28 February, 2010

Courage and Pride

'Cause sometimes you feel tired,
feel weak, and when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up.
But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength
and just pull that shit out of you and get that motivation to not give up
and not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse.

--Eminem, "'Til I Collapse"


If Team Canada loses today, the sun will still rise tomorrow. Really, it will.

I'm not going to get into all the "our Canadians are better than your Canadians" b.s. that gets thrown around whenever these things are contested. I remember it from when the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series: our Latin Americans are better than your Latin Americans! Whatever. It's a hockey game. There's going to be a winner and there's going to be a loser. If Team Canada wins, hey, great. If they lose, it's not going to diminish the 2010 Olympic Games in any way for me.

These have been, without a doubt, the most amazing Olympics I've ever seen. Every biennial, we hear the complex and involving stories that lurk behind every gold, silver and bronze medal; perhaps I can be forgiven for thinking that this year's stories are more captivating and inspirational than any I can recall.

There are two in particular I'd like to highlight, and taken together I believe they put something as cosmically insignificant as a gold medal shinny game into proper perspective.

Two athletes will be taking home the Terry Fox award from this year's Games. (Aside: If you haven't heard of Terry Fox, stop reading this, right now, go here, and learn why he is a genuine hero and marvel to Canadians nearly thirty years after his death...why his mother was among those who carried the Canadian flag at the opening ceremonies...why his indomitable spirit lives in the heart of every Olympian and Paralympian athlete.) The two recipients of this year's award are Canadian skater Joannie Rochette and Slovenian skier Petra Majdic.
Everybody in Canada surely knows Joannie's story by now. Her mother died of a heart attack shortly after landing in Vancouver to watch her daughter compete. Rochette competed through what must have been agonizing emotional trauma, and emerged with a bronze medal. (Personally, I think she should have been given an additional medal for having to deal with the inane and insensitive questions, afterwards. Reporters who think tears are newsworthy really should be rounded up and shot, is my view.)
Majdic's story is not as well known, at least here in Canada. It should be. She crashed in a training run, breaking five ribs and puncturing a lung...and then raced again...and again...and again, first qualifying, then making the final, and then, incredibly, getting a bronze medal. Then and only then was she treated in hospital. How she even stood erect with those injuries, let alone competed against world-class athletes and emerged with a medal, utterly boggles the mind.
Of that medal, Majdic said "This is not a bronze. This is a gold with little diamonds on it." Having read and related to the story of Terry Fox, she said the eponymous award "means so much more. It's the greatest thing I ever had."
Petra--and Joannie--you exemplify the true spirit of the Olympics. I tear up every time I even think of either of you, and I admire you and your accomplishments. Thank you for displaying such fortitude and courage to the world.

---------------

Much has been made of the paradigm shift in Canadian values that has accompanied these Games. In my view, it's not so much a shift as it is a reveal. We are, and always have been, a proud bunch. We're also modest, probably to a fault. Putting aside all my petty dislike for Stephen Harper, I cheered when he stood in B.C.'s Parliament and gave his blessing to an outpouring of national pride. That our Prime Minister felt he had to do this earned a poke from Tom Brokaw at the end of the (excellent) video that introduced Americans to their northern neighbo(u)r. But it was taken to heart: in my lifetime, I can't remember anything like the coast-to-coast boast and toast we've seen over the past two weeks. The bitching in true Canadian fashion about the "abject failure" of the Own the Podium program has given way to cheers as we have set a record for the highest number of gold medals won by a host nation at a Winter Olympic Games. Should the hockey team come through today, we'll have won more golds than any nation in the history of the Winter Games. That, to me, is an unqualified success. Vancouver, despite inevitable glitches and gaffes, has been a fantastic host. I expect these games will do wonders for the country...for its international reputation, which will henceforth be seen as a little less boring, perhaps; for tourism--believe me, the shots we've seen of Vancouver don't compare to being there!--and last but not least, for athletes in Canada and the world.

I'm proud to live here, in 'the True North, strong and free'. I'm proud to live in the same country as Alex and Frederic Bilodeau, Joannie Rochette, Haley Wickenheiser, Jasey-Jay Anderson, and all our other athletes, medal-winners or no. It's been a great Games.

Now let's cap it off. GO CANADA GO!

27 February, 2010

Chile: Perspective

"To the world, you may be just another girl
"But to me, baby, you are the world"
--Brad Paisley, "The World"

"We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day so let's start giving"
--Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, "We Are the World"

"I believe in the power that comes
from a world brought together as one..."
Alan Frew, "I Believe" (Vancouver 2010 Olympic theme)


I saw it scrolling across the CNN ticker and actually recoiled. "The strongest aftershock so far measured 6.9".

Story here, in case you've been incommunicado all day.

8.8. Wikipedia rates it the seventh-most severe quake ever recorded. It occurred in the same subduction zone that spawned the strongest temblor in history, the 1960 Valdivia quake that measured 9.5. A tsunami from that quake went around the world, covering 10,000 km in hours and devastating places as far-flung as Hilo, Hawaii and the coast of Japan. Both those places were on high alert today: thousands have been evacuated. As of this writing, Hawaii's in the clear. Japan, not known. Tsunamis are impossible to predict.

I was talking to my mother this evening and she mentioned something along the lines of there being an awful lot of high-profile natural disasters in the last few years.
It really does seem so, doesn't it? Those of a theological bent might go so far as to suggest End Times right around yonder corner, and they might find a more receptive audience than usual of late. That's to say nothing of the various man-made disasters just starting to make themselves known...Peak Oil being just one, the worldwide economic crisis being another (and rest assured, that one ain't over yet, not by a long chalk).

Myself, I don't believe in End Times, or at least not the Revelation version of same. I've seen far too many 'The end is nigh!' predictions come to naught. And while Matthew states that "no one shall know the day, nor the hour", it's worth noting that most of the newly-minted Christians living in 100 C.E expected the Rapture at any moment. Even if I believed in a judging God--and I don't--I'd have to conclude He's taking His sweet time.

I'm put in mind of the Great Flood, called Noah's Flood only by those who have never heard of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Both sources state that the flood was a global event, and to this day many Christians believe that at some point in human history, the world was submerged.

It wasn't. But it might as well have been. When you live on a plain, as the Sumerians did, and when your area of reference encompasses a tiny fraction of the earth's surface (all damn near perfectly flat), it doesn't take much water to literally end your world.

Likewise, to a great many people in and around Santiago Chile, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and vast swathes of Indonesia, and Sichuan province in China, the world already ended. Survivors the planet over walk around with the same thousand-yard stare, nominally alive but sometimes it's kind of hard to tell. Watching the world end will do that to a person. Some never recover. It's amazing, really, that others do, or can.

We humans have an intuitive grasp of this notion, that while our world hasn't ended, for others afflicted by whatever disaster, it might as well have. I think we recognize, perhaps on a cellular level, that we're all connected and that our place is a lot more tenuous than our rational minds would suggest. We have done, and continue to do, great things for Haiti. Now it's also Chile's turn.

I think it's critical to understand that this is what money is for. It's not for sitting in bank vaults or enriching the pockets of Wall Street banksters. It's for making life a little more worth living. For you and I, certainly...but mostly for those whose world has ended.

They call earthquakes "acts of God". Perhaps the real "acts of God" are up to us, now. I rather think they are.




24 February, 2010

I Am Not A Man...

...at least, not a normal one.

Reason #1: the remote control. Not only do I not hog it in our house, at least half the time I can't get it to do what I want it to. Seriously. I'll go to put the TV on channel 800 and somehow end up on channel 50 instead. Then when I try again I'm on channel 80. I have to search an unconscionably long time to find the 'mute' button, or the 'recall' button, or damn near any button. I jokingly attribute this incompetence to having spent five years without a television. Perhaps I should say that my clicker-klutziness stems from not missing a television at all over that five year span.
To this day, I can take or leave TV. Yes, even the hockey games...which are, after all, on radio. I don't listen to radio near as much as I used to, but if push came to shove, I could quit television without very much of a qualm. Only books surpass radio as an invocation to the imagination, in my experience. Radio--mostly public radio--is where the really intelligent stuff is. And best of all, the radios in this house can be operated without a remote control.

Reason #2: I don't follow most of the dicta laid down by my male ancestors, on account of most of them don't make a shred of sense to me. For instance, when I'm lost, I will readily and cheerfully (a) admit it and (b) ask for directions. I will likewise ask for assistance if I can't find something in a store. Now, a lot of men will do this, but most of them look vaguely or not-so-vaguely ashamed when they do it. Not me. Point me to my stuff so I can get out of here, is my motto. In that way, at least, I am refreshingly normal.

Or take that stereotype about how men can easily separate sex from love, and how they tend to place a higher value on the former than the latter, or view sex as proof of love. Not me. The phrase making love has always puzzled me since, well, forever, actually. Isn't the love already made? If not, how exactly does a hundred pumps, a tickle and a squirt accomplish it?

You're reading the words of a man who slept with a women three nights in a row before we ever so much as kissed. And by slept with, I mean sleep as in slumber. That's another phrase that's always bothered me: slept with. "I slept with her." No, you didn't, you had sex. Big difference, in my view. If you can't tell the difference, buddy, you're doing the sex thing wrong.

Corollary: I believe men and women can be "just friends". I get along with women better than I do with most men (he said, girlishly...) And yes, I'm apt to have little crushes on my "girl friends" beforehand, but they wash out with no trace.

(Why can women have girlfriends without anyone questioning their sexuality? Why can't men have girlfriends without everyone assuming they're, ack, sleeping together? I've been asking these questions for over a quarter century, now, and I'm no closer to an answer than I was when I was a teenager.

(And don't get me started on the ways I wasn't a typical teenager.)

I don't care overmuch what women look like: we'll all be ugly someday, and let's face it, some of the real lookers are pretty ugly inside already. My wife has never caught me ogling, because even if I were so inclined, quite frankly, I'm married and have no need to.

I've stated before that I apologize, most often, like a girl. I say sorry not because I screwed up, but because I'm sorry you're not feeling well/in pain/whatever. What I haven't said is why I do this. Well, obviously, there's the overdeveloped empathy gland, but also there's the fact, learned the hard way, that sorry is just a word. It's best used to express sympathy/empathy: as an admission of guilt and a promise of reparation it is woefully, pitifully inadequate. It's better to show how sorry you are, is my feeling, and sometimes even that's not enough. There's such a thing as screwing up so badly that you can't fix it--and trying to fix it only makes it worse.

Speaking of which, "fixing it" is still my first impulse...how typically male of me. I still haven't quite understood the great female urge to just talk about problems, as if the talking alone will solve them. My first instinct whenever I'm approached with a problem is to solve that mother...so much so that I'm apt to feel a failure when I can't. I hope to be wise enough one day to rise above this instinct. Preferably before I die.

I don't particularly like to barbeque, which is so unmanly I can feel my wrists sagging as I type it: but there it is. I know, I'm supposed to get in touch with my inner caveman and worship the Fire...whatever. To me, a barbeque is an outdoor cooking appliance, and being as I don't really enjoy either cooking or the outdoors, you can perhaps see the problem here.

Sports cars bore me to the ground. So you can drive really fast in them. Well, good for you. The only place driving really fast is legal is on a track, and to quote the venerable George Carlin, driving five hundred miles in a circle does not impress me!

I look in the mirror and see a man, but my manliness is (mostly) only skin deep.

19 February, 2010

Olympic Musings At The Half

Well, here we are at the halfway point of Vancouver 2010 and I Believe if I hear that CTV theme song one more time I just might take a running leap into an Olympic cauldron.

Catelli said it first, and I will duly echo: CTV, you stink. I realize it's your first time in the Big Time...it should also be your last. It's become a running joke around this here Breadbin that these Olympics don't actually have any sports in them. There's athlete profiles galore (and as I get older I do appreciate those a lot more than I used to)...but then there's Brian Williams, then a rerun of something that happened yesterday, then a promise of a sport, upcoming...then more profiles, more Williams, more reruns...could there be some competition at the end of this tunnel? We've developed our own sport of remote-grabbing. Eva's got five gold medals so far.

You don't know what you had 'til it gets bought out. I posted this in 2004:

The CBC is annoying for entirely different reasons. One different reason is Brian "THE TIME IS....SEVEN MINUTES PAST THE HOUR!" Williams. Brian, a little memo for you: my television has a clock built-in. So does my digital cable box. My old VCR had one; I could be wearing a watch; I could even look outside and guess the time by the position of the sun. I don't need to know what time it is in Athens or in Waterloo. Okay? Okay.
And to the mavens at the CBC: I do not want to watch ONE floor routine in gymnastics, followed by ONE half-inning of baseball, followed by ONE lap of cycling, followed by ONE set of beach volleyball. I know that any child showing signs of being a child nowadays is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, but I am an adult and I prefer my sports in sensible chunks. Pick a sport (your ratings book or a general poll will tell you which ones are popular) and follow it. Show the 100m staring contest in the breaks. And speaking of breaks, must there be a commercial every ninety seconds? You're a public broadcaster...you shouldn't even need commercials in the first place!

At least Williams has quit it with announcing the time all the time. Twice I've heard him say "coming up next on CBC..." Wince.

There are certain givens every Olympics, magnified because this one's on home soil. One given is that no matter how well Canadians perform, there will echo from sea to sea to sea a veritable half-pipe full of bitchery to the effect that they're not doing well enough. Never mind that we always rake in most of our medals in the second half of the games. Never mind that we've managed to get not one, not two, but three gold medals so far. I had to angrily fend off a woman at work who announced this morning that the Canadian delegation sucked snow. Over two hundred athletes there, she said, and only seven medals? If they don't have a realistic shot at a medal, what the hell are they doing there?
My cousin is an Olympian. Barcelona, 1992: women's field hockey. Her team didn't get very far, but they competed. They competed against the world's best, and she is justifiably proud of that fact, just as I am of her. You can say all you want that the goal is gold, and it is...but finishing fourth--or even twenty-second, or whatever--is an accomplishment. An achievement.

People are still going on about the opening ceremony, and how it had (too much/not enough) French, and (too much/too much) Native content, and you'd never hear this debate in any other country. Personally, I found there was plenty of French: it is, after all, the official language of the IOC. (Note: when I went to Vancouver in 2003, I was amazed to find next to no French anywhere. There's decidedly more Chinese than there is French. In fact, there's nearly more Chinese than there is English. We could have put on Beijing redux!)
And as for Native content, there was exactly one number, which, admittedly, did drag a bit. Oh, really? said another wag at work. What Olympics were you watching? Those dancers just kept on going through the entire parade of athletes! "I wouldn't know", I told the work-wag. "I was actually watching the parade of athletes."

Then there are the folks--and they are legion--who'd rather we not have put on an Olympics at all, given that the estimated billion and a half dollars it cost could have gone to helping the poor and yadda yadda yadda. I have exactly zero patience for this argument. You ever seen a movie in a theater? I ask these folks.
Yeah...
Well, then, shut up.
????
A billion and a half dollars. Hollywood burns through that in, what, a week? Every week of every year. Why aren't they helping the poor, eh, instead of just putting crap on a screen?

As I see it, the Olympics are one of the few events
worth
spending a billion and a half bucks on. Every time they're on, summer or winter, we see inspiration writ large: stories of heroism and true sportsmanship right before our eyes. We see many examples of the best of humanity...and next to nothing of the worst.

Some of the highlights for me this time 'round, and so far, include:

--Alexandre Bilodeau capturing the first Olympic gold medal ever won by a Canadian in Canada, and making it clear to all the world he did it for his disabled brother, Frederic;
--Christine Nesbitt, trailing badly at the 600m mark of a 1500m skate, suddenly behaving as if a couple of turbojets had ignited, coming all the way back to win gold by two hundredths of a second;
Maelle Ricker, flying through the air with the greatest of ease, on her way to yet another gold for Canada;
--Anya Paerson, capturing bronze for Sweden the day after a horrific crash;
--Shawn White, doing things on a snowboard I still believe are impossible;
--the Canada-Switzerland hockey game. I won't be a traitor and suggest I was rooting for the Swiss, but I do love it when an underdog team throws a scare or worse into a power, even if that power is us. Led by Jonas Hiller, the Swiss played a great game and very well could have won--as they did four years ago. Shut us out that time, too.

More to come. I only wish everyone else was enjoying these Olympics as much as I am.



17 February, 2010

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Every now and again I find myself in a mental rut wherein everything I see and hear simply reinforces my preconceptions and prejudices. Sadly, any species of happiness is extremely rare when I'm in such a state: predominant emotions include anger, despair and disbelief. I look at the world around me and my confusion and disgust swells in my brain like a malign tumour, pulsing and flexing until it simply must escape by any means possible, and thus I blog. The words on your screen are blister-born, shaped by pressures just behind my forehead and ejected, at times, with fearful force.
This blog has served over the years as my relief valve to the pressure cooker of life lived in a world gone mad. Sometimes it seems as if the words themselves form a tightrope over a gaping chasm of insanity.

There's probably a pill for that. If there isn't, there soon will be.

In fact, that's part of today's nasty cranial carbuncle. We read in the Times Online that there's a good chance my propensity towards laziness and my occasional fits of pique are symptoms of two separate soon-to-be mental disorders, respectively called "sluggish cognitive tempo disorder" and "intermittent explosive disorder". No, I am not making this up.
That last one sounds like diarrhea, doesn't it? I'd suggest that both these "disorders", and the multiplicity of others being crafted, are just that: excrement, shat upon the world not to fertilize big farms, but rather Big Pharma.

This is denied in the article: "One of the reasons we're doing this", says the research director of the American Psychiatric Association, "is that we are concerned about establishing better thresholds of diagnosis for people with a genuine disorder". But by classing every possible combination of emotions and actions as a genuine disorder--see? it says right there on page 743 of the DSM that my whining is actually "negativistic personality disorder"!--what they're really doing is (a) mocking people who actually do suffer from mental illness and (b) providing practically unlimited opportunities for profit. Not your profit, of course, nor mine.

Got no sex drive? That's a problem: sexual arousal disorder. They have blue pills for that, little blue pills that will make you normal. And you want to be normal, don't you? Of course you do. Not wanting to be normal is abnormal, and thus proof of a much more severe underlying mental dysfunction.
Got too much of a sex drive? That's a problem: you're hypersexual. They have pills for that, little red pills that will make you normal. And you want to be normal, don't you? Of course you do, you're a preteen boy in the throes of puberty, and you're scared witless about appearing abnormal to your friends. Hell, you don't even know what "normal" is. Is it "normal" to look at your friend's sister and rip the fly out of your pants? Lately you've even looked at a teacher and ran up the flagpole. That can't be normal.

How long before we're all taking something to level out the hills and valleys of everyday life, so rife as it is with disorders and diseases lurking in every shadow? How long before our every thought is regulated and milked for potential profit? I fear it may not be long at all. Incipient Paranoia Syndrome for sure.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

"C'mere, love, you gotta see this", my wife said from her place on the couch. "This is the saddest thing I've ever seen."

It made me sad, all right. Also almost unbearably angry. As I looked at the children, some appearing to be no more than three years old, dressed in their frippery and finery for a beauty pageant, what I saw was pain in nearly every face. Some of the kids looked as if they were about to burst into tears. Some of them looked like they had just recovered from a bout of crying. It's all too easy to hear hectoring parents: Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about! Smile, damnit! You want to be pretty? You want to win this thing? Well, right now you're ugly. You came in third. Third, after all that money we spent! You're worthless. You're disgusting.

It actually made me nauseous, looking at this kids whose parents were undoubtedly vying for the chance to be America's Ugliest. And that was just looking at their faces. Then I went back and, horror-struck, looked at their clothes. Not for the first time, I felt a shred of sympathy for the passing pedophile. Some of these kids look for all the world like porn stars. What in the almighty hell are their parents thinking? I'll tell you what they're thinking:

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

What is it about money that it has utterly pervaded and perverted practically everything our society holds dear? It's all for sale, now. Entertainment, which not all that long ago consisted of imagination plus limited props, is now something like a trillion-dollar a year industry. Real estate, so called because it denotes "real" wealth, is increasingly just another paper-shuffle towards fake prosperity.
We can't be too far off of David Foster Wallace's conceit in Infinite Jest: just imagine the year 2011 being renamed "Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment". Think of the market potential! Think of the money! Stop thinking and just buy in, already!

Or we'll force-feed you this here green pill...


Deal With Reality Or Reality Will Deal With You

That's the slogan over at Life After The Oil Crash, which is an interesting site to browse if you're feeling a little too at peace with the world. Or if, like me, you're interested in the 'realities' that just might be lurking behind the headlines.

It's not a conspiracy site like, say, Global Research. It will occasionally link to places that are a little more fringe than people like to go, but the majority of its articles are from mainstream sources such as the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Atlantic Monthly. And it doesn't deal exclusively with Peak Oil...far from it. In fact...well, a quick tour of their Breaking News for February 16, 2010 is instructive.
Just a few of the articles you'll find:
There are a host of others, none of which paint a pretty picture.

In what I feel has to be related news, the DOW was up 170 points yesterday and is cruising well above 10,000. This makes no sense at all to a casual observer: between the PIGS debt crisis in Europe (that's Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain, and who wants to bet they'll have to find a longer acronym soon?) to the clamping down on stimulus in China to the ongoing mess in the U.S., there doesn't seem to be any reason for markets to keep chugging along like this.
Unless you don a tin hat. Then it makes perfect sense: the fat cats running things on the Street are doing just fine, thank you very much. They had a little scare there, oh, about a year ago, when it looked like the gravy train was about to derail, but they managed to convince the U.S. government to shovel buckets of bucks their way, and that's why the Wall Street bonuses still run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
I really do think that's the truth of it: the idea wasn't to save the economy, nothing so noble as that. The idea was to look like they were saving the economy whilst they were lining their own pockets.
The banks are still playing hot potato with billions of dollars in bad paper, and (mostly) refusing to acknowledge that's what they're doing. We the public remain largely shielded from the realization that nearly our entire economy has been built on 'something for nothing' quicksand.

I don't mind saying this is all a little unnerving. Not so much the slow-motion financial collapse, which is bad enough, but the steadfast and resolute determination to pretend there's nothing wrong at all. Move along, nothing to see here, cities, states and countries teetering on the edge of bankruptcy is no big deal, just keep on keeping on. Reality is dealing with us...don't you think it's high time we started dealing with reality?

15 February, 2010

Things I Can't Do

Oh, there are thousands. Millions, more like. But the ones I'm thinking of today are the kinds of useless skills that are mastered by the time you're in your teens, if not earlier.

I can't blow bubbles. I've had probably a dozen people try to teach me how that works, and I'm no closer to learning how than I was the first time I popped a stick of gum into my mouth.

For the longest time, I couldn't whistle, either. I still can't perform that piercing shriek-whistle that carries for a mile or more. But one day, without warning, I found myself whistling a tune, and then I was off and annoying. After a great deal of practice that drove everyone around me nuts over a period of years, I can perform a fair imitation of this:




(That's Roger Whittaker, whose songs filled my childhood. Yes, I was old before my time.)

Another thing I can't do: solve a Rubik's Cube. I'm lucky if I can get one side of the damn thing solved--my mind deals much better with words and abstractions than it does with concrete physical things. I went to school in grades four and five with the world champion Rubik's Cuber for his age group. He could solve a cube in something like fifteen seconds. I could sit and stare at it for fifteen years, it wouldn't make a difference. My solitary claim to Rubik fame: Once I sat directly on a Rubik's Pyramid.


Don't do this. Don't even think of doing this. The pointy points are very pointy. Like, rip right through your jeans pointy.

Let's see, everyone knows I can't drive...but few people know I can't type properly. I manage about forty five words a minute and I don't have to look at the keys, but my finger position is entirely wrong. I use, at most, four fingers. Trying to break me down and learn me up the proper way, at this point, is pointless. I've been typing this way since grade four and it works for me. It'd probably take shock therapy to reform me, and I doubt that'd even work.

I can't touch my toes unless I'm kneeling at the time. I have practically no flexibility in my muscles at all. This too is pretty much uncorrectable. Stretching will help a little, but not much. The problem is that I was born quite premature and spent the first six weeks or so of my life in an incubator. Nowadays, they perform all sorts of physical therapy on preemies. Not so in 1972. Doctors have explained that my stiff-as-a-boardness and my slightly lurching gait are permanent marks of that incubator. I have to say I felt much better once that explanation was given to me. For years, I'd try to tell people I just couldn't stretch and they'd accuse me of not trying hard enough. Karate class was an exercise in ritual humiliation.

What are some little things you can't do? Anyone?

13 February, 2010

Impressive

I have to say I was wowed by the Olympic opening ceremonies last night.
Over twenty three million Canadians tuned in, making it by far the most viewed program in Canadian television history. Truly incredible when you consider this country has a population of only 34 million.

I watched the NBC coverage exclusively. Partly because I was very curious to see how the Americans would cover the event (would there be endless U! S! A! U! S! A! boosterism? Would they come off cheesy and dumb this country down for their viewers, as they did in '88?) I'm happy to report that the NBC coverage was first-rate and kept a truly international focus. In fact, I was surprised at just how little of the American team we saw. Doubtless that'll change...I can't remember which comedian it was who said, upon watching Canadian Olympic coverage for the first time, that he was "surprised to find out the other countries stuck around for the events".

The other reason I watched NBC was in protest. CTV should never have been allowed to bid for, let alone win, the right to broadcast these games. CTV can wrap itself in the flag all it wants, but one look at their usual prime-time lineup shows them as the American network they really are. If I'm going to watch American coverage, I'd rather see the real thing, thanks.

As for the ceremonies themselves...wow. Now it's a given that nothing was going to surpass or even approach Beijing's $400 million extravaganza. As Costas noted last night, you don't even try. Instead you make your ceremony stand out in its own way. By any measure, I'd say they succeeded at that. Some of the effects accomplished were jaw-dropping, and I was very happy to hear two of my all-time favourite songs included in the ceremony (Joni Mitchell's Both Sides, Now and k.d. lang doing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. Ashley MacIssac's fiddling was incredible, as well.

And yes, Gretzky lit the flame. But I was pleased to see three others doing it with him--Nancy Greene, Rick Hansen, and Catriona Le May-Doan. It would have been nicer had that hydraulic worked, but as one commentator noted, "our imperfections make us perfect." That's a Canadian sentiment if ever I've heard one.

Actually, the highlight of the night for me was Shane Koyczan's slam poem "We Are More". This was an extended take on the "I Am Canadian" TV commercial. The part I liked the most:

but we are more

than genteel or civilized

we are an idea in the process

of being realized

we are young

we are cultures strung together

then woven into a tapestry

and the design

is what makes us more

than the sum total of our history

we are an experiment going right for a change


That's inspired, right there.

----------------------------------

Questions for the so-called "protesters" who staged a mini-riot in downtown Vancouver today:

Could you please explain what your "protest" had to do with the Olympics, besides occurring in the same city? Because, really, all I saw were broken windows on various stores (not one of which was an Olympic sponsor) and assaulted peace officers, whose sworn duty to uphold the law is in force everywhere and at all times. What were you trying to accomplish with your actions? I'll tell you what you accomplished in my mind: you gave me a great reason for the Vancouver police force to use tasers. Congratulations, I didn't think that was possible. And finally, why do you feel so ambivalent about your cause that you won't even show your faces? I mean, c'mon. Either you're willing to be seen protesting or you're not. And if you're not, why protest?

There are, don't get me wrong, perfectly legitimate reasons to protest the Olympics, and even more legitimate reasons to protest VANOC. But you guys? You weren't protesting. You were being children. Grow up, already.

12 February, 2010

A dark pall

...has been cast over the 2010 Olympic Games, and by extension over my country, after the death of Georgian luger Nodor Kumaritashvili on a training run today. He's only the second Olympian ever to die in training at an Olympic venue, and his death raises disturbing questions.

By now there's probably video on YouTube, and if you want to see it, you're going to have to go there yourself--I won't link it. Suffice it to say that Kumaritashvili was going an estimated 88 mph (141 km/hr) when he missed the final turn in the course, flew free of his luge and up and over the wall--and into an unshielded metal pole.

It's the adjective there that shames. If a metal pole just had to be where somebody could conceivably hit it, it should have been padded to a fare-thee-well. I'm far from the only person whose first thought was what the almighty hell is that pole there for?

I'm not a racer. In fact, I'm not much of a competitor, and certainly not in anything dangerous. You go right on ahead there. I'm therefore possessed of a puzzled admiration that anyone would willingly attempt that course again, much less the members of the Georgian team, who have said they will compete. The thing is, Nodor was ranked #44 in the world. The man who's ranked #1, Armin Zoeggeler, also crashed. The difference between #44 and #1: Zoeggeler walked away.

The Whistler Sliding Center is widely considered to be the most technically challenging course in the world. It's certainly the fastest, averaging an 11% grade, with some sections at a stomach-churning 20%. I can't help but wonder what the point is. Lugers, bobsledders, and skeleton athletes compete against each other, not some track standard. In other words, the point is who can get down the course the fastest, not who can hit a hundred miles an hour.

The show must go on, I suppose, but what an awful way to start it.

11 February, 2010

I feel that olympicitis coming on...

So the rumour is that Wayne Gretzky will be lighting the Olympic flame tomorrow to open Vancouver 2010.

Pardon me while I roll my eyes theatrically.

Look, I've got nothing against Wayne the hockey player...arguably the best the world has ever seen, and all that. I've also got nothing against Wayne the person. Everything I've heard over the years suggests the man oozes class.

There are two things that bother me about this selection. The first is that it's oh so predictable. Hey, let's cater to the Canadian beer-swilling hockey-nut stereotype and get a shinny player to light the flame, shall we? And the other thing that bothers me is that the guy or gal who has this honour should, ideally, be a Canadian.

Oh, did I type that out loud? You're not supposed to say this, and it might be a crime to even think it, but Wayne Gretzky--for all he's done for our national winter pastime--is Canadian in name only. He's lived outside this country for decades and even his Wikipedia entry calls him 'Canadian-American'. If it has to be someone from the hockey sphere--and I suggest it shouldn't be--why not Bobby Orr? Or Don Cherry?

I was asking around at work today as to who should light the flame, and one rather cynical man suggested it should be Joe Schmo, the Canadian taxpayer. After all, "he's the one footing the bill for this bullshit". Back away, back away--hey, Ken, haven't you got some work to do on the other side of the store? Still, that got me to thinking. It's oh-so-Canadian to trot out a line of celebrities, as if to say HEY!!! LOOK AT US!!! WE MATTER!!! DAMNIT, WE MATTER!!! I think it'd be a refreshing change for some nobody to get that honour. That thought kept growing as the day went on, and sometime around quitting time I got to imagining whole different take on the final few legs of the torch relay.

This country, if it is known for anything at all besides winter, is known and respected for taking in people and cultures from everywhere. Wouldn't it be a fine statement to have an athlete from each participating country carry the torch? You could group them by fours or sixes or something, and each group would run for a hundred metres before handing off to the next. Or a Canadian could stand at the front carrying the flame, with everyone arranged in a pyramid formation behind him.

Great idea, I think. But chances are we'll get the same old parade of Canadian celebrities, the majority of whom had to make it big Stateside before earning any recognition at home.

And that, too, is Canadian....

10 February, 2010

Two Days And Counting...




I can't wait...

God vs. Science

From the mailbox today, and Rocket, I'm curious if you'll rebut this the way I did:

GOD vs. Science
A science professor begins his school year with a lecture to the students, 'Let me explain the problem science has with religion.' The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.

'You're a Christian, aren't you, son?'
'Yes sir,' the student says.

'So you believe in God?'
'Absolutely.'

'Is God good?'
'Sure! God's good.'

'Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?'
'Yes.'

'Are you good or evil?'
'The Bible says I'm evil.'

The professor grins knowingly. 'Aha! The Bible!' He considers for a moment. 'Here's one for you. Let's say there's a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?'

'Yes sir, I would'

'So you're good....!'
'I wouldn't say that.'

'But why not say that? You'd help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn't.'

The student does not answer, so the professor continues. 'He doesn't, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?'

The student remains silent.

'No, you can't, can you?' the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.

'Let's start again, young fella. Is God good?'
'Er...yes,' the student says.

'Is Satan good?'
The student doesn't hesitate on this one. 'No.'

'Then where does Satan come from?'
The student falters. 'From God'
=0 A
'That's right. God made Satan, didn't he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?'
'Yes, sir.'

'Evil's everywhere, isn't it? And God did make everything, correct?'

'Yes.'

'So who created evil?' The professor continued, 'If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.'

Again, the student has no answer. 'Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?'

The student squirms on his feet. 'Yes.'

'So who created them?'

The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. 'Who created them?' There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. 'Tell me,' he continues onto another student. 'Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?'

The student's voice betrays him and cracks. 'Yes, professor, I do.'

The old man stops pacing. 'Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?'

'No sir. I've never seen Him.'

'Then tell us if you've ever heard your Jesus?'
'No, sir, I have not.'

'Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelled your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?'

'No, sir, I'm afraid I haven't.'
'Yet you still believe in him?'
'Yes.'

'According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn't exist. What do you say to that, son?'

'Nothing,' the student replies. 'I only have my faith.'
'Yes, faith,' the professor repeats. 'And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.'

At the back of the room another student stands quietly for a moment before asking a question of His own. 'Professor, is there such thing as heat?'

'Yes,' the professor replies. 'There's heat.'

'And is there such a thing as cold?'
'Yes, son, there's cold too.'
'No sir, there isn't.'

The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested.=2 0The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. 'You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don't have anything called 'cold'. We can hit up to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees'

'Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.'

Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the class room, sounding like a hammer.

'What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?'

'Yes,' the professor replies without hesitation. 'What is night if it isn't darkness?'

'You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? That's the meaning we use to define the word.'

'In reality, darkness isn't. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn't you?'

The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. 'So what point are you making, young man?'

'Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.'

The professor's face cannot hide his surprise this time. 'Flawed? Can you explain how?'

'You are working on the premise of duality,' the student explains. 'You argue that there is life and then there's death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought.'

'It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it.'

'Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?'

'If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.'

'Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?'

The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.

'Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher? '

The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.

'To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.'

The student looks around the room. 'Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor's brain?' The class breaks out into laughter.

0A'Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor's brain, felt the professor's brain, touched or smelled the professor's brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.'

'So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?'

Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.

Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. 'I guess you'll ha ve to take them on faith.'

'Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,' the student continues. 'Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?'

Now uncertain, the professor responds, 'Of course, there is.. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man.. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.'

To this the student replied, 'Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself.. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.'

The professor sat down.

07 February, 2010

Left, Right, Left, Right, Marching Off To War

Very interesting article here, from Gerard Alexander at the Washington Post, posing the question "why are liberals so condescending?" I went into it ready to eviscerate it and came out somewhat meeker on the other side. Yes, liberals are often extremely condescending, and sometimes the conservative viewpoint is the correct one, more or less by default and by definition: this will work because this has always worked. So why am I often so quick to discount most anything a conservative says?

I'd argue the condescension runs both ways. Just as many liberals dismiss conservatives as ruthless moneygrubbing ignoranuses, liberals are often called lazy pinko commies and/or threatened with eternal damnation. Speaking for both sides, it's hard to think critically and objectively when your core values are mocked as subhuman.

Can we at least agree that all of us, liberal and conservative alike, want to make the world a better place? Can we keep that at the top of our minds while we endlessly debate the word "better"? Can we maybe refrain from envisioning every liberal as a pot-smoking hippie and every conservative as a corpocratic Scrooge?

Likely not. The chasm between right and left, formerly known as "the center", is rarely mentioned anymore, even though it's where most of us live. Instead we get polarizing debates populated by entire armies of straw men on both sides. It's fair to say that most people, particularly most adults, come by their political views honestly and after at least a modicum of thought. That should be respected, and often isn't.

I do wish politics wasn't such a taboo subject in polite conversation. But that would mean that "politics" and "polite" could co-exist. You see some examples of that sort of co-existence even on the fractious Internet, but it's the exception, not the rule. To that end, I'd like to ask my readers, all three of them, a few questions that can spark some discussion.


1) How did you come by your political views?
2) Have they changed over time? Why or why not?
3) Are there any views you currently hold that are open to reinterpretation?

Hopefully we can get a roundtable going.

05 February, 2010

Was going to post on Burke's Leafs makeover...

...but won't now, out of respect for the passing of his son Brendan, whom I just wrote about, it seems. Matters of mortality really put things like a hockey game into perspective. Here we are, us fans, said to be "living and dying" with our team...yeah, right. The Leafs played 57 minutes of solid hockey tonight. Then, as if somebody told them what had happened to their GM's son, they abruptly stopped playing and lost the game.

The game.

It's only a game. That's all it ever was or will be, and it seems hopelessly silly to be concerned about a couple of black rubber disks in the wrong net when real life and real death interrupts. Trolling the Leafs forums on the Net, you can see the switch from fan to human being occur the instant somebody conveys the news. From elated cheering to prolonged cursing to (slap!) the sober reflection in a heartbeat.

Brendan Burke struck me as a son to be proud of. Brian Burke is undoubtedly a father to be proud of. I will leave the elder Burke alone in his grief for his son, as only seems proper and fitting. I truly hope the press will be so kind. The man deserves his privacy.


Brian and Brendan Burke

Yes, we have one. No, it's not recalled.

04 February, 2010

Update

I haven't felt much like blogging lately. The good ship Breadbin was hit by a bit of a rogue wave this week, as Lady Breadbin found herself downsized. Prospects for recovery are good to excellent, however, as her skill set is very much in demand. She's already lined up a job interview.
Well, I did say this year would bring some changes, didn't I?

Is it the winter blahs or something? I can't find it in me to get too worked up about anything, not even Stephen Harper shuttering Parliament for the second time in a year. I know I should be outraged, but I just don't have the energy. Besides, have you ever actually watched Question Period? Believe me, it's not like we'll miss it.
(Still find it rather amusing that Harper's trying to kill the spring break because "there's a lot of work to do". I haven't seen that level of two-faced audacity since, well, Chretien. That's a depressing thought.)

On the tech front, news is out today that we'll soon be able to get Skype on our iPhones, enabling us to call anyone likewise equipped, anywhere, anytime, for free. (And landlines and cell phones, anywhere, anytime, for something like $40 a year.) I live in Canada: I'll believe that when I see it. The CRTC will doubtless step in and protect li'l ol' Bell, Telus, and Rogers, as is its sworn duty.
Mind you, I do think we're evolving towards free communication, anywhere, anytime. Twenty years ago, my phone bill averaged $300 a month. I never called anyone further away than Winnipeg, not once out of country, and very rarely during the day. Today, I could talk to twice as many people for ten times as long and pay maybe a quarter of that. Less if I invested in Skype. Who knows where we'll be in another twenty years?

This has been the wussiest winter I can recall in my life. Even Environment Canada, which now trumps up weather warnings at the slightest flurry or puff of wind, has only managed a few of them this season, and we haven't had anything even remotely resembling a snowstorm. I have to say I'm actually happy about this, as shoveling the driveway is not one of my favourite tasks.

On the reading docket: I'm meandering through GALORE, by Michael Crummey, which evokes rural Newfoundland in all its medieval splendor. That got interrupted by the unexpected library availability of this: JULIAN COMSTOCK: A STORY OF 22ND CENTURY AMERICA, by Robert Charles Wilson (author of the excellent Spin). Fifty pages in, I knew I'd be buying myself a copy. This is superlative sf written as historical fiction. And frighteningly plausible.

Not much else to write, here, so I'm going back into hibernation. Keep on truckin', everyone: summer will be here before you know it.