Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday February 1 2010

It's amazing how quickly humans can adapt. This is a double edged sword--it is a good thing when times are tough and you learn to do without usual comforts and cherish the simple things in life. It can work against you when you become accustomed to a standard of living above the basic, and then those comforts are taken away from you.

I remember, in my first European tour in 2008 feeling guilty that I was sleeping in a hotel while travelling. Up until 2008 I'd always travelled under the most Spartan conditions, sleeping outside or in youth hostels and enjoyed it. I don't think I had ever even stepped foot in a 5 star hotel, let along stayed in one. Over the course of the 3 month tour I gradually learned to accept my environment and the fact that I didn't need to carry my belonging on my back everywhere. I won't say that I got used to it, but, by the end of the tour I didn't feel awkward.

Now I'm in my second year of touring and somehow I've come to expect a certain level of comfort. But what happens when you are stripped of those comforts and told to make do with less? We work hard, and life on the road is hard on the body, especially when you are dancing 2 hours a night and going to the gym with only a few days off a month. We are now touring the UK and have been moved from the mostly five star hotels we get in Continental Europe to three star hotels in the UK. Strange. In my backpacking days I would have considered a 3 star hotel the height of luxury, and five star hotels only a dream. Buy now, for some reason I find myself feeling resentful toward this demotion.

So now, on top of doing laundry in the sink (we are expected to do our own laundry which no simple task when you are on the road every day) and a much smaller breakfast buffet (they actually charge extra for hard boiled eggs), we have a lower standard of living. The rooms have one bed and one cot. Part of me thinks I'm just being a baby and should be happy with what I have. But then there is another part of me that sympathizes with what another dancer said tonight "when I'm working on tour, I shouldn't have to feel like I'm backpacking."

I suppose in the end, thanks to the great human capacity to adapt, we will all do so, and then when we move back to 5 star hotels in the next leg of the tour we will enjoy it all the more. Maybe even fell a bit out of place.

Today was our first show in the UK. For better of for worse, it was everything I thought it would be. Anybody remember the Simpson's episode with "the British book of smiles"? Lets just say that most stereotypes are to a certain degree grounded in reality. I also noted that the women aren't shy about expressing themselves (once again, for better or for worse). If I had a quid for every time somebody's mother or grandmother grabbed my ass during photo session I could retire right now. Furthermore, I'm still deliberating on whether it is better to tour in countries where you don't understand the language and consequently what the women are saying, or otherwise. This is going to be an interesting month, that I know. For some strange reason everywhere I go I want to blurt out in a cheezy british accent "top of the mo'nin' to ya govn'a".

The British are both wonderful and wonderfully annoying. When I went to the gym this morning these two woman were just standing on their elliptical trainers talking away. They weren't even exercising. I wanted to tackle them. Rationally, I know that there are probably people in every country that do the same thing, but for some reason, when you're in a foreign country everything you experience that annoys you gets generalized as behaviour typical to the natives. Like nobody in Canada is ever annoying! I'm sure there are even Canadians who say "top of the mo'nin' to ya govn'a!". Funny how the brain works.

One thing I do really like here that I have noticed in contrast to Germany is how friendly and cheerful everyone is. Everybody wants to know where you're from and says welcome to our town etc... People here seem genuinely interested in where your from and are eager to help or suggest thing to see and do.

Sunday January 31 2010

We've been driving for two days and have finally arrived in England from Munich. We are in some small town about 15 minutes drive outside of London. In typical Chippendales fashion we are in a hotel miles from anything. As we drove into "town" our bus driver accidentally went to a different location of the same "Premier Inn". After being on the road for 2 straight days, about 9 hours each day, we were over-joyed to see that what we thought was our hotel was close to many amenities: a gym, restaurants, and even a movie theatre...and the movies weren't dubbed in German! As we pulled into the parking lot all of us were excitedly making our fantasy plans: "First I'm going to a movie, then the gym, then dinner....no, wait. I'll go to the gym first so I don't have to worry about it, then eat, then the movie..." Before anyone could finalize their fantasy plans, we learned that this was the wrong location. It turned out our Premier Inn was on the side of the freeway somewhere without a single other building in sight. Great. No gym, no food, just a room with a toilet that barely flushes. By the way, don't let the name of the hotel fool you, surprisingly it seems the name is just a marketing ploy...I'm quite sure this is not "premier" accommodation.

This is a frequent lament of the guys on tour. Sometimes we can go over a week without staying in a single hotel that is within a country mile of other buildings. Somehow, we are expected to stay in shape with no gym; eat healthy without access to food; and purchase toiletries when there are no stores. I'm not kidding when I say we get put in the sticks a lot. Many times I've peered out my hotel window only to see cows grazing, or open fields. Maybe, it would be great if we were on vacation but as I mentioned we have practical needs such as the gym, food, and toothpaste. On the bright side, if I ever want to take a relaxing vacation in Europe, I know where to get away from it all in just about every country.

Random Anecdotes:

On Friday we did a media event/promo for a big spa near Munich. Events like this are typical: we go to the spa and they take pictures for their promotional material. They also invite other media which creates a win-win situation for Chippendales and the spa (or whatever business we are promoting) because both companies get free exposure. To get an idea of what it's like to do a photo shoot please refer to the scene in Zoolander when the photographer is telling Derrick "you're a monkey Derrick! Dance monkey!" Of course, because there are several photographers from different magazines, each one is trying to out do the other in telling us to dance like monkeys. After the promo we got to use all the spa facilities for free, including an open tab on the bar and restaurant. Because there was no show on Friday it means we have to pay for our own food...so guess who hung out at the restaurant for most of the time!? Aside from sampling much of the menu I did manage to use some of the many saunas. I actually have come to enjoy sitting in a sauna. Prior to touring in Europe I didn't think much of it but...now I like it. Mmm...sauna.

While I was sitting poolside at the restaurant for my second meal (the other guys were off getting facials--and they wonder why people ask if they're gay...) this older lady swam up next to my table and asked me for an autograph. At least that's what I inferred from the stream of German words coming out of her mouth and her frantic arm waiving. Hoping to politely deter I told her I would be happy to if she would kindly give me a pen and paper--unlikely to happen considering she was in the water. My plan didn't work outa I had planned. About 5 minutes later she appeared standing at my table with a paper and pen in hand. So I dutifully signed the paper and posed for some picture that her granddaughter took. The funny part was that this woman who didn't speak 1 word of English was entirely uninhibited by the fact that I barely speak German. She talked and talked and talked! And then I (I'm only inferring from her subsequent actions) she wanted to confirm that I take my clothes of for a living. After pointing at me she proceeded to do a little dance and "air-strip". At this point everyone in the restaurant and in the pool were keenly watching. Meanwhile, my food is sitting in front of me. Anyone who knows me knows that next to computers, obstructing my eating can make me mildly irritable...tralala la! I didn't know what to do because she wouldn't stop talking and I had no idea what she was saying and my food in front of me. So then out nowhere a lamp fell from the ceiling and knocked her unconscious. Ok, not really, but the real end of this little story is anti-climactic so I thought I'd throw that in there; actually, after a few more pictures she went back into the pool.

Wednesday January 27 2010

Wednesday January 27 2010

First of all, I obviously wasn't able to comply with my new schedule. Band rehearsal ended up being post-poned for 30min but I didn't know how long it was going to actually be when I started waiting. One of the guys in the band had to do a media interview so we couldn't start until it was done. Usually they like to do several takes so the duration of interviews is always unknown. While waiting I practised my stick toss. Then I was supposed to do a "meet and greet" after rehearsal, so I got ready and waited...and waited. I guess it got cancelled because the next thing I heard was 20min to curtain. Maybe tomorrow will go according to plan...HA!

Disclaimer: Before anyone gets all huffy about what I'm going to write, I want to say that this is a thought experiment. Policies that I find logically compelling I have trouble with on other grounds. Besides, this is my blog, and if you don't like it, go write your own! (or leave me angry comments...as you please!) One more thing: please feel free to exchange the word "freedom fighter" with "terrorist" depending the side for whom you feel the most political sympathy.

I listened to a really interesting interview on my favourite podcast "Skeptics' Guide to the Universe". It was about racial profiling for airport security. Although I'm not an airport security expert (big shock, I know) I'd always leaned toward racial and geographical profiling in this context. I know, I know, racial profiling is not something one should publicly support unless you are spend your afternoons in rocking chairs swatting flies and telling any newcomers to your neighbourhood "we don' like yur kahd 'round here". However, in the context of airport security there seems to be an intuitively strong case for it. If a given group that is identifiable racially and/or geographically openly declares that they will attempt acts of terrorism against you, does it not make intuitive sense to screen people that fit this profile a little more carefully than others? I know it's not fair for the largely innocent members of this group to be screened more that non-group members but who said security had to be fair?

The interviewee was an international airport security expert and he asserted unequivocally that racial profiling does not work for airport security. Airport security is much more effective when secondary screening is random. Apparently, this isn't even a debate amongst security experts. That's food for thought. The reason racial or geographic profiling doesn't work is because the terrorists already know what security is looking for, so they will send someone who doesn't meet the profile. For example, when Chechnian terrorists blew up two planes both bombers were women. The terrorists knew that Russian security rarely gives secondary screening to female passengers, so the obvious thing to do was to recruit women. Security will never see what it is not looking for and it is not difficult for the freedom fighters to know what airport security is looking for. When secondary security screening is done randomly, there is no way for the freedom fighters to anticipate who will be screen and on what grounds.

Basically, the way airport security operates now, almost by definition, cannot work because they are always fighting the last battle. When terrorists knew that shoes wouldn't be screened, they put da' bomb in da' shoe. When carry-ons were screened for solid explosives, the terrorists used liquids. When security started screening shoes, terrorists put da' bomb in da' underwear, and so on.

According to the security expert the solution is to take the resources (money and people) that are being wasted in "security theatre" and put it it intelligence gathering and the training of all airport employees to be able to do security interviews and learn to recognize suspicious behaviour. When it comes to profiling, behaviour profiling will yield better results so airport employees should be trained to be able to profile based on behaviour.

Why am I writing about airport security? A couple of reasons I guess. First is that I travel a lot so I directly suffer the consequences of onerous airport "security". Second, prior to listening to the interview I thought that racial profiling for airport security made sense from a logical point of view, although I was never quite comfortable with it's unintended side effects. Listening to the interview showed me my logic was flawed and I learned something new. Contrary to many people I actually enjoy when a belief I hold methodically proven with evidence. I like the feeling I get when I can discard an erroneous point of view. Third, I wrote this as a practice for when I'm back in school and I have to be able to assimilate and reproduce what a professor has said during a lecture. Finally, I thought that I there may be a chance that I am not the only one in my circle of friends who isn't a security expert and might also benefit from listening to what an expert has to say on the topic.

In the end, however, I agree with the security expert's arguments for measures that would lead to actual airport security but regarding racial profiling I'm not entirely convinced that it needs to be discarded entirely. I agree that racial profiling on it's own is not the best security method but I'm still unsure why his method would have to exclude racial profiling. I still think that from a purely logical point of view, in cases where there is a racially and/or geographically identifiable group that overtly promises to attempt terrorist acts, there is a reasonable case for profiling. Here's an grossly oversimplified example to illustrate the principle: Imagine you lived in a country where everybody had 5 eyes and there was a country of people with 3 eyes. A group of people from your country, because they harbour grievances against the 3-eyed people, openly declare on behalf of all 5-eyed people (but without consulting you) that they will attempt acts of violence against 3-eyed people. Would it not be reasonable for the 3-eyed people to regard any 5-eyed person with suspicion? How can the 3-eyed people reasonably discern who are the terrorists among the 5-eyed people in their airports? I suppose they could conduct lengthy interviews with each passenger, regardless of the number of eyes: it would be effective and fair, but security wait lines would take even longer than now. Or you can just secondarily screen all people with 5 eyes.

It sounds good in the over simplified example and establishes the principle but racial profiling on it's own might not translate too in the complex real world of US airport security. First of all, there are several examples of home grown, white terrorists (McVeigh, Unibomber), so if you are only secondarily screening Arabs, the home grown crazies can easily slip through. Also, and this may come as a shock to most of you, Americans are largely ignorant when it comes to distinguishing between Hindus, Arabs, Israelis, Turks, and other darker skinned people or knowing who their political allies are. An Israeli friend of mine that I work with told me a funny/sad story that happened shortly after 9/11. He was talking to a group of girls who were either in the military or who's husbands were in the military. They asked him were he was from because he has an accent. When he told them "Israel" one of them yelled "you better get the fuck away from us before I try to kick you ass"! Yup, somehow the "subtle" political distinction between the Israelis and Arabs escaped her keen military mind....(by the way, for my American friends reading this---the Israelis are your friends!) Anyway, you'd probably have better luck training airport security personnel methods of behavioural profiling rather than trying to undo a life time of ignorance :)

So, where am I going with all this unnecessary rambling? I'm not sure. Maybe something like this: scanning bags, shoes, etc.. has benefits, but by itself it's not the best solution. It probably acts more as a deterrent to the average crazy person than to the well organized, highly motivated terrorist. Behavioural profiling and intelligence gathering are the security expert's methods of choice but it's going to be years before current staff are adequately trained and intelligence networks put in place. Racial profiling is far from perfect but if there are members of an identifiable group that overtly announce their violent intentions, it is not unreasonable to check people that fit the profile.

As one of my heros, Mark Crislip says, please post your comments and hate mail below, I'd love to hear from you"!