Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Invitation! (sense of irony welcome but optional)

Filed under: charity,money,Montréal,the other — alison @ 15:34

I’ve received the following invitation:

Mr. L. Jacques Ménard, O.C., Leaders’ Circle President

is pleased to invite you to a cocktail in honour of your contribution to the success of Centraide of Greater Montreal’s Campaign 2009 and in recognition of your title of Leaders’ Circle Partner.

This event will also be an opportunity for you to meet with volunteers responsible for allocating funds to agencies.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
BMO Financial Group, Bank of Montreal
___ St-Jacques Street, Montreal

And here’s the best part:

Invitation valid for two people.

Let me know if you want to be my date. If you’re interested in how charity works, as a donor or most especially as a recipient or interested bystander, this is an opportunity to watch the benevolent wealthy schmooze and to talk to the people who take their money. It’s also an opportunity to drink free wine. Both donors and volunteers will be dressed like donors (i.e. like rich people) and last time I went there were also representatives of agencies who were dressed like funding recipients (i.e. like grad students).

I’m not rich, but I donate because I’m not an artist or a parent or activist or even a particularly good friend — any of the many ways that people normally contribute to their communities. I try to go to as many Centraide events as I can because I’m curious about this whole charity/philanthropy thing that I participate in while philosophically objecting to.

If you’re curious too, please come with!

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Google-bomb for the BCA

Filed under: challenges and memes,Google-bomb,science — alison @ 05:26


British Chiropractic Association

The real problem of course is british libel laws, not the BCA. But we do what we can.

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Mail-order brides

A little kerfuffle over at Science Blogs brought mail-order brides back to my attention. (Didn’t they have their fifteen minutes of fame in the eighties?)

I commented to Mark that I didn’t see what the fuss was about. He gamely pointed to the fuzzy grey borderline between mail-order brides and prostitution.

Alison: Well, there’s a fuzzy-to-nonexistent borderline between marriage and prostitution generally. The point of marriage is that it recognises sexual relationships as inherently potentially exploitatitve, and confers legal rights and responsibilities on the parties involved.

Mark: Ah, but that doesn’t apply in the US. If they divorce, the mail-order bride has no residency rights and is deported back to her country of origin. It’s not like Canada where a sponsored immigrant spouse has residency rights independent of the status of the relationship.

Oh. Right. I keep forgetting. (Which is odd, because one of my favourite stories about sponsoring Mark under Canada’s Family Reunification Program is how when he went to get his visa exchanged for a residency card, he was sat down and solemnly lectured that if I were to become abusive, he was not to hesitate to Move Out Immediately. Quebec would help him find a place to live and give him welfare if he needed it. He would NOT have to leave the country. Quebec would come after me for reimbursement as necessary. He was NOT to worry about that.)

But does that mean that we should be worried about the institution of mail-order brides, or that we should be protesting the lack of protection the US offers immigrant spouses – exacerbating a situation of potential exploitation where marriage is supposed to alleviate it?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

crimes against the present

Filed under: compassion,death,illness,woo — alison @ 06:15

Mark brought our excellent neighbour over to the house yesterday to give her a tour and show her how to water the plants while we’re gone. She’s been preoccupied lately with her brother, whose health is not good these days. He has cancer which has progressed and metastasized to his brain. Our neighbour described in detail the support she is offering him: potent vegetable juices to boost his immune system; coaching to boost his morale. “You’re only fifty-seven! You don’t want to die now. Just think, you’re about to enjoy your retirement! Fight! Live!”

Oh dear. Magical thinking. Ineffective remedies. And badgering the poor man in his last days. Can’t she just let him die in peace?

And then I thought: good thing he’s not my brother. I’d probably be muttering “What, not dead yet? What are you waiting for? Look, it’s in your brain, no point in hanging on now.” At least my neighbour’s brother knows he is loved.

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Wealth, class and dysfunction.

Filed under: class,dysfunction,ignorance,money — alison @ 07:47

An old draft. I’m not sure why I didn’t post it at the time – possibly too emotional, possibly revealing myself as too ignorant, too judgemental, too pretenious, but mostly too ignorant. Maybe I felt that it was too apologetic, protesting too much. But ok, I am ignorant. Might as well post it now.

I was called out recently for referring to ‘the dysfunctional poor.’ It was suggested that I really meant ‘the working class.’ I didn’t think so, but I realised that I didn’t know what ‘the working class’ means. I looked it up in Wikipedia and it turns out that ‘working class’ can mean so many different things in informal speech that it’s pretty much useless. (Wikipedia suggests that ‘the underclass’ is more like what I really meant, but… so monolithic?) Academics have various definitions for ‘the working class’ based on income or marxian theory, but as I am not an academic I’m not going to try to use them.

It’s interesting that poverty still carries the stench of shame, that calling someone poor generates a reprimand.

Trying to identify what dysfunction means to me I have been thinking about people I have known (some better than others, but I’ve met them all in person).

*** *** ***
I think violent sociopaths are dysfunctional, but that’s a purely personal feeling. You can be a violent sociopath millionaire corporate lawyer and lots of people will think that’s just peachy. You will probably spend less time in jail than if you are a violent sociopath pimp, and the spending time in jail part is usually what gets considered dysfunction.

*** *** ***
Doing time in prison more than once is dysfunctional – that is, if it’s not part of a conscious protest.

There are lots of things that will increase your chances of doing time, like being poor or Native (or in the US, African-American) none of which are inherently dysfunctional. But most people have staying out of prison somewhere on their agenda, and if you are unable to manage that for yourself… there’s a problem somewhere, and it’s manifesting itself in your life.

*** *** ***
A family dynamic that includes filicide is dysfunctional.

If as you enter your teen years you realise that your violent sociopath father will end up murdering you if you stick around, money means you can be sent to private boarding schools. Poverty means you’ll have to run away and live on the street.

*** *** ***
Alcoholism is dysfunctional.

Again, a personal prejudice. Perhaps the things for which alcoholism increases the risk – road accidents, fights, FAS, cirrhosis, too many children, suicide – are the actual problems and alcoholism merely a convenient target for finger-pointing. Whichever, even a little money makes things better. Remember the Temperance movement, and Demon Rum, and Taking the Pledge? People drink just as much as they did in the 1920s but Demon Rum isn’t taking the rap it used to. Breadwinners get paid more and are less likely to spend the entire week’s paycheque in one evening at the local pub. Families are less likely to be dependent on a single breadwinner. Even if they are, welfare means that a parent can leave a violent partner who spends all their money getting drunk or high. We have Al-Anon to replace the WCTU because those social changes don’t make all the crummy stuff associated with alcoholism go away. Welfare isn’t enough either, so the ex-wife on the top of the hill in Westmount getting both alimony and child support has easier choices to make.

*** *** ***
Sexual assault of kids by family members is dysfunctional. Money doesn’t change that, but it affects a parent’s child care choices.

If you don’t have money for a babysitter, it’s possible you would leave your toddler with your creepy brother-in-law when you go out for the day and tell yourself he isn’t that creepy because you don’t have a choice. And you might come back to find your toddler dead and sodomised in the dumpster behind your apartment building.

If you don’t have money for a babysitter, it’s possible you might let your mother look after your six-year-old daughter after school. Recalling what your father did to you when you were that age, you would warn your daughter not to let herself be in a room alone with her grandfather. And when you saw her bruises in the bathtub in the evening, you would know what she had done and you would whip her for having disobeyed your instructions.

Not being able to pay for childcare when you need it – that’s poverty, and it sucks. Whipping your child for getting herself raped – that’s dysfunction. But you wouldn’t see that particular dysfunction if appropriate childcare were available.

*** *** ***
Keeping your kids out of primary and secondary school so that they can keep you company is dysfunctional. Money doesn’t seem to have much impact either way.

*** *** ***
Preventing your kids from attending university is dysfunctional.

Parents may refuse to fill out financial statements for aid applications and/or decline to fund any aspect of their children’s university education. Either way the children aren’t eligible for financial aid and will have a very hard time. The student in this situation who receives an inheritance – even a small one – will be greatly helped.

*** *** ***
Repeatedly beating your school-age children into unconsciousness is dysfunctional.

If you live in a single family home, you can shut the windows and the neighbours won’t hear the screams. If you live in an apartment, you’ll upset the neighbours. They’ll have to figure out how to cope. They might or might not interfere, but either way relations will be tense.

*** *** ***
Setting fire to animals is dysfunctional.

If you live in a single-family home and set fire to your parents’ $800 show pekinese in the basement, your parents may discreetly take the animal to the vet for treatment and leave it there for placement somewhere gentler. Your neighbours will be none the wiser. If you set fire to one of the many cats trying to make a living in your traditional working class neighbourhood alley, your neighbours know who you are. One of them might retrieve the animal and take it to the vet, thus starting a career as a cat lady.

*** *** ***
So, that’s what I mean by dysfunction. Violence, spite and alcoholism. Universal, sure, but money can absorb some of the mess and limit the damage – even if only cosmetically. It’s a middle-class list that will offend many people because it labels individuals and not the societies they are a part of. But that’s my point: violence, spite and alcoholism are not themselves the domain of any particular sector of society. When I referred to the ‘dysfunctional poor,’ I was thinking of people caught up in dysfunction who don’t have access to money to mitigate the damage – so it’s out there hurting for all too see.

What do you mean by dysfunction?

Monday, February 16th, 2009

scandalous words

Filed under: corporate life,culture,language,Québec — alison @ 07:41

Um, heard about this on the radio last night. It’s over a week old; I really need to keep up with the news better.

Titter. Snerk.

Our diligent but bland premier, Jean Charest, went to France so that Nicolas Sarkozy could award him the Legion of Honour. According to the CBC, all Québec is abuzz over what Sarkozy said to him. “In this case, it is all about how a few words spoken by Nicolas Sarkozy this week has touched off yet another trans-Atlantic tizzy, though this time it is Quebec sovereigntists who are upset with what the French president said.” Apparently, while presenting the Legion of Honour, Sarkozy said “Do you really believe that the world, with the unprecedented crisis that it is going through, needs division, needs hatred?”

Ha. Quebecers really do not care. It’s true, a few words spoken by a French politician have, in fact, touched off a trans-Atlantic tizzy. Different politician, different words.

The diligent but bland french deputy Pierre Lasbordes was assigned to greet Charest as he entered the Senate. He thought he would welcome his distinguished guest with a demonstration of interest in his origins, so he asked his parliamentary aide and his wife to come up with a typically québécois expression to enquire after M. Charest’s state of fatigue. They went to a belgian travel site, found an expression and e-mailed someone in Rimouski who confirmed it. Which is how M. Lasbordes greeted M. Charest with, «J’espère que vous n’avez pas trop la plotte à terre, comme on le dit au Québec.» In English, I’m not sure whether that would be better understood as “I hope you haven’t worn out your cunt,” or “I hope your cunt isn’t dragging on the ground.”

*** *** ***
The québécois word «plotte» comes from the french word «pelote», meaning sheepskin. Something furry. Like a vulva… or a head, which is the imagery that came quite naturally to the parliamentary aide: head on the ground, upside down. While «plotte» is just vulgar when used as vocabulary, it’s kind of silly and cute when used in «plotte à terre», suggesting that “head on the ground” probably is actually the origin of the expression in Québec, though that meaning has been lost. Today, cunt just means cunt.

*** *** ***
Which brings me, however circuitously, to the point, however insignificant, of this post. You know how anglophones think it’s so funny that québécois swear with religious words: “tabernacle” is at least as strong a word as “fuck.” Similarly, “sacristy,” “chalice” and “baptism” are all strong swear words.

What we comment on less frequently are how body words are sprinkled through the language so casually. Windshield washer fluid? «Pipi». Grime under your fingernails? «Caca». Snow? «Merde». Compensating? «Grosse corvette, petite quéquette». Tired? «Avoir la plotte à terre». While this isn’t language I would use to talk to my boss at my corporate job, it would be fine for talking to my neighbour over the fence.

That’s all!

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