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BARBARA KAY: Death (penalty), be not proud

If an Amish person, who eschews modern technology, commits a crime, should he be forced to watch colour TV or play games on an iPad in prison? If a monk commits a crime, should he be forced to have sex with hookers in prison? Should weight-watcher criminals be forced to eat chocolate cake in prison? I assure you, these are only frivolous questions on the surface. They are designed to make us consider the nature of punishment for crimes. Prisons reflect what most of us would consider physical and psychological hardship. But its deprivations are far more tolerable for some individuals than for others. Is that fair? Shouldn’t all criminals feel equally “punished”? These questions came to me while contemplating the debate swirling around whether Fort Hood massacrist Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people and wounded 30 others in November, 2009, should receive the death penalty for his crimes. There is no question of Hasan’s proudly admitted guilt in committing these crimes. There is no question about his motive – jihadism. There is also no question about his mental competence. Hasan is a psychiatrist. He planned the incident for months in advance. He spent many hours in target practice to ensure greater lethal bang for his buck. He has expressed no remorse. On the contrary, he has not even chosen to give a closing statement or ask for clemency on the basis of past good service to the military. So why is there any doubt about the death penalty? If anyone has deserved it; if any murderer has fewer extenuating circumstances to offer; if ever there was a perfect storm of motive and opportunity, cold-bloodedly executed, this is it. The problem seems to be that being executed is exactly what Hasan is seeking, because death is the only honorable… Read More

Germany sees three thumbs on that baby

Starting in November, Germany will be the first Western country to legally recognize a third gender. Future Germans may one day dig out their birth certificates and find, not an ‘M’ or an ‘F,’ but an ‘X.’ The ‘X’ is (at least according to some European media reports) the letter Germany will choose to signify a person who is “intersex.” No longer will hospital giftshops overcharge you for blue balloons emblazoned “It’s a boy!” or erroneously sized pink onesies declaring “It’s a girl!” Soon, one might also have the option of buying little green slippers labeled “This human is gender-neutral!” or something along those lines. A recent European Commission report laid out a new definition for “intersex” individuals as persons whose “status is not gender related but instead relates to their biological makeup (genetic, hormonal and physical features) which is neither exclusively male nor exclusively female, but is typical of both at once or not clearly defined as either.” The change in Germany is somewhat similar in spirit to a recent change in California which, at the very least, opened the conversation of sex and gender issues which had previously been ignored. The German decision will prevent medical staff from being forced to essentially flip a coin on sex identity for persons who are not entirely or exclusively one sex. Some have argued that there are actually as many as seven genders in the human populace. Others say five. Germany now says three. And the rest of the universe is relatively satisfied that there are absolutely only two genders -- male and female. It’s a very important issue to many people, so my response to those who absolutely believe in only two genders is this: only a Sith deals in absolutes. Supporters of the ‘third gender’ decision say that Germany… Read More

Will modern morality lead us to polyamory?

Earlier this year in Vancouver, B.C. was the first national conference of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, a relatively new organization that aims to represent the interests of people involved in “poly” relationships, relationships of three or more individuals. According to the group, there are thousands of polyamorous people in Canada, most of them apparently unconnected to polygamist religious groups. Their profile has been rising in the last few years. In 2011, a superior court confirmed the legality of polyamorous relationships, by finding that polyamorous relationships were outside its judicial scope. The conversation surrounding polyamory has grown since then, and it is now large enough to attract the attention of major newspapers, as well as 13,000+ users who follow a polyamory board on social media site Reddit. It is on the verge of turning political. The CPAA’s director, Zoe Duff, who is in a relationship with two men, notes that marriage hasn’t been the salient concern for polyamorous people, but says that “as a long term thing, I can see a desire to have the right to marry.” This desire, perhaps new, among polyamorists for marriage rights has drawn comparisons to the movement for gay marriage that came to a head in 2005, when the federal definition of marriage changed to include couples of the same sex. Somehow it isn’t very surprising that the marriage discussion is moving to this point. We’ve become accustomed to the language of modern egalitarian individualism and the challenge it presents to traditional norms surrounding sex and marriage. The social consensus of the first half of the twentieth century eroded quickly in the face of this revolution. Between the mid-1960s and the early 1970s, public opinion on pre-marital sex in the US and Canada reversed. The last few decades have seen old taboos like homosexuality (and other… Read More

Of Mice and Magnanimity

Pascal Covici was a Romanian Jewish immigrant who came to the U.S. as a twelve-year-old with his family just before the start of the 20th century. In the 1920s, he became a bookseller and editor, and by the 1930s was running a high quality small publishing house called Covici-Friede. He was sometimes the target of self appointed guardians of public virtue, as when he was the first publisher in the U.S. of Radcliffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, the first 'above ground' book to deal openly and sympathetically with lesbianism, and when he published books that were a great deal better, but heavily laced with profanity and obscenity by the standards of the time. Covici-Friede, always on an insecure financial footing at the best of times, disappeared after 1939, but how the firm failed, and what Covici did afterwards remain a story of permanent interest. Covici was for years the publisher and friend of John Steinbeck. He 'discovered' Steinbeck, but the early years of his discovery were ruinous. Steinbeck apparently came to him with one of his first books in the early 1930s, and Covici thought it good, but told Steinbeck it would never sell. He chose, however, to publish it anyway. He was right; the book got some friendly reviews, but had very poor sales, so that Covici lost money. Steinbeck came to him with another book, and Covici again told him that it was good but would not sell, nonetheless publishing it anyway, and losing even more money. There may even have been a third such expensive plunge. Finally, at the end of the 1930s, Steinbeck came up with Of Mice and Men. Mice was a huge success, but too late; Covici went broke. He moved to Viking Press, a much larger publisher, as an editor, taking Steinbeck… Read More

There is Heart in Video Games, Mr. Spielberg

Back in June the USC School of Cinematic Arts hosted a panel on the future of entertainment to mark the grand opening of the their new Interactive Media Building. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, along with Microsoft’s Don Mattrick (now Zynga’s Don Mattrick), were the featured guests at the event. Though the group of entertainment giants made some very apt predictions pertaining to a handful of mega-budget movies failing miserably (this summer’s Lone Ranger, White House Down, and R.I.P.D. as examples) the men seemed more than out of their league deconstructing the video game medium. Indeed, Spielberg and Lucas were both comfortable and prophetic in discussing the further niche-ification of the motion picture market, as audiences are growing weary with Hollywood’s drive to create one $250 million dollar film as opposed to several more personal projects, Variety notes. With Hollywood’s mega-budget films dominating the theatres and further ousting smaller projects, the two close friends also voiced that video-on-demand services will grow and profit by showcasing the films smothered by the shadow of the Hollywood blockbuster. But much like the late Roger Ebert refusing to believe that video games are an art form, the aging filmmakers aimlessly began to critique video games not only by stating that they were without heart, but that they were compromised only of violent actions or in a sporting environment. Spielberg and Lucas need to play more video games instead of making assumptions from their adverts. Though the most heavily advertised games are indeed popular because of their multiplayer focus, and though many of these games are shooters, Spielberg and Lucas haven’t experienced the single player campaigns rich with a deep lore that supports a slew of well-written and heavily developed characters. Halo 4 for example, a game known for its expertly crafted multiplayer features, also… Read More

BARBARA KAY: KFC’s ‘hot shot bites’ ad campaign leaves me cold

Walk down the endless hot sauce aisle at any kitchen specialty store and you may conclude, along with me, that the whole concept of hot sauce is an intrinsically masculine obsession. I deduce this from the names of the various sauces. Their common theme seems to be the gastronomic pleasure to be derived from a taste sensation so extreme it causes pain to the palate, gut and – eventually – the rectum. Their names indicate a spirit of playful competition: each strives to project both the highest physical risk combined with the lowest sociological male status. Their target market seems to be young, adventurous blue-collar males of, to be kind, arrested development in the humour department. Let’s just say they’re pitching to the polar opposite of metrosexual gourmands who choose their organic arugula by the leaf. But enough with telling, when showing makes the case. Here is a randomly observed, and very partial list of hot sauces on the market: “Da’ Bomb,” “Trappey’s Red Devil,” “Trailer Trash,” Satan’s Blood,” “Redneck Ass Whoopin’,” “Mean Green Motherf*****,” “Toxic Waste Extract,” “Megasoreass,” and – a personal favourite – “Bin Laden Wanted Dead or Alive Hot Sauce.” It’s all clean, man/boy mocking fun and obviously a successful marketing technique. Perhaps it was during a perusal of the hot sauce aisle that a member of KFC’s advertising team got the bright idea of jumping onto a similar humour wagon for KFC’s newest product, “hot shot bites,” chicken nuggets with a kick. But marketing chicken nuggets can’t be targeted at one demographic; it has to be pitched to the general public, so they took the basic idea – that hot sauce releases dormant impulses in an explosive way – and came up with a 18-second ad that they assumed (perhaps correctly) would appeal to a mass… Read More
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