It’s the Principle of the Thing…

I have a friend who is in a pretty significant state-of-life quandary at the moment (and who, if I am diligent in my constant haranguing, will start a blog all her own one day) .  She is extremely well-educated and experienced in a number of different areas, but, like me and a number of others I could name, is cursed with under-employment as a result of the economic downturn.  Which remains a real and present issue here in Canada, despite what the Harper government might want us to believe.

As I have mentioned before, under-employment can be soul-sucking in and of itself.  When you spend most of your waking life in the same place, with the same people, it would be ideal if said job was both challenging and in an environment that promotes learning and professional development of some kind.  This is not remotely the situation for my friend.

To describe her work atmosphere as ‘toxic’ is to massively understate the case.  As an educated, worldly and open-minded individual, she has been exposed to all kinds of different people from all kinds of different backgrounds, and views such exposure as a means of understanding her fellow human beings.

Not so her immediate supervisor.  That person is, in a word, a bigot.  And that person’s prejudices run the gamut of race, religion and sexual orientation.  Views which that person is not afraid to vocalize.  Pretty much all the time.  In a place of business.

Think Archie Bunker, but without the charm and redeeming qualities.

Although my friend has repeatedly attempted to inform her superior that the voicing of such views- not to mention the views themselves- is inappropriate in a business environment and something that makes her increasingly uncomfortable, her requests have gone unheeded over the years.  The opinions have, if anything, become more frequently expressed- in an attempt to goad my friend into defending her perspective on why her ‘superior’s’ attitudes are incorrect.  Not out of any attempt at self-improvement or interest in changing those views- but because it has become a form of bear-baiting that the boss seems to find amusing.

My friend very much feels that she is completely without recourse at the moment.  She has examined the anti-harassment rules and regulations for the Province (not to mention those for the company where she works- which she helped to draft), and has contacted someone at the Human Rights Commission, only to be told that the degree of her complaint is not great enough to warrant action or likely to achieve vindication in any real form.

Have I mentioned that she can’t just quit this job?

Despite regularly applying for positions (in this, as in other things she has my complete sympathy AND empathy) she seems to be falling through the cracks of ‘over-qualification’ for some of the positions she is looking at as a means of progressing in her chosen career direction, and being viewed as ‘not experienced enough’ for more senior positions, since much (but certainly not all) of her writing, editing and research experience stems from her work in the academic realm.  She has maximized her networks, seen career counsellors, HR people, life coaches and attempted to exploit any sort of nepotism that might be in the offing.

Nada.

Yet she keeps at it.

She is, by nature and by upbringing, someone who is inclined to see the best in people- ALL people- and to give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.  She has attempted to speak with her boss and to provide some insights as to why the comments that are made are inappropriate and just plain wrong, only to be labeled a ‘bleeding heart’ and ‘left-wing socialist.’  Which are, to the boss, faaaaaar more offensive descriptors than the other epithets that are thrown around on a regular basis.

Any number of people have suggested that she ‘just quit’- since the atmosphere is so patently toxic and because the job is just that- a job– without any potential for advancement or acknowledgement of the good work that she does.

But she can’t.

No matter how against her principles it is to work for a bigot and remain silent (to a degree, anyway) when offensive, ill-informed and inflammatory rhetoric is spewed on a regular basis, she needs the paycheque.  There are loans to repay- related to her educational expenses and as a result of a bad divorce that left her holding the bag on some joint credit accounts- and a roof to keep over her head.  As utility rates continue to rise…

She is between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  The Devil and the deep blue sea.  On the horns of a dilemma.

Between Scylla and Charybdis.

There’s the mythological reference.  They have been sorely lacking lately, I realize.  Kind of lost the plot of the blog for a bit there.  But here I am, back in the saddle again with more mythic sea monsters in tow.  Sea monsters are fun.

See?  Fun!

According to Homer (not Simpson), Odysseus had to choose which of the dangers was the lesser in order to continue his journey.  Scylla was described a rock shoal/six-headed monster and Charbydis as a deadly whirlpool, located on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Siciliy and the Italian mainland.  Idiomatically, they have become synonymous with choosing between the lesser of two evils in order to move on through the turbulent waters of life.

Sting used his previous life as a school teacher to imbue his lyrics with all kinds of literary allusions- and Synchronicity has more than a few (as I mentioned here).  Wrapped Around Your Finger uses the mythological idiom as a metaphor for a dangerous relationship- one that is imbalanced in its division of power.  Although the person that he is singing about- the one he has come to learn from- is not, exactly, Faustian in providence (‘Mephistopheles is not your name’) he feels trapped and disempowered by the relationship.

Until the lessons are learned and the tables are turned once the ‘Devil and the deep blue sea’ are behind him.

Principles are necessary.  Without principles, based in our upbringing and cultural context, we descend into anarchy.  Greed and cronyism run rampant and overshadow the good works that some among us are attempting to accomplish as we try to demonstrate that there is something worth salvaging in this material-driven society of ours.

According to the Wikipedia, principles ‘represent a set of values that orient and rule the conduct of a concrete society. The law establishes an obligation in the individual’s conscience that belongs to the cultural field in which such values are accepted. It supposes the liberty of the individual as cause, that acts without external coercion, through a process of socialization.’

Unfortunately, principles are often expensive– especially at times when our elected leaders are content to maintain their own interests above those of the people who elected them.  Times when any job is thought to be a good job.  When people are told that to ‘rock the boat’ is irresponsible and dangerous.  When people have to work multiple, low-paying jobs to make ends meet, meaning that the time they have in which to explore the underpinnings of principles is lessened to a distressing degree.

In addition to the stress associated with the constant job search and day-to-day dealings with the toxicity of her co-worker, my friend also feels a deeply fundamental guilt and as if she is somehow complicit in the bigotry that surrounds her 45 hours a week.

But her choices- and resources- are few.

The fields of Eden
Are full of trash
And if we beg and we borrow and steal
We’ll never get it back
People are hungry
They crowd around
And the city gets bigger as the country comes begging to town
We’re stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Between a rock and a hard place
This talk of freedom
And human rights
Means bullying and private wars and chucking all the dust into our eyes
And peasant people
Poorer than dirt
Who are caught in the crossfire with nothing to lose but their shirts
Stuck between a rock
And a hard place

Tomorrow our Governor General will deliver the Speech from the Throne on behalf of the federal Conservatives (our federal leaders are finally deigning to get the hell back to work- my sympathy to those of you in the US who are still waiting for that to happen.  The prorogation of Parliament might have been a heavily politicized pain in the ass, but at least it didn’t shut down everything).  My friend and I will both be listening intently to see what the Conservatives have to say about the jobs they have created under their Action Plan.

I don’t believe that the situation has improved- overall- as much as they continue to claim.  Not according to my own experience and the experience of friends.  I know too many people who remain in jobs that violate their principles and damage their psyches on a daily basis- at least five days a week.  The Wall Street Journal doesn’t seem terribly optimistic either…

And yet THESE guys have well-paying jobs that actually affect the lives of millions of people.

I’ve been studying humanity for the entirety of my adult life, but some days I just reallyreally don’t get people.

At all.

This seems to be one of those days.

At least I have some great people keeping me company.

Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

P.S.  STILL needing convincing that sea serpents are cool?  Check THIS out.  Synchronicity… or something.

Giving Thanks, Canadian Style

There I was, all exhausted with the tilting and complaining and angst and concerns about the direction of this here world and us humans who are managing to keep messing it all up.  And the packing.  Always with the packing.  And the job search- while dealing with the current day job…

Then… Surprise!  Honest to goodness GOODNESS shows up out of nowhere.

What a wonderful way to start the day.  Yesterday morning Heather Hiscox was practically dancing with excitement on the CBC News Network.  I have to admit that I came close to a tear or two of happiness my own self.

Alice Munro has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  She is the first Canadian- and only the 13th woman- to do so.

(Saul Bellow, who won in 1976, was born in Canada but raised in the US- so he’s harder to claim and the US leapt all over calling them theirs anyway.  Not so our Alice.  She’s as Canadian as maple syrup and poutine).

The pride.

Alice has a particular way with characterization and definition of place that is astounding.  The more so since she manages to convey the people and places she writes about in short story format.  No wasted words- just succinctly beautiful stories about small town Ontario and the people that live there.

She has not been overlooked for well-deserved accolades in the past, having received three Governor General’s Awards for fiction and the Man Booker International Prize for her body of work, but the Nobel Prize… Wow.

I think most Canadian students are exposed to her work at one stage or another.  High School English classes like to support the CanCon wherever possible, and Alice, along with Maggie Atwood, are two of our literary staples.  But I’m not sure that I really began to appreciate Alice’s stories until I re-encountered her in the university classroom in a course on 20th Century Literature (it actually was still the 20th century when I took the class).

Alongside the Yeats (and you know I love that guy), the Beckett, the cummings and the Morrison was Alice’s 1990 collection Friend of My Youth, which reemphasizes her recurring view of a world that is not shaped by faith or reason, but by chance or fate.  Her stories offer snapshots of particular times in small town Ontario, as the characters (mainly women) of the farming communities come to terms with changing mores and expectations.  She is not afraid to write about the darkness of the human condition as it is expressed in the day-to-day lives of ‘regular’ people, at different times in history.

I have tried to write short stories- without much success.  Not because I’m overly verbose (although I am, admittedly, at times, long winded.  The other day I got a text from a friend who kindly follows my blog and is diligent about keeping up with those things I decide to rant about.  He had been on holiday- so was catching up with the posts he’d missed.  He asked that I try to keep them under 5000 words.  He was being facetious- I do try hard to keep them around 1000 at most, but sometimes I do get a little carried away.  Particularly with long asides.  Like this one…), but because I just can’t seem to effectively convey what I’m trying to convey in so few pages.

(Which is somewhat odd- since my professors- throughout my undergrad and graduate schooling- uniformly lauded my ability to succinctly discuss the things I was looking to discuss, without wasting words or paper.  Seems like I’ve lost that ability.  At least here at colemining.) 

Alice beautifully conveys entireties– of characters, emotions, events, thoughts, actions- in very few pages.  It’s an enviable skill- and she has very much raised the bar on what defines successful storytelling.  I compare her to those rare (these days) storytellers I was privileged to see, as a child, every now and again.  In a short interlude of time they were able to spin tales of wonder that left me enchanted or wondering or questioning a closely-held certainty.

Alice’s stories do that too.  Although I love novels, the ability to completely devour a slice of life on a lunch break or subway trip, or drift away into another reality without completely messing with the schedule of things that need to be done (I have a habit of just forgetting about anything else- people, work, food- when caught up in an engaging story) makes a well-written short story appealing.

Alice Munro ‘does’ the short story like no one else.

And she now has the Nobel Prize in Literature, so people all over the world will get to know and love her, the way we’ve been able to do here at home for decades.

Her books are flying off the shelves.  As suspicious as I can be about the commercialization of literature, the exposure of the Nobel will introduce new readers to both Alice and parts of our home and native land.

(She’ll show the world that we aren’t just about our horrible mayors and imported filibustering junior GOP Senators, for example).

It’s the Friday of a long weekend (phew!) as we Canadians prepare to celebrate our Thanksgiving on Monday.  It’s our last long weekend of the year- and the last stat holiday until the Christmas season rolls around.  It was a beautiful day today and the sun and warmth should stay with us at least through tomorrow.

The folks south of our border have a long weekend too- celebrating an evil villain of history (at least according to The Oatmeal– who knew you could learn so much history on the facebook?  Love that guy.  He’s some funny!)- while we up here will be giving thanks for those things we sometimes take for granted over turkey and all the trimmings.

I’ve complained somewhat over-much about the goings on here at home lately.  I’m frustrated with the current political and social situations we’ve created for ourselves.  So I needed the reminder that we remain a pretty spectacular country, with some pretty spectacular citizens who contribute to the continuing betterment of the world and our culture.

Alice has been recognized for doing so in a reallyreally big way this week.  She is one among a whole crowd of Canadians who bring positive creativity into the world.

So this weekend’s playlist on the Shuffle Daemon (as I continue finish the packing and organizing) is all about the CanCon.

Metric.  Emily just has one of those voices…

Talk like an open book
Sign me up

USS- or Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker.  A great band name (always seeking synergy, me), playing a song with an equally great title (‘Hollowpoint Sniper Hyperbole’)– which contains lyrics from that Newfoundlander traditional folk tune, ‘I’se the B’y’ (CanCon²).  

Bowie singing backup to Arcade Fire.  What can be better than that?  (Going to see the the Bowie exhibit at the AGO in a couple of weeks- can’t wait).  I don’t think I could love this song more.  And lyrics in both langues officielles (CanCon², again).

Entre la nuit, la nuit et l’aurore.
Entre les voyants, les vivants et les morts.

And now from the vaults…

Lovely song.  And all that hair!  The song was produced by another fairly popular Canadian dude by the name of Tom Cochrane (that’s him singing backup.  He had a bunch o’ memorable tunes himself).  (2X the Canada in that one too.)

BNL singing a classic Bruce Cockburn song while driving around Toronto in the back of a truck (well, Scarborough, to be precise).  So, that’s actually CanCon³.  (A friend and I were out for dinner last night and recalling a stretch of time when Steven Page seemed to be everywhere she was.  We decided he was stalking her.  But in a friendly, Torontonian sort of way.)

You’ve got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.

The Hip- singing about coming home on the last American exit.  For all those road-tripping home to see the family.  This was the first Hip song I ever heard (Gord had SO much hair) and it remains my sentimental favourite.  All of their songs are Canada, somehow.

In case anyone is planning on spending the long weekend over-imbibing, a cautionary tale from Spirit of the West.

Since this post has grown to monumental proportions (verifying my friend’s earlier complaint about my ‘wordiness’), just one last offering to close the evening while opening the weekend of celebrating.  From our very own bard of Montreal.  About a little tavern in Toronto (CanCon²).

…and I lift my glass to the Awful Truth
which you can’t reveal to the Ears of Youth
except to say it isn’t worth a dime
And the whole damn place goes crazy twice
and it’s once for the devil and once for Christ
but the Boss don’t like these dizzy heights
we’re busted in the blinding lights,

of closing time

Have a fantastic weekend!

P.S.  There are so many songs that could have/should have made the Shuffle Daemon.  I think this post will require a musical sequel (or more) down the road.  Canada Rocks.  We just do.

TILT

The News is bad.

I know our neighbours to the south are dealing with an inexplicable situation at their highest levels of government and I honestly don’t get how it can even be happening.  I don’t know enough about how the system works- certainly not enough to understand how federal employees can be thrown out of work when a minority of extremists shut down the business of government based on even more inexplicable attitudes about points of policy that the electorate seems to favour- and, to be honest, I have neither the time nor the heart to research the situation in any depth right now.

I have read various takes on the insanity by some of my fellow bloggers- who, as Americans, know way more about it all than I would ever claim.  The most I can take personal issue with is SNL’s (hilarious as always) Weekend Update examination of the sitch- which blamed us here in the Great White North for the whole thing.  While you all were distracted by Iran and North Korea, a Canadian shut down the US government.

Please.  We don’t lay any claim to that Senator Cruz guy.  Even if we wanted to, you’d have to convince me that the majority political/ideological ideals out of Calgary are representative of Canadian political sensibilities in the rest of the country as a whole.  They certainly aren’t representative of mine.  That Harper guy spent his adult years there (I don’t count his early childhood in Toronto.  Would rather forget we hail from the same neighbourhood, actually) and represents the city in Parliament.  Their current mayor (who is AWESOME) notwithstanding, Albertan politics are faaaaaar more right-leaning than I am remotely comfortable with.

Cruz seems fairly intent on playing down any Canadian-ness anyway.  He wants to be President, so the ‘natural born citizen’ thing necessitates distancing himself from us.  Which, given his 21+hour performance in the Senate a few weeks back, is okay with me (and most of the people I know here at home).

We have enough insane politicians of our own.

More than enough.

The local 6 o’clock news started off by telling us the actual dollar figure that the taxpayers of Ontario are paying as a result of the Liberal government’s decision to cancel the contracts for a couple of gas plants in advance of the last provincial election- in a bid to guarantee two (yes TWO) seats.  1.1 billion (yes BILLION) dollars.  And if they’d just held off and let the proposal expire, it would have cost NOthing.

All in the name of political expediency.

Story number two?  City council back to the fighting board regarding the idiocy about the Scarborough subway– and how to pay for it.  I especially love how the Brothers Ford attacked Paul Ainslie- who actually represents Scarborough- for suggesting that a subway isn’t the most cost-effective solution to the need for public transit in the city’s east end.  He’s FROM Scarborough.  What could he possibly know about his constituency?  The Bros from the ‘Coke (on the opposite suburban side of town), as usual, know best.

Number three?  One of those same Senators who have been all over the news lately for wrongly claimed expenses?  He apparently paid a friend $65,000 (of taxpayers’ money) to do, well, nothing.

I guess I am either completely naive and clueless- or maybe just not quite cynical enough- but I honestly was of the opinion that people went into public service- as bureaucrats, policy makers and, most certainly, elected officials- in order to benefit society with the skills and perspectives they have to offer the general population.

Needs of the many over the greed and expediency of the few, as it were.

Not feeling like there is anything like truth in that particular belief these days.

Those who are drawn to public service lately seem to be attracted solely by the benefits and stability of government jobs- and those who run for office cannot possibly be considered altruistic in their motivations or actions anymore.  Maybe they never could.  I’d like to think that we have had public leaders who actually care about the public.  But whether or not history can back me up on that, the currently reality says it is now otherwise.

Big time.

Don Quixote, that pivotal, incredible staple of the Western Canon, tells the story of the idealistic and noble-of-spirit Man of La Mancha, who set out to perform acts of chivalry- those tenets of knighthood that focused on gallantry and service to others- in the face of constant deception and humiliating criticism.

Under the influence of Medieval tales about chivalry- and its lost values- Alonso Quijano remakes himself as Don Quixote and sets out to return the ideals he admires to a world that has ceased to value such things.

Miguel de Cervantes’ novel is so rich with characters and wonder and meaning that interpretations of his masterpiece are diverse and often disparate.

To me, the character of Don Quixote demonstrates- repeatedly- that individuals can be right while the larger society is wrong.  Unfortunately, like Don Quixote, such individuals are all too often viewed as ineffectual- if not completely crazy.  Ultimately his idealism is defeated by mundane realities- and by the grasping greed of those around him.  Even his patient squire, Sancho, tricks Don Quixote and earns himself a governorship (albeit a false one), in Part 2.

Don Quixote serves as social commentary and a satirical view of orthodoxy, nationalism and the pitfalls of slavish conformity to ideas of ‘truth’.  The putative knight sees his idealism dashed and finally- upon his deathbed and return to ‘sanity’- he renounces his attempts to restore the moral system of chivalry and apologizes for the trouble he caused.

This recanting is the real tragedy of Don Quixote.

Among other things, the chivalric code stated that its followers must protect those who cannot protect themselves- including children, widows and the elderly.  Chivalrous knights were all about honour- and respecting and protecting the honour of women.  They persevered and saw all tasks through to their conclusion.  And they despised pecuniary rewards.

Neither Don Quixote nor the knights he emulated were in it for the power or the money.  They did these things because they believed that they were the right things to do.  Yet such examples became ideals to be mocked in the face of the common reality.

To be quixotic is to be ‘overly’ ideal- that is, to subscribe to lofty or romantic ideas without regard to practicality.  To be quixotic is to be naive or impulsive.  I think that Don Quixote has gotten an historical bad rap.

In the context of the novel, those who tilt at windmills are perceived to be vainly fighting against an imagined enemy based on misinterpreted idealistic justifications.  But it can also be used to describe engagement in a fight in which the imbalance is pronounced- a lone man on a horse with a jousting lance against the power of the wind that causes the blades to continue turning.  Even if he is the underdog, the idealist sees the battle as one that must be met.

The Wikipedia notes that while playing pinball, ‘skillful players can influence the movement of the ball by nudging or bumping the pinball machine, a technique known as “nudging.” There are tilt mechanisms which guard against excessive manipulation of this sort… When one of these sensors is activated, the game registers a “tilt” and locks out, disabling solenoids for the flippers and other playfield systems so that the ball can do nothing other than roll down the playfield to the drain. A tilt will usually result in the loss of bonus points earned by the player during that ball. Older games would immediately end the ball in play on a tilt. Modern games give tilt warnings before sacrificing the ball in play.’

I don’t think that the adversaries are imagined.  I think our elected leaders have lost all sense of the honour that must, of necessity and design, come with public service.  I might be an idealist, but I think that my expectations of those who we choose to be put in charge are justified and in no way unreasonable.

I also think that those sensors that alert us to excessive manipulation are firing in a big way.  We have hit the tilt warning and it’s past time to stabilize the pinball machine of governance.  Our leaders must be held accountable and lose all those bonus points that were not earned through real skill or the honourable playing of the game.

Forty winks in the lobby, make mine a G&T
Then to our favorite hobby, searching for an enemy
Here in our paper houses, stretching for miles and miles
Old men in stripy trousers, rule the world with plastic smiles

Good or bad, like it or not
It’s the only one we’ve got

I won’t let the sun go down on me
I won’t let the sun go down
I won’t let the sun go down on me
I won’t let the sun go down

Mother nature, isn’t in it, three hundred million years
Goodbye in just a minute, gone forever, no more tears
Pinball man, power glutton, vacuum inside his head
Forefinger on the button, is he blue or is he red?


Nik Kershaw’s 1983 song was written in the context of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and politicians and politics in the US and USSR.  More than a little depressing that the themes are still applicable, 30 years later.

Break your silence if you would
Before the sun goes down for good

Think I’ll go fight me some windmills…

Mayor McCheese

(Following hard on the heels of my post regarding the reprehensible treatment of educators here in North America, came more news that truly put me off my food for the duration.)

It is terrible that we in no way adequately compensate so many of the people who study hard, achieve their academic goals and hone their teaching craft as an extension of a sincere vocation that impels them to teach the next generations and give back to society in a very real way by so doing.

‘Terrible’ isn’t a strong enough word.

So I guess my back was already up and I was feeling somewhat battered and raw by the latest evidence that the things I hold to be vitally important don’t seem to be the things that society values and nurtures.  That’s a crappy thing to be thinking about heading into the weekend.

After a long week of work and with a longer list of things to get done at home, I opted to take a break last night and catch up on some mindless television (or maybe read a novel- if I was feeling really motivated) as the laundry laundered.  The tv went on in time to catch the local news.

The Big Story was about Blackberry and its seemingly endless downward spiral.  I’m not a Blackberry user, so I’m not invested one way or another in the brand.  I do feel for the thousands of employees that now find themselves jobless, and I have some concerns about what this latest blow may do to the employment market here in my neck of the woods (admittedly some real self-interest there.  Never claimed to be a saint), but I’m not enough of an economist or financial analyst (as in, I’m in NO WAY an economist or financial analyst) to really know what might come of the whole thing.

The news outlets are still talking about the collision of the OC Transpo bus and VIA Rail train in Ottawa a couple of days ago.  It was a tragic and inexplicable event, and it seems that the reporters have backed away from the distribution of disaster porn somewhat.  Toned it down, at least.  They seem to be reporting the facts as they come to light rather than speculating and blaming and ‘interviewing’ witnesses who were still in shock.  This is nice change.

The same CUPE Listserv that sent the article about Margaret Mary also sent a notification that there would be crisis counselors on hand at Carleton for the coming days, offering shoulders to lean on, since there were two students among those who lost their lives.  The community is banding together and coping as best they can in a situation that can only be described as shocking.

Shocking and random and horrifying.

And then the anchors started talking about an inexplicable recurring phenomenon here in this town I call home.

Mayor McCheese hanging with his buddy the Hamburglar.  Apropos, non?

‘Ford Fest’.

Our putative mayor’s semi-annual masturbatory celebration barbeque.

Last night’s gala was the second one this summer.  The first took place earlier in the season out in the East End as a means of maximizing his public image as he worked to ‘bring the subway to Scarborough’.  Good turn out- of those who wanted the subway, regardless of whether or not it was something that was remotely cost-effective or practical for the numbers of people who need to be moved on public transportation on a daily basis.

Yet, they show up to see the guy in DROVES when offered a burger or a hotdog.

The self-aggrandizing jackass.

What is wrong with us as a society that we routinely marginalize those who opt for education and selfless public service as a way of life, while CELEBRATING an ignorant, possibly criminal, buffoon because he claims to be out for the ‘simple folk’ of Ford Nation?

He won the mayoral race on the basis of a catch phrase about freakin’ gravy and the train it rode in on.

That, and because he arguably had no real opposition.  George Smitherman was severely damaged by his connection the Provincial e-Health scandal and by the unfortunate truth that an urban gay man still doesn’t play all that well in the 905.

(The sad thing is that it might happen again.  The host of our cottage weekend had us all up in arms and ready to tie him to a tree with his assertion that he will vote for Ford- whom he despises as much as the rest of us- if the only other option is the person who seems likely to make the shift from Federal back to Municipal politics to throw her hat in the mayoral ring next Fall.  If it comes to that, the rest of us will likely have to kidnap Will and tie him to said tree until the election is over.  For all our sakes.)

Ford played to his base- the suburbs- and has since continued the systematic dismantling of the downtown core.  He put the kybosh on  Transit City and has screwed up the planning already completed by Metrolinx- an organization that was restructured and put into place in an effort to keep the politics OUT of the evolution of public transportation in the GTA- and ended up with two whole subway stops in Scarborough to show for it.

His motion to put a Ferris Wheel (among other such things) in the Port Lands development, and his push for a casino in the city, were, thankfully, shot down.  As they fully deserved to be.

His personal antics are a continuing source of embarrassment (whether or not he smoked the crack/said the things he said)- and still make international headlines, sullying the name of the city.

Still all kinds of unanswered questions about this photo and the people in it.
‘No Comment’ says Mayor McCheese

That we have an under-educated, inarticulate and self-serving joke running the city into the ground is bad enough.  But what’s worse it that there are way too many people that are supporting him as he does so.

At least 20 000 of them were expected to show up for free burgers and beer last night.

And not all of them are even from the ‘burbs.

I hear arguments from his supporters that frequently begin with the assertion that it is the ‘white 416 elite’ of this city that are most vocally opposed to the Mayor and his cronies/cronyism.

Being honest, there is some level of truth in that.  The media, in particular, has been known to stoop to less than appropriate levels of journalistic integrity in their criticisms of Ford.  That isn’t to say that the guy doesn’t have a serious persecution complex about certain media outlets, but there really didn’t have to be quite as much coverage of his drunken stumbling during Taste of the Danforth as there was.

The Marg Delahunty thing was hilarious though.

Are there those of us who would prefer to have a municipal representative who can speak articulately and authoritatively and who has at least a passing knowledge of Canadian geography?  Um, yes.  Yes we would.

Would we prefer a mayor who managed to complete his higher education, indicating that he might at least have been exposed to some of the history and workings of the wider world outside of Etobicoke and Florida?  Again, yes we would.

Would we prefer that the mayor of the country’s largest and arguably most multicultural city wasn’t racist?  Uh huh.

Would we prefer a mayor who actually has the ability to set aside the politics and the wants of his Nation in favour of plans and programmes that will benefit the City as a whole?  Yes.  PLEASE.

And would we prefer a mayor whose ego isn’t so disproportionately huge that he thinks he is outside of the law and not subject to conflicts of interest?  You betcha.

If such opinions are indicators of ‘416 elitism’, then mark me down as ‘guilty as charged.’

Unfortunately, short of de-amalgamation, which seems unlikely to happen at this point (although here’s a petition for that very solution, if you’re so inclined to support a good cause), I’m really at a loss as to how urban Toronto will recover and move forward in becoming the world class city it should be.

It’s not going to happen under the thumb of Mayor McCheese and his Brother Behind the Throne.

And he will be hard to get rid of if he is still managing to keep as many people as reported drinking the Kool-Aid beer at his celebratory barbeques.

I turned the tv off long before getting the 11:30 local news update confirming the number of attendees.  I actually couldn’t bear to have it confirmed.  Maybe 20 000 people DIDN’T show up to pat this guy on the back.  I’ll live in that ignorance for the rest of the weekend (birthday celebrations to attend today!) so I can still hope for some collective sense.

I guess Ford Nation isn’t alone in its tendency to delusion.

P.S.  To be honest, I’m not sure who first started calling the guy Mayor McCheese (the use of that tag has become ubiquitous here in TO), but it is a reference that fits for oh so very many reasons.  Still, I’m thinking the REAL Mayor McCheese would likely have a pretty strong case for defamation, had he not completely disappeared from McDonald’s marketing campaigns many years ago.  So, just be to safe:  No direct offense is intended against any cheeseburger-headed mayors who used to shill fast food with large, purple, milkshake-loving gum-drop shaped monster-things.  I always liked your top hat and jaunty striped trousers.

Cottage on the Bay

What’s up with the weather gods in TO?

Seriously.

Tuesday and Wednesday we were dealing with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees (that’s about 100 degrees Fahrenheit if you’re still using that quaint means of measuring) when the humidity was factored in.

Today?  Chilly north wind.  Tomorrow?  CHILLIER north wind.

And I’m going to be on a rock in the middle of the Bay.  About 2 degrees Celsius overnight.  TWO DEGREES.

I’m not ready for summer to end, so, despite the less-than-ideal temperature, I will do the true Canadian thing and head north this afternoon for an annual pilgrimage with some of my best peeps.

We try to do this every year.  A couple of nights away, sans spouses/significant others, to just hang out and catch up a little.

We have known each other for decades (as I both date myself and make myself feel old) and have been hanging out through thick and thin- camp, school, higher education, marriages, divorces, kids, houses, jobs, great gains and huge losses and, generally, life.  As friends, roommates, brothers, sisters, confidant(e)s…

We’re family.

We are privileged to have access to a family cottage/compound on Georgian Bay that SCREAMS Canada.

A September Gale by Arthur Lismer
We will likely experience a gale or two over the next couple of days

Georgian Bay is filled with landscapes that are quintessentially Canadian.  It was a popular subject of the Group of Seven, and such images are, internationally and here at home, as Canadian as toques and two-fours, poutine and politesse.  There will be certainly be two-fours this weekend, and toques might be advisable- given the forecast.  Poutine isn’t as likely, but the politesse is ingrained and therefore a given.

Of a sort, anyway.  Good manners and polite discourse are relative when you’re on an island and there is beer and barbeque involved.

And then there’s the Bay Cup.  That annual Risk Tournament that I mentioned here.  As I said, I will not participate due to a past traumatic Risk-related occurrence- except to occasionally pop my head in to goad or slander or critique the strategy of one of the combatants.  Unfortunately the defender of the Championship Title (and current Keeper of the Cup) is not able to join us this year, so it remains to be seen whether or not the battle can legitimately be waged.  It will be up to the Rules Committee.

Whatever.

I have my cottage book lined up (sadly, not Ray Davies’ new one- but only because it isn’t yet available).  Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982 is solid CanCon and highly appropriate for a real Canadian cottage weekend.  Plus I passed him on the street the other day as he was on his way into the CBC studio.  Reminded me that I’ve been meaning to read the book.

There will be food and games and talking and general shenanigans.

And there will be music.

The cottage weekend has to be finely mediated in the musical department.  No one person gets to control the selection for more than 5 songs at a time (this is veryvery necessary.  No one needs to hear 48 straight hours of Phish.  No one).  This keeps the peace- which is certainly required after the full contact Risk Tourney.

Early on there is all kinds of variety as we all offer up some of the newer stuff we’ve been listening to recently.  A lot of attempting to persuade those of, shall we say, established tastes to just listen to this song- give it a chance.  We start off with choices that are generally chill and part of the background to whatever else is going on.

As the stars come out (and there is NOTHING like a clear night under the stars at the Bay) music is the focus, and the selections become more nostalgic- and predictable.  The comfort in the predictability is palpable.  Years fall away as the selections are chosen.

The fire will be stoked (‘Stoke the fire again’, a quote from Commander Worf, will be heard ad nauseum) and the singalong will begin.

These are some of the songs of the Bay.

Donovan.  I have only ever met a handful of people who have actually heard this song.  Everyone knows Mellow Yellow and Hurdy Gurdy Man, but you can really tell a lot about a person by what they think about Atlantis.  If you don’t like it, I’m really not sure we can be friends anymore.

Harsh, but there it is.

(I’ve actually used this song in classes in which we were discussing myths of Atlantis.  The reactions of undergraduate students to hearing it for the first time is always illuminating- and pretty accurate in gauging how ultimately invested in the course they would be.  It’s a pretty solid litmus test.)

Futurama used a version of the song- sung by Donovan himself- about the sinking of Atlanta.  Hilarious episode.  I’m going to miss that show. Again.

History, life and love under the waves.

Ultimate cottage song.

Kenny.

This song is mainly included as a source of remembered silliness.  Short version of connected back story: it involved someone wearing a woven basket-like plant holder as a hat.  There might have been alcohol involved.

It IS filled with good advice though.  SO important to ‘know when to walk away and know when to run.’  Great inspiration when one is feeling like one is ‘out of aces’.

Simple Minds’ 1982 tune is connected with this year’s reading material and recalls summers past while reminding us of the wonderful things yet to come.  Like their show at Massey Hall in October.  Looking back and forward all in one song.

I’ve already referenced this song this month, so I won’t talk about it again.  But it will be heard.  More than once.

The Last Resort, also previously discussed and best played as the sun is setting, is especially resonant when appreciated in the beauty and quiet and peace of the Lake.  Its cautionary message- ‘You call someplace paradise kiss it goodbye’– makes my heart hurt thinking that THAT particular paradise could ever be lost.

This one generally ends the night(s).

Appropriate since it’s the song that never ends.  Don’t get me wrong.  I can appreciate Phish and all, but this song is sooooo very long.

(I will totally understand if you don’t actually watch that one all the way through.)

And, if we let them, there are those among us who will try to play back-to-back various live versions of the song as their 5 selections.  Not on my watch.

It will be a weekend of relaxation and shoring up of resources- something I very much need right now- with people I love and respect- and who never cease to make me laugh and think about things differently than is my day-to-day wont.

A weekend to remind myself just how fortunate we are.  How fortunate I am.  To live in Canada and to have the friends and family I have.

Hope your weekend is as restful and restorative as mine is sure to be.

Rewriting History? Or History Repeating?

I am unimpressed with our elected officials this week.

(I am using understatement as a rhetorical device and in an attempt to remain calm and keep from spitting pure venom onto the computer screen)

3rd prorogue?!?!? Really?!?! *Update- according to my friends at the CBC and lostandfoundbooks, Harper has actually prorogued FOUR times.  I somehow missed the one in ’07- was buried alive in a dissertation.  Carry on…*

Jebus.

Evidently the political agenda needs ‘updating’, so the reconvening of Parliament is delayed a month.  Just like when the Liberals and NDP threatened to form a coalition that could overthrow the Conservative minority, and again when the Prime Minister was hesitant to answer questions about Afghan detainees (that time he blamed it on the Vancouver Olympics).

I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with the debacle in the Senate at the moment.  Especially since the inquiries and audits are mainly finding issues with Conservative Senators.

Can’t have anything to do with it.  Right?

And he verified that he will be leading the country into the next election.  Was ‘disappointed’ the reporter even had to ask.

Disappointed.

Jebus.

Not as disappointed as I am.

And then there’s Harper’s Canada and Harper’s History.

Granted, he’s not the first politician to attempt to rewrite history.  The cliché that it is the winners who create the stories is all too accurate in most cases, but in a free, democratic society, where we have access to primary documents and first-hand accounts along with significant remains of material artifacts, we also actually have historians who work pretty hard at solving the mysteries of the past.  It’s their job.  And real historians don’t start from a particular political agenda when reconstructing history.

Scholars of Canadian history link events and people and places together, regardless of whether or not the stories are flattering or even, at times, all that pleasant.

Harper would seemingly prefer that his government provide the backdrop and definition of our shared identity and past.

Thanks, but no.

Lest you think that my anger is directed only at the federal (Conservative) ‘leadership’, I also sent a somewhat disgruntled missive to my Provincial (Liberal) MLA last week.  This disgruntlement has only increased with the complete lack of acknowledgement or response.

It wasn’t anything remotely like a letter one would receive from someone in a tin foil hat.  No conspiracy theories.  No mention of the colossal waste of taxpayer money in the decision to shut down the plans for power plants in order to preserve seats and control (albeit as a minority) of the government (and I wouldn’t even think about bringing up what political expediency did to the teachers of this province).  I maintained appropriate decorum and language throughout the letter.

I just plainly and clearly expressed my concern about value-for-money in the context of a reallyreally unacceptable response to my (taxpaying) inquiry about resources for job searches from an employment centre that is funded by the Ontario government.  As I have said before, I am aware that I am fortunate to have any job at all in this market/economy/recession.  But does that mean that I should be completely shut down and out in my request for direction and access to government resources?

I didn’t think so.

So I asked my MLA if there is another tack I should be taking, since my tax dollars funded employment centres have no help at all to offer to me.

No response.

It seems as if both levels of government (all three, really.  But I’m trying to forget that Mayor McCheese exists right now.  I can only handle so much political depression at one time) are paying all kinds of lip service to this story of economic recovery and powering forward as the envy of the world.

Harper shifted the discussion away from his prorogation suggestion stating that he prefers to discuss economic recovery and job development in the North.

Ontario politics have been so messed up- what with by-elections (one riding won by Mayor McCheese’s now-former deputy) and hearings about the power station controversy, that there has been little coherence to any message at all coming out of Queen’s Park.

It’s Summertime.  In Canada.  Everyone is moving at Cottage Speed.  I get that.

But these people were elected to fix uncountable issues that impact the everyday lives of millions of citizens (and residents) of this country.

In ancient Rome Prorogatio extended the power to command beyond the one-year mandate of the magistracy in cases when there weren’t enough elected officials to govern newly acquired land.  In theory, this was intended to ensure that these territories would continue to be governed by men who knew the area and its local conditions.  Because ancient Roman politicians were humans (and politicians) and therefore inclined to corruption and greed, in actual practice prorogatio of provincial assignments became the norm- allowing those who ascended to power to extend that power and to command extraordinary military power and personal wealth.

This well-intentioned political device, originally something that had to be voted on by the citizens of Rome, became usurped by the powers of an unscrupulous Senate and led to the breakdown of the governmental system and to the civil wars that eventually ended with the collapse of the Roman Republic.

Unscrupulous Senate?  That sounds vaguely contemporary and familiar doesn’t it?

According to Canada’s constitution, the monarch has the ability and royal prerogative to prorogue Parliament.  In practice (as we’ve seen oh-so-frequently of late), the leader of parliament (or the legislature- Dalton McGuinty did it too), in this case the Prime Minister, asks the Governor General, the Queen’s representative, to cease all legislative business until such time as he decides to recall the members to get back to work.  At his convenience and according to his control-freak agenda.

Rick Mercer summed it up a few years ago.

Proroguing IS for children.  The CNE has started, summer is almost over.  Get the hell back to work.  I’ve had more than enough of the taxation without representation that Rick talks about.

P.S. Feeling a little revolutionary today.  Anyone feel like joining me down at Harbourfront for a little party?  I’ll bring the tea.