Sunday, 13 December 2015

A Buddha of a Party

Wow.  I mean WOW.  On Saturday night I went with my husband to his office's Christmas party and it was totally fun.

It was held, according to the company's established tradition, at a downtown restaurant called L'Orchidée De Chine (China's Orchid).  Since the company had expanded so much this past year, the party took up the entire second floor of the establishment, which included a dining area and a section for the "players": roulette, blackjack, and poker.

My husband and I shared a table with his co-worker Mark and his wife Anne, an older couple of Eastern European descent from their accent, although they spoke both English and French fluently.  We had some really nice discussions before the first courses of the meal arrived.

And what a meal.  This was no run-of-the-mill buffet that most people are used to.  It was a multiple course traditional Chinese feast that was served in small portions over several hours.  I'm usually a light eater and I was grateful for the spacing out of the courses; I haven't eaten that much food in a very long time.  (In fact I wasn't even hungry for breakfast the next morning.)

The flavours alternated between spicy and sweet so as to not overwhelm the palate, along with helpings of steamed rice and fried noodles on the side.  There were even steamed vegetable plates available for those who were vegetarian.  The menu was as follows:

Soup (choice of won-ton or hot-and-sour)
Crispy Duck in Pancake (it was more like a thin crepe)
Chicken Lettuce Wrap
Duck Potstickers
Vegetable Spring Roll
Steamed Sea Bass in Ginger and Scallion
Salt and Pepper Crispy Shrimp
Steamed Rice
Pan Fried Noodles with Vegetables
Beef with Oriental Basil
(Veg. option Spiced String Beans)
General Tao Chicken
(Veg. option Steamed Eggplant)
Szechuan Pepper Chicken with Crispy Spinach
Moka Ice Cream Cake
Fortune Cookie with Coffee or Tea

Every course was delicious.  The hot-and-sour soup was spicy but not overly so, and pleasantly warming.  Although my husband is not fond of seafood, even he enjoyed the sea bass which was delicately flavoured and just melted in the mouth.  The crispy shrimp was deceiving: the spices hit only after you take a bite or two, and I was forced to wait for the rice to show up so I could clear my palate before continuing.

I can't say I had a particular favourite because it was all so good.  And throughout the meal, there was laughter and noise.  At the start, employees were given envelopes of "Monopoly money" they could use to bid on secret gifts or play at the aforementioned gambling tables.  Among the gifts was hidden the joke gift of a Palm Pilot case, left over from a large stash the company had inherited from a past client.  The person who ended up getting it had bid a substantial amount of his "money".

The meal finally ended at around 11:30 PM, at which point many left.  Those who remained were invited to talk, dance, or try their luck at the gambling tables.  While I walked around and socialized, hubby sat at the blackjack table.  Supposedly people who stayed until 2 AM would be eligible for another special prize, but we didn't see the outcome of that because we left at 12:30 AM.  (After all, we had a young one at home who was being taken care of by our teenaged niece.)

It was one of the best holiday parties that I'd been to for a long time.  The biggest laugh (and irony) of the evening was that the prize my husband bid on and won turned out to be a mini beer-making kit - and neither of us drink much.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Thoughts on Gun Ownership

Tomorrow is the 26th anniversary of the day a young man armed with guns and a hatred of women stormed into the Polytechnique School of the University of Montreal.  He shot 28 people, mainly women, killing 14 of them.  This event caused the Canadian government to pass some of the most stringent gun laws anywhere.  How many gun-related incidents with multiple casualties have there been in Canada since then?  22.

Fast forward to 2012 where a young man from Newtown Connecticut stole his own mother's gun and killed her with it, and then went into an elementary school to kill 6 staff members and 20 children. Were there any changes to the laws?  Nope. None. It has been debated ad nauseum but nothing ever gets done.  There have been over 350 mass shootings in the United States THIS YEAR ALONE.

Consider this:

Whatever laws are eventually passed (whenever that will be) The U.S. must address the real issue of keeping guns out of the hands of those who would misuse them without penalizing the millions of responsible gun owners.

1) What if there was legislation to make every crime committed with a gun a federal crime? This would guarantee uniform enforcement across all fifty states. Make it simple: Use a gun, go to federal prison. Past history has demonstrated that this does function as a deterrent.

2) What if people demanded a nationwide standard of liability? If you own a gun, you are responsible for keeping it safe.  If your gun is used in a crime, or if it is fired by accident resulting in injuries to others, then the registered owner should be legally and financially accountable for those consequences.

3) What if people also demanded a nationwide standard of seller liability?  If a shop or an individual sells a gun that is later used in a crime, that seller should be held liable as well, especially if he failed to adequately perform a background check.

4) What if the law required a nationwide three-day waiting period before a gun can be sold to a buyer? This would allow the seller to run appropriate background checks and it would allow buyers the opportunity to rethink the hasty impulse buy.

All of the above should help. They would not penalize responsible gun owners. They would slow down the access to guns by criminals, the mentally disturbed, and potential terrorists.  But there is one more thing that could be done, and  it would not violate the Second Amendment, not even the most extreme interpretation of the Second Amendment: gun insurance.

Just as car owners are required to have insurance, gun owners should be required to have insurance for themselves and their weapons.  It can be done state-by-state or at the national level.  Then gun owners would have sufficient incentive to protect their financial obligations. The federal government would not have to manage gun ownership: the insurance companies would take on that responsibility.  Applying the same resources to gun ownership as they do to car ownership would result in low rates for responsible gun owners.  Because the great majority of gun owners in the United States are responsible, their insurance rates would likely be as affordable as car insurance.

With a requirement for gun insurance in place, law enforcement agencies would then have new mechanisms for protecting the public safety.  Such a law would not empower the government to confiscate a person’s lawfully-owned weapons, but at the same time if a person was found to have a gun that was uninsured, the state or local government would have the authority to hold the weapon or weapons in impound until proof of insurance is demonstrated.

Therefore a solution to gun safety is to have it be cost-effective.  Have it be a source of income for insurance companies.  Once the corporations can see a way for gun safety to be a profit source, the result is inevitable.



Monday, 23 November 2015

No Room for Hatred

In Lewis Carroll's book Alice's Adventures Through the Looking Glass, the character of the Red Queen says at one point: "It isn't etiquette to cut any one you've been introduced to" after making a point of introducing Alice to a leg of mutton and immediately having it removed before it can be served.  This scene has been interpreted as a being parody of stiff Victorian manners.

However I've always seen it as a metaphor for not judging people you barely know.  "Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes" as the saying goes.  A person's situation is unique to them and is the basis for their behaviour, so if you don't know why they're behaving the way they are, don't criticize.

Those people of ISIL in Syria and Iraq?  We don't truly know exactly why they're doing what they're doing.  We can make educated guesses based on the actions we've seen and the videos they post online that show us the posturing and the executions.  But we can't get into their heads.  What's clear is that they hate us for their own reasons.

A few days ago there was a letter published to the media by Antoine Leiris, whose wife was killed by the terrorists in Paris.  In the letter he says "I will not give you the gift of hating you.  Responding to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that has made you what you are ... You lost."

Those strong words are what the world needs to hear.  Hating someone only eats away at you and causes more suffering.  Acts of evil must be met and countered, but using anger and hatred to do so does nobody any good in the long run.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Double Edged Sword

Two friends of mine have differing viewpoints on the refugee crisis, but both are valid.

Friend 1. "Why do people find it so hard to understand that the refugees aren't fleeing their homeland to destroy ours?  They are terrified for their own lives and the lives of their families!  Yes, there's a SMALL chance that there might be terrorists among the families.  There's also a small chance you might be attacked by a shark when you go swimming in the ocean.  In fact, the odds are better for a shark attack than a terrorist attack. ... Would you find yet another excuse to turn them away?  The really sad thing is that the people I see posting [hatred] claim to be Christian!  You CLAIM to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, yet you are doing the exact OPPOSITE of what He would do! ... Why don't we help them because it's the RIGHT THING TO DO?"

Friend 2. "Do you know how many homeless Canadians are sleeping on the ground out in this cold tonight?  How many Canadian children went to bed without dinner tonight? ... My heart bleeds for others, but we have too many in need in our own yard.  My husband's tax money should be feeding his own children, not someone else's.  He works his ass off every day, and yet we are the working poor, being taxed until we might end up homeless too.  How can [Canadians] take care of others if we are unable to care for ourselves?  Are we not setting ourselves up for failure?  How many immigrants were brought here under promises of a better life only to find themselves, also, in despair?  Doctors, nurses, and engineers who were successful in their countries, told that they'd have a job here, who are now taxi drivers, cashiers, and call center agents.  Despite the political rhetoric, we won't do them any favours."

Like Friend #1 I would open my home to a refugee family if I were able.  Like Friend #2 I find it ludicrous to bring skilled people here only to have them unable to work in their fields because of all the bureaucratic red tape they must navigate.

But let's take a closer look.  The people who come here are highly motivated.  They want a safe place for themselves and their families; they will work hard at whatever they can get, and will do jobs that few others will deign to do, to achieve that security.  Anything is better than living in fear and hoping the next bomb doesn't destroy their home.

As far as "stealing jobs", see the above paragraph.  Many young people now, particularly those in college, believe that piece of paper their degree is printed on is a guarantee for getting a job.  Tell you what, grasshoppers, the world owes you nothing.  You have to work to get what you want, even if it means making sandwiches or delivering papers (I did both to put myself through post-secondary education).

If you have a roof over your head, food to eat, and a few friends to hang out with, that's true security.  Nobody should take that for granted.  Look at what those refugees went through and ask yourself what you would do if you faced the same thing.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Fear

"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." - Yoda

This evening, several venues in Paris were attacked by what at first appeared to be a cell of Islamic extremists that might or might not have been affiliated with ISIL.  Nobody knows yet.  All that is known is that over 150 people are dead after at least five heavily armed, black-clad men suddenly yelled "Allahu akbar" (God is great) and opened fire.

As the journalists, commentators, and experts discuss what happened and what the reason might be for this senseless tragedy, a great many people on social media are saying that Western countries should reconsider taking in refugees from Syria because of possible ISIL infiltrators.

Just a moment here.  Is it really the proper time to bring up that subject?  And are people really so frightened that they are willing to turn away thousands on the slim chance that a few might cause trouble?  Look, if ISIL really wanted to secretly infiltrate a country, they would have done so already.  Not to mention there are an unknown number of potential "homegrown terrorists" who haven't acted yet.  Being afraid of the mere possibility serves no purpose.  All that does is create more fear and anger toward immigrants, Muslims in particular.

Some people have called me naive for expressing this viewpoint.  Others have said that my response is a typical liberal choice to only discuss lightning rod issues when it serves a liberal narrative.

Baloney.

The Syrian refugees are fleeing war.  They've lost their homes, and in many cases their loved ones, to terrorists.  They want to stay in their country but they simply can't.  Right now the closest place for them to go is Europe, which is rapidly being overwhelmed.  The U.S. and Canada are big places with good opportunities, so it makes sense to invite some of them here.

"But we already have unsustainable immigration!" some people are shouting.  "A few bad apples spoil the bunch!"

You know the 1939 invasion of Poland by Germany and Russia, the one that started World War II?  Something similar happened.  Only many other countries closed their borders to refugees, specifically to those who were Jewish.  Millions of people died.  Do you really want that to happen again?

Don't tell me "This isn't the same thing".  It all boils down to fear.  And unreasonable fear at that.

I have a friend who is Muslim.  She wears a hijab and believes in the Prophet's teachings.  She has been called names, had water thrown at her, and worse.  And yet she's one of the kindest and most soft-spoken people I know; all she wants is to live peacefully.  By all reports so far, the people from Syria simply want the same.

Those other people who put on flak vests and pick up guns in order to kill innocents are not true Muslims.  Period.  Learn to tell the difference.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Angry White Woman

There's an article by Philadelphia writer Dominique Matti titled "Why I'm an Absolutely Angry Black Woman" about the ongoing perils of being black in today's world.

In a community near where I currently live, Joel Debellefeuille has been repeatedly given false traffic tickets by police because they claimed he "could not be the driver" of his BMW because his "last name does not match his skin colour".

It's not just blacks who should be angry with stuff like this.  Others should be angry too, hence the title of this post.

I'm angry because when I was in Grade Six I went out of my way to become friends with a black family that had moved into our predominantly white neighbourhood, but I was bullied for doing so.  Because when I was in Grade Ten I supported the relationship between one of my classmates and her black boyfriend when few others did, but couldn't openly talk about it for fear of being ridiculed.

I'm angry because at one of my first paying jobs I worked with a young Native American man who spoke about the difficulties he faced both on and off the reserve.  Because my grandmother once refused help from a black hospital orderly.  Because my own father is of the mind where non-white immigrants who insist on practicing their own faith and culture instead of integrating into ours should go somewhere else instead of twisting our legal system to get what they want.

I'm angry because certain politicians spout anti-others rhetoric and hide behind the Bible and the law to justify their bigoted and xenophobic statements.

Nobody should care about skin colour.  We're all one race: humans.

Monday, 26 October 2015

The Writing of Life

This post has been inspired (yet again) by the daily ramblings of science-fiction author David Gerrold.

The main place where I am passionate about my writing is at my computer keyboard.  The rest of the time I'm just another human.  I have hopes, fears, aspirations, all that stuff.  And if I shut up and listen (a skill I am still learning) I can listen to other people express their hopes, fears, aspirations, and stuff.  Some of it is source material: how can it not be?  But most of the time, it's just humanity.

Yes, I am interested in fairies and starships and aliens and strange new worlds.  However I am also interested in what happens to human beings when we encounter fairies and starships and aliens and strange new worlds.  And one more thing, I am not interested in stories about people hurting each other.  I'm more inspired by stories about people building things, growing, solving problems, and helping each other.

Because ultimately, regardless of time or place, whether the setting is in ancient Rome or Tomorrowland, whether we're in Pompeii or Penticton or Montreal or Melbourne - all we have is each other.  All we have are the choices we make in how we're going to deal with each other.

Of course it's exciting to fly to Jupiter, or climb to the top of Everest, or dive to the bottom of the ocean.  But afterwards we still have to come back to the rest of the world and the people in it.  Sometimes that's frustrating because humans really are the strangest things on Earth.

But the rest of the time, when I shut up and listen, humans are also the most wonderful.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Priorities

Today is the day when the character of Marty McFly arrived in the future in his souped-up DeLorean.  We had a glimpse of gadgets and events that the film makers thought might be available - some of which actually were realized.

However one thing that forward-looking film makers and scientists frequently agreed upon was potential climate disaster and a resulting dystopia.  The fact is that the global climate disruption might very well turn this planet into a whole other ecology within a century.  This is not fear-mongering, it's a scientific possibility.

People will starve.  Water will become the most valuable of all resources.  Diseases will spread.  Millions will become refugees. Horrible wars will break out.  Species will go extinct.  Rhinos and elephants, pandas and gorillas, and millions of other species as well.

The oceans will become so carbonated that they will lose their ability to support life; possibly only jellyfish will survive.  The Amazon, one of the primary sources of oxygen for the planet could become a desert if the clear cutting and slash-and-burn agricultural practises continue.

Some humans might survive: the one percent who own half the planet's wealth have already built their secret sanctuaries.  But what about the rest of us?

Meanwhile, we have the resources to make a difference.  We have the science, we have the technology.  We can draw power from the sun, from the wind, from ocean waves, from geothermal vents, from biofuels.  We can see the possibilities, and that gives us a choice in the matter.
All we need is the political will to address the real issues in front of us.  We can become the species that is responsible enough to learn how to live in harmony with its own ecology.

Meanwhile, some people are still arguing about little chrome trophies or what they stand to lose in taxes.

Get your priorities straight, people!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Burlesque Special

Last night I did something totally out of character: I accepted an invitation from an old high-school friend to see a burlesque show in town.  Being middle-aged with a family I had thought my clubbing days were over but when Rob mentioned that it would make good material for a blog, my curiosity was piqued.  Additionally, since he volunteered at the club he could get me in for free.  How could I pass that up?

Unless one knows exactly where to go, it's easy to miss the venue, which is located above a strip bar on one of the city's main boulevards.  The show is known as Candyass Cabaret: formed in 2012 by a petite but bubbly woman who goes by the name Velma Candyass, the troupe performs on the third Friday of every month.  There's little advertising save for a Facebook page and a web site; word-of-mouth is their primary method of gaining new viewers, who are termed "virgins".

This iteration was titled Number 41, and there was no shortage of strange personages in the club, Rob included.  He claimed that his wife "volunteered him" to help out, and so he does whatever is required of him - usually helping to set up the sound system or to film the shows.  Thanks to him I got a rare glimpse of the dressing area (which is normally off-limits to the public) and had brief chats with Velma, the stage manager Francesco, and a few of the performers.

Each show is unique, with both regular and itinerant characters.  One of the fixtures is cheeky Chibi the stage hand, whose costume struck me as being a parody of Sailor Chibi-Moon with the colours inverted.  Dancer Claire strutted through the audience serving chocolate-coated rice krispie balls and popcorn.  And the colourful emcee Jimmy Phule is unshakable; he didn't slow down despite a wardrobe malfunction at the beginning of the show, and was even casual about it: "If you don't got it, fake it".

Highlights of the show included: two dancers taking turns popping balloons to gradually reveal the costume underneath, a trio featuring a singer accompanied by double bass and accordion, a knife juggler performing progressively more complicated stunts to get his aloof girlfriend to notice him, an athletic dancer who twirled a hula hoop around different parts of her body, and a belly dancer who on this night was costumed a la Cleopatra and was balancing a candelabrum on her head.  Jimmy reminisced that he had hired her to perform at his wedding and she was "the second most beautiful woman in the place" - eliciting laughter and catcalls from his wife in the front row.

Contrary to what many people might think, burlesque is not about sex at all.  The closest any of the dancers got to nudity was a girdle with fishnet stockings and nipple patches.  This is edgy adult entertainment where the artists are careful to leave something to one's imagination, while at the same time indulging in their own passion for performance.  Any money they might earn is negligible - but that's not the point: they perform because they love it.  Some even have spouses who routinely attend the shows or help with the production.  Velma's own husband acts as a cameraman and spotlight operator.

It was great fun and I certainly recommend the show to adults who are looking for some racy fare on a Friday night.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Republican Clown Car

From a post by author David Gerrold, copied with permission.

Our political discussions - everywhere - have become so polarized that courtesy and respect have disappeared from the national conversation.

It's coming down to this: this year's Republican clown car is going to be a textbook case of what not to do in front of a microphone.  The candidates are retreating to a very small realm of self-righteousness, and from that position, everyone different is automatically the enemy. It's kind of like train-wreck central, a montage of dreadful accidents.

Here's how you win elections:

1) Present a vision that speaks to the majority of voters. It can be something as simple as "two chickens in every pot". But it has to be something that the working class voter can understand - that his life will get better if he votes for you.

2) Behave with integrity. Create credibility. Part of that is your track record before you declared your candidacy. What experience do you bring to the office? Part of it is how you behave in the spotlight and out of it? Don't cheat on your wife, don't be rude to the waitress. Avoid going negative. When you start flinging mud, you get even more on yourself. (There is a way to respond to attacks, but that's a different discussion.)

3) Be the kind of person that others will want to trust. That goes back to what experience you've brought with you. Have you been a charity organizer? Have you served as an executive somewhere? Did you succeed?

4) Show that you care about people. (If I have to explain this one, you've spent too much time listening to Fox Noise.)

Now, when we look at the Republican candidates, we see that they are failing on all four counts. Are they presenting a vision of a world that works for the rest of us? Hell, no. It's all about rolling back the right to marry, rolling back access to health care, rolling back women's access to family planning, rolling back the rights of minorities, rolling back the rights of workers to unionize, and rolling the nation right into the next war.  Instead of pointing us toward a better future, they are talking about who they want to hate next.

When we look at if they are behaving with integrity - we see that they have put forth a slate of nincompoops and liars. The Peter Principle on steroids.  They have all failed upward so far beyond their levels of incompetency that they are like the coyote who has run out past the edge of the cliff and still hasn't looked down.  When we look at their trustworthiness ... let's just boil it down to one question. Would you buy a used car from any of these people?

And lastly, have any of these individuals truly demonstrated an ability to care about people? "Stuff happens." Need I say more? Their responses to the Oregon shootings isn't just embarrassing, it's shameful.

Joe McCarthy was brought down when Joseph Welch asked him, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

It is time for the American people to ask that question of Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and every other pretender to respectability campaigning for the highest office in the land.  And it is time for the Republican party to shut down this clown car and find a real candidate - someone fit to honor the legacies of Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Enough already.


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Decisions, Decisions

This weekend will be a very difficult one, because I'm faced with many issues and decisions that I've not been looking forward to dealing with.

My father has been living full-time with his lady friend for the last two years, and his house has been untenanted save from a weekly checkup by either himself or the neighbours.  He had been thinking about selling the place but after consulting several brokers he decided to hold off on it because he couldn't get the price he wanted.

Now his memory is failing and I fear that his lady friend, as wonderful as she is, has been more involved in his decision-making as perhaps she should be.  I don't want to come straight out and say that she's manipulating him, but the more recent communications I've had with my father just didn't seem quite right to me.

The weekend is the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Canada.  But instead of spending it with my husband and daughter I'll be at Dad's house with my brother so we can have some serious discussions about what will become of the family heirlooms there.  It was the wish of both our grandfather and our mother that they remain in the family.

The biggest trouble is that both I and my brother live in different provinces and we have our own fully-furnished households, and have no room at this time to take on much more.  So there will be the issues of divisions, transport, storage, insurance, and the like.

If I could I would live in the house myself.  But that would open up a whole other can of worms, not the least of which is the fact that the house is in a small community and pretty much requires having a car to be able to get anywhere (I don't drive).  Not to mention the prospect of leaving my hometown, uprooting my family, and moving to an area where jobs in my husband's field are rare - particularly difficult since he finally got a job recently after spending almost a year and a half being unemployed.

Yes, it might be better to do this now, rather after Dad passes who knows how long from now.  But I still don't like it.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Obfuscation

This is a copy of a Facebook post belonging to a friend of a friend. Re-posted with permission.


"So a number of you have asked that I momentarily come out of my self-imposed Facebook exile to comment on the current Canadian election campaign. I’ve politely denied these requests as my reasons for leaving FB are still very valid, but then I started to notice a disturbing trend:

Canadians are turning into a bunch of racist a**holes.
Let me put it plainly…
If you believe that the current controversy regarding the wearing of the Niqāb by Muslim women at the Canadian Citizenship Ceremony is anything other than a desperate, cynical attempt by the Harper re-election machine to distract the populace from what is arguably the worst job performance by any Prime Minister in our young country’s history then please do us and your children’s children a favour and step away from the adult’s table; go play in the corner with all the other victims of the Conservatives' glaringly obvious attempts at obfuscation and misdirection and talk about whatever ridiculous conspiracy theories you’ve been parroting on their behalf over the last 8 years. Please step away from the rest of us who aren’t fooled by Harper’s desperate – but sadly effective – machinations and while you’re doing that please do us one last favour:
Don’t vote.
Please don’t vote because if you do we’ll not only be the last generation to fully remember the dream that was Canada but we’ll also be the generation responsible for killing it.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a name I want you to Google: Lynton Crosby.
This is the guy Harper’s just hired to ‘advise’ his campaign. Crosby is a monster. He’s been called Australia’s Karl Rove and is a master at negative campaigning and ‘wedge’ issues, specifically race politics. The Niqāb policy and the current ‘Old Stock Canadian’ comments are rife with his handwriting. He’s a master of dark, divisive politics and the fact that Harper’s even talked to him should alone be a reason not to vote Conservative, let alone the fact he’s now essentially a member of staff.
The Muslims aren’t coming to get us; never were, never will. The fact is, countries in the Middle East have always had far more to fear from us than we have from them. ISIL didn’t spring out of some evil impulse mysteriously lying at the core of Islam, it sprang out of the inevitable blow-back which results after a poor region is subjected to over 5 decades of the most cynical interventions of rich regions; from the 1953 Iranian coup d'état to the Iraq War, the West’s hands are covered in blood. Don’t get me wrong: ISIL are no more than a gang of near-illiterate thugs who probably should all be shot; on this point no one – not the West, not the vast majority of the Middle East – disagrees. The point however, is that while most people in the Middle East understand where the aggression comes from, very few people in the West do…
…and this is what Harper is counting on.
I’ve gone through the citizenship process and if the Canadian one is anything like the British (which it is, I’ve checked) then what everyone needs to really know is that by the time you get to the ceremony bit of the process – which is truly just that: ceremonial – you’ve been interviewed, vetted, checked and re-checked dozens of times over a period of about 5 years. To think that someone can just show up on the day of the ceremony with his or her face covered, be handed the certificate and then go “fooled you!” is madness.
If you honestly believe this is even remotely possible then congratulations because a): you’re as exactly gullible as Stephen Harper needs you to be, and b): you’ve successfully wasted a tremendous amount of time and brain power on an imaginary non-issue which could’ve been better spent on the actual horrors Harper has foisted upon the Canadian public - chief among these being a complete contempt for those organizations promoting the rights and equality of women. From canceling the nascent national child care program to closing 12 of the 16 Status of Women offices to his immobility on pay equity to his cozy (and secret) $15 billion arms deal with the notoriously anti-female government of Saudi Arabia, Harper has shown he has far more in common with those he claims to protect us against than he has with the majority of the Canadian public…
…that is, if the Canadian public is the same one I used to be part of and on that I’m growing increasingly unsure.
I hope ordinary Canadians will come ‘round. That’s the trouble with Facebook though is that everyone ends up speaking to the converted. Those of you who’ve gotten this far in my little diatribe probably were on my side of the fence to begin with. It’s very frustrating because Canada’s always been more or less immune to this type of U.S. style horses***. Maybe it’s ‘our side’ who are really the gullible ones, believing Canadians were better than the Americans, British, Australians and numerous others this has already fooled - because fear seems to be working for Harper. Not even the fact that he’s had the worst economic record of any Prime Minister since the war seems enough to overpower this carefully cultivated manipulation.
Harper has destroyed - or is in the middle of destroying - virtually every institution that stood Canada apart and above every other Western nation. I write this as someone who’s had his right to vote stripped away. The most basic tenet of democracy has been denied me and 1.4 million other Canadians but all everyone can talk about is whether an immigrant who has spent thousands of dollars and endured years of bureaucracy to become Canadian should be allowed to wear a bit of cloth on her face.
Well, at least she’ll get to vote.
Thanks for reading, I’ll be back in FB exile until after the election but feel free to cross post all of this as you see fit.
P.S.
…on the not-so-off-chance that a CSIS agent is reading this, please be aware that although the above could now legally be considered terrorist literature under bill C-51 (not kidding here, look it up), I am most definitely not a terrorist. I’m just a grumpy old white man telling kids to get off my lawn. (Really, please don’t arrest me. I’ll take it all back if I have to.)
P.P.S.
…and on the very, very, very, very off chance that this post somehow finds its way into Wayne Gretzky’s inbox:
Please go f*** yourself. You were a God on the ice but are clearly a simpering idiot when it comes to politics. I don’t know what they call it in the States when someone endorses a candidate who’s taken away their right to vote but in Canada we call it lunacy. Please retreat back inside your mansion and leave the rest of us to the business of saving the country you abandoned.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Archaic and Dangerous

Romina Garcia stated in her YouTube video: "If your boyfriend hits you... it's a sign he loves you."

Matt Stevenson posted on Facebook: "The plain truth is women are meant to be dominated by males... a male may in fact rape her to take what he wishes from her."

There's a group online called "Men Going Their Own Way" whose web site contains images and articles that portray contempt toward feminism and women in general.

Even many holy texts advocate extreme punishment for a woman who has been raped or who has sex out of wedlock.

Far too many people, supposedly educated adults, believe this nonsense.  Remember the young man who shot several UCSB students because (among other things) he was angry at not being able to get a girl to have sex with him?  He also believed that he was entitled to sex, wealth, and power, and was willing to do the unthinkable to get it.

Ideas like this are dangerous and just plain stupid.  They are the reason that feminism exists and is necessary.  We are all sexual creatures.  We all - woman and men alike - have the right to determine what we do with our bodies and who we allow to touch them.  I know people who claim that most feminist statements are absolute lies.  Perhaps some are; certainly some are over-exaggerated.  However when someone is blatantly misogynistic I don't hesitate to call them out on it.  Why?  I have been a victim of emotional abuse and sexual assault.  So nobody can tell me to just "grin and bear it, it's a woman's lot in life".

Anyone who tells me otherwise deserves to have a kick in the unmentionables.

A friend of mine recently posted this: "When my dad turned 60 or so he had to visit a proctologist.  Just standard checkup stuff.  Afterwards he told my mom how uncomfortable he felt: almost violated.  My mom turned to him and reminded him that women get pelvic exams almost every year from their late teens or early twenties.  And the light of understanding went on."

You see?  Men don't like being compared with women.  The worst insult you can give a man is "being a pussy".  They only understand once they've been on the other side.  It shouldn't have to be that way.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Numb in the Face of Violence

It has happened again. Yet another tragic shooting at a school and young people have died.  People who had so much to live for and who might have done great things had their lives not been snuffed out by a maniac with a gun.

Unconfirmed reports are saying that the man asked students what their religion was before firing on them.  Why this would matter was only known to him, since it is apparent that he just wanted to kill until the police caught up to him.

There have been so many such shootings in recent memory that we've become numb to them.  Yes, there is an outcry afterwards, but soon enough it subsides under pressure from the NRA supporters, gun lobby groups, and Second Amendment wavers, and it gets swept under the carpet... until the next time.

Something must be done.  Something should have been done after Sandy Hook in 2012, when 20 children were killed.  But nothing was done.  There have been at least six more mass shootings in the U.S. since then.  Needless bloodshed, all because a mentally unstable person had weapons they should not have had access to in the first place.

Even the President was angry: "The notion that gun violence is somehow different and our freedom and our constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who can hunt, protect their families, under such regulations, it doesn't make sense."

Unfortunately, as long as the gun groups remain as powerful as they are, as long as there are paranoid folks who believe "the government is going to take our guns away", as long as there are people care more about their guns than their children, nothing will change.

Author David Gerrold put his solution succinctly:

"What if we applied the same regulatory attitude [as automobiles] toward gun safety: license, registration, and mandatory insurance. The insurance companies would love the business - and they would make damn sure they didn't insure someone they regarded as a liability."

We should be concerned.  We should make sure that change happens.  Especially given the spate of mentally disturbed young men who, having reached a point of nihilism, feel a compulsion to strike out wildly at the world.  If we as a society aren't willing to take on the challenge of the mental illness that leads to these acts of violence, then we're not a society of rational adults; we're not even a free society, we're a society that has resigned itself to the repetition of what amounts to domestic terrorism.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Chasing Dreams

I was looking online for sheet music for the Muppets song Rainbow Connection and suddenly it brought up a flood of memories so powerful that I had to stop and write about it.  The song has resonated with me from the first time I heard it back in 1979, and for a long time afterward I was inspired to chase after my dreams.

Over the years, many of my dreams had to be put aside for various reasons but I always held onto one: music performance.  I studied piano, sang in my grade school choir, played clarinet in my high school band.  Like many teenagers do with their passions, I threw myself into it by memorizing songs and libretto from various Broadway musicals and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and driving my parents crazy with renditions of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and "So Please You Sir".

Despite my parents' misgivings I took a music degree in university, during which I sang in the choir (which I enjoyed so much that I kept returning to sing for years after I graduated) and continued my piano studies.  After graduation I applied to an advanced program in music direction and orchestra conducting, but I was turned down on a technicality.

Undaunted, I began auditioning for local choirs and theatre groups, only to be told each time that I was not quite good enough to qualify.  Part of the problem was that I had no vocal teacher and hadn't the finances at the time to take formal lessons, so I had to self-train.  My dream seemed to be escaping.

Life moved ahead; before I knew it, music had fallen by the wayside.  My piano had to be given to my brother when my parents retired and moved out of the city, because the apartment I lived in at the time had no room.  I married, and after our daughter was born we moved to the suburbs, which made it much more difficult to get to the places in the city where I would have needed to be to sing.  I decided to take a break until our daughter was in school and then I'd get my voice back into shape.

But then one winter I had a series of nasty colds and respiratory infections, including bronchitis.  After I finally healed I made an awful discovery: my voice that had always been "not quite good enough" and that I'd tried hard to make good enough just wasn't the same any more.  I'd lost more than half an octave off my upper range and what remained sounded fuzzy.  It was if something else was telling me I couldn't be good enough to sing on stage.

Now, my singing is limited to karaoke Disney songs with our daughter, and I've hardly touched a piano in over a decade.  The musical career I'd once dreamed of is unlikely.  But that's okay.  I tried but wasn't quite good enough.  What matters is that I tried.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Reports

We have scheduled our final discussion with the child psychologist in two weeks.  I took our eight year old daughter "Missy" to see "Dr. Z" twice a week through most of the summer.  Now Dr. Z has finished her analysis and will be giving us her report and recommendations.  At last we'll be getting some answers and advice on how to identify and perhaps solve some of the issues that our daughter faces.

It's not a moment too soon.  Missy's issues seem to be escalating now that she's back in school.  She doesn't get enough physical activity, and as a result goes to sleep late and is overtired in the morning.  She behaves like a spoiled princess and expects to get her way all the time; if she doesn't she throws a tantrum.  She won't do as she's told half the time and blames her hardships on others.

We've even noticed her becoming more violent.  During tantrums she will throw things, and has hit me on occasion.  She has begun to yell at and push other girls in her Brownies troop, which is not acceptable.  This morning I was told by the breakfast monitor at school that Missy hit another child, and if it happens again she will be banned from the breakfast club program.

We're both extremely worried that if this continues she might never become a fully-functioning member of society when she gets older.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Rules of Life

Rules of Life by Charles J. Sykes
Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!
Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes; learn from them.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Lessons Learned Online

I've been reflecting on my attempts at freelance writing, particularly the most recent disastrous foray with the local web magazine, which shall remain nameless.  I had thought myself reasonably web-savvy for a person who has been out of the mainstream workforce for eight years but it's still a learning curve.  I've learned a few new things, both good and bad.

Watch out for that NDA.  Be wary if a company asks you to sign a non-disclosure agreement, particularly if it's vaguely worded.  Ask for clarification first, be sure you're aware of all the specifics, and get a copy of it so you have a reminder.  An innocent blog post about your job has the potential to get you into a lot of trouble.

Companies often have preconceived ideas as to what their audience wants.  It's a tricky business trying to figure out what sells and what doesn't, but that often results in being closed-minded and unwilling to experiment with new material.  More ideas are rejected than accepted.

Never assume a personal opinion is private. Whether you write it on a blog, web site, or Facebook, people and companies have ways of finding you out even if you don't post under your real name.  Your opinion can have major repercussions for your job (even though it shouldn't).  To be safe, don't post it.

Expect others to take credit for your ideas.  From plagiarizing a blog post to outright stealing your original idea, there are those who are so lacking in imagination that they won't hesitate to grab your valuable work and pass it off as their own.  Aside from asking the person to remove the content, there's little you can do to protect your work.

Your co-workers might not be trustworthy.  This ties into the previous two points.  It's fine to brainstorm and discuss ideas but be careful what you say or share.  There's almost always one person in the group who's trying to further themselves at the expense of others, and will tattle to the boss when anything controversial comes into the conversation.

All this isn't to say that you can't trust anyone, but be careful who you share your information with.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Protection from the SNAFU World

A friend on Facebook shared an article that discusses how the cover image of yesterday's New York Daily News that depicted the shooting of the journalists was appropriate, despite the outcry on Twitter that it was a bad move.

This Is a Good Newspaper Front Page

One passage in particular caught my attention: "Upsetting things make us upset.  Parents will be mad, yes—and they should be, mad that they have to raise kids in this f***** up gun-filled world.  Be mad about it!  You're right to be mad.  But don't mistake the picture of the man holding the gun for the paper that printed it."

True words indeed.

A knee-jerk response like "we need to protect our kids from these graphic images" is expected.  What we need to do therefore is educate our children, to help them understand that bad things happen to good people and no amount of lawmaking will be able to change that.  Trying to shield a kid completely from the world does them a disservice, especially given the information-saturated medium called the Internet.

I'm no stranger to violence, having grown up with it.  Several of my relatives served in war and I have no doubt they had to kill people.  My father verbally abused my mother, and she in turn abused me; a wooden spoon was her method of choice.  I saw friends get into drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, and self-destruction. Shocking yes, but I accepted it as part of life and made me into the person I am today.  I abhor violence but understand that sometimes it's necessary.
  
Avoiding bad stuff is next to impossible but we can mitigate it to a degree.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Privacy? No Such Thing

While lying awake at 2 AM listening to the rain outside I had a jumble of thoughts mixed up in my head.  A comment I had made on Facebook, buried deep in a multi-layered discussion, had gotten me into trouble.  Yesterday I posted on the issue of Internet spying and someone asked me what my problem was with companies testing their employees' integrity.

It's not the people, or even the companies, that I have an issue with. It's the system.

I dislike a system that has companies forcing their employees to sign agreements full of legalese that they don't truly understand until they get into trouble for an offhand comment on social media.  A system that enables employers to fire workers for writing their opinions on a personal blog that someone found despite their posting under an alias.  A system that governments use to spy on LBGT or other communities that they deem "deviant".

You can say all you want about how terrorists have been stopped using Facebook or criminals arrested after posting stupid videos on YouTube.  Home is home, work stays at the office.  Everyone is entitled to a personal opinion or type of lifestyle, and that opinion or lifestyle should not have any bearing on their work performance - unless of course said opinion or lifestyle advocates or encourages criminal activity.

There is no respect any more.  There is no company loyalty any more.  Few want to have a reasonable discussion; everything now is knee-jerk reacting.

I worked at an office once where someone was fired for merely discussing potential unionization.  At another office, half the experienced employees of one department resigned at the same time when they discovered the company was paying them substantially less than new hires to another department.  A person I knew was forced to sign a two-year contract with his company because the boss overheard a conversation in which it was mentioned that he was unhappy with the job conditions.

It's easy to say that if you want to be truly private, stay off social media or don't discuss controversial topics at office functions.  But electronic spying is so pervasive these days it's hard to escape.  Phones can be bugged, webcams can be controlled remotely, computers can be hacked and information stolen without the user's knowledge.  A "Minority Report" type of world could be next.  It's scary.

At times I think I ought to throw out the computer and move to the country.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Social Media Spies

This morning I was dismissed from the site that I had been writing for.  The reason was an ill-worded criticism on Facebook of one of my fellow writers (which was promptly deleted by them).

My initial reaction was: if you can't take it, don't dish it.  Writers of all kinds frequently have to endure criticism, even verbal abuse.  However if I criticize someone, the intent is to show a person how to become better.  But perhaps what I said was the proverbial straw in this particular instance.  I don't know.

What really got me angry though was the fact that the person wasn't even professional enough to contact me directly first to discuss the problem.  And deleting my comments?  I'm sorry that the truth hurts, but deleting it doesn't make it go away.  Make yourself better instead of taking it out on everyone else.

But then again, it's hard to find a real professional these days.  Especially among the 18-25 crowd.

After thinking about it for a while I realized that the whole thing stemmed from someone watching my Facebook feed.  I should have known better, since employers are able to fire people who express unedited opinions about their jobs on social media.  However it's my personal opinion, rightly or wrongly, that this shouldn't be allowed.  In fact, several states in the U.S. have made it illegal for companies to fire people for what they say online.

I did apologize for my comments and wish them well.  And I've learned a valuable lesson in the process.  But they haven't beaten me.  Not by a long shot.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Changing Names

Over the last two weeks, Montreal has been quietly changing street signs for University Street to Robert Bourassa Blvd.  There had been a brief but vocal protest last year when the proposed change was announced, but the city paid no attention as there were other "more important" issues happening at the time.

I strongly dislike the city's habit of changing street names to suit itself.  Not only do the homes and businesses along said street have to change all their letterheads and address information, but tourists who visit using older maps and non-updated apps will see the old name and wonder where the heck they are.  It's not very friendly.

The major thoroughfare Dorchester Blvd which had been called so since 1844, had its name changed in 1987 to honour the deceased former premier of Quebec, Rene Levesque.  This was seen as a purely political move since Levesque's main goal was to separate Quebec from Canada.  Incensed, the community of Westmount refused to change its portion of the road and it remains Dorchester Blvd to this day.

University Street has the same history, having been inaugurated in 1842 and named for McGill University which sits at its northern end.  And now it's gone, replaced by the name of another Quebec premier whose pro-French legislations were the forerunners of the now-hated Bill 101 which strictly limits the use of English in the province.

It's clear that the city (not to mention the province) is trying to eradicate its history.  English street names are disappearing.  English businesses are forced to remove apostrophes from their names and display French products.  Historical buildings that were once owned by English people are allowed to decay to the extent that they end up being demolished.  History textbooks are being rewritten to minimize the English involvement in the development of New France.

It's sad.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Internet Outrage

Inspired by and shared from science-fiction author David Gerrold.

Some people are shaking their heads at the mob mentality of all those who are expressing their outrage at the murder of Cecil the Lion.

Internet outrage is a spotlight.  It put the spotlight on Bill Cosby, on the Duggars, on the Palins, and most important, on all those cops who think they can get away with killing black people.  It forces attention onto things that should not be swept under the carpet; a way that ordinary people can raise their voices in a demand for change.

Yes, if you're the target of an internet pile-on, it's not fun being in the bulls-eye.  For many, the first reaction is to play the victim and whine about being hounded, which is easier than accepting responsibility.  It's certainly easier than saying that they messed up.

People don't apologize, and many people just don't know how.  Most are so self-righteous that they try to explain, they try to justify, or worse, they counter-attack.  Accepting responsibility seems to be impossible.  Being able to do that is the mark of a mature and responsible human being, and I suspect it's one of the hardest-to-reach rungs on the ladder.

None of us are perfect, but we tend to forget that.  So we mess up and the people around us get angry about it.  But instead of saying, "Let's fix it so we can stay friends," we make it worse.

This is why internet outrage is a good thing: the internet won't let it slide.  Consider the internet as an organism.  Hostility/stupidity/ugly behavior of any kind is an infection.  And the internet outrage of a million human beings is like a million white blood cells responding to the infection.

No, I don't feel sorry for that dentist and his self-serving posturing that he has a right to kill things for fun.  I think the internet outrage focused on the whole idea of sport-hunting endangered species is one of the most valuable demonstrations of the power of the web that we've seen in a long time.  It might result in prosecution.  Even more so, it might create a worldwide movement to end the killing of wildlife.

Internet outrage is a good thing.  It's a million voices crying out at once.  And it's hard to ignore.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Taming the Monster

Our eight-year-old daughter to whom I refer as "Missy" is what the newer books now call behaviorally challenged.  All the adults in her life have noted that she has difficulty focusing on tasks and sometimes explodes when something unexpected happens outside of her "bubble".  An evaluation by her school suggested that she's somewhere on the ADHD/Autism spectrum.

Over the last six months we've noticed that her difficult behaviour has been getting progressively worse and it has me questioning our parenting.  Are we feeding her a proper diet?  Might she be eating something that is causing her to react unpredictably?  Are we being consistent enough with enforcing limits?  Do we indulge her too much?  Is she seeing too much violence on TV?  There are so many uncertainties.

We were able to make a series of appointments over the summer with a professional child psychologist "Dr. Z" and as of today we've seen her twice.  So far she has been giving Missy the standard tests: solving puzzles, arranging coloured blocks in a particular pattern, stuff like that.  (I remember going through the same type of testing when I was in grade school.)  Dr. Z. has promised that she'll help us figure Missy out and point us to better resources.

Sad to say, today has been a hard day and I might not have the patience to wait for a proper diagnosis and treatment.  This afternoon Missy had a volcanic blowup that began with a simple request for her to stop standing so close to the television, and ended with her screaming at the top of her lungs and hitting me hard enough to leave bruises.

At this point I am terrified that during one of her episodes she might decide to grab a kitchen knife.  I don't know if I can continue living with a child who would sooner freak out than allow someone to try talking to her.  It's little wonder that her "friends" never return our calls.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Turn Down the Cold!

Summer is in full swing and memories of winter's chill are far off.  But why do so many businesses crank up their air conditioning to the point of freezing customers?

On those hot muggy days that many places tend to get in the middle of the summer, a retreat into an air-conditioned shop or restaurant is often welcome.  But then, after spending just a few minutes in the establishment, you feel the cold gradually creeping into your skin and setting off chills.  When you glance around you notice that the employees are all wearing sweaters.  Not wanting to become hypothermic, you make your excuses and head back outside into the heat.

In smaller or older buildings the employees might not be able to control the temperature, so they often attempt to alleviate the problem by opening the doors to the outside, blasting people on the sidewalk with cold air as they walk by.  Unfortunately this only causes the system to work harder and elevates electricity bills.

In one office where I worked there was a free-for-all around the thermostat for a while.  The temperature was not evenly distributed by the system and so some office spaces froze while others were too hot; some employees took to regularly adjusting the thermostat to suit themselves and causing others to be uncomfortable.  Finally the boss had a box installed around the unit, to which only he and the senior supervisor had a key.  I started to keep a sweater in my desk.

What we need are smarter ventilation systems that can balance the temperature throughout a building and adjust as required.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Outdoor Fun

Yesterday I attended a Geo-Lunch hosted by a gentleman who goes by the name of LeGodFather.  This might sound like something out of a spy movie but in fact it was a lunch-hour meeting of a group of folks who call themselves Geocachers.

Geocaching is an outdoor game in which you use a GPS to locate the coordinates of hidden containers known as caches.  Depending on where the cache is, it might require some stealth to retrieve it without attracting the attention of people who don't play the game.  Inside a typical cache is a notebook and a few small trinkets.  The main rule is that if you find it, sign the notebook and exchange a trinket, and then put it back the way you found it.


The web site http://www.geocaching.com is devoted to the game and its players, and everyone is encouraged to leave a note of their adventures on the cache pages.

Once in a while Geocachers get together to talk about their adventures, and exchange special items called Geocoins and Travel Bugs.  These items are intended to move from cache to cache and collect their own stories along the way.

Best of all, the game is (mostly) free.  All that's needed is a GPS unit or GPS-enabled mobile phone, and a membership to the Geocaching web site.  You can find as few or as many caches as you have time for, and take part in a close-knit community.

There are over 1600 Geocaches within 10 km of Montreal, just to start.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Hard Times for Schools

A little over two weeks ago I attended the 30th anniversary reunion for my high school graduating class.  It was amazing, emotional, and enlightening.  I thoroughly enjoyed touring the old school, seeing the stained-glass windows over the main entrance that I had helped to put together, and speaking to many people that I hadn't seen since graduation.

One of the servers that night at the pub where the main party was held turned out to also be a graduate of the same high school from four years ago.  I was told that he said, "I was looking through your Grad Yearbook, and I can't believe how many clubs and teams you guys had. The school didn't have any of that when I was there.  We got the football team back but that was it.  You guys were pretty lucky."

We certainly were lucky.  I remember so many activities and teams from my time there.  There was intramural football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, field hockey, and track.  Student clubs included board games, chess, computers, cooking, debating, Tae Kwon Do, and theatre.

Unfortunately, a succession of cutbacks at all levels of government have forced many schools to stop holding clubs and raising sports teams.  Even the better-funded schools are struggling.  Last year, one of the city's most prestigious private girls' schools closed due to declining enrollment and lack of financial support.  Another is going co-ed next year in order to prevent the same.

Our daughter's grade school depends on parents and volunteers for almost everything.  There's no full-time librarian or school nurse.  The classes hold regular bake and craft sales to finance their activities, and twice a year there are big fundraisers where the kids have to sell boxes of chocolate or coffee around the neighbourhood.  The school can't even seem to afford to repair its flagstaff and fly the flags that it ought to.  Every single school I ever attended proudly flew the Canadian and provincial flags out front... but our daughter's school can't.

How sad that education has been relegated to the bottom of the well.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Disappointments

Having a child with a mercurial temperament who potentially might have ADHD and/or autism is very difficult to deal with, even more so for other children who might not understand.  Our daughter wants to socialize and have friends but doesn't seem to retain any understanding of the "rules" for doing so even though both my husband and I have patiently explained on multiple occasions how she should behave.

I do feel sorry for her.  She was anticipating being invited to a friend's birthday today, and spent the entire day indoors waiting for a phone call that never came, despite the fact that I called them twice and left messages.  Other friends who had previously invited her to their birthdays did not do so this year.  The last two years that I've hosted birthday parties for her, only a fraction of the invitees showed up - the rest never even bothered with an RSVP.

There's no doubt this happened because of her behavioral issues.  It has caused us all no end of frustration and disappointment.  It has also disappointed me in the respect that so many people can't or won't understand how to get along with her.  I'm tired of always having to be the one to reach out and call her "friends" to arrange play-dates.  If these people don't bother to call or return messages it's clear that they want little to do with her.

She's an intelligent girl and she knows that she's being ostracized.  But she often can't help behaving the way she does, which just makes things worse.  It came as no surprise that at a recent doctor's evaluation we were told that she was immature for her age, because she does tend to get along better with kids younger than her.

Unless we can get her to truly understand what she needs to do and how she needs to behave, she will forever be on the fringes of society.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

America vs. Canada

There has been an image going around Facebook of a map of the U.S. that has been divided up into "nations".  It includes the southern part of Canada as well; Quebec has the appelation "New France", Ontario has been lumped in with the American "Midlands", and the Maritime provinces have been made part of "Yankeedom".  The image is attached to an online quiz entitled "Which of the Eleven American Nations do You Belong In?"

Um. No. Just... NO.

A friend of mine, a fellow Canadian and a school teacher, has written a terrific rebuttal:

Ontario is not, in any way, politically, culturally, historically, linguistically, part of "Midlands".

Case in Point: There is no real correspondence between our political systems, values, or scope, and yours.  Your two-party representative system is narrow and crabbed and skewed to the right.  We have more parties with more of a spectrum of policies.  The first question [in the quiz] omits any of those options and mistakenly and simplistically lumps our Liberals in with your Dems and our Conservatives in with your Republicans.  It ain't that simple.

Our Liberals still maintain some of the leftover resonances of classical liberalism - so they are tied to the business community in a much more clear and open and unapologetic way than any Dem Pol could ever be.  Our Conservatives do have a grafted-on reactionary element that could, if you squint, look like a Tea Party... Just not as loonie.  The Religious/Social element of the party is withering on the vine.  Our Conservatives stand in support of single payer health care, not the kludged together ACA that Americans have had to settle for.  We have a government directed health system.  You have government mandated insurance markets.  Big difference.

We have a bona fide Socialist Party that has a very good chance of winning the next national election.  In Ontario the leader of the provincial Cons, a social conservative, marched in this week's Gay Pride Parade.

Our version of "Fox News" up and died last year.  It was widely seen as a joke.

Case in Point: The Great Lakes Vowel Shift.  Check out the accent in Buffalo and Detroit, now check out the accents across the rivers in Niagara Falls and Windsor.

Case in Point: Gun Culture.  We have about 1/4 the guns per capita than you do.  One would expect that we would have 1/4 the per capita gun fatalities/gun crime.  Nowhere close.  Chicago has 400-500 gun deaths a year.  Toronto, about the same size, has fewer than 60.

We do not have a death penalty, and no one has been executed here for 50+ years.

Case in point: Political Culture.  Winter teaches us that we can make noise all we want that we are rugged individualists who can build it all on our own... but reality is that we are all in this together. Our founding documents based on 300 years of colonial experience and an appreciation for winter, mention our summit values as "Peace, Order, and Good Government".  Yours are "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness".

Case in Point: History. Your country was founded on the violent overthrow of one faction of Bourgeois land owners by another faction of Bourgeois landowners.  In that way you all were inculcated with the mistaken belief that something vital and important was exceptionally changed, and that such illusory changes can be made through violence.

Canada was founded by French colonists and explorers who were too late to get to the good bits, British Loyalist refugees from American ethnic cleansing, and Native Peoples who somehow survived the wars between them.  We were founded by Fur, Railroad, and Resource interests as a collection of company towns.  A bunch of losers in a place we didn't own.

But something funny happened. We too tried armed revolt, but all that taught us was that we weren't as good at it as the Americans seemed to be, and the aftermath taught us that the real strength wasn't in direct armed resistance, but in political pressure.  We have slowly discovered our own strength and our own directions.

Case in Point: Immigration.  We have a higher percentage of our population being first generation immigrant than you do.  And the gap is getting bigger.  We also eschew any talk of "melting pot" and encourage people to keep their culture and language.

This image might have some information on American reality, but leave Canada out of it.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Medical Journey

Normally I don't like to air private family matters, but since many people I know have had positive experiences with writing about their journeys, I will endeavour to do so as well.

People who know me on Facebook and/or have read my previous blogs know that we've been having difficulties with our daughter, whom I refer to as "Missy".  Since she started school she has been noted as having difficulties in socializing with other kids, and keeping focused in the classroom.  At first this was attributed to the fact that she was raised at home instead of going to daycare, although I had made efforts to get her to play with other children her age.

Her Kindergarten and Grade One teachers reported that she was occasionally disruptive in class, and had a habit of throwing a tantrum or otherwise freaking out when something unexpected happened or if she didn't get her way.  We decided then to look into having a psychologist evaluate her, knowing that our nephew had a similar problem and it took several years to get him the proper treatment.

We formally began the process with the school at the beginning of her Grade Two year.  After numerous observation sessions and filling out of forms, we finally had a meeting with the school principal, Missy's homeroom teacher and teacher's assistant, the board's speech pathologist, and a child psychologist.

Missy's speech and academics are average or above average for her grade level, so that's not an issue.  Preliminary indications are that she has some form of ADHD and/or autism.  Getting a formal diagnosis and treatment for such however, will be a long and at times frustrating journey - if what happened with our nephew is any indication.

We took the first step this past week, only to end up several steps backward.  After we saw a pediatrician for another evaluation, he recommended a child psychologist, who unfortunately turned out to be on maternity leave until January.  The psychologist's office referred us to a clinic, who told me that they only take patients who are students at McGill University.  The clinic suggested calling the Children's Hospital.  The Children's asked us to send in our referrals by fax (Seriously? Who uses fax any more?) and wait for them to call us.

So we're back to Square One unless our "inside agent" at the Children's (we know someone who works there) can help get us back on track.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Gun Culture

Today's shooting in Charleston SC has, as such events often do, brought out all the armchair experts and discussion groups, each giving their own spin on what everyone should consider a national tragedy.

What we know is that a mentally unbalanced young man who habitually posted racist diatribes online somehow got a gun (some sources claim it was given to him for his birthday) and sat in a black church's Bible study session for an hour before slaughtering almost all of the attendees.  As he did so, he reportedly yelled "I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country."  Nine people died, including the pastor, who also was a state Senator.

The man's family is firmly declining to give interviews.

A visibly shaken and tired President Obama said, point-blank, that violence like this "doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."  Statistically, the United States has the highest number of gun-related deaths per year of any industrialized country.

Yet there are still those who believe that they must protect their Second Amendment rights at all costs.  They purchase military grade semi-automatic rifles, have their own children take firearms lessons, insist that everyone from airplane pilots to schoolteachers should have a gun for "protection", and even go so far as to disobey the established gun control laws; all backed by the powerful lobby group called the National Rifle Association.  There's currently a movement in Washington State whose motto is "We Will Not Comply" - relating to a state law which requires gun owners to submit to background checks.

The authors of the Second Amendment originally intended it for keeping "a well regulated militia" in case of attack, because the country had just fought a revolution at great cost.  Even the Preamble to the Constitution states "...establish Justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense".

There are enough guns in the U.S. for every single man, woman, and child.  That is not for the common defense.  And that is certainly not what the founders of the country would have wanted.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Discipline

Within the last two months our daughter "Missy" has been increasingly resistant to any form of discipline for unwanted behaviour.  When confronted with the problem she will talk back, refuse to accept the discipline, claim that it was somebody else's fault that she behaved badly, or avoid the situation altogether by running away and shutting herself in her room.  It's clear that she has no respect for either of us.

We've had her evaluated by school officials and the evidence points to ADHD.  That give us something to educate ourselves about, so that we can learn how to better manage Missy's moods and give encouragement and correction accordingly.  But we still need to adjust our way of thinking, because the kinds of discipline or punishment that worked for us 40 years ago won't work for Missy.

But what is true discipline anyway?

Science-fiction author David Gerrold wrote: "In real life, discipline is an artificial construct; useful as a way of achieving goals, but not necessarily the goal itself.  In real life, authority is an artificial construct; useful for creating and maintaining productivity in institutions of various sizes, but not the sole channel of human interaction.  And in real life, attempting to treat others as if they are part of your self-defined authoritarian world-view is self-destructive."

My husband's view is that the family is not a democracy; what the parents say goes, end of story.  Yes, children need boundaries but when enforcement of those boundaries is too harsh or too lenient, it can create a backlash that causes resentment all around.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Money or Respect

For almost a year, police officers and other municipal employees in Quebec have been wearing camouflage pants or other non-standard leg wear to protest the provincial government's reforms on municipal pensions.  According to the government, the pension plans carry a collective deficit and are not sustainable in the long term.  Municipal employees are accusing the government of breaking faith with previously-established contracts.

The situation came to a head last week when a former Premier of Quebec passed away, and the officers who worked security at the state funeral were not wearing their full uniforms.  This resulted in a public backlash, with many saying that the officers were extremely disrespectful to have done so.  The mayor of the city of Montreal has stated that he has had enough and will lobby the government to pass legislation to force municipal workers to get back into uniform.

It's difficult to say if that would be going too far.  The Superior Court of Quebec effectively granted the workers the right to wear the pants as a means of protest, because they have no mandate to strike.  Any further action by the government would be seen as changing the rules to suit themselves.  No matter what contract has been negotiated and agreed upon, no matter that it is legally binding, the government can just create a law to void the contract.

On the other hand, the original contracts were unsustainable from the get-go.  As an example, Montreal firefighters had a pension plan that effectively paid them full salary when they retired after putting in more than 25 years of service.  In order to safeguard this arrangement, eighty firefighters retired en masse in June of 2014 because they didn't want to lose money that they felt they were entitled to.

It's a tricky situation, especially when it's being underlain with disrespect on both sides.  The way some see it, the government is eroding the things that built our country and way of life: the right to disagree, negotiate, protest, strike, and be heard.  Are we living in a free democracy or in a totalitarian state?  Politicians seem to have way too much power, when we as a population should be telling them what we expect of them.