Write Essays Archive

6

Eulogy for a website

We get spam!

Hi Brutishandshort.Com Team,

I thought you might like to know some of the reasons why you are not getting enough organic & social media traffic on your website.

I would like to update you that your website is still not ranked on the top pages of Google SERPs for your popular keywords (Products). Your loss is your competitor’s gain i.e. the traffic which could have generated quality sales for you goes to your competitors as they rank well in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) organically.

Reasons:

1. HTML and other on-page errors are present on your website.
2. Low number of internal and external quality links present on your website.
3. Duplicate or low quality contents present in your website without any regular update.
4. Need to update fresh contents on your website and blogs as per the latest Google guideline.
5. Broken Links and Poison words might be present in your website.
6. Social media profile needs to be updated regularly.

Long gone are the days when Google used to give priority to websites of keyword based domains or websites with huge number of links. Now Google counts each and every detail to verify if your website is relevant to the keywords you are promoting for. A single un-wanted link or a duplicate content can lead your website to be penalized by Google.

We are a leading website promotion company providing online promotion, SMO, Reputation Management, Content (both web and promotional content) fixing services to clients. We have a team of 240+ SEO professional working 24*7. Our team of dedicated Google Analytic and Adwords certified professionals excel in promoting and increasing the visibility of a website in various search engines (including the latest Google Panda and Penguin updates), which will directly help in increasing traffics for your website.

Unlike other SEO companies we do not believe in talking rather we believe in delivering what we promise to our clients. We provide guaranteed services or money back-guarantee to all our clients who consider working with us.

If you are getting rigid by paying a huge amount in PPC then Organic listing by using white hat technique will be definitely a right choice for you. As the rate of conversion is more in organic listing as compared to PPC, eventually it will be an absolute gain for you.

This email just tells you the fraction of things we do, our optimization process involves many other technical factors which can be sent to you on your request. If you would like to know more about our services then please write us back else you can give us a call us in our number below.

P.S: – This is our marketing strategy that we use the Gmail account. Once you reply us back, the next communication I will do is from my corporate email ID.

Let me know your thoughts and looking forward to work together.

Best Regards,
Justin Taylor|Senior SEO Advisor
PH. No: (217) 650-7095
Skype: justintaylor888

I encourage you all to call Justin Taylor and ask him about his business model!

My reply:

Holy fucking shit, Justin Taylor. Thank you for your thorough assessment of our webpage.com, which we have clearly been utilizing to gain the highest SEO profile possible in order to sell what you rightly noted as our most popular product, namely “Product.” (Really, thank you for telling us about “product.” The concept, I think, is revolutionary in its simplicity. I don’t believe anyone has ever thought of this before possibly ever, and I would like you to know that you’ve helped clarify my thinking in this regard.)

One of the many ways in which we have been attempting to monetize our content is via a relatively new online strategy we like to call, “stopping on the doing of the website pretty much forever.” So far, it has been either incredibly worthwhile or manifestly unsound. On the one hand, we get to not do the website anymore. On the other hand, not doing the website is kind of sad because when we were doing it we were really going for it, and that was fun. That was fun, Justin Taylor, but I just don’t think that any of us have the time right now to do the website thing. And that means, unfortunately and alas, Justin Taylor, that we simply can’t, in good faith, take you up on your generous offer to work with us to improve our SEO profile, because the brutal truth of the matter, Justin Taylor, is that we simply haven’t cared for a while and the website, well the website, there’s that, and it’s kind of a done deal.

As someone who cold calls on the regular, I wish you the very best, but — word of advice? Take your Skype out of your email signature. A bit too much, Justin Taylor. Just a bit too much.

Best wishes,

Tom O’Hare

[Many titles]

Please consider this a eulogy for B&S. There’s a possibility we’ll revive the site, but for the moment we’re all involved in the real world a bit too much to keep this shit updated. We understand that this speaks volumes about our laziness and our lack of motivation. We don’t care. We heart you, and we’ll miss you always — or at least until we start this bad boy up again.

With love and squalor,

~Tom (and Trevor and Ben)

3

Why Does a Nosy Computer Want to Ruin My Marriage?

There are many things about the corporate world that I’m forced to inhabit during normal business hours that regularly perplex and frighten me — for example, the tendency of its residents to use “spend” as a noun and “parking lot” as a verb. (E.g., Corporate Wonk 1:“What was our spend this quarter?” Corporate Wonk 2: “Let’s parking lot that discussion for another day.” Me: Baaaaaaaaaaarrrrrffff)

Occasionally, however, my experiences drift into a more metaphysical realm. Case in point: the existential crisis that arose after I finally remembered to update my emergency contact information yesterday following my marriage last year. As you can see, the first few text fields are fairly standard. However, after selecting how I was related to my emergency contact from a handy — and, I must, say, quite thorough — drop-down menu, I became genuinely stumped by the final piece of information requested: my “Relationship Start Date.”

Uhh, say what now? You want to know when my relationship with my emergency contact started? What does that even mean? If I had listed a parent, would my faceless overlords have wanted to know the day I was born, the day I was conceived, or the day I truly began to recognize my parents as flawed human beings who I could finally and legitimately consider peers? More importantly, would Virginia and Oklahoma require a personhood amendment to even be able to answer this question?

Of course, I didn’t list a parent. I listed a spouse, which makes the question even moreproblematic when you consider the possibility that, in the event of an emergency, whoever contacts her could conceivably share the information about when I believe our relationship started. Sure, I could just play it safe and list the date we met, but it would certainly be a stretch to say we had a relationship at that time. And since we were friends before any sort of romantic entanglement reared its snarled head, which phase of our relationship is more pertinent in this case: our fledgling friendship or consequent courtship? I suppose the former could be said to have begun the first time we hung out socially in any capacity, but the latter is a much trickier knot to unravel.

Did “she” and “I” become “us” the first time we danced together in a raging discotheque located beneath the local bullfighting arena? Were we “we” the moment she agreed to accompany me unchaperoned through the narrow, winding streets of the ancient Moorish barrio on the outskirts of town? Or perhaps the solidifying moment came during our unexpected, Lady-and-the-Tramp-style kiss over a mutually munched churro? (In case you’re confused, I should probably point out that we met in Spain.)

Then again, her relationship as my spouse obviously didn’t begin until the day we married, so maybe I should simply list our anniversary as the “Relationship Start Date.” Yeah, our anniversary, which is on…uhhh…I remember it was summer-ish…

On second thought, maybe I should just start looking both ways before I cross the hallway, since avoiding an emergency at work seems to be the only way to avoid a much bigger emergency at home.

3

Websites that Sound Like Other Things

When creating a new online presence, it’s important to choose a name that’s both memorable and at least vaguely emblematic of your site’s intended purpose. This usually means following one of two broad naming strategies: 1) Choosing a random, possibly foreign word that is spiritually — if not literally — related to your mission (see: Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Hulu, Yelp), or 2) mashing together two or more words that allude to content and purpose (see: YouTube, WordPress, Facebook, Pinterest).

The danger with these strategies, of course, is that they require powerful branding to become household names (or, at least, Web-hold ones). Otherwise, n00bs coming across them for the first time may become confused about what they’re all about. Forthwith, a collection of popular online entities whose names could have easily been co-opted for other purposes had the original ventures failed to make it out of the digital starting gate:

Boing Boing

What it is: An eclectic group blog aggregating various links and stories from around the web

What it sounds like: An X-rated Tigger fan-fiction site

The wonderful thing about Tigger is Tigger’s wonderful thing!

Forexpros

What it is: A comprehensive source for tools and information relating to the financial markets

What it sounds like: A depressing online community of former sports stars consumed with reliving their glory days

GitHub

What it is: A centralized control system for the collaborative development of software

What it sounds like: A British-run revenge site where wives send in stories about their idiot husbands

Gizmodo

What it is: A tech blog covering consumer electronics

What it sounds like: What you get when that adorable snuggle ball from Gremlins mates with the largest living species of lizard on earth

SlashGear

What it is: Another tech blog devoted to consumer electronics and technology

What it sounds like: Where Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees go to buy high-quality bad-guy paraphernalia

UrbanSpoon

What it is: A leading provider of “time-critical” dining data

What it sounds like: A place for lonely city dwellers to cuddle with strangers

Surprisingly, UrbanSpooning very rarely leads to UrbanForking.

YouPorn

What it is: An amateur pornographic video site

What it sounds like: Uhhh, okay, I guess there aren’t a lot of ways you can go with this one

***

(cross-posted on MotherBoard)

2

Diseased to Meet You: Six Badass-Sounding Conditions You Probably Don’t Want

Reading the discomforting announcement that the first case of Mad Cow Disease in six years has just reared its large, cud-chewing head in a dairy cow in central California, I was reminded of the following joke from my high school days:

Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. The first cow looks at the second one and says, “Hey, aren’t you worried about mad cow disease?” The second cow looks back at him and says, “Why should I be? I’m a helicopter!” [crickets]

After reading the article though, I also couldn’t help but think, man, “mad cow disease.” Now that’s a pretty badass-sounding affliction. Hell, even the bowtie-rockin’ scientific name — bovine spongiform encephalopathy — has a tattoos-and-tequila poetry to it. Then again, compared to some of the following diseases I came across while researching this article, “mad cow” is actually a bit of a featherweight on the scale of awesomely terrifying maladies, starting with:

Devil’s grip (a.k.a. epidemic pleurodynia)

They say that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, but apparently a bored Beelzebub will take any part of you it can get its forked mitts on, since Devil’s grip — caused by Group B coxsackieviruses — can evolve from a “headache, nausea and vomiting, and sore throat” to “severe, stabbing [chest] pain” in a brief period of time for an unfortunate few. Despite the name, however, the infection usually goes away on its own after a couple of days, regardless of how much holy water you ingest during that time.

But what would happen if the devil in all of us attempted to exit our bodies a little too carelessly? Might I suggest a Mephistophelean case of:

Exploding head syndrome (a.k.a. — oh, that’s the actual name?)

Well, no, I won’t suggest it. That was just a cheap literary ploy since EHS has nothing to do with Devil’s grip — or physical afflictions of any kind, for that matter. In fact, out of all the diseases on this list, it’s probably the one you’d be most likely to volunteer to contract just to be able to say you had it. According to the American Sleep Association, “Exploding head syndrome is a rare and relatively undocumented parasomnia event in which the subject experiences a loud bang in their head similar to a bomb exploding, a gun going off, a clash of cymbals or any other form of loud, indecipherable noise that seems to originate from inside the head.” Fortunately, despite having perhaps the most violent name in medicine, “exploding head syndrome is not dangerous” and “has no elements of pain, swelling or any other physical trait associated with it.”

Thankfully, our next ailment doesn’t have any pain associated with it either. Unless you count psychological pain, in which case, depending on your emotional constitution, all bets are off:

Human Werewolf Syndrome (a.k.a. Hypertrichosis)

In its congenital form, human werewolf syndrome is caused by an extremely rare genetic mutation that presents at birth, leaving its unlucky constituents wolflike in their incredible hairiness from an extremely early age. However, it can also be acquired after birth in various ways, including from “the side effects of drugs, associations with cancer, and possible links with eating disorders.”

Formerly the near-exclusive province of carnival sideshows, the hypertrichotic among us have received significantly more constructive attention in recent years thanks to articles like the one published by the Daily Mail last February about the Sangli sisters of India (see video above) and a Guiness World Record being awarded to Supatra Sasuphan of Thailand for achieving the coveted title of world’s hariest girl. (Okay, so maybe not all of the attention is constructive. Then again, Supatra says that she is “delighted after her new-found fame helped her become one of the most popular girls in school,” so what the hell do I know?)

From the benign (if beleaguering) to the very, very scary, we come to:

Toxic Shock Syndrome (a.k.a. Staphylococcal…toxic shock syndrome)

I’ll admit it: there’s no gussying this one up. Toxic shock syndrome is as bad as it sounds — maybe worse, considering that it “may be deadly in up to 50% of cases [and] the condition may return in those that survive.”

And fellas, don’t think you’re off the hook just because you remember reading once that toxic shock was a lady-parts problem caused by faulty tampons or whatever, since in reality,

Although the earliest cases of toxic shock syndrome involved women who were using tampons during their periods (menstruation), today less than half of current cases are associated with such events. Toxic shock syndrome can also occur with skin infections, burns, and after surgery. The condition can also affect children, postmenopausal women, and men.

I don’t know about you, but after suffering from confusion, diarrhea, general ill-feeling, headaches, high fever, low blood pressure, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, widespread rashes, seizures, and, ultimately, organ failure, I think I’d pretty much welcome a chance to contract the next illness on our list:

Vampire Disease (a.k.a. Porphyria)

Offered as a possible explanation for the origin myth of vampires since at least 1985, porphyria is a nasty collection of rare, genetic blood disorders whose symptoms do, indeed, sound gnarly enough to spawn an entire subculture of mythical creatures. And no, there’s not a sparkly marbled six-pack among them. Instead,

Extreme cases of the disease can manifest gruesome symptoms where victims accumulate pigments called porphyrins in the skin, bones and teeth. While harmless in the dark, porphyrins become caustic, flesh eating toxins that can cause gruesome facial disfigurement when exposed to the ultraviolet rays of sunshine. Noses and ears can be eaten away with lips exhibiting a red, burned effect until they peel back from the gums that in turn recede, exposing the teeth in an unnatural way with a frightening, fang-like appearance.

The article linked to in the subheader also presents plausible explanations for the porphyria-related origins of other common vampire-y characteristics, including their unfortunate taste for blood and their entirely reasonable aversion to garlic and crucifixes. The less-than-cinematic takeaway here is that the longest-suffering victims of real vampires throughout history appear to be the vampires themselves.

That said, a vampire is a vampire, and there’s only one way to fight an army of the un-undead…and that’s with another army of the un-undead! That’s right, I’m talking about:

Walking Corpse Syndrome (a.k.a. Cotard delusion)

Unlike the victims of porphyria, whose physical symptoms are all too real, for the wannabe zombies suffering from Cotard delusion, it’s all about brains — and I don’t mean dietarily. First described by French neurologist Jules Cotard in 1882, walking corpse syndrome is classified as a “neuropsychiatric disorder” in which a disconnect in the brain leaves people unable to even recognize “their own face; as a result, they come to believe they’re dead.” Moreover, “in advanced cases, they sometimes believe their flesh is beginning to rot or that some of their internal organs or their blood is missing.”

Fortunately, if recognized and treated in time, the delusion is reversible. Not reversible, however? The 19 hours you’re scheduled to spend catching up with The Walking Dead on Netflix this summer before the third season begins this fall.

(crossposted on Motherboard)

2

Ditch the Electrical Umbilical

My wife and I ordered a new corner TV cabinet a few weeks back to replace the particleboard Walmart number we’d purchased after moving in together five years ago. Eager to ditch the college-quality eyesore, I began disconnecting components as soon as the new cabinet arrived and we managed to maneuver its wider-than-remembered bulk through the front door and into the kitchen.

Five minutes and one minor electrical shock later, I was greeted by this rather horrifying sight:

For those of you keeping track at home, this is apparently the sort of electro-intestinal carnage that one can expect from a years-long Royal Rumble starring, in no particular order, one high-definition television, one Nintendo Wii, one Blu-ray player, one satellite receiver, one Apple TV, one sound bar, one cable modem, one wireless router, and one high-definition signal switcher — that last device being necessary to manage the feeds from the aforementioned Blu-ray player, satellite receiver, and Apple TV in light of the single, solitaryHDMI input on our (relatively) old Westinghouse.

My first instinct upon witnessing this modern-day Cobble’s Knot was to hit up Maniac Mageeon the celly and then curl up in the fetal position while he worked his way through it with only the promise of a large cheese pizza for payment. After learning from my school-teacher wife that the book was not, in fact, based on a real person however, I eventually hunkered down to untangle the Gordian gnarl myself, wondering all the while when technology would finally free us from a tethered entertainment existence once and for all.

The most obvious candidate for wired obsolescence, of course, is the Blu-ray player (which would already require one less cord if I hadn’t cheaped out and purchased the ethernet-only version instead of the wireless one to access online content). In my opinion, there’s a better-than-even chance that Blu-ray discs will prove the last physical audio/video medium to gain widespread adoption, as more and more of us turn to Internet-enabled streaming media to meet our Hollywood hankerings.

Unfortunately, aside from pre-recorded movies offered by your cable or satellite provider, conventional bandwidth wisdom dictates that broadcast television is probably still a few years away from being able to pipe true 1080p resolution (at 60 fps — not 24 fps) directly into your living room — to say nothing of Ultra HD programming, which DIRECTV has just recently announced it is working on and which Japan intends to transition to by 2020 (the year — not the TV show).

Of course, once you ditch Blu-ray, cable/satellite doesn’t need to be far behind. As streaming content libraries at Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google, and future competitors continue to grow, the concept of paying for dozens of channels that you never actually watch will become almost quaint. And while we’re consolidating, why not build TVs with wireless routers right in them? They’re already a prominently and centrally displayed piece of equipment, so Internet signals to your other connected devices shouldn’t suffer.

And if you can figure out a way to build a portal into the TV for third-party video game manufacturers, perhaps a single peripheral is all you’ll need to integrate their controllers as well, while the games themselves are delivered directly through your all-in-on uber-monitor. Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the real Apple TV rumored to be debuting this fall incorporated multiple elements of my cord-free free-thinking.

[Googles…] Well, speak of the devil! (who, I might remind you, did convince Adam to partake of a certain doctor-repelling fruit once upon a time). According to Macworld UK two days ago, “Apple is working on a television set with voice-control and a touch-screen remote, which will come with Apple’s very own game console.” Well, applejacks! Now if they can only figure out how to power the whole thing via a giant Powermat, we’ll really be in business.

(crossposted on Motherboard)

1

Don’t be a Dick…unless you’ve got his watch

Dick_tracy_large

On January 13, 1946, Chester Gould gave Dick Tracy a two-way wrist radio and adolescent boys across the country became transfixed with the idea of miniature portable communication devices. In 1964, Gould upgraded Tracy’s radio to a two-way wrist TV, and our collective pubescent unconscious immediately began conjuring all sorts of filthy possibilities that continue to haunt our dreams to this day.

Early efforts to duplicate Tracy’s most iconic gadget were, how to put this… less than sophisticated.

Even employing Groucho Marx as a spokesmodel failed to satisfy our cravings for wrist-worn awesomeness.

Now fast forward to last Thursday for thedebut of Sony’s new ‘SmartWatch’, which is designed to work in tandem with your Android phone to provide you with more — ahem —timely access to the various and vital tweets, emails, status updates, phone calls, etc. that would otherwise force you to paw your phone out of your too-tight thrift store jeans every time your pocket buzzed.

Facing competition from Kickstarter darlingsPebble and inPulse and having just revised its losses for the previous financial year to $6.4 billion (yeah, that’s right — “billion”), Sony, the former consumer electronics giant, is undoubtedly praying for the SmartWatch to become as iconic as Tracy’s own well-known band of techno-bling — or, better yet, anything made by Apple in the last ten years.

However, whether or not the SmartWatch is a hit on its own merits, Sony certainly could have taken a bite out of Apple’s recipe book when it comes to advertising. As of today, there is absolutely no information about the SmartWatch on Sony’s homepage, forcing potential customers to glean second-hand information from sketchy-ass blogs.

Moreover, even typing “SmartWatch” into the main search bar yields zilch at the moment. It’s only when you click on the Sony Store and then search for “SmartWatch” that the product appears. Can you imagine visiting Apple.com at any given moment and not seeing a drool-worthy photo of the latest iPad or iPhone right on the front page?

On the plus side, Pottermore — the Harry Potter uber-site created and overseen by Just Kidding Rowling herself — opened last weekend, and since it’s apparently being run in partnership with top Sony brass like CEO Charlie Redmayne, CTO Julian Thomas, and COO Tom Turcan, maybe the boy wizard has enough tricks up his over-sized sleeves to turn the floundering federation’s fortunes around again. Don’t bet your last raven’s claw on it though. Vanquishing He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named was probably a hell of a lot easier than yanking Sony out of the scrap heap.

(crossposted on Motherboard)

10

One Year Later

Brutish&Short turns one year old today, and while it’s beginning to toddle around okay if there’s something nearby to hold onto, I imagine the pants-crapping will continue a little longer yet. Baby steps, people, is what I’m trying to say.

Forthwith, a personal reflection.

***

Four score and whatever unit of time adds up to slightly more than a year ago, a certain foul-mouthed blogger whom I’ve known since we were six (though, to be sure, he did not start blogging foul-mouthedly until well after that) asked me if I’d like to join him and a fellow freethinker from his expat college days in co-editing a new website called…well, it didn’t have a name yet, but it would be devoted to…okay, it didn’t have a theme yet, either, but the point is, this was happening, and was I in or was I out? I waffled a bit at first, expressing various doubts — not over the feasibility of such a TBD-esque site, but rather my own ability to contribute anything of value to said. Up until that point, my primary blogging experience consisted of three years’ worth of bi-weekly poop jokes, sex jokes, and, of course, poop-sex jokes, over at my now-defunct humor site [resisting urge to name while linking to archives...and breathe], and I honestly wasn’t sure if I could maintain anything resembling a one-to-three times a day posting schedule with minimal punchlines to break up the monotony of my mostly uninformed opinionating. As an upper middle-class suburban white kid with almost no life experience who never watched the news, could give a shit about politics, thought Dave Barry was the greatest journalist of his generation, and only chose Philosophy as his college major because there were barely any in-class tests, what the hell could I have to say about life, the universe, and everything that wasn’t already being said better elsewhere?

But Tom stroked my ego, called in payment on a few chits from our rambunctious youth, introduced me to aforementioned “fellow freethinker” Ben, and before long, the three of us were regularly engaging in hour-long Skypes and G-chats about such topics as whether or not the site’s name should reflect its content: a) literally (me), b) metaphorically (Ben), or c) who gives a fuck, just pick a name already! (Tom); if anyone would ever “get” that our (never-actually-depicted-anywhere-outside-of-Twitter) mascot, Cecil, was supposed to be a leviathan — i.e., a cartoonish nod to the philosophical work from whence the finally settled-upon site name derives; and how to revolutionize the blogging world’s heretofore lazily considered but widely accepted methodology for categorizing new posts. (Sorry if that black hole brings up painful memories, Ben.)

And then…we started writing. And writing. And writing. And some days when our traffic spiked into the low four digits I thought, hot damn, we might actually be on to something here. And other days when our traffic remained in the low three digits for the second week in a row I thought, goddamn, why do we fucking bother? (Side note: I almost never swore in my writing before unconsciously starting to emulate Tom shortly into my Brutish&Short tenure. It’s more satisfying than I thought it would be…though also a complete dictional cop-out, of course.) But the truth was, it was the most I’d ever consistently written outside of work, and it was satisfying. My humor blog had been diverting, but — minus a few lucky pick-ups at established venues like CollegeHumor — inconsequential in both content, scope, and success. But B&S — we had readers — an actual audience beyond our parents and significant others who not only cared about what we, specifically, had to say on certain subjects, but occasionally even took the time to comment themselves. Did they come in droves? No. Are they ever likely to? Still no. But once in awhile, people gave a shit, and that made it all worthwhile.

Unfortunately, the giving a shit has dwindled somewhat in recent months, both from an editorial perspective and a readership one, and while I suppose you don’t need a Ph.D in physics to infer a causal relationship between the former and the latter, what else can you really expect from three late-20-somethings with full-time jobs (all of us), wives (some of us), early stage alcoholism (debatable), and a combined -$100.00 or so to show for our efforts? But nothing remains shiny for very long, and it’s once that lead-laden sheen wears off your new toy that you can really see what it’s made of. So while we reflect upon our position as the 787,000-ishth most popular site in the United States and debate the relative importance or irrelevance of 104,000+ unique visitors in 365 days in the group blogging biz, I make you this promise: if you keep readin’, we’ll keep writin’. (At least until I get that third Andrew Sullivan shoutout — then I. Am. Outta here. Also, free roast beef sandwich at Arby’s!)

Thanks. And as always (well, more or less), see you tomorrow.

~Trevor

0

Canadian Racism (or, Attawapiskat on the Internet)

While the thrust of my argument to support the community of Attawapiskat was received by many understanding and empathetic ears, it also exposed blatant public racism and harmful ignorant commentary, both of which are elaborated upon below.  Going up to nurse in northern Manitoba, I felt I knew what I was getting into – abject poverty, abysmal living conditions, and people suffering from health ailments stemming from these conditions.  Sitting comfortably at home, surrounded by familiarity and emotional support, I could deal with it.  Cerebral ways of knowing, however, are only one way of knowing, and my knowledge in no way prepared me for the emotional shock and conditions far exceeding my expectations.  Anything I knew and thought I was prepared for at home became background fodder as I contended emotionally with what presented itself and felt the oppressive crush of poverty and isolation.  In the same way that I was academically prepared for nursing in the north, I knew perfectly well of the racist attitudes of many Canadians towards people in some northern communities.  My intellectual acknowledgment of racist realities, however, did little to temper the sting of actually encountering it in the flesh – the responses to my post shocked me despite what I thought I knew was out there.  And much like in northern Manitoba, I’m still coming to grips with a reality that’s torturing my soul.

Tortured soul aside, when writing the original Attawapiskat piece I thought a lot about my experiences researching and nursing in the north, and reflected on how these experiences refounded my understanding of the social determinants of health and made real just how determinative they can be.  In this follow up essay, I am going to talk a bit about the goals I had intended for the original piece, the commentary generated by the piece and my take on it, as well as justice.  In addition, I will reiterate on the social determinants of health, coming full circle to Canadian values and the Canadians of Attawapiskat.

The original post, at root, was about increasing the awareness that some Canadians aren’t doing so well. Writing as a nurse with experience working in healthcare in a Northern First Nations community, I further wanted to give an experienced healthcare practitioner’s account of why this is the case.   I wanted to emphasize that the situations in which folks in these communities find themselves are largely a function of historical and current events as well as social and environmental determinants over which they have little control.  This is something that is important for everyone to understand because, like it or not, all Canadians are implicated in this system, and unless we acknowledge all of this, there’s little hope the situation will improve. Finally, I wanted to generate some discussion about Canadian values and walking the talk, underlining the difference between the cushy lives of many and the starkly harsh lives of others, and perhaps garner some empathy and justice for fellow Canadians in need.

It was Ben (see his posting on B&S) who initially brought my attention to the comments generated by the original Attawapiskat piece and the polarization of the opinions expressed on Reddit.  For the uninitiated, Reddit is an online forum that allows users to vote in favour of or against posts and comments, and much like the opinions expressed, the votes on the comments stemming from the Attawapiskat piece were extremely polarized.  Such conspicuous polarization on this forum is unusual, especially considering the fact that the article was received fairly favourably by the larger Reddit Canada community (36 votes in favour to 20 votes against the piece as of January 11th 2012).  It is difficult to know how representative r/Canada voters are of the general Canadian voting public, but the opinions expressed in the comments are the real opinions of real Canadians, making them valid enough to talk about.  Moreover, racist sentiment and attitudes are worth confronting regardless of how many people hold them.  So whether or not we have a microcosm of general Canadian public opinions and attitudes with regard to the debate on Aboriginal policy and moral obligation in Canada, I wanted to take some time to take up the shape of the comments.  As such, I think it’s important to have a look at the comments first, and then reconsider them in terms of justice and the social determinants of health I highlighted in my previous post.

There’s a lot to pick apart in the comments, but for the purposes of this essay I’m going to focus on providing a very brief overview only.  Some participants offered well-considered and thoughtful remarks reflecting an understanding of history, causation, and moral obligation.  Just as many used the forum to sling disdain and promote ignorant and harmful opinions.  Rampant throughout were vindictiveness and resentment, as well as hateful characterizations of Aboriginal people as lazy, irresponsible, and entitled.  Many racist remarks were made and slurs slung, and participants denied moral responsibility.  The idea that “people should pull themselves up by the bootstraps” underscored a lack of understanding of how social and environmental determinants can severely limit people’s opportunities to improve their situation, and confirmed that many determinants are taken for granted and assumed to be options available to everyone.  None of this is pretty.  Nothing new to those who spend any amount of time on the ‘net, but in this instance, the level was exceptionally remarkable.  Some of the more horrible comments were also the most popular and polarized ones in terms of votes, for example, this one received 14 upvotes and 11 downvotes, and this one received 9 upvotes and 10 downvotes.  I would encourage readers to have a look at the other comments – their popularity and number of upvotes vs. downvotes are revelatory.  Arguably the most tragic occurrence, a few people also displayed internalized racism and oppression, failing to recognize the existence of such phenomena and their insidious effects on identity and well-being.  What Ben and I found especially horrible was the degree to which internalized racism seemed to be interpreted by non-Aboriginal people as substantiation for racist sentiment and discrimination.  And what struck me as interesting is that, supposedly responding to a piece about how social and environmental determinants affect the trajectory of one’s health and well-being, the significance of these determinants was largely ignored.

So where do we go from here?

Racism 101:  Even though race is a social construct, it is still wrong to discriminate racially against someone, and discrimination, both individual and systemic, is learned and can be unlearned.  Unfortunately, many people who propagate racism and discriminate against others think of themselves as non-racist and of their actions as non-discriminatory.  No one is exempt from this.  So if you think you are one hundred percent free of racist or discriminatory thought, it’s time to re-examine because you are wrong.

Justice 101:  Since the idea of giving people what they deserve had a strong presence in the comments, and since logic can help us think categorically about social issues, I thought it might be good to broach the topic of justice.  Broadly defined, justice is acting in a just and/or fair manner.  It can be rather nebulous when trying to apply this concept to practical situations.  Fortunately for us, Michael Sandel gives a brilliant and relevant interview on justice and the various ways of understanding it, highlighting the contributions of various philosophical traditions.  He not only explains the more abstract stuff eloquently, but also touches on practical ethics and the application of these philosophical traditions to certain questions that are very relevant to the whole Attawapiskat piece and its resulting discourse.  One of the theoretical aspects of his lecture that is highly pertinent to our discussion here is the fact that while commonly applied philosophical traditions play a huge part in our debates about what is right, they lack the depth required to provide us with soundly considered answers that are reflective of our complex social existence.

On a more practical note, he talks about collective responsibility, the notion of community and individual identity, and the idea of special responsibility based on particular community membership, and how these fit into justice.  For example, he argues that in as much as it is possible and appropriate for one to take pride in a country’s historical achievements (e.g., many Canadians are proud of the Canada Health Act despite having had nothing to do with its establishment or current implementation), it is also possible and appropriate for one to bear a moral responsibility for wrongs previously committed (e.g., contemporary Canadian society is making financial reparations to survivors of the residential school system).  Stated explicitly, if it is possible for Canadians to feel pride in something in which they were not directly contributing, it is must be possible to bear a moral burden for wrongs that were not committed by them.

In another example, Sandel elaborates that there are certain cases in which you can be responsible for actions that were not your doing, a stance that is in sharp contrast with the Kantian position that you are only responsible for your own actions.  In one case, Sandel discusses the fact that contemporary Germans who were not alive during the holocaust feel it is their moral burden to right the wrongs of their grandparents’ generation, and make reparations to Jewish families because they understand how those events devastated Jewish communities and that lingering trauma from those events are still being felt today.  Similarly, some Canadian people make the argument that they are not responsible for what other people did in this country hundreds of years ago, especially given the fact that they didn’t even have ancestors on the continent at that time.  This clearly a Kantian approach to ethics, the idea that one is only responsible for one’s own actions that arise from the exercise of one’s will, is difficult to reconcile with the idea of a collective responsibility that extends across communities and across time.  Unfortunately, reasoning via this philosophical perspective fails to take into account the fact that the only reason we, as contemporary Canadians, are able to live here and prosper is because of the genocide and colonization of Aboriginal people that occurred.  So while we are not responsible for the genocide or colonization, it is incontrovertible that we benefit from the spoils of these events.  And it follows that we should take moral responsibility for those historical events.

So go listen to the Sandel podcast.  It is well worth its 20 or so minutes in length and will augment our consideration of justice in the current context.

Issues of justice and philosophy aside, my personal and professional stance is that as decent human beings, we should recognize current and historical facts, and work towards helping to strengthen communities who are suffering as a result of historical and contemporary oppression.  Furthermore, as decent Canadians, we should do what we can to take care of each other and help any struggling Canadian community regardless of its history.  So even if you don’t agree that we have, as contemporary Canadians, some moral responsibility to help repair genocidal and colonial damage done to Aboriginal Canadians, we still have a collective responsibility to help struggling Aboriginal Canadian communities on the basis that they are just that – Canadian communities.

Social determinants of health 101: Justice is important to discuss here, both theoretically and practically, because it is strongly related to social determinants of health, especially with regard to social and distributive justice.  Following from the Reddit comments it is clear that a significant proportion of people might not actually understand what social determinants of health are, and how they affect health and well-being.  Either that, or they don’t care.  To reiterate from the original Attawapiskat piece, the World Health Organization has defined social determinants of health as:

(…)the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels, which are themselves influenced by policy choices. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.”

Much like justice, the idea of social determinants affecting the trajectory of one’s health can be rather nebulous.  So instead of rattling off the fourteen Canadian social determinants of health, let us firstly appreciate that Aboriginal Status is the one and only grouping of people in Canada for whom specific ethnicity is a social determinant of health.  That Aboriginal status is its own social determinant of health is weightily significant, and something demanding serious consideration in addition to “why” questions.  So, why is this important?  Well, namely because the health of Aboriginal Canadians is inextricably linked to their unique history of colonization and genocide.  Adverse social determinants of health stem from discrimination in the form of legislation (e.g, the Indian Act of 1876), community relocations, residential schools, and the sixties scoop, to name a few.  Financially, Aboriginal Canadians fare significantly more poorly than non-Aboriginal Canadians, and educationally, achieve a lower level of education.  Moreover, crowded living conditions, food insecurity, and infectious and chronic diseases are much more prevalent in Aboriginal Canadians.  In short, merely being born an Aboriginal Canadian predisposes one to poor social determinants of health.

While the issues and implications elucidated therein are vastly different than the situation in Attawapiskat, I would strongly recommend listening to the following two podcasts from the program “Ideas” by CBC radio.  The podcasts are called “Boot Camp Moms” parts one and two.  In it, the producer talks about a program set up in Toronto called “Women Moving Forward” designed to assist a group of young mothers on social assistance, most of whom have histories of abuse and neglect, rebuild their lives with their children and transition to a position of self-sufficiency and independence.  She stresses that money, while one important contributor to poverty, is merely one of the many factors entrapping Canadians in the poverty cycle.  She also has numerous interviews with the women where issues stemming from social determinants of health are exposed, enabling listeners to make the link between inadequate housing, mental health issues, as well as minority status, and impaired health and well-being.  I won’t go into details of these podcasts, but they are an excellent and free resource for those who want to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms behind generational poverty and the social determinants of health.

As a closing note, I would be happy to meet Canadians in the middle ground.  It would be a huge step forward if Canadians took some time to try to unpack the issues surrounding marginalization and oppression in general, and surrounding Aboriginal Canadians in particular.  It would also be a huge step forward if we would regularly practice self-reflection, challenging ourselves to ask hard questions, like: “Am I reasoning justly?  Am I acting in a discriminatory fashion?  Am I being empathetic and understanding of the effects of social determinants of health?”  Idealistically, I would be ecstatic if as an end result of self-reflection, empathy and understanding, we saw eliminated, through collective responsibility and equity, the barriers that impede optimal health and well-being for all Canadians.

“a civilization is to be judged by its treatment of minorities.” [m. gandhi]

Brief update on the situation in Attawapiskat: Despite some emergency aid going to the community, the Canadians living in Attawapiskat are still far from being in the black.  It’s going to be minus thirty-nine degrees Celcius with the wind there tonight, and many people still have no choice but to continue to live in shacks and dump raw sewage in their yards…  more than two months following the declaration of a state of emergency.  So let’s not forget about them, ok?  Just sayin.’
5

Marking as Read

My Google Reader has 155 unread items in it, and I don’t want to read a goddamn one. It’s been like this for a while now. Or, not a while, but a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s the holiday burnout, the creaking of the clock as it eked into 2012 — the feeling that I’d just gotten over one of the shittier years of my life, so now what? Back to the same old thing? Obsessing about political theater and events over which I have no control? Making fun of Republicans and Libertarians, lamenting the Deomcrats’ incompetence and callousness? For what? Who gives a shit what Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum says in Iowa? Who gives a shit what I think about it?

In 2010, I spent five months — three in India, and two in California — almost entirely detached from the day-to-day goings-on of American politics. Sure, I’d check in every once in a while at an Internet cafe in an alley or a hotel in the redwoods, but if it didn’t have any resonance with what the India Times or the hippies on the hill in Mendocino county were preaching, I was entirely lost. Hell, I didn’t even know who’d won the Superbowl until 24 hours later. And I certainly wasn’t keeping up with the midterm elections from my tent on pond.

Those were good times. The world carried on without me hearing about it, and that was just fine. I could drink chai on the ghats, write in my journal, watch the sun go down over the Coast Range, splashing the hills with pink and lemon. I didn’t feel an obligation to care, because there was no way for me to reasonably do so. There’s no email in Varansi, baby. And there’s no internet under the pine trees.

*

Let me perform a thought experiment. Suppose that for the last few months, I had completely ignored the Republican Presidential race. Just, “Nope, it’s invisible, because it’s this topic.” I didn’t see the stories in the papers, hear the segments on NPR, watch the YouTube clips, none of it. Let’s just suppose that for a second. What would I have missed?

I would have missed absolutely nothing.

What has this race shown other than the fact the the Republican party is filled with cynical careerist corporate hacks who will say anything, no matter how vile, hateful, demonstrably untrue, or ignorant, in order to gain power? Has it shown anything else at all? Sure, it’s now abundantly clear that the current crop of Republican leaders is pathetically lacking anything resembling a conscience. But, guess what? I ALREADY KNEW ALL THAT! I DIDN’T NEED TO WASTE SO MUCH TIME BASHING IT INTO MY BRAIN OVER AND OVER AGAIN! I COULD HAVE LEARNED LATIN WITH ALL THE TIME I’VE SPENT FOLLOWING POLITICS FOR THE PAST YEAR!

So do I want to dive into my Reader, which is now at 163 unread items, and remind myself, again, of how profoundly screwed this country is for the umpteenth time? No. I do not. I want to wrap myself in blankets, lay on the couch, and watch a sad movie. Or a funny movie. It doesn’t really matter. The last thing I want to do is pretend I care about what happened in the world today. There are lots of things that happened, and I’m sure that plenty of them are important, and I’m sure that on another day I would care, or I might care — hell, I might not care on other days, either. But today, no. Today, yesterday, the past couple of weeks, I cannot bring myself to care, because I cannot bring myself to feel that I have any sort of agency whatsoever.

*

There is a point, I feel, when you realize that nothing you once hoped to accomplish is going to work out. (There are exceptions, to be sure. Maybe, like, Jackie Robinson is an exception. Maybe him. MAYBE.) It’s simply growing old, I think (he says from 28). You aren’t going to write that novel. You aren’t going to be that moderately successful musician. You’re going to work, possibly get married, have a couple kids, and die. And you’re going to die a failure. But here’s the thing: failing is okay if you have a good time doing it. When failing is accompanied by making yourself miserable, that’s when it’s not okay.

Right now, I can’t stand politics. It is the insipid shadow-puppetry of our civilization’s long march toward doom. So I’m going to go ahead and mark all those unread items in my RSS feed as read, if you don’t mind. It will make me feel better.

1

The Year is Over

So, it’s 2012 in a bit, and as 2011 winds down, we figured we’d do you the disservice of providing some links to some of the better stuff we’ve put out this year. Everyone does it, I know. We’re not trying to blaze trails here, we’re just trying to toot our own horns. We did some terrific shit! It’s just a shame that back when we actually tried, no one paid attention.

Without further ado:

The list is long, but if you’re new here, those are some of the things we’re proud of in this website’s brief existence. We’ll be back next year with more. We hope you’ll stick around.

Much love & respek,

~The editors

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