laps around the school everyday if you knew you could still make the team eating Oreos instead? Life is hard. Sports are hard. School is a great time to learn the importance of attempting goals even if you might not succeed.

To be entirely honest, when I read the Deep River Discussion post, I had my thumbs poised to talk about the importance of failure, the lessons learned in goal-setting, and the value of qualifying for a group you worked hard for. But I paused: that was my experience.

School sports need to be considered in context: not everyone comes to the tryouts with the same background. A friend of mine reminded me that, when she came to St. Mary’s in grade 7 from St. Anthony’s, she and her Chalk River friends had much less exposure to sports within their curriculum. Even within school classes, we understand some kids are provided with expensive gear, summer sports, and sports camps while others may not. This is the gap that kids come to school with. The gap is further widened when the school sports team only trains the kids who out-compete their peers. Teams also serve as a social net to facilitate friendships and bonding. Kids who are cut will necessarily miss-out on the high of competition, the comradery in the locker room, and the pride of being a part of something bigger.

Elementary school should be a place of opportunities and a place of learning. To meet both objectives, an alternative solution must be reached. Young kids have almost no control over their lives: they don’t make money, they are always in someone’s custody, they basically go where you put them. The consequences of being excluded from the team are too harsh for kids who have little control over how much they can work towards a goal. The solution needs to be a compromise. Having a B-Team and an A-Team for every sport ensures that everyone can participate in the B-Team, while those who are most competitive have the opportunity to further excel and qualify for an A-Team. Sport participation can be non-binary, inclusive and still fun.

After I did not make the team in grade five, I was devastated. I began to run again 13 years later, in the company of friends, my dog, and running groups (none of whom dared kick me out for being too slow!). It was not the fear of not keeping up with the group that motivated me to work harder, but their unconditional support. As I became a stronger and better athlete, the possibility of qualifying for the Canadian Age Group Triathlon Team did motivate me. The potential for failing heightened the stakes and pushed me further.

Last week, at 33, I raced against women from around the world at the International Triathlon Union World Triathlon Championship in Rotterdam. I felt proud to be a part of a great group of athletes representing Canada. Many women on the team likewise were not high school athletes. We shared stories, experienced a new city, met other amateur athletes from around the world, and pushed ourselves to new levels on a gruelling course. As I crossed the finish line, I realized I had hit the goal I had set for myself in grade five: I finally made the team, I ran the race.

 

Crybaby

“Are you worried you will regret not having babies?” a woman who does not know me well enough to have this conversation, asks me anyway. I take a quick panorama. Her runny-nosed seven-year-old is sinking his teeth into the shoulder of her screaming and full-diapered toddler. “Are YOU worried YOU regr—“. I cut myself off. Reproduction sensitivity is a one way street. Singles: Yield.
Alright, alright. Let me step away from my cats and turn down the crazy. To be perfectly honest, I love my mom friends and their kids. I love their kids… in doses. I enjoy hanging-out with and imparting my feminism on their progeny. I also like when I get to hand the kids back to moms for tantrum time. My dose of baby is a perfect one for me. I recognize that, for many, popping out minis then chasing them is super important. Canada, and Canadian Moms, must similarly recognize that for some, kid-free living is just as valid a choice.

We have lots of people on this little planet. A few too many, in fact. We get to choose to be a lone wolf or create our own wolf pack. As a non-birther, I support adding a cute little Mimi to the human race, who very well may grow-up to cure cancer. I am even happy to meet kind-of-ugly little Fred who may grow-up to watch lots of movies and not do much else. I am not the only one who supports baby-making. In Canada, employers allow for parental leave, our government gives baby bonuses and tax breaks, our social circles band together for baby showers, birthday parties, Halloween, parades, etc. If you want to have a child or if you want to have five you are financially, socially and fiscally encouraged to do so. Heck, I encourage you. Make some more Deep Riverites!

In the unspoken reproduction debate, nobody grinds my gears quite like SmugMom. SmugMom is the term I use for any parent, male or female, who has decided that their life has become more valuable than anyone else’s by virtue of procreation. I cringe when SmugMom waxes on about how smart/wise/mindful/psychic they have become since their little Whatshisname entered the picture. SmugMom loves to talk about other parents behind their back, rolling their eyes dramatically as they critique someone’s bottle-use. SmugMom hates any suggestion that their kid is anything but a prodigy. SmugMom loves to critique Cup of Jo articles (see what I did there?).

Families with kids have lots to deal with, of course. However, it would be nice for anyone who chooses not to have kids, who cannot have kids, or who are waiting to have kids, to have a few societal no-kid-boosts. I would love to get a one person “family discount” on anything. It would be great if I got time off to NOT take kids to the dentist. I’ll leave work for a couple of hours to enjoy the choice I made not to populate. I could even go to the dentist’s office, enjoy the laughing gas and play with the toys in the waiting room. I want to get a “thanks for not having a baby” bonus. A solid $50 a month for not putting a little junior feminist loudmouth into grades 1-12. You’re welcome, teachers of the future.

Have I offended everyone yet? Ok let me take it back a bit. Your kids are cool and we are all genuinely happy you had them. Even the loudest one. None of you guys are SmugMom. I am clearly referring to that other parent we were gossiping about over wine the other day. If I have offended you, let me make it up to you with a dinner at Kelsey’s – bring your kids for the discount.

 

This University Bu$ine$$

“The best things in life are free,” I heard the radio belt-out. I believed that thoroughly until, at the age of 5, I asked the lady behind the counter in Chalk River for a little bag of penny candy. As it turns out, the best things in life were 50 cents. The bruised banana my mom left for me in my lunch bag was free.

Moving through life, the cost of the “best things” in life continued to astonish me: vacations, formal dresses, beer money, and, incredibly, education. Education was the key to happiness. I had been hearing that refrain long before high school – all the way back to when mom finished Cinderella stories with, “but she refused to marry him, because she wanted to get her University degree and get a good job first.” In Deep River, the message is: a University degree is tantamount to success.

Once I got to University, however, I was surprised. When I looked around the drunken frosh-week campus, I did not see the leaders of tomorrow. I felt stuck in overcrowded lecture halls with professors as bored with the material as I was. I was floored, then excited, and finally disillusioned, when I attained an A- in Physical Geography: a full-year course where I had skipped all but the second lecture.

I watched the money I had painstakingly saved mopping floors in the Tim Hortons’ smoking room seep through my bank account in tuition fees, boarding costs, textbook sales and ATMs. I lived on a shoe-string budget, despite spending tens of thousands of dollars. Don’t get me wrong: I was having a blast. The armchair accountant in me (I majored in Psychology) demanded to know what I was getting for my money. At the end of the year, it became clear: I had paid for five “credits”. I was buying my degree.

The Canadian University system is, in my over-educated opinion, a business model. The buy-in is $100,000.00 over four years. In that four years, as long as you fulfill your end of the bargain (make timely payments, regurgitate key words on assignments and exams, and enlist in the mandatory courses), you will emerge with two pieces of paper: a transcript and a degree. The latter, nobody will ever ask to see except your grandmother.

For free, I’ll give you three lessons you can learn in University.

  1. BUSINESS: The customer is always right. Going to University or College does not require a genius mind or much of a work ethic: it is a business. A time-consuming homework assignment or an unsatisfactory grade can be quickly bumped-up with a well-timed complaint (bonus points if mom or dad made a sizeable alumni donation). The student knowledge pool does not fund these small utopias – bums in chairs do. Public relations and student satisfaction can outweigh the need for academic integrity in an institution. Fear of litigation can deter an institution from standing-up for its teachers. A professor’s motivation to keep their job or secure tenure can overcome their desire to ensure the proper transmission of important knowledge.

 

  1. LANGUAGES: Universities speak in dollar bills. The dude who still spells Freud with a “y” will be graduating with the same Psychology degree you are. The “mandatory” new $300 version of the Professor’s textbook is differentiated only from last year’s $20 used textbook by three new sentences and a colour scheme. Your hard-working 4.0 GPA roommate will be denied entrance into a semester when his OSAP loan did not come through before the enrollment cut-off.

 

  1. ECONOMICS: University bachelor degrees are a dime a dozen. When everybody gets a degree, the value of all degrees declines. On a resume, University completion is the new high school. If you do not have something to supplement your shiny papers, like a trade or nepotism, you are probably going to be hanging out with your degree in your mom’s basement.

 

Sure, a University degree can be a step to success in many cases. A B.A./B.Sc./B.Eng. is a necessary rung on the ladder to any Professional designation or degree. As savvy consumers, however, it is important to walk into a six-figure investment with your eyes wide open and considering all available options before deciding on the default path.

As a Deep Riverite graduate from two Universities with a law degree, I understand the potential necessity of “paying to play”. However, reviewing the Sunshine List replete with Hydro tradesmen, firefighters and police officers who are not still repaying massive student loans, one will recognize that “playing it smart” can also mean not investing in seven years of University tuition and residence costs.

Are the best things in life free? Sure. Everything else costs hard-earned money. I am loathe to overspend on the very institution that is supposed to teach how to think critically. The University investment may not be the right one for every 20-something and certainly is not the right investment for most career paths.

I have learned lots since that day at DJ’s convenience store. I worked a lot of jobs, saved lots of money, blew that money on University, and came through the other end with degrees, and later a job. The things I value most, (cue: nostalgic violin music) I acquired during the time I was dropping bills, but did not actually pay for: life lessons, relationships, character. Sadly, we cannot live on the free things alone.

False Equivalence

Several young street merchants approached my friend offering knock-off designer bags in Taiwan. “Same! Same! But different…” Speaking in a learned language, these young kids were candidly expressing a concept the President of the United States does not understand: false equivalence.

If you have been living under a rock (or perhaps on Indian Point, or camping somewhere off the grid, or snug in your basement watching Netflix), you have saved yourself the horror of watching the racist Nazi BS south of the border.  Spoiler alert: we are about to end your blissful ignorance. Take a swig of your margarita and let’s dive in.

The quick recap is that August 11 and 12 marked a two-day revival of neo-Nazi extremist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. The group began with a protest against the removal of a Confederate statue. The demonstration ended with a murder and white nationalists CARRYING TORCHES yelling blatantly fascist and racist slurs: “blood and soil,” (invoking the Nazi philosophy “Blut und Boden”); “Jews will not replace us”; “Go the f*** back to Africa” and “F*** you fa**ots”.

As a quick aside: I realize this is a community paper. As I sit at my computer now, I contemplate removing these hateful words, the crass references to violent and offensive language. Unfortunately, white washing this event, this hate, and this violence, does not make it go away. We need to witness the magnitude of what is happening and see it for exactly what it is.

Back to the States. The newly minted President of the United States clearly has a situation. A situation that is monumentally terrifying and that calls out for action. He addressed the situation by condemning violence – ON BOTH SIDES. Jaw drop.

Nazis vs. People against Nazis. Seems like a clear-cut bad guy vs. good guy scenario, right?

Voldemort vs. Harry Potter.

Cancer vs. Patient.

Mosquitos vs. Deep Riverite.

Apparently, Trump did not think so. His staff did. Trump, who wastes no time in condemning anything (the news, the London Mayor, the FBI, Amazon.ca), did his best to avoid condemning a race-based protest. Instead, he likened the self-proclaimed ethnic cleansing group with the citizens who showed-up to protest hate.

Violent Hate Groups cannot be equivocated to those who defend themselves and others against violent hate groups. Don’t take it from me, ask a veteran.

We can break it down logically as well. We can find some similarities between the groups. Both involved people. Both groups attended at the same location. Both were yelling. The scene became violent. This does not make both groups equally blameworthy.  Virginia Senator Kaine identified the difference: the violence “was fueled by one side: white supremacists spreading racism, intolerance & intimidation. Those are the facts.”

In any conflict, we can find some similarities. More level heads and clearer minds can and should identify when one of the parties has crossed the line. Identifying, addressing and condemning morally blameworthy acts is particularly important for (a) a world leader to do (b) in a time of crisis, and importantly (c) any time when Nazis are involved.

The responsibility to loudly, publicly denounce and decry hate speech does not stop at the feet of a world leader. It extends to the public, to the cities where hate is, and to the doorsteps of little towns where we hear about it. Last week, comedian Tina Fey sarcastically joked that we should drown our outrage in sheetcake. The satire was lost on some, and so the point must be made clear. Simple. No matter who or where we are, we do not tolerate Nazis. We need to loudly encourage those who defend against hate.

Some things are simple: simple enough for kids to understand. Lex Luther and Superman are both superheroes, of course. In that way they are the same. Their differences, however, cannot be underplayed. We condemn Lex Luther’s evil attacks on innocent people. We support Superman’s defence of humanity.

 

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Life lessons come in strange forms. The Life Lesson Trifecta hit me in the summer of 2014. One hot Kingston afternoon, my dog nearly managed to have me eating out of the palm of his hand – or, rather, from the bottom of his dish.

As a first-time dog owner, I had a lot to learn about training a 65-pound, sweet, high-energy labradoodle puppy. His weight, energy and determination turned many of our walks into complex, dynamic obstacle courses. A brisk winter walk became a dog-propelled tobogganing adventure, a jog by the lake turned into a puddle jump and log roll, a stroll through the park became a series of red rover games with unsuspecting strangers. Max passed puppy school three times, only to school me outside of class: he knew what to do – and he knew he didn’t have to do it. I had run out of options until I came upon the website for the Dog Whisperer of Kingston, Ontario.  “Just $100. GUARANTEED SATISFACTION. UNLIMITED FREE FOLLOW-UPS, if Needed.” This Dog Whisperer scooped me: mind, hopes and wallet.

The Dog Whisperer’s entrance was as grand as his promises. He rolled-up like a gangster and parked out front in his decked-out station wagon that read “Ain’t Misbehavin” in big, bold font. My plans for the afternoon were now public knowledge. The 5’10, 110-pound middle-aged man sauntered to my door, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Max, sensing the upcoming snafu, eagerly ran to meet the knock. Using my extremely graceful one-legged, two-armed, dog restraining, double door pulling manoeuvre, I opened my door for the Dog Whisperer.

“STOP! He announced. We will do it AGAIN! This time – I am the King!”

His extremely strange announcement worked. Max and I both stopped mid-door routine. Max searched my eyes to find out who in Dog’s name I had invited into the house. This was going to be a ride.

The next thing I knew, the Dog Whisperer was taking us out for a walk in the streets. I was on full display before my neighbours, friends, and the general public. He explained that, if I want to be king, I need to act like the king.  His voice inflated as we walked out the door: “THIS IS MY HOUSE!” he shouted. He pointed downward, and proclaimed, “THIS IS MY SIDEWALK!” He pointed at my elderly neighbour’s Toyota: “THIS IS MY CAR.” A young family with a child and a baby walked by, and he yelled “THIS IS MY BABY!” Needless to say, the family made a sharp left turn off of my street.

I was about to suggest that we retreat inside when I heard a low groan from a nearby dog. The Dog Whisperer was instantly intrigued. To my dismay, a very pregnant woman sat with her children, an elderly woman, and a medium sized boxer in a muzzle only 20 yards away. Oh, Good Lord. Max and I were ready to bail, when the Dog Whisperer pulled on Max’s leash. As expected, the Dog Whisperer had sniffed-out a learning opportunity. We walked over to the area he had already designated HIS park. The pregnant woman asked us to just walk away. The Dog Whisperer was not having any of it. “I AM THE DOG WHISPERER,” he announced. The woman started to plead, “Turn around, sir. Don’t come closer”. “YOU NEEDN’T HAVE ANY FEAR” he proclaimed, pulling Max with him. The boxer’s groan turned into a growl. The pregnant lady stood up and loudly proclaimed right back: “MISTER, I AM 8 MONTHS PREGNANT WITH AN ANGRY DOG AND AN OLD MOTHER. YOU NEED TO BACK UP!!” The Dog Whisperer had missed the memo: She was King. This was HER park.

The lesson continued for another hour and a half. I was poked and jabbed while the Dog Whisperer demonstrated on me how he would physically get Max’s attention. We returned to my home where he and Max chased each other in laps through my hallway, past my glass dining room table and over my furniture. The piece de resistance, however, he kept for last. “I need crackers!” He implored. I told him I was gluten-free. We began a bizarre negotiation about crunchy food I may or may not have in my cupboard. We eventually settled on raisins. The Dog Whisperer had a final exercise for me.

At this point, I realized I was having a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I watched as the tall middle-aged man in my kitchen grabbed Max’s full dish of dog food and raisins, and sunk to his hands and knees. I gasped as he stretched his head forward to eat the raisins out of Max’s bowl of dog food. The Dog Whisperer’s food concentration was broken only to give an occasional growl to Max and I. Max again looked up at me, as if to ask if I was crazy enough to join this guy on the ground. I was not.

The Dog Whisperer had been in my life for two hours. While Max still could not be walked steadily on his leash, I learned three important lessons:

  1. Nobody – not I, not Max, not the Dog Whisperer – nobody is the king of the world. You can only ever be the king of you.
  2. Read guarantees carefully – free services are only worth what you would be willing to pay for them in the first place.
  3. No level of dog obedience is worth eating dog food for: Max knew this beforehand. I needed to see it with my own eyes.

 

Immature Amateur

Four Sundays ago, I wept. Hard. Like a baby. I stood-up, looked in the mirror, saw how sad I was, and amped-up for more crying. The reason for my unpretty self-pity party? An amateur race.

I choose to do triathlons, obstacle courses and running races. My life has been a fairly common middle-class one. I live in a house, I have an office job, and I drive a car to work. My comfortable lifestyle means I have to add-in exercise in order to stay healthy and fit.

Those who have known me for a while know I haven’t always been particularly healthy. I have indulged in all of the fun stuff: junk food, parties, and (ugh) tobacco.

On a whim in my twenties, I ditched smoking, late nights, and poutine for swimming, biking and running. I decided to challenge myself in an amateur sport to see if I could actually do it. Fast-forward six years later, I competed in over 30 races, train regularly and have begun to expect results.

Like many amateur athletes, my relationship with sport has evolved alongside my dedication. We begin by wondering if we can do it. We aim for bigger races, longer distances. We try to beat our personal bests. Then we go after each other, reaching for the podium.

Competition is revered in our society. We emulate Olympians, reward extra-curricular achievements, and buy soft drinks from professional athlete spokespersons. Like all fun things, competition must be enjoyed in moderation: particularly for us lay folk.

There comes a time when amateur sport can go too far. Identifying that obscure grey line can be difficult. Often, seen only in hindsight. The easiest marker of excessive hobbying is when it ceases to be fun. Triathlon does not hold the monopoly on excess, but it does attract some exemplary cases.

Chris Inch, a local amateur triathlete, announced this year that he had tiptoed across the fun-line. Inch is well known around the area for being a dominating force in endurance events: winning local triathlons, competing in ultra-marathons, and nearing qualification for the World Ironman Championships. In a surprise move this year, he publicly “outed” himself for overtraining, to the detriment of his relationships. It was time to take a step back, he announced. He felt his fixation on training had overcome his priorities.

Last month, Kristen Johnson, an accomplished amateur triathlete, made international news for purposely sabotaging her competitor. Johnson was spotted, and videotaped, letting the air out of another athlete’s tires at the Syracuse Half Ironman. Johnson isn’t the first to be accused of amateur cheating. Another amateur triathlete, Julie Miller, of Squamish B.C., was banned from racing by Triathlon Canada after she was accused of cutting the course. Both women have denied the allegations. Notably, these amateur races rarely offer any monetary prize. Wins are for pride. When competition brings out envy and deception in athletes, there is little to be proud of.

Returning to little old me: I do not have the racing chops of Johnson and Miller. I definitely do not have Inch’s dedication or skill. I came to triathlon to better myself. So why, in God’s name, was I lying red-faced in a pool of self-deprecating tears? This cannot be the “better” Jodie I had sought out.

I had run my best, but I felt weak. I was embarrassed about the mistakes I had made during the course. I felt guilty about training choices. I was disappointed that I was not the athlete I had believed I was. As I stepped out of my tantrum, I sat up for a catharsis. I had become so self-involved, I had forgotten that I was the only one who cared about my performance! Narcissism had overtaken self-improvement, and I was left with emptiness.

Amateur sport can be revealing. It shows us at our best, when we cross the finish line smiling and powerful. When we overdo it, however, reflection on our performance can be as flattering as a Walmart fitting mirror: showing only our flaws. Rather than looking away from the mirror, we can look harder, examine, and work on our weaknesses: fixations, envy and even narcissism.

I picked myself off the bed that day. I threw my helmet and shorts on the next day and, literally and figuratively, got back on the bike. I was not the same athlete I had been at the race – I was smarter, I was more compassionate and I was more humble. Amateur sport can hurt physically and emotionally. Amateur athletes, however, have the capacity to grow.