1. Freedom and the Great American Soft Drink

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    I want to approach institutional freedom and choice in America from a perspective that should be familiar to capitalists and business-people of all stripes: Brand Building.

    A brand is a symbol or representation of an idea. It is both a concept and a tacit promise. When I purchase a can of Coca-Cola and crack the aluminum tab, I drink the contents without fear that I might find something unexpected inside – such is the power of a brand. Such also, is the power of Health Canada, which ensures I won’t be drinking poison. But within regulation, Coca-Cola certainly has wiggle room to be inconsistent. Coke however, and most of the world's top brands, recognize the need for consistency in what they deliver. Consistency builds trust and inspires loyalty among purchasers. Whatever you may think of Apple, Starbucks and even McDonalds or Coke, you probably recognize why they go to great lengths to preserve the strength of their brand in this way.

    Doing so requires standardization. Doing so means vastly restricting the choice and freedom that employees, franchisers and even customers might enjoy. If you purchase a McDonald store, you cannot cook the food in cobb ovens, and oppositely, as a customer, you cannot order filet mignon. Choice is limited, but the return on consistency is vital for the McDonalds brand. But what of the American brand?

    When you send your child to school in the United States of America it should mean something. People on the international stage should recognize that your kid received an education in one of the most powerful nations in the world, and there should be a standard of quality that inspires trust and respect. Just as you should not have to worry that your new Mazda 3 doesn't have proper brake-pads on all wheels, the biotech company employing your child should not have to wonder whether their new hire received proper education in evolutionary science.

    Voucher-based healthcare, schools that can opt-out of teaching vital and relevant information, and wildly inconsistent abortion and marriage laws are not just a bad idea. They are a combined force that massively weakens the brand that is the United States of America.
    Here’s your Grande Latte. Oops it has some lemonade in it. Here’s your GED. Aw shoot. We forgot to teach you about contraception and safe sex. If people cannot count on America to provide them and their families with consistent healthcare and education, tourists will not want to visit, immigrants will not want to move in, and current residents will want to move elsewhere. When conservative republicans harken back to the ‘golden age’ of America, they are talking about a concept, and idea and a brand. A brand that is severely tarnished.

    I’m not trying to debate the fundamentals of freedom in society with this article. Ideas about which freedoms and what choices are important for people to thrive, succeed in, and love the society in which they live are beyond the scope of a 500 word rant.

    But question those that tell you that freedom and choice are always the bottom line. Think about that when you buy an iphone, and get an iphone that works just like everyone elses.

  2. "Habits have been compared to handcuffs, easily put on and difficult to rid one's self of.

    Virtue is born of good habits, and the formation of habits may be said to constitute almost the whole work of education."

    Personally I think that to say education is mostly habit-building is a little overkill. But as someone who has build too few good habits over the course of formal education, this advice really hits home for me.

    I also really do believe that goodness is a practice and not a state - and a continual one at that. Jay Smooth touches on this in this excellent TED talk. The whole thing is very worthwhile.


  3. I recently rediscovered several hilarious and horrifying advice books belonging to my Grandfather, all dating from the early parts of the 20th Century. While I expected rampant misogyny, racism and loopiness (and was not 'disappointed' in these regards), what did surprise me was some genuinely good advice. For the next week, I will be posting bits of insight from a manners guide (see left), and a very brief explanation as to how I think each applies to my own life -  94 years after the publication date. Many of these will be apart from their original context, but I think this makes them even more prescient perhaps.

    Without further ado:


    "Queen Victoria forgave certain breaches of etiquette made in ignorance, and left her guest to discover the mistake at another time. It is a reprehensible host indeed who does otherwise, and so makes a guest uncomfortable. Etiquette is all wrong and false when it makes one forget the higher laws of courtesy or hospitality."


    Consider these words as you read the comments thread for any online discussion. To me, this speaks to not just etiquette, but the larger notion of not letting corrections betray a general attitude of respect. Those who energetically engage in sniveling correction, angry pedantry and flat-out knowledge wank would do well to heed this highly relevant wisdom.

    *See related:


  4. Feminism on the Iron Islands

    Monday, April 9, 2012

    Game of Thrones is a fairly masculine show and features loads of misogyny, but lots of women still love it. What gives??!!!

    There's a lot I'd like to say about this, but today I want to discuss what 'Game of Thrones' means to a general misconception about female audiences - that women are only really attracted to shows, books, movies and games with female leads or a female focus. Think 'Juno'. Think 'Sex and the City'.

    The root of this notion is the idea that female audiences are generally anemic regarding gender portrayals - only relating to either egalitarian portraits of men and women, or requiring hordes of 'strong female characters' that will stomp around and create massive social reform before the story has concluded. This idea is often latched in a flimsy way to incorrect ideas about feminism, suggesting that there is something empowered about only connecting to femme fatales or plucky, independent heroines.

    Of the many mistaken ideas about female audiences, I find this the most offensive. In a roundabout way, it suggests, frankly, that women readers, viewers and gamers are very very stupid, expecting to be pandered to at all times and have a highly particular (and often pulpy) notion of femininity celebrated to connect with the work. The women that I know don't expect female characters in their media as much as they expect good characters. Characters with ambitions, flaws, passions and doubts. Three-dimensional characters that reflect the world around them - and should therefore include women.

    Naturally there are pieces of media that will not depict very many women, simply by way of the story they are telling. I almost never hear women annoyed with this. What is annoying, and what happens too often, is stories containing lots of women in different positions in society, none of which have anything of consequence to say or do. This isn't just shitty - it's also downright unrealistic. Of course period films (and modern ones) will have some of the women in highly disadvantaged roles. Do the disadvantaged have nothing to say or do? Are characters in positions of power inherently more deserving of attention, screen-time or characterization? I'm reminded of the excellent comments of (director) Steve McQueen regarding race representation and film-making. There should be more black actors in movies about New York City, not as some kind of cinematic affirmative action, but because a New York with a tiny minority of black people is absurd.

    There's nothing inherently wrong with archetypal 'strong female characters', and even pulpy ones. But the cultural confusion regarding why women might like Game of Thrones - despite its serious gender inequities - is highly related to the shitty-ass Frank Miller girl-power stripper-with-a-shotgun heroines that aren't getting any less tired, or any more 'empowering'. I really believe that.

  5. Pinterest = ?

    Friday, February 24, 2012


    This Baby:


    It's a massive hit with a great number of people I know - but the fascinating kicker (at least for me) is that Pinterest only seems to capture the attention of females in my life.

    Honestly. Of the people I've heard talking about Pinterest - in person, on facebook, on blogs - ZERO of them have been men. If you checked out the link (or have been to the site otherwise) it's quite clear that Pinterest is very gendered in terms of content, but it strikes me that it doesn't have to be that way, and it baffles me how polarizing this one is.

    Pinterest is essentially a photo blog - not unlike tumblr, or a very image-heavy wordpress layout. A user creates categories, and then either 'pins' content uploaded from their computer, or re-pins things that others have already put up. All of this is pretty normal, and there's no face reason why I shouldn't be interested. In fact, take a look at this photo:

    Architecture? Motorcycles? Music, Film, and something called Geek? By name alone, I'm interested in half of stuff on that list. I'm a very visual person. I love design, art, and cool photos. I should be stoked on Pinterest. But here's the thing:

    I don't care. At all

    Pinterest has absolutely zero appeal for me, and every guy I've talked to feels the same way. Men are supposedly visual creatures, and this is an image blog with lots of potential for cool things guys would like. So honestly, I'm putting this out there to people: Why is Pinterest so captivating to women, and so utterly 'meh' to the large majority of men? I have no doubt that some guys like Pinterest, but I feel confident that my sample isn't entirely unrepresentative. 

    Here's one theory perhaps, courtesy of my girlfriend. Perhaps it's the very organizational nature of Pinterest that creates this divide. I love the chaos of tumblr. I love the weird, stream of consciousness, mental bleed that are the tumblrs of most people. The quotes, the mini-tweet-like-statements and the self photography. I eat it all up, because it feels like a snapshot of the inside of someones skull. When it's bad, it's really bad. But when it's good, it feels like an experience unique to the internet, and a totally wonderful one at that. I know plenty of girls with great tumblrs, so this isn't to suggest that women don't respond to tumblr, but maybe that the hyper-organized system of Pinterest taps into something that girls respond to way more than guys.

    What gives, friendly folk?