29 December 2010

why vick still makes me sick


it's not often that barack obama says something that makes me want to tell him to shut the hell up (especially compared to other people who've had his job), but this week when he defended convicted felon michael vick as deserving of a second chance, i'm pretty sure i felt myself vurp.

i'll reveal my bias up front here: i'm an animal lover to the point where crimes against animals often disturb and infuriate me more than those against people. like crimes perpetrated against children, i feel that the victimization of those least able to protect themselves and most vulnerable to adult human violence is degenerate in its most literal sense- such actions involve a regression in basic humanity. so to say that i have no sympathy with vick about the nature of his crimes is a gross understatement.

although i don't want to go over the details of the world of dogfighting (i'm trying to cut back on the number of anti-depressants i need to take), it's worth it to keep in mind that the charges to which vick plead guilty involved training dogs to viciously attack and kill each other and killing those who did not perform not by humane methods, but by hanging, electrocution, and in one case beating the dog to death by slamming its body repeatedly into the ground. there are ample studies tying violence against animals to later violence against humans. although none of those studies have focused in any way on dogfighting, it is safe to say that such actions are indicative of a profound disregard for suffering and for life.

that said, i don't want to make it sound like i believe vicks can never be rehabilitated. whether his lack of empathy is congenital or learned would require a great deal of study of his past and his character. and i certainly don't want to make it sound like i oppose the idea of rehabilitation of criminals as a general idea. the vast majority of people convicted of crimes deserve the second chance that barack obama praises. i just happen to think that obama picked a really lousy case to hold up as the example of the value of giving someone a second chance.

first, let's address the question of remorse. vick has stated that he knew what he was doing was wrong while it was happening. despite this realisation, he made no effort to stop the dog-fighting ring, although, as the ring's landlord and financier, he could easily have done so. when charges were brought against him, he did not immediately confess and plead guilty, but rather chose to issue a statement through his lawyer that he looked forward to clearing his name. if we take him at his word that he knew what he was doing was wrong, his refusal to stop or confess to his activities is indicative of an unwillingness to take responsibilities for his actions. if we choose instead to beliece that he was lying about realising that what he was doing was wrong, it would implying that he exhibited symptoms of psychopathy, unable to distinguish "good" from "bad" behaviour.

already, this forces us to view his later statements of remorse with a skeptical eye. but, given that it is the corrections process that is actually supposed to purge one of criminal instinct and bring an awareness of the harm done, we still need to look at what he's said since his time in jail. here are a few statements i've culled from a press conference given when he signed with the philadelphia eagles after his release. (you can read the full article here.)

"For the life of me, I can't understand why I was involved in such pointless activity... Why did I risk so much at the pinnacle of my career?"

"There was a point in my life where I felt it was wrong and I knew it was wrong... To this day I have to live with that shame and that embarrassment."

"I paid my debt to society. I spent two years in prison... That was a humbling experience. I can't explain how deeply hurt and how sorry I was."

(note- the ellipses in these quotes are mine and indicate only edits from the text of the article. the quotes have not been altered in any way from the source.)

i've looked at these quotes for a while. i can certainly see that vick believes he did something stupid, that he now feels stupid for getting involved and that prison was a traumatic experience for him. what i don't see anywhere in those statements is a modicum of remorse or responsibility. the only time in which he mentions a remorseful word ("sorry"), it seems to refer not to feeling badly about what he did, but about the punishment he received for it."

vick has also said that he "allowed someone who didn't have my best interests at heart to take all that away from me." (here) this would make it appear that vick still takes no responsibility for what he has done. remorse without responsibility is logically impossible. you cannot regret what you have done while still being in denial that you were responsible for your actions.

and then, of course, you have vick's infamous statement that he wants a pet dog and that he doesn't like having to tell his kids that they can't have one. (do you think he explains exactly why they can't have one?) aside from their value as a bizarre sort of comedy, these statements are disturbing in that they are never followed by an admission of understanding why he shouldn't be allowed to own pets. to him, serving time has been a baptism. whatever sins tainted him before, they have been burnt away by jail and he has been born anew.

dear mr. obama: a second chance shouldn't be granted on the basis of time served. it should be granted because the person in question actually understands why what they did was harmful and deserving of censure.

i think it also bears looking at the thorny issue of class and money in this case. to say that a kid raised dirt poor who robs a liquor store deserves a second chance is reasonable. circumstances would dictate that this sort of behviour was normalised in the environment and that the decisions about right and wrong may well be legitimately clouded. and vick does in fact come from a rough background. he has credited football with keeping him off the streets. and his remarkable talents allowed him to rise to the pinnacle of his sport, earning the sort of money that the rest of us may only dream of and living a life of privilege and plenty. until the revelations of his dogfighting pursuits came to light, vick appeared to be a real role model, the kind of guy you want your kids to emulate.

the problem is that, unlike our hypothetical kid robbing a liquor store, a life of privilege means that one doesn't have to resort to crime in order to gain larger sums of money than one could get through honest means. when someone as wealthy as michael vick decides to commit a crime, the clear implication is that he is flouting the law- he commits these acts because he can and because, for him, it's fun.

i believe that equal justice for all is an important principle and it troubles me that i'm essentially advocating that vick be judged differently than if he were a poor hustler trying to make a few bucks from a fighting ring. at the same time, i believe that context is important and that to treat this case the same as any other, without acknowledging vick's utter lack of need of any income derived from his actions, is to ignore something fundamental.

while vick may moan about having thrown away his all that he had earned in his nfl career, it's important to note that, at no time, was he actually threatened with losing anything but his job and a large chunk of his $37 million signing bonus with the atlanta falcons. (he was eventually forced to repay a little more than half.) no one was going to take away his home, or the money he had earned from the nfl or from his stellar line-up of corporate sponsors. true, his ability to profit in the future was at risk, but i'll venture a guess that he was unlikely to have ever faced the possibility of living on the streets simply from the conviction.

if vick had been poor, the title of felon would have meant a lot more. it would have excluded him from a huge number of jobs, since most insurance companies will not grant a bond to a convicted felon. it would certainly have prevented him from owning a firearm or working in a job where carrying a weapon was required. in short, it would have greatly curtailed his ability to improve his life even after he had "served his time".

instead, vick has returned to his old job, with a multi-million dollar contract, almost as if nothing ever happened. yes, the owners and coaches of the philadelphia eagles are likely less concerned with giving michael vick a second chance than they are with winning games and putting arses in seats, but the cynicism of their actions doesn't negate the fact that vick's "second chance" was pretty easy for him to get.

if barack obama wants to talk about the importance of giving second chances, he should try finding an example of someone who wasn't just able to coast right back to a millionaire lifestyle after a perfunctory turn in the big house.

whatever i say here is ultimately sound and fury. michael vick will go on being a wealthy football player and the outrage over his crimes will fade to a whisper (already, a quick google of his name produces no results referencing his dogfighting until deep into the second page of links). he'll undoubtedly retire to a fabulous mansion and live out his days as... well i really have no idea. by being forced to speak out against animal cruelty, he will likely do more good than the harm he inflicted during his dogfighting hobby. but whether or not he has been rehabilitated is something to be learned from his own words and those who would hold him up as an example of successful rehabilitation should take the time to read them.

23 December 2010

Thanks for the memories... I think

so as many of you already know, i've been working on producing a film from a script that i wrote, along with my long-suffering partner dominic marceau, for the last, um, eternity. this has taken as long as it has because "normal" films take over a year from conception to release with huge teams of people working on each aspect of the project. when your team consists of two or three most times, things move just a wee bit slower.

but as we're creeping ever closer to the finish line, i'm finding time to do more things. like writing a diary of the actual filming process, which took place over six weeks on evenings and weekends, in the late summer of 2009.

that diary will be appearing on the conversion blog, but i'll also be repeating it here for those who don't want to have to weed through more than one of my web sites.

so, without further ado... here's the introductory piece to my filming diary:

I had this wonderful idea that, as we were filming Conversion, I was going to be able to record my thoughts day by day, capturing each new and exciting moment within a day or two of shooting. After all, we were only shooting on weekends and a few select week days, right? So, with everything so carefully planned in advance, there was absolutely nothing for me to do during filming except stand in front of the cameras and act, right?

Wow, it's funny how idiotic that logic sounds in retrospect.

I don't know what I was thinking when that idea came into my head, but I certainly wasn't considering the fact that, when we started shooting, we didn't have locations for some shoots, we hadn't accounted for the fact that we'd have to drop one night of the scheduled shoot completely because our lead actor had a conflict and even some of the cast remained to be finalised (in fact, as I was to discover in the coming weeks, even some of the cast that had been finalised wasn't quite "finally finalised"). And that's not even taking into account the number of questions that one can get asked on a film set that one has never before considered, but which nonetheless demand to be answered. Where do you have to take those cables? How the f**k should I know? Except that I'm supposed to know, because I'm one of those people who's supposed to know what they're doing on this set. That's kind of a scary concept.

So I never did get around to writing my filming diary the way that I wanted to, but the good news (depending on your point of view) is that I take pretty good notes and I have a pretty good memory, and no one has yet established a statute of limitations on writing about experience.

In other words, the shooting diary is still a live project. So stay tuned here, because for the next couple of weeks, I'll be rehashing all the highs and lows, lessons learned and problems solved, of filming Conversion... learn from our fails and take strength from our wins. This is how we managed, with no external funding and no industry support, to get a feature film shot.

16 December 2010

pr0n addiction


i've been warned that the internet does this to everyone. at first, your tastes start out on the edgy side of normal and you get a little thrill from what's regularly available. but then the internet comes along and all of a sudden, the boundaries are shifting. all of a sudden, you start to see how limited your original world view was. there are a lot of things that can be done with your unique little kinks and the strange thing is that people are out there doing them. there's more than you ever imagined and now when you look back at those innocent whims you used to think of as fantasies, they just don't do it for you anymore.


now, to get excited, you need something that's bizarre, you need nails and wire and pain and danger. you need it to be wild to the point where you're not even certain you'll enjoy it anymore but at least it's new, it's weird, it's exciting, it's different. behold the power of the internet. behold the power of porn.



(top: noritaka tatehana; middle alexander mcqueen; bottom dsquared- me: size 6 or 36 for those who still haven't found me a christmas present)

15 December 2010

good luck getting a refund

since we're approaching the arbitrary point at which we choose to divide one orbit of the sun from another, it has reached that time when people are encouraged to reflect and to solidify plans for the year ahead. i don't buy into the second part of that- i believe in making resolutions when i'm ready, not at an appointed time. i do, however like taking a few moments when the western world is slowing down, to think about what i've learned in the preceeding months, because only by thinking about life's lessons can you hope to apply the knowledge they impart.

i'd like to say up front that 2010 blew like an old fuse: spectacularly and infuriatingly. seriously. i hated this year. i'm looking forward to kicking its arse out the door on the 31st and saying good riddance to bad rubbish. i'm not implying that there weren't good moments, but the bad so overwhelmingly squashed those moments that they are like isolated violas in the orchestra of the year's events, their lovely harmonies drowned out by the symphony of suck.

i think that what annoys me the most is that, for all the drudgery and unpleasantness, i feel like there are relatively few lessons i can take away and apply to my life at a later date. i'd like to think that, having gone through all this crap, there are at least some valuable nuggets of insight that will aid me in the future. instead, i'm really having to think of what i've learned and even then, i find myself hoping i won't have to face the opportunity to put my new-found knowledge to use.

but, in the interests of putting a positive spin on things... i postively hated this year. ahem, here are some realisations i've had:

- wikipedia is a perfectly valid place to look for medical advice and is often a lot more reliable than doctors. use it to factcheck any information you get and if there's a discrepancy, insist that you get a rational answer before letting them move on.

- long-term medical professionals frequently have no clue how the real world works, which makes their advice on dealing with it pretty much useless.

- gut feelings should always trump rationality. deep down, you know things you don't know.

- whoever said that you'll appreciate something more when you've had to do all the work yourself never had to do anything very complicated.

- looking for work is a remarkably capricious and illogical process.

- it can be a relief to know there's something wrong with you.

- karma almost never doles out punishment in the explosive, thetrical way you want it to. (ok, i knew that going into this year, i've just had more chances than usual to ponder it)

- there are very few role models who can teach the value of responsibility and it shows more and more as time goes on

03 December 2010

king of spamalot


amidst all the coverage of that other "explosion of stuff on the internet" story, you could have missed the tale that one diabolical mastermind who was caught and arrested in the united states made a court appearance this week.

i actually couldn't be happier to see this unfolding at the same time as the uproar over wikileaks because i think that the two form a fascinating yin and yang to understanding the internet and the point to which it has brought us. on the one hand we have... well, watch any newscast, look at any web site, listen to conversations around you and you'll know about what's happening on the one hand. (or scroll down. here)

on the other hand, we have the internet at its excessive, greedy, predatory, apolitical worst. for those not familiar with the case, 23 year old oleg nikolaenko is accused of running something called mega-d, which sounds like a dubious dietary supplement, but is actually a "zombie network" of 500,000 computers (how cool does that sound?) sending out spam message upon spam message, all telling me why i should feel insecure about the size of my man meat or something.

the biggest shock to me was that people actually do sometimes click on these links and order from them, which is, i guess, why guys like oleg get into this business to begin with. in fact, there are estimates that his network was capable of sending 10 billion emails a day. i guess it's sort of the email equivalent of watching airplane (see what i did there?)- if you bombard people relentlessly, you're bound to get a few hits.

you would think that the fbi and the american government would be eager to flaunt the fact that they were able to catch the latest spam king and arrange to bring him to trial, if for no other reason than to distract attention from that other internet-related story. of course, maybe they don't want to publicise it in case the public finds out about a little "oops" they had along the road to arresting the culprit. instead, the spam king lounges in continued obscurity, waiting for his next opportunity to offer you cheap pharmaceuticals.

if this week's stories have provided me with anything other than new blogfodder (can i copyright that?), it is an acute sense of just how much stuff humans are capable of creating. now i just hope i can keep my wits about me long enough to figure out what belongs in the spam filter and what i need to respond to.

01 December 2010

it leaks for thee


i am just getting way too lazy in my early middle age. after surprising no one by writing about the death of peter christopherson (here's a link for those who are feeling too lazy to scroll down), i decided to scribble out some thoughts on the most over-analysed portmanteau in the world: wikileaks. if i didn't, i'd probably be the only person in the world who didn't offer an opinion, although i'd like to think that mine is a little better thought out than those who have called for the deaths of wikileaks informants and of the organisation's polarising leader, julian assange. (note: if these guys wore turbans instead of business suits, they'd be on an international watch list by now.)

while a quarter million documents might provide the media fodder for a year-long series of in-depth reports, the selected method of dealing with the story has been extraordinarily muddled. first, much of the reporting has centred on wikileaks itself and editor-in-chief julian assange. there has been coverage of an interpol warrant for assange. this is the sequel to a case from earlier in the year that swedish prosecutors dropped before it went anywhere except to the news media.

i have no opinion on the validity of the case, knowing nothing about it other than the fact that allegations have been made and responses issued. if someone wants to point me towards more compelling information, i'll gladly look at it. the only concern i have about the story right now is that it is consistently presented in tandem with the story of the leaked documents themselves, as if one thing were closely linked to the other.

it reminds me a great deal of cases of rape or sexual assault (ironically enough) where the prosecutor feels compelled to bring up details of the victim's sexual history as if it is relevant to the case. it's a flagitious sort of tactic, where one talks about two issues with the same general subject at the same time, implying that they are related. basic logic dictates that, unless a victim has a history about lying about past sexual assaults, past relations shed precisely no light on whether or not a sexual assault occurred. there is a link between the two subjects- they are both sexual events in the life of the victim- but they are otherwise unrelated. so it is with the assange warrant and the wikileaks publication: both are linked, in that both are associated with the wikileaks organisation. but the link goes no further. assange may be a rapist (just as a victim may be promiscuous), but that has nothing to do with wikileaks or the information that they make available.

next, there are the inevitable questions about wikileaks' right to release government documents at all. this is where the histrionics really get started. this is where you have people throwing around the words "traitor" and "terrorist". the fact is that this is fertile ground for debate. to what extent should public figures guard their words in anticipation that they may some day reach an unintended, or wider, audience? will the knowledge that their correspondence may be made public stifle diplomats in their communications with their own governments? for people government, where should the line between private and public be drawn? unfortunately, these questions are hardly being asked, or if they are, there isn't anything like adequate space being allotted for a rational answer. many of the people (myself included) who advocate the right of a group like wikileaks to publish documents as a way of keeping governments honest should take a moment to recall their reactions when robert novak decided it would be fun to blow the cover of cia operative valerie plame, ostensibly as retaliation for her husband's criticisms of the bush administration. there is a discussion that needs to take place about when and how information is made available, but there aren't any signs that that''s immanent.

then of course, almost as an afterthought, there's the question of what's actually in the documents that have caused such an uproar. it seems like in the screeching, hyperbolic debate over wikileaks and over the act of releasing, very few have had time to look at the material in question. as far as i can tell, there seem to be different levels of diplomatic embarrassment going on.

the top tier, which is most of what major media are covering, comes from communications that have the salacious allure of gossip. vladimir putin had been described by someone as an "alpha dog". (i'm reasonably certain that people have referred to me in less polite canine terms and it doesn't keep me up nights.) libyan leader mumar qadhafi has a contingent of buxom ukrainian nurses. benjamin netanyahu is polite and charming, but doesn't do what he says (which i'm not certain makes him unique among politicians). these snippets are absolutely not newsworthy on their own and would only warrant mention in the context of a discussion about when and how diplomats should be allowed to speak bluntly. yet this seemed to make up the majority of what was being reported this morning. such coverage is time-wasting, but also sinister, in that it downplays any real import attached to the documents released.

the second tier, receiving the next largest amount of coverage, are the "revelations" that should be revelatory to no one who has not spent the last twenty years in a hole under a rock at the bottom of the ocean. arab leaders are mistrustful of iran, although they wouldn't say so in public? let's say that in a slightly more detailed way: the hereditary monarchs of countries with massive islamic populations are suspicious and feel threatened by the leader of an islamic theorcracy whose government came into being by overthrowing their hereditary monarchs? i'm stunned. (if you take the time to read the linked cable in its entirety, you might notice that there are some interesting- more interesting to me at least- phrases on saudi economic relief for iraq that have gotten no media coverage that i've seen.) there are other examples of shocking statements that should shock no one, they're not hard to find. perhaps they serve as confirmation of long-held suspicions, but they're hardly earth-shattering. the idea that world governments are up in arms about this makes it clear that the issue is not the information, but who controls it.

which brings us to the final tier of information, which isn't really being discussed, at least not to the extent that it should be. perhaps the most damning information hidden in these pages is the revelation of what those in power think of us, the people whom they are sworn to protect. noam chomsky has weighed in, saying that the information released reveals a hatred for democracy on the part of world leaders, given the difference between their positions and the beliefs of the people they purport to represent. ironically, the one place where this issue is being pushed to the forefront is canada, where one of the most discussed cables involves a conversation between a u.s. diplomat and the head of canada's intelligence agency, c.s.i.s. in language that could in no way be considered diplomatic, jim judd let fly like mussolini from the balcony, his vitriol and contempt for the people who are, through the proxy of government, his employers, as openly exposed as, well, the diplomatic cable recapping details of the conversation.

i'd like to see more attention given to this aspect of the leaked cables- what it reveals about the relationship of those who are elected to those who do the electing. because if the real risks taken to make these documents public is to be justified, their release needs to do more than give those in power occasion to blush, it needs to redefine how those people relate to the ones who put them there, to the people on whose behalf they claim to speak. at the very least, our benevolent overlords should have to answer some pretty tough questions about what they've been doing and on whose authority. and that means that we should be paying careful attention, whatever our opinion on how we came to possess this information. we should be reviewing what they have said and we should hold them to account.

[note: the attached image is an editorial cartoon from the absolutely brilliant bruce mackinnon, of halifax's chronicle herald newspaper. i don't have permission to use it, but since this is a completely non-profit venture and the image is included because i think he represents the apogee of this under-appreciated form, i hope that the intrusion can be forgiven.]
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