Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fickle Friendships

"An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind." -- Buddha

It seems that I have inadvertently alienated a long-time acquaintance on Facebook by blogging an opinion of the current political situation in Montreal. I already knew that we had greatly differing viewpoints, judging by the conversation we had immediately following the last provincial election, but I never thought that it would go this far.

Her initial reaction to the blog had been one of disgust. Then she asked me that, if things were as bad as I believed them to be, why did I continue to live here? My first thought was perhaps her question was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but not wanting to interpret it wrongly, I took the question at face value and told her my reasons: my family, my husband's family, and the fact that I like it here.

Her final message was that she had to delete her response because she could no longer continue an exchange with me. Our views were too radically different and that fact was "getting under her skin". It didn't take me long to realize that she had unfriended and blocked me.

I sent a message to a mutual friend asking to relay an apology for me, but the friend declined to get involved. I wasn't surprised by that, nor by the torrent of comments by other people saying that it was sad to abruptly break off communication just on the basis of conflicting opinions. I had all but put this whole incident into the "life lessons" basket when I decided to check my Email. Facebook automatically sends notifications of messages and comments to my inbox, and there it was: the aforementioned response that had been deleted from my FB wall.

Its content was self-serving and insulting towards me. In brief, she said that she had never been affected or bothered by the political/social situation, and couldn't understand why so many people were behaving as if it was the worst thing. If I truly was bothered by what was going on, instead of writing about it I ought to either become a politician myself and fight for change, or pack up and leave.

A lot of what she said reminded me too much of my father, who also has strong political views and will quickly lose his temper when contradicted. I learned a long time ago to not discuss certain subjects with him for that reason. Apparently my now-former friend is the same.

I don't feel like apologizing to her any more. If anything, she owes ME one.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Educational Challenges

"School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days; reading and 'riting and 'rithmetic taught to the tune of a hickory stick." -- Will Cobb and Gus Edwards

At some point, just about everyone wonders "what's being taught in school these days".  It appears that students today are learning more about greed and entitlement than mathematics and humanities.

Today is the beginning of the Quebec government's two-day education summit.  Its main purpose is to find solutions to issues related to higher education, including accessibility and the reduction of student debt.  Even though it has only just started, many groups are already unhappy.  Among the complaints:

Certain controversial subjects are not on the agenda.
Speakers are not allowed enough time to discuss their issues.
Groups representing English schools were not invited.

All of these are legitimate concerns.  But come on people, at least be reasonable about expressing your views.  Vandalism is NOT an acceptable form of protest.  The front entrances of both the Ministry of Education and the office of a former student activist turned MNA were covered with red paint on Sunday night.  Do stupid things like that really make any difference?  Not at all.

As to be expected, the biggest clamour is coming from people who want "free tuition" or at least a tuition freeze, instead of indexing the fees to inflation.  These people are dreaming in Technicolour.  Free tuition might seem to work for several other countries (most notably those in Scandinavia), but it won't work here.  There is too much corruption and money mismanagement at all levels of government to make state-run educational facilities feasible.  Besides, in many cases abroad, the tuition isn't "free" at all: students often have to pay "administration fees" to the tune of thousands of dollars per year.

Freezing tuition isn't an option either.  Quebec tuition fees were frozen for many years, and as a result the quality of education is declining.  Schools can't pay experienced teachers, maintain facilities, and keep current with educational needs without money, the bulk of which comes from tuition.  How could anyone expect to get a job in a cutting-edge field if their education was from materials that were 20 years out of date?  Therefore indexing tuition rates to inflation seems to be the most logical way to go.

Too many Quebec students don't seem to understand how lucky they are.  For example, it currently costs about $1800 per semester for a full-time undergraduate arts program at Concordia.  By contrast, the average cost per semester for a full-time undergrad program at the University of New Brunswick is $3500.

Do the math.  That is, if you can.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Wondering Why

"The one real object of education is to have a man in the condition of continually asking questions." -- Bishop Creighton

I've been following two news stories lately that seem to be provoking more questions than answers.

PBS' Frontline is running a two-part special this week about the young man in Newtown CT who stole his mother's guns, shot her dead, and proceeded to slaughter a Kindergarten class.  The reporters spoke to school officials, friends, and members of the community in an effort to deconstruct his life and figure out why he did what he did.

As a child he had been diagnosed with Asperger's, and those who have children with the condition know that they don't handle changes well.  And yet, his life was nothing but changes: his parents divorced, his mother had shuffled him around various schools attempting to find the best "educational fit" for him, and more recently she was talking about selling their house and moving.  She also made a huge mistake in taking her son to gun ranges and teaching him how to shoot, in the belief that it would help them bond if they did something they both enjoyed.  But the biggest question, what made the young man snap and go on a killing spree, remains unanswered and probably always will be, because the two people who could give the clearest answer are dead.

The second story is about a young woman who hung herself while in prison, and died because the guards had been ordered to not intervene.  After a relatively normal childhood she was diagnosed with ADHD and a host of other mental disorders, and during her teenage years she had been in juvenile court multiple times for various minor offences.  However she didn't fare well in the correctional system (in less than a year she had been transferred 17 times) and developed the habit of harming herself.  Eventually she became an expert at hiding pieces of cloth, shoelaces, even shards of glass - anything she could harm herself with - in her body cavities.  She had attempted suicide so many times that orders came down to prison staff to not help her unless she stopped breathing, because to do otherwise only enabled her.

The big questions remain.  Why was the girl behaving this way in the first place?  Why was she so misunderstood by the people in authority and treated as an undesirable, instead of being given the treatment that she desperately needed?  How could anyone order the prevention of life-saving procedures?  (An inquest revealed that the guards who were assigned to the cell the day the girl died were allegedly being scapegoated by the system.)

Two shattered lives and unnecessary deaths.  The root of these particular cases obviously is mental illness that was not addressed appropriately.  Why, then, are resources not being made available?  A comment from another documentary stuck in my mind: a young man with a rare genetic muscle degenerative disorder said, "So much money is being spent on treatment for people who don't take care of their own bodies, and there's not enough for people like me."

This taboo of mental illness needs to be broken.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Tarnished Respect

If one doesn't have respect for oneself, one can have neither love no respect for others. -- Ayn Rand

I was reading an article this morning stating that the Queen's Jubilee Medal award is becoming a farce.  This purpose of this medal is "to honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians", but instead there are a number of municipal mayors across the country who are returning theirs because they feel that there are those more deserving.


It turns out that quite a few medal recipients had questionable activities, or even criminal records, which goes to show that the people behind the selection process did not do their homework.  To top it off, Justin Bieber got one.  And he showed up at the award ceremony to meet the Prime Minister in overalls and a baseball cap.  Come on!  You are going to meet the head of state, for goodness' sake.  I don't care how popular you are, or how good a musician you think you are, at least dress properly and take off your damn hat!

My grandfather served in both WWI and II and had 12 medals to his name including the Distinguished Service Order, one of the most prestigious military decorations in the British Commonwealth.  My mother tried (ultimately in vain) to get him nominated for the Order of Canada.  He would be spinning in his grave at this insult.

If anyone is deserving of the Queen's Jubilee Medal it's contractor Mike Holmes, who received the medal in June of 2012.  He has fixed homes, changed lives, and been very active in the local and national community.  More than that kid Bieber ever can say, that's for sure.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Childhood Memories

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.  -- Elizabeth Lawrence

Lately my daughter has been asking me to sing a song to her at bedtime instead of reading a book.  I have picked up many songs over the years, but I've refrained from singing some of the songs that my mother used to sing to me because they are scary.  I mean, really scary for a kid (at least they were to me).  Below is an example.

One kid that I knew was also familiar with the song, and with his rather twisted sense of humour theorized that the Dragon in this song was actually Puff the Magic Dragon turned evil after Jackie left him.  (Technically this couldn't have been possible, because Puff was written 37 years later.)

Green-Eyed Dragon With the Thirteen Tails
by Greatrix Newman and Wolseley Charles (1926)

Once upon a time lived a Fair Princess, most beautiful and charming;
Her Father, the King, was a wicked old thing, with manners most alarming.
And always on the front door mat, a most ferocious Dragon sat,
It made such an awful shrieking noise!
So all you little girls and boys...

Beware, take care, of the Green-eyed dragon with the 13 tails,
He'll feed, with greed, on little boys, puppy dogs and big fat snails.
Then off to his lair each child he'll drag,
And each of his 13 tails he'll wag!
Beware, take care, and creep off on tip toes.
And hurry up the stairs,
And say your prayers,
And duck your heads, your pretty curly heads,
Beneath the clothes, the clothes, the clothes.

That Dragon he lived for years and years, but he never grew much thinner.
For lunch, he'd try a Policeman pie, or a roast M.P. for dinner;
One brave man went 'round with an axe
And tried to collect his income tax
The Dragon he smiled with fiendish glee,
And sadly murmured "R.I.P."...

Beware, take care, of the Green-eyed dragon with the 13 tails,
He'll feed, with greed, on little boys, puppy dogs and big fat snails.
Then off to his lair each child he'll drag,
And each of his 13 tails he'll wag!
Beware, take care, and creep off on tip toes.
And hurry up the stairs,
And say your prayers,
And duck your heads, your pretty curly heads,
Beneath the clothes, the clothes, the clothes.

That Dragon went down to the kitchen one day where the Fair Princess was baking;
He ate, by mistake, some rich plum cake which the Fair Princess was making,
That homemade cake, he could not digest,
He moaned and he groaned, and at last went west -
And now his ghost, with bloodshot eyes
At midnight clanks his chains and cries...

Beware, take care, of the Green-eyed dragon with the 13 tails,
He'll feed, with greed, on little boys, puppy dogs and big fat snails.
Then off to his lair each child he'll drag,
And each of his 13 tails he'll wag!
Beware, take care, and creep off on tip toes.
And hurry up the stairs,
And say your prayers,
And duck your heads, your pretty curly heads,
Beneath the clothes, the clothes, the clothes.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Hard Choices

"Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices." -- Alfred A. Montapert

There's a 10-year-old girl who goes to the same school as my daughter, and she often walks along the same path as we do, so we've gotten to know her a bit.  Last year she and her mother adopted a female cat who had not been spayed, and the result was eight more kitties in the space of six months.  Just recently they discovered that one of the offspring, long thought to have been female, was actually male, and was beginning to make advances toward the other females.  I said the solution was easy: get the boy neutered.  The girl said, "It costs moolah."  When I pointed out that it costs more to raise yet another litter of kittens than to go to the vet, she shrugged and said that there was nothing she could do except confine the boy to one room away from the other cats.

Over the course of several conversations I learned that the girl's mother has fibromyalgia and is unable to work.  Her stepfather works but his current job is unreliable, doesn't pay what he's worth, and doesn't pay on time.  So they are being forced to save and cut wherever they can, which unfortunately means none of their cats have been vetted or sterilized.  On top of this, the girl is reluctant to give any of them away even though city regulations stipulate that they are only allowed three.  I have offered many times to adopt one, only to be turned down.

But there are times when we must make hard choices.  My husband, wonderful man that he is, often forgets to transfer money to me so that I can pay the bills on his behalf.  But bills must be paid, which results in the draining of my accounts and my bank getting on my case.  So there have been many times that I've not bought myself things that I need/want in order to keep the household running.  I've become an expert at transforming leftovers into a new meal, or making healthy dinners from what I have on hand.  Very little is wasted in our house... until hubby comes home with a new book or DVD that he just bought and I end up wasting my breath trying to tell him to pay more attention to the household finances.

And he wants to make a return trip to DisneyWorld this year. Sure, HE can afford it because he's the one with the job right now.

I have spent the past year searching for some form of part-time job so I can earn some extra money while Missy is in school, preferably something that I can do from home like blogging or article writing, etc.  Out of all the applications I've made (I've lost count of how many) I only had ONE reply, and when I followed up on it, the person never responded.  I'm told it's hard for everyone: my middle nephew is studying to go to medical school, he's very intelligent and motivated, but he has sent out literally hundreds of job applications and only received one response of "thanks but no thanks".

The next big choice we might have to make is to move this summer.  I really don't want to because I like it here and everything is close by, but health is more important.  Just after Christmas I noticed that the seal around our living room window had failed and water had infiltrated the wall.  The management was duly notified, but it has now been a month and nobody has come even to check for potential mould in the walls.  I've been struggling with respiratory ailments for the past three weeks; whether that's being exacerbated by something, I don't know.  If it were our place instead of a rental, I would tear the whole wall out, but we can't.

I don't like big changes, or being forced into making decisions, and I know that many people don't.  But we have to accept our choices and change what we can to make our lives better.