Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Constitutional crisis or political fiasco?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why 10 million Canadian voters didn't bother to vote October 14th.

Not because they're lazy or don't care to exercise their democratic franchise, but because absolutely no one is paying any attention to what really matters to them. While the typical Canadian is worrying about losing their job, their home, and their long-term future, and suddenly contemplating a desperately scaled-back retirement filled with plates of cat food instead of steak, our erstwhile representatives in Ottawa are engaging in an appalling display of partisan bickering instead of focusing on the real work that needs to be done, pronto.

With a planet in economic turmoil and 19 of the G20 countries working on stimulus packages to keep us from falling out of a recession and into a depression, our Parliamentarians are jockeying for position on the deck of the Titanic. PAY ATTENTION, PEOPLE! No matter what deck chair you're in, the boat still sinks in the end.

Always a cynic where conservatives are involved, I have now moved beyond that to outright contempt. Mr. Harper, your petard. Prepare to be hoisted upon it.

Because really, at the end of the day, he has no one to blame but himself. Sure, some folks are trying to make this the Finance Minister's fault, for failing to announce any stimulus package until February's budget (now pushed to late January). But we all know nothing happens in the Conservative universe that hasn't been run by the autocratic control freak leader. So, in a sense, Mr. Harper is the author of his own misfortune, turning an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in a time of crisis into a crisis of another sort. When industries are collapsing and other governments are throwing hundreds of billions of dollars around to try and keep company doors open and people in jobs, this is not the time to try to unilaterally squeeze folks out of their democratic right to strike, or to pay equity, or to attempt to cripple your political opponents by eliminating their funding. I don't remember any of that being in the platform or up for pre-election discussion.

And besides, the country is going to hell in a handbasket. Try to notice the bigger picture, will you?

I have to say this much for the opposition parties - they have finally found an issue they can all agree on. I never expected to see that happen in my lifetime, but here it is, put down on paper and signed off, and everything.

Mr. Harper maintains this coalition agreement is somehow illegal and undemocratic, that no one voted for this. I have news for you. Most Canadians didn't vote for you. Of the nearly 14 million voters who did cast ballots in October, barely five million voted Conservative. In a country of 30 million people, with 23.4 eligible voters. So you're not working from a position of strength here, Sir.

The long-standing problem with our system is that votes don't necessarily translate into seats. The Conservatives take 36.2% of the popular vote, but 46.4% of the seats. The Bloc takes 10% of the vote, but 16% of the seats. The Greens took 6.8% of the vote, but not one seat. You can see where I'm going with this.

The fact of the matter is, in a time of crisis, you want to see MPs putting aside their partisan issues and working together for the good of the country. That's why we elect them in the first place, not to fear-monger and decry legalities (which, interestingly, he wasn't so worried about when the shoe was on the other foot and his party stood to benefit), but to come up with a plan to help us out of the deep water. It's not a real surprise that the last coalition happened in a time of war.

So, Mr. Harper goes on TV tonight trying to save his political future. Does he humble himself and apologize for his misjudgment, and ask everyone to pull together? No. Does he announce plans to stimulate the economy, and deal with the real crisis of the day? No. Does he announce that he will resign as Prime Minister, thereby keeping the Conservatives in power and averting a vote of non-confidence? No. He goes on the attack, using politically hateful language to whip up fear and further divide the country. Way to show leadership. Nice way to demonstrate your grasp of priority. And glad to see you're using all your time and energy to fight a political battle instead of an economic crisis.

Surely, you might say, Mr. Harper has blown off all his toes by now, having shot himself in the foot so spectacularly. But no, there's more. By repeatedly referring to the coalition as a threat to national unity, he has pretty much destroyed the Conservatives' chances of ever winning seats from the Bloc in Quebec. So he's managing to damage his party's future prospects as well as their immediate ones. Nice. And the small issue of the Conservatives trying to strike a similar deal with the Bloc in 2004? Inconvenient detail, best overlooked.

I would like the Conservatives to explain how four parties working together in a five party system (the Greens have also endorsed the coalition) somehow destroys national unity. The only one talking about regional divisions, it seems, is him. Everyone else is talking about pulling together for the good of the country in the face of a crisis. In the space of a weekend, they even managed to come up with a four page plan to stimulate the economy. That's more than the Government's put together is six weeks of "crisis management". Who's unifying what, exactly?

Now, there's talk he will ask the Governor General tomorrow to prorogue Parliament until January, avoiding the non-confidence vote the Conservatives would surely lose on Monday. Not a lot of moral authority in that stance, either.

The great joy of a democracy, I've always thought, is the way a person can effect change simply by voting for it.

Time to face your destiny, My. Harper.

Your petard is waiting.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Democracy inaction

Please remind me again about how our country is viewed as a beacon of democracy in the world, because I'm not feeling it today.

The largest TV networks in Canada - CBC/Radio Canada, TVA, CTV, and Global - decided today that they would not "allow" Green Party leader Elizabeth May to participate in the televised leaders' debates scheduled for October 1 and 2, largely because three of the four "main" parties threatened not to participate if she took the stage. Leaving aside for the moment how the Bloc Quebecois is considered a "main" party when it only fields candidates in one province, while the Greens have candidates lined up in all 306 ridings across the country and are still considered a fringe element alongside the Communists and Libertarians, it seems to me that in a truly democratic society, there ought to be a free and open exchange of honestly held opinions, and that should especially extend to the leadership debates during an election campaign between all those who want to run our country.

Last time out, the media consortium told May's predecessor that he couldn't participate because the Greens had no seat in Parliament. May fixed that by recruiting a sitting independent last week to sport the Green colours. Now the consortium has changed the criteria - not that they've actually articulated what those criteria are, mind you - and seem to be refusing to allow her entry simply because some of the other players threatened to take their ball and go home.

Let them. Unlike our American neighbours, election campaigns here don't run on for two years, they're only six weeks long. If any leader is truly stupid enough to pass up two evenings of free TV coverage, then let them sit it out. Our media consortium, instead of being truly independent and telling folks, fine, don't participate, rolled over to the collective powers that be and chose to freeze May out instead.

It is posturing like this that has frustrated a significant proportion of the electorate, including me, into giving up on organized politics altogether. There's no leadership being exhibited by anyone when the democratic process, and by extension, the voters themselves, get screwed over by leaders protecting their own self-interests. This is exactly what's wrong with organized politics today - it's not at all concerned about what the electorate wants, it's all positional and protectionist. Pardon me for thinking that an electorate can never have too much information on the issues, and the parties' positions, before casting their ballots. By keeping Elizabeth May and the Green Party out of the leaders debates, the media consortium is depriving voters of a real opportunity to compare the Green platform to the platforms of the other main parties and let them draw their own conclusions.

I understand why the politicians are opposed, as an extra person at the debate takes away from their air time, and some voters looking for something different may be intrigued by the novelty of some of the Green's ideas, but the role of the media is to first, represent the public interest, and two (trotting out an old chestnut) to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Looks like they let us down on both fronts.

***UPDATE*** After a day of uproar, everyone grew a collective brain this afternoon and decided Ms. May could participate after all. Democracy. What a concept.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton. She's not even a pale Geraldine Ferraro

I promised myself I wouldn't get sucked into this.

For the entire Labour Day weekend, I tried to summon enough energy to blog about the Republican National Convention, to no avail. I really just didn't care enough about Sarah Palin to take the time out of my hectic schedule to blog about her.

But then the media frenzy about the pregnant daughter and - gasp! - Palin being a WOMAN took hold and - catnip time. My bad. On one side, we find the folks who say having a second female v-p candidate is a great step forward for women. Obviously, these folks think Palin can steal the pro-Hillary vote from disgruntled female Democrats, largely because anyone with breasts will apparently follow others similarly endowed around without worrying about what's they're actually thinking or doing. Being a woman, it seems, is all the qualification a candidate needs for these votes (by this criteria, I would have blindly supported both Kim Campbell and Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s. Hey, they're chicks and I am too - solidarity forever! (fist pump - "whoooo!" Maybe I should wave a lighter?)). These are probably also the people busy critiquing Ms. Palin's "style" - hair, clothes, and shoes - on TV tonight. Let's not worry about what she might say in her big speech, as long as she looks pretty doing it - just like a good little woman should, beside her (figurative) man. This is progress?

These are also the pundits who are shocked - shocked! - that the media would criticize Ms. Palin for anything. Having breasts apparently also makes you bulletproof (breasts - the versatile accessory!). Imagine. I mean, why would the media possibly be interested in a conservative, pro-life, anti-choice, "kids should practice abstinence and there should be no sex ed and birth control" Republican who has a pregnant, unwed teenage daughter at home hooked up with a self-professed redneck boyfriend? Can't see anything interesting there. Move it along folks, nothing to see here - except a big old train wreck of hypocrisy. If she can't control her own house, should she really be next in line to control the country? If her kids won't listen to her, why should anyone else?

Spin doctoring the media is a big business. Consultants on presidential campaigns earn hundreds of thousands of dollars to see these things coming. It's not like it was a stealth attack out of nowhere. The woman is campaigning on a moral superiority, "family values" ticket. That just begs to be examined with a fine tooth comb. But that examination should apply equally to men and women, Democrats and Republicans, not just the only woman on either ticket.

Which brings me to the other side of things. Related to the "What will she wear? How will she look?" breathless line of media ridiculousness and sexism (why doesn't anyone care about Obama's suits? They're really nice suits, probably handmade) is the overtly sexist questioning of whether or not a mother of five can be vice-president and hockey mom at the same time. No one asks Obama if he can balance work and home life and he's got a pair of kids, 10 and 7. I'm not saying the question shouldn't be asked - but it should be asked of all candidates (OK, Biden and McCain's kids are all grown up, but still). And to be fair, I would expect the men to have their contradictory family lives explored if they made family a campaign issue (did I miss the articles on "family values" partner McCain's infidelity, the screwing around that led to the demise of his first marriage?). Because these issues raise interesting questions about priorities, judgment, and personal ambition, which I think ARE important considerations when choosing a President.

What kind of parent - mother or father - accepts a job offer, fully knowing their kids are going to get dragged into the media spotlight and knowing that because of the parent's espoused politics and the child's contrary conduct, that kid is going to be a lightning rod for public debate?

As we all know, I have no children. But I would like to think that if I did, I would sacrifice my personal ambitions and put protection of my child first, last, and centre. Ms. Palin's daughter is five months along, 17, unwed. Mom's a pro-life, born-again Christian who believes in abstinence. Is mom really so naive/daft/arrogant as to really not understand that the media were going to have a feeding frenzy off this contradiction? Whether they SHOULD have such a feeding frenzy is a totally different issue, but politics is not a nice, clean Sunday afternoon sport. It's right up there with gladiators and bloodletting. And it didn't just start 10 days ago. Mom knew what she was getting into, and she leapt in anyway.

When Ms. Palin was considering the offer, she ought to have also considered what effect this incredible cauldron was going to have on her family. Her daughter hasn't chosen to be involved in any of this - it's been thrust upon her, and she keeps looking like a wounded deer waiting for NRA-mom to finish her off and put her out of her misery. What kind of parent does that to their kid? Where is her judgement? Her sense of priority? To me, that naked ambition is the biggest judgement issue to come out of the past week.

I would feel the same way regardless of Palin's gender. I think it's an incredibly selfish thing for a parent to put their personal ambition above the well-being of their family. I was taken aback when John Edwards continued his run for the Presidency after his wife's cancer recurred (I'm not even going to get into the whole affair thing), and I would have a problem with any candidate who went full steam ahead regardless of the impact on their spouse and kids. I thought the whole point of being a parent was to put your kids first. Apparently that concept of family hasn't caught on with the "family values" crowd.

I'll believe we're making progress when women are chosen because of their capabilities, not their breasts (and there are dozens of American women in the Senate, the House of Representatives, Gubernatorial mansions, and private industry who have wonderful credentials to be vice-president or President, of all political stripes), and when we spend more time evaluating their ideas and their records, and not whether or not they have the right shoes. Wake me up if that ever happens.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Olympic flame extinguished; fire burns still

Well, the Olympics are over, the flame has been extinguished, the athletes are home with their medals and memories, and the world turns its attention to Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012.

Over the past 17 days, we heard a lot about the exploits of Michael Phelps, Dara Torres, and Usain Bolt and their ilk, each of their accomplishments touted in the press as "historic achievements". What we didn't hear too much about was the real history in the making, 24-year-old South African swimmer Natalie Du Toit, who placed 16th in the 10km open water swim.

Normally, placing 16th in a field of 24 wouldn't get too much attention. But what makes Ms. Du Toit interesting is that she is the first amputee to compete in the Olympics. Last spring, her countryman Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who uses a pair of high tech blades for legs, got a lot of press when he lobbied the IOC for permission to use those high tech prosthetics to run in track events. Although his argument eventually prevailed over those who thought his bionic legs gave him an unfair advantage, he rather anti-climatically failed to meet South Africa's criteria for inclusion on its Olympic team and stayed home. While he got all the headlines, Ms. Du Toit was quietly plodding along, coming fourth at the World Open Water Championships in Seville last May, earning her berth on the swim team with minimum fanfare.

It wasn't always like this. Eight years ago, when she was 16, Ms. Du Toit was a promising junior swimmer who had competed in the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia and had been identified as a potential star in South Africa, a country not known for its swimming prowess. She just missed qualifying for the Sydney Olympics in 3 events, and was determined to make the team for Athens in 2004. But leaving practice one day in 2001, she was riding her scooter down a Cape Town street on her way to school when a motorist taking a shortcut through a parking lot plowed into her, damaging her left leg beyond all repair. Although doctors tried for the better part of a week to save it, Du Toit has said in interviews she knew her leg was lost at the accident scene, before the ambulance even arrived, such was the damage.

A lot of people would have given up their Olympic dreams after that, or focused their attention on the Paralympics instead. She did not. Within 18 months of the amputation at the knee, she was back on South Africa's swim team, having qualified for the 800m event at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. She became the first "disabled" person to compete at an elite able-bodied meet.

It soon became apparent to her though, that the loss of her leg would be a problem for short, pool-based distances at such an elite level, since the margin of victory is measured in 100ths of a second, and a strong launch into the pool, turns, and kicks throughout a race are vital to success. She needed an event that depended more on endurance and upper body strength, and less on pushing through with her legs. When the open water event was added to Beijing's lineup, she found her place.

She went to Beijing hoping for a top 10 finish, but, as is so often the case, things didn't go exactly as planned. She had equipment problems and got hung up for a bit on a marker buoy that cost her valuable time. As it was, she finished in 2 hours, 49.9 seconds - a minute 22 seconds behind the gold medalist. Still, she outpaced 9 able-bodied swimmers, and was given no slack by any of her competitors, who lauded her tenacity and ability in the lake. They don't see her as "disabled". To them, Du Toit is simply a fierce competitor, who, on any given day, has the potential to leave them all behind and win.

Du Toit is staying on in Beijing for the moment, preparing for September's Paralympics, where she will defend the five gold she won in 2004. She has become the first athlete to compete in both the Olympics and the Paralympics, a truly historic milestone in an industry that often manufactures history for marketing purposes. She will also have to deal with the politics of some, who feel she should not have competed in the Olympics, because the Paralympics are just as important (but for the differently-abled). While she may well take home more gold in the coming weeks, she is already looking towards London in 2012, determined to show that a "disabled" athlete has just as much potential to be on an Olympic podium as any other elite athlete. I'm looking forward to seeing her realize that dream in four years time, and achieve yet another historic milestone.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I've been memed!

Well, that's one way to get me blogging more often. It seems I can't resist a challenge - or a dare. Anyone who's met me knows that! So I've been tagged by Megan (see sidebar) to meme. Don't ask me, I don't quite understand the "meme" concept, but the challenge is clearly stated on her blog. It seems all I have to do is answer a few questions - where's the challenge in that?

A) Four places I go over and over: Montreal, Barcelona, Point Reyes and London.

(B) Four people who e-mail me regularly: Judy, Lindsey, Megan and Anne.

(C) Four of my favorite places to eat? I haven't tried the tapas place yet, but it's on my list of things to do come fall. Other than that, I've pretty much given up on local dining. When I'm on the road, I like to go to Bagel Etc. in Montreal, The Real Jerk in Toronto, Cafe Shafali in Ottawa, and I hate to admit it, but I can't walk past a Keg without going in. Oh, and those frites stands in Amsterdam. It's like they have a whole different kind of potato over there.

(D) Four places you’d rather be? Although I'm pretty happy here in Name of Town Withheld, if I could wake up tomorrow totally trilingual, I'd move to Barcelona in a heartbeat. I'm also a big fan of San Francisco, Isla Mujeres, and I'm looking forward to Iceland.

(E) Four TV shows I could watch over and over: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, Firefly, and Alias. Yes, I am a Joss Whedon geek AND I like infuriating puzzles.

This tag is supposed to be passed to four people I know in person, and they're supposed to copy the questions, write their own answers, and tag four more people, but Megan already tagged the folks I most expect would respond. Still, I'll add Judy and Lindsey to the list and see if they pick up the meme challenge (tame though it may be).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A steep price for boredom

So. We've had a fire.

It could have been much, much worse than it was, but it still wasn't great.

There is nothing quite like being awakened from a sound sleep at 4:40 a.m. on Saturday morning to the sound of a high-pitched fire alarm screaming at 140DB from just outside your apartment door, and the immediate sensation of a pair of previously equally sound asleep cats madly scrambling to hide under the bed or in niches of my condo I never knew existed.

My first thought was that some annoying kid or drunk person had pulled the red handle in the hallway and that this was all a false alarm. Then I looked out my window and saw the fire trucks pull up, fire fighters quickly jump out and start running around hooking up hoses, and my neighbours gathering on the opposite curb looking worriedly at something at the opposite end of the building from where I am.

I felt my kitchen door - cool. I peered out my peephole and observed no smoke. So far, so good. I tried to round up the cats to put them in the carrier I keep in the hall closet for just such an emergency, but no luck finding them. They were well and truly hidden. After a few minutes of scrambling around, it became clear to me that my part of the building was in no immediate danger, so I threw on some clothes and joined my neighbours on the street, sans cats.

And that's when I noticed that the entire front portion of the carport wasn't there anymore.

Within a couple of minutes, the fire fighters had brought the fire under control, and within 15 minutes of that, the fire was out. The three stalls closest to the street were totaled, with the roof caved in. Another few spaces up from the street were damaged. Only one vehicle was lost, but it was a total writeoff, to the point where its gas tank exploded. That pickup that looks white? It was navy blue the night before.

The condos I live in are a pair of converted three-storey apartment buildings from the 1960s that were renovated about 10 years ago and turned into condos. The two buildings, known as "A" and "B", are joined by a common wall in the middle that happens to form the outside wall of my bedroom. The carport is at the far end of "B" closest to downtown. The space from the wall of the carport to the wall of "B" is maybe five feet. My neighbours whose bedroom windows open on that wall were the ones who woke up to the sound of firecrackers and realized they could smell smoke and their bedroom windows were glowing orange. They pulled the alarm and ran around banging on some doors, waking up their immediate neighbours.

If it hadn't been for their quick-thinking, or had this happened in winter, when their windows would have been closed to sound and smells, things could have been a lot worse. As it is, most of that wall was scorched right up to the roof. The fire Lieutenant estimated that we came within 2-5 minutes of the fire getting through the side wall and into the roof. At that point, it would have spread virtually uncontrollably, given how old the building is, and that is it mostly made of old, dry timbers.

We were very, very lucky. Although it is hard to feel lucky when the Fire Marshal and RCMP tell you it is probably arson, and likely the work of marauding teenagers, and that the likelihood of their being caught is somewhere between zero and forget about it. Unless one of them feels guilty and confesses, which does happen - sometimes. My question then is, why are teenagers out on the street between 4 and 5 am? Where are their parents? How is it that they are able to wander about wreaking havoc, totally unsupervised?

This moment of teenaged boredom is going to cost our condo insurers about $100K to fix the damage. Not to mention the inconvenience, the fright, and the very real possibility that they could have taken out 25 units and approximately 70 people. And for what, exactly? A cheap thrill? A momentary break from boredom?

I have learned a few things about myself this weekend. Mostly that I, who greatly enjoys my stuff and likes hanging around the house enjoying my stuff, didn't give any thought to my things, except for the cats. I have realized that I need to pull together a folder of important papers to keep in my office or safety deposit box, since I have no master list, and had my condo burned down, I would not know who my home insurer was, what my policy number is, or how to get in touch with them. So next weekend, I am going through my filing cabinets, typing out a list of all that information, and scanning my policies and key documents to PDF files, which will then go on a jump drive, in my safety deposit box.

Apart from this list of important information, the only other thing I would be devastated to lose would be my computer, with over 10,000 digital photos that have never been printed out. So, Saturday afternoon, I headed over to our big box store and bought a 160GB portable hard drive, barely bigger than a pack of smokes. I will copy my computer hard drive over to this, and the portable drive will also go into the safety deposit box. I will have to force myself to periodically schedule updates, but that can be done.

And then once all these things are in my bank vault, should anything like this ever happen again, I will only need to grab some clothes and track down the cats, and run. As much as I love my stuff, everything is replaceable.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Duh da duh da da...NOT

Oh my sweet God.

Not only did the Mother Corp orchestrate the biggest management blunder of the decade earlier this year when, in a fit of pique over paying an old lady more than $500 a night, it let the revered Hockey Night in Canada theme slip through its fingers - and right into the hands of their biggest hockey broadcast rival, CTV-owned TSN - but it has been spending the summer holding a contest to find a replacement theme song.

So far, this is the frontrunner:

As the Globe and Mail incredulously described it this morning, "The Internet has spoken: The next Hockey Night in Canada theme should sound a lot like a baby riding an unco-operative sheep through an industrial grinder."

You may have a hard time imagining what that sounds like - I did - but once you click on the link and listen to the entire thing, you'll find it's actually a pretty accurate encapsulation of the frontrunner. Some of us may only hear a collection of random sounds. Apparently, many others who probably also like early Phillip Glass and the sounds of Iceland think this is stellar, avant-garde work.

Either that, or the Facebook crowd is perpetrating the biggest internet hoax since "Bob" was the runaway winner in a contest to rename the Northwest Territories in 1999 after the creation of Nunavut.

Will some patriotic Canadian who understands both music and hockey please, please, please whip up some 30 second theme song we won't cry over every Saturday night?


Many of the Globe's loyal readers seem to feel the inclusion of the bleating sheep is a tip of the metaphoric hat to the Toronto-centric nature of the HNIC broadcast. Of course, many of the other posters had quite rude suggestions about the sheep, Don Cherry and CBC top brass. There may also have been a goat, and possibly Woody Allen.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Anyone and Everyone

Flipping around the TV tonight after coming home late, I happened upon a riveting documentary on PBS called "Anyone and Everyone". It was made by a Colorado mom with no filmmaking experience after her son came out to her. As a film, it is no work of art, but the interviews it features, with parents and young adults from communities that have a particularly difficult time dealing with the issue of homosexuality - Chinese immigrants, Mormons, Catholics, Puerto Ricans, Cherokee, Baptist, and more - are so incredibly moving, it is impossible not to watch.

What unites these diverse stories is both the hopefulness of the parents who have embraced their children, and their incredible sadness when their extended families are unable to join them there, for cultural or religious reasons. It was absolutely gut-wrenching to watch a middle-aged Republican Mormon mom talk about how her eventual acceptance of her son's homosexuality created a deep rift with her own parents, who just could not bridge the gap and understand that their grandson, upon whom they had doted until he came out, was now a gay pariah in his own church. The division was so strong, that when their daughter was married, the grandparents could not be invited because the bride did not want to deal with their prejudice about her brother on her wedding day. The mom also described going to a funeral with her daughter for one of the girl's high school friends, a young man who had struggled privately with his orientation but who just couldn't come to terms and come out, and who finally killed himself from despair. She says that as she sat in that church watching the friends and relatives of this young man truly grieve his loss, she wondered if they understood how their powerful attitudes about homosexuality had constructed the societal box that eventually suffocated him.

It shocks me that such a film still needed to be made in 2007, but as one Seattle lesbian put it, not everyone gets to live in a big city on an American coast. This film is for those folks and their families. For the 25% of gay youth who are thrown out of the family home when they dare to reveal their true selves to the very people who should most protect them. For the 40% of homeless youth who are on the street because they have been abandoned by those who should love them. For the Matthew Shepards who are beaten to death by their peers simply because they are different. For the kids who get stuffed in lockers and called "fag" and "queer" in high school. And for the kids who despite all of this, are still able to be honest and true to themselves. And for the families who sometimes have to choose, and who choose their child over all others.

The trailer for this extraordinary film can be seen here:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Make It Stop!


This is what I'm talking about. Quick, how many aggravating features can you find in the photo?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Taking a bite out of history

This morning I joined friends for brunch at the Wildcat Cafe here in Name of Town Withheld. I love the Wildcat - so much so, that I have made it a point to eat there as much as possible, every summer for the past 19 summers. Today, however, I made the trip down to Old Town against my better judgment, because I intend to boycott the Cafe this summer, in protest of management's arrogance in tampering with a valued historic site.

The Wildcat Cafe is a landmark. It was the first restaurant anglo-Canadian settlers to these parts built, back in 1937. In the early days, bush pilots, prospectors, trappers and miners gathered at the Wildcat for a good meal after days or weeks out in the field. The hotel next door was where these guys usually stayed, and the Wildcat was the centre of the small Northern universe then expanding between the Wars.

As the city prospered, the Cafe fell into disuse, eventually closing up in the 1950s. It was about to be demolished in the 1970s when the Old Stope Association was founded by a group of volunteers to refurbish the Cafe and recognize its historic significance in what had been the commercial heart of the City back in the 30s and 40s. Since 1979, the Cafe has been open from Victoria Day to Labour Day, serving Northern fare to locals and tourists alike. Such is its place in Canadian history that a full scale replica can be visited at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

In 1992, the Wildcat was designated a City Heritage Building, and there is a bronze plaque affixed to its outer wall recounting its history to all passersby. The City owns the Cafe, and the non-profit Old Stope Association handles the operations side. The City also receives input from the Wildcat Cafe Advisory Committee, whose mandate is to promote the successful, cost effective
operation of the Wildcat Café as a living heritage dining establishment.

Every couple of years, the City puts out an RFP asking local business persons to bid to operate the Cafe. Last year, a fellow who markets himself as "Chef Pierre" and who owns several other Gallic-themed establishments in Name of Town Withheld, won a two-year contract. What has irritated me (and not just me, I'm discovering), is his insistence on Gallicizing the Wildcat to become "le Wildcat Cafe" in all his promotional materials, including menus and T-shirts, and his advertisements in the local paper.

I understand that he is doing this in accordance with his bigger "branding" approach, so all his businesses conform to the same French theme. And if this were a new establishment, I would have no problem with it, because I do like his other operations. No, what irritates the bejeepers out of me about this move is the complete lack of respect for the history of the place. French people have never played a significant role in the Wildcat's history. It's original founders were anglo-Canadians. At its most popular, in the 1940s, it was owned and operated by a Chinese fellow who did not change the name from its original. In fact, through all of its various incarnations, ownerships, and menus, it has remained steadfastly the Wildcat Cafe. Until now.

Had Chef Pierre bought the Cafe, perhaps I wouldn't take such offence to his arrogance, but he doesn't own the Cafe, the City does. It is already a brand - a tourist-friendly log cabin seen in hundreds of photos all over the world. There is no room for him to squeeze out a tried and true brand to insert his own. His failure to understand why people have their knickers in a knot is the most annoying of all. Perhaps in addition to boycotting the Cafe this summer, we should take to referring to all his other businesses by anglicized names - it wouldn't completely have the same effect, but I expect it would irritate Chef Pierre that we were messing with his marketing brand. Perhaps then he would come to understand some of what the fuss is about.

So where is the City in all of this brouhaha in the local media? Is it asserting itself as owner and insisting Chef Pierre conform? Nope. As per usual practice, the City has been incredibly quiet through the spring, making no public comment, and sitting on its hands while the citizenry objects. Surely a living heritage establishment deserves better than this abdication of responsibility by its public owners?

A parting word to Chef Pierre - for a man so interested in Gallicizing the North, surely you know that, if you're really serious about making the Wildcat French, it really ought to be "le chat sauvage" ? Do it right, or don't do it at all.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A little island time is good for the soul....

I have returned from a wonderful, restful Carribbean idyll, and I thought I'd share a few photos. First, the view from the apartment I rented:

The extremely shallow bay, coupled with incredibly white sand, renders the water the most delightful colour:

To get to the island, you have to take a ferry from Cancun:

Twenty years ago, the local fisherman's cooperative created a turtle research facility to help rebuild the populations of three types of endangered species who lay their eggs each spring on the island's beaches. The research facility is open to the public, and you can visit with the baby turtles:

We took a day trip to Tulum:

April in Mexico is scorchingly hot - even this blackbird on a hot tin roof was having a hard time with the heat:

I never tire of looking at this incredible water (that's Cancun in the distance).

I now return you to your regularly scheduled weather.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

At long last, an apology

On the other side of the planet yesterday, something most Australians thought would never happen, happened.

Their national government apologized to the Indigenous peoples of the country for the century-long, state-wrought destruction of entire families and communities whose children were forcibly removed in a vast eugenics experiment inflicted upon those who didn't seem "black enough" to be fully accepted in their Indigenous culture.

These "Stolen Generations" of Aboriginal children were essentially kidnapped under paternalistic British laws and made wards of the State, not because they had bad parents, but because the State arbitrarily decided their lighter skin put them at risk of harm from their own communities. Lighter-skinned children, the thinking went, would be more likely to be fostered or adopted by non-Aboriginal parents, and they stood a better chance of being assimilated into White Australia. In reality, most of these children weren't adopted or fostered out. Instead, they grew up in orphanages and internment camps, stripped of their language, their culture, and their spiritual practices. Many also endured years of physical and sexual abuse, compounding the emotional torment and devastation of being torn from their families and all that was familiar. One woman from Alice Springs told the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday that she could still remember the names of her three playmates who were scooped up by Lutherans one summer afternoon sixty years ago. The four children were playing in the Outback dust while their parents were at work when suddenly, a white car pulled up, men got out, grabbed the other three kids, and then were gone. For years she lived in fear that one day, the men would be back for her, too.

In 1997, the 700-page "Bringing Them Home" report was published after two years of public inquiry, setting out personal stories that vividly capture the horrors experienced by tens of thousands of children, and the lingering effects this treatment had upon them throughout their lives.

Despite this report, which called for both an apology and reparations, the Conservative PM of the day, John Howard, steadfastly refused to apologize for the actions of preceding governments, going only so far as to issue a Statement of Regret.

Howard's government was finally defeated by the Labour Party late last fall. Yesterday's apology was the first act of the new PM, Kevid Rudd, when Parliament opened (it opened, by the way, with an Indigenous "welcome to country" ceremony, the first time local Aborigines have ever been included in the opening ceremonies). Howard's successor as Conservative leader endorsed the apology, meaning the motion passed unanimously.

In the decade since the Bringing Them Home report, individual Australian states had made apologies, and some offered settlements, but the symbolic acceptance of the collective historical shame by the national government had been elusive. Although there is no plan to offer any financial compensation at this point, the willingness of Rudd to make a clear, no holds barred apology recognizes what Howard would not: that a country cannot heal itself of a painful and shameful legacy until it acknowledges the truth in all its ugliness and expresses its sincere regret.

This is the full text of Prime Minister Rudd's extraordinary speech to the Australian Parliament:

"Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

There comes a time in the history of nations when their peoples must become fully reconciled to their past if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace their future.

Our nation, Australia, has reached such a time.

That is why the Parliament is today here assembled: to deal with this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nation's soul and, in a true spirit of reconciliation, to open a new chapter in the history of this great land, Australia.

Last year I made a commitment to the Australian people that if we formed the next government of the Commonwealth we would in Parliament say sorry to the stolen generations.

Today I honour that commitment.

I said we would do so early in the life of the new Parliament.

Again, today I honour that commitment by doing so at the commencement of this the 42nd Parliament of the Commonwealth.

Because the time has come, well and truly come, for all peoples of our great country, for all citizens of our great Commonwealth, for all Australians - those who are Indigenous and those who are not - to come together to reconcile and together build a new future for our nation.

Some have asked, Why apologise?

Let me begin to answer by telling the Parliament just a little of one person's story - an elegant, eloquent and wonderful woman in her 80s, full of life, full of funny stories, despite what has happened in her life's journey, a woman who has travelled a long way to be with us today, a member of the stolen generation who shared some of her story with me when I called around to see her just a few days ago.

Nanna Nungala Fejo, as she prefers to be called, was born in the late 1920s.

She remembers her earliest childhood days living with her family and her community in a bush camp just outside Tennant Creek.

She remembers the love and the warmth and the kinship of those days long ago, including traditional dancing around the camp fire at night.

She loved the dancing. She remembers once getting into strife when, as a four-year-old girl, she insisted on dancing with the male tribal elders rather than just sitting and watching the men, as the girls were supposed to do.

But then, sometime around 1932, when she was about four, she remembers the coming of the welfare men.

Her family had feared that day and had dug holes in the creek bank where the children could run and hide.

What they had not expected was that the white welfare men did not come alone. They brought a truck, two white men and an Aboriginal stockman on horseback cracking his stockwhip.

The kids were found; they ran for their mothers, screaming, but they could not get away. They were herded and piled onto the back of the truck. Tears flowing, her mum tried clinging to the sides of the truck as her children were taken away to the Bungalow in Alice (Springs), all in the name of protection.

A few years later, government policy changed. Now the children would be handed over to the missions to be cared for by the churches. But which church would care for them?

The kids were simply told to line up in three lines. Nanna Fejo and her sister stood in the middle line, her older brother and cousin on her left. Those on the left were told that they had become Catholics, those in the middle Methodists and those on the right Church of England.

That is how the complex questions of post-reformation theology were resolved in the Australian outback in the 1930s. It was as crude as that.

She and her sister were sent to a Methodist mission on Goulburn Island and then Croker Island. Her Catholic brother was sent to work at a cattle station and her cousin to a Catholic mission.

Nanna Fejo's family had been broken up for a second time. She stayed at the mission until after the war, when she was allowed to leave for a prearranged job as a domestic in Darwin. She was 16. Nanna Fejo never saw her mum again.

After she left the mission, her brother let her know that her mum had died years before, a broken woman fretting for the children that had literally been ripped away from her.

I asked Nanna Fejo what she would have me say today about her story. She thought for a few moments then said that what I should say today was that all mothers are important. And she added: Families - keeping them together is very important. It's a good thing that you are surrounded by love and that love is passed down the generations. That's what gives you happiness.

As I left, later on, Nanna Fejo took one of my staff aside, wanting to make sure that I was not too hard on the Aboriginal stockman who had hunted those kids down all those years ago.

The stockman had found her again decades later, this time himself to say, Sorry. And remarkably, extraordinarily, she had forgiven him.

Nanna Fejo's is just one story.

There are thousands, tens of thousands of them: stories of forced separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their mums and dads over the better part of a century.

Some of these stories are graphically told in Bringing Them Home, the report commissioned in 1995 by Prime Minister Keating and received in 1997 by Prime Minister Howard.

There is something terribly primal about these firsthand accounts. The pain is searing; it screams from the pages. The hurt, the humiliation, the degradation and the sheer brutality of the act of physically separating a mother from her children is a deep assault on our senses and on our most elemental humanity.

These stories cry out to be heard; they cry out for an apology.

Instead, from the nation's Parliament there has been a stony, stubborn and deafening silence for more than a decade; a view that somehow we, the Parliament, should suspend our most basic instincts of what is right and what is wrong; a view that, instead, we should look for any pretext to push this great wrong to one side, to leave it languishing with the historians, the academics and the cultural warriors, as if the stolen generations are little more than an interesting sociological phenomenon.

But the stolen generations are not intellectual curiosities. They are human beings, human beings who have been damaged deeply by the decisions of parliaments and governments. But, as of today, the time for denial, the time for delay, has at last come to an end.

The nation is demanding of its political leadership to take us forward.

Decency, human decency, universal human decency, demands that the nation now step forward to right an historical wrong. That is what we are doing in this place today.

But should there still be doubts as to why we must now act, let the Parliament reflect for a moment on the following facts: that, between 1910 and 1970, between 10 and 30 per cent of indigenous children were forcibly taken from their mothers and fathers; that, as a result, up to 50,000 children were forcibly taken from their families; that this was the product of the deliberate, calculated policies of the state as reflected in the explicit powers given to them under statute; that this policy was taken to such extremes by some in administrative authority that the forced extractions of children of so-called mixed lineage were seen as part of a broader policy of dealing with the problem of the Aboriginal population.

One of the most notorious examples of this approach was from the Northern Territory Protector of Natives, who stated:

"Generally by the fifth and invariably by the sixth generation, all native characteristics of the Australian Aborigine are eradicated. The problem of our half-castes" - to quote the protector - "will quickly be eliminated by the complete disappearance of the black race, and the swift submergence of their progeny in the white."

The Western Australian Protector of Natives expressed not dissimilar views, expounding them at length in Canberra in 1937 at the first national conference on indigenous affairs that brought together the Commonwealth and state protectors of natives.

These are uncomfortable things to be brought out into the light. They are not pleasant. They are profoundly disturbing.

But we must acknowledge these facts if we are to deal once and for all with the argument that the policy of generic forced separation was somehow well motivated, justified by its historical context and, as a result, unworthy of any apology today.

Then we come to the argument of intergenerational responsibility, also used by some to argue against giving an apology today.

But let us remember the fact that the forced removal of Aboriginal children was happening as late as the early 1970s.

The 1970s is not exactly a point in remote antiquity. There are still serving members of this parliament who were first elected to this place in the early 1970s.

It is well within the adult memory span of many of us.

The uncomfortable truth for us all is that the parliaments of the nation, individually and collectively, enacted statutes and delegated authority under those statutes that made the forced removal of children on racial grounds fully lawful.

There is a further reason for an apology as well: it is that reconciliation is in fact an expression of a core value of our nation - and that value is a fair go for all.

There is a deep and abiding belief in the Australian community that, for the stolen generations, there was no fair go at all.

There is a pretty basic Aussie belief that says that it is time to put right this most outrageous of wrongs.

It is for these reasons, quite apart from concerns of fundamental human decency, that the governments and parliaments of this nation must make this apology - because, put simply, the laws that our parliaments enacted made the stolen generations possible.

We, the parliaments of the nation, are ultimately responsible, not those who gave effect to our laws. And the problem lay with the laws themselves.

As has been said of settler societies elsewhere, we are the bearers of many blessings from our ancestors; therefore we must also be the bearer of their burdens as well.

Therefore, for our nation, the course of action is clear: that is, to deal now with what has become one of the darkest chapters in Australia's history.

In doing so, we are doing more than contending with the facts, the evidence and the often rancorous public debate.

In doing so, we are also wrestling with our own soul.

This is not, as some would argue, a black-armband view of history; it is just the truth: the cold, confronting, uncomfortable truth - facing it, dealing with it, moving on from it.

Until we fully confront that truth, there will always be a shadow hanging over us and our future as a fully united and fully reconciled people.

It is time to reconcile. It is time to recognise the injustices of the past. It is time to say sorry. It is time to move forward together.

To the stolen generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry.

On behalf of the government of Australia, I am sorry.

On behalf of the Parliament of Australia, I am sorry.

I offer you this apology without qualification.

We apologise for the hurt, the pain and suffering that we, the Parliament, have caused you by the laws that previous Parliaments have enacted.

We apologise for the indignity, the degradation and the humiliation these laws embodied.

We offer this apology to the mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters, the families and the communities whose lives were ripped apart by the actions of successive governments under successive parliaments.

In making this apology, I would also like to speak personally to the members of the stolen generations and their families: to those here today, so many of you; to those listening across the nation - from Yuendumu, in the central west of the Northern Territory, to Yabara, in North Queensland, and to Pitjantjatjara in South Australia.

I know that, in offering this apology on behalf of the government and the Parliament, there is nothing I can say today that can take away the pain you have suffered personally.

Whatever words I speak today, I cannot undo that.

Words alone are not that powerful; grief is a very personal thing.

I ask those non-indigenous Australians listening today who may not fully understand why what we are doing is so important to imagine for a moment that this had happened to you.

I say to honourable members here present: imagine if this had happened to us. Imagine the crippling effect. Imagine how hard it would be to forgive.

My proposal is this: if the apology we extend today is accepted in the spirit of reconciliation, in which it is offered, we can today resolve together that there be a new beginning for Australia.

And it is to such a new beginning that I believe the nation is now calling us.

Australians are a passionate lot. We are also a very practical lot.

For us, symbolism is important but, unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong.

It is not sentiment that makes history; it is our actions that make history.

Today's apology, however inadequate, is aimed at righting past wrongs.

It is also aimed at building a bridge between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians - a bridge based on a real respect rather than a thinly veiled contempt.

Our challenge for the future is to cross that bridge and, in so doing, to embrace a new partnership between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians - to embrace, as part of that partnership, expanded Link-up and other critical services to help the stolen generations to trace their families if at all possible and to provide dignity to their lives.

But the core of this partnership for the future is to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians on life expectancy, educational achievement and employment opportunities.

This new partnership on closing the gap will set concrete targets for the future: within a decade to halve the widening gap in literacy, numeracy and employment outcomes and opportunities for indigenous Australians, within a decade to halve the appalling gap in infant mortality rates between indigenous and non-indigenous children and, within a generation, to close the equally appalling 17-year life gap between indigenous and non-indigenous in overall life expectancy.

The truth is: a business as usual approach towards indigenous Australians is not working.

Most old approaches are not working.

We need a new beginning, a new beginning which contains real measures of policy success or policy failure; a new beginning, a new partnership, on closing the gap with sufficient flexibility not to insist on a one-size-fits-all approach for each of the hundreds of remote and regional indigenous communities across the country but instead allowing flexible, tailored, local approaches to achieve commonly-agreed national objectives that lie at the core of our proposed new partnership; a new beginning that draws intelligently on the experiences of new policy settings across the nation.

However, unless we as a Parliament set a destination for the nation, we have no clear point to guide our policy, our programs or our purpose; we have no centralised organising principle.

Let us resolve today to begin with the little children, a fitting place to start on this day of apology for the stolen generations.

Let us resolve over the next five years to have every indigenous four-year-old in a remote Aboriginal community enrolled in and attending a proper early childhood education centre or opportunity and engaged in proper preliteracy and prenumeracy programs.

Let us resolve to build new educational opportunities for these little ones, year by year, step by step, following the completion of their crucial preschool year.

Let us resolve to use this systematic approach to build future educational opportunities for indigenous children to provide proper primary and preventive health care for the same children, to begin the task of rolling back the obscenity that we find today in infant mortality rates in remote indigenous communities up to four times higher than in other communities.

None of this will be easy. Most of it will be hard, very hard. But none of it is impossible, and all of it is achievable with clear goals, clear thinking, and by placing an absolute premium on respect, cooperation and mutual responsibility as the guiding principles of this new partnership on closing the gap.

The mood of the nation is for reconciliation now, between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. The mood of the nation on Indigenous policy and politics is now very simple.

The nation is calling on us, the politicians, to move beyond our infantile bickering, our point-scoring and our mindlessly partisan politics and to elevate this one core area of national responsibility to a rare position beyond the partisan divide.

Surely this is the unfulfilled spirit of the 1967 referendum. Surely, at least from this day forward, we should give it a go.

Let me take this one step further and take what some may see as a piece of political posturing and make a practical proposal to the opposition on this day, the first full sitting day of the new Parliament.

I said before the election that the nation needed a kind of war cabinet on parts of Indigenous policy, because the challenges are too great and the consequences are too great to allow it all to become a political football, as it has been so often in the past.

I therefore propose a joint policy commission, to be led by the Leader of the Opposition and me, with a mandate to develop and implement, to begin with, an effective housing strategy for remote communities over the next five years.

It will be consistent with the government's policy framework, a new partnership for closing the gap. If this commission operates well, I then propose that it work on the further task of constitutional recognition of the first Australians, consistent with the longstanding platform commitments of my party and the pre-election position of the opposition.

This would probably be desirable in any event because, unless such a proposition were absolutely bipartisan, it would fail at a referendum. As I have said before, the time has come for new approaches to enduring problems.

Working constructively together on such defined projects would, I believe, meet with the support of the nation. It is time for fresh ideas to fashion the nation's future.

Mr Speaker, today the Parliament has come together to right a great wrong. We have come together to deal with the past so that we might fully embrace the future. We have had sufficient audacity of faith to advance a pathway to that future, with arms extended rather than with fists still clenched.

So let us seize the day. Let it not become a moment of mere sentimental reflection.

Let us take it with both hands and allow this day, this day of national reconciliation, to become one of those rare moments in which we might just be able to transform the way in which the nation thinks about itself, whereby the injustice administered to the stolen generations in the name of these, our parliaments, causes all of us to reappraise, at the deepest level of our beliefs, the real possibility of reconciliation writ large: reconciliation across all indigenous Australia; reconciliation across the entire history of the often bloody encounter between those who emerged from the Dreamtime a thousand generations ago and those who, like me, came across the seas only yesterday; reconciliation which opens up whole new possibilities for the future.

It is for the nation to bring the first two centuries of our settled history to a close, as we begin a new chapter. We embrace with pride, admiration and awe these great and ancient cultures we are truly blessed to have among us cultures that provide a unique, uninterrupted human thread linking our Australian continent to the most ancient prehistory of our planet.

Growing from this new respect, we see our indigenous brothers and sisters with fresh eyes, with new eyes, and we have our minds wide open as to how we might tackle, together, the great practical challenges that Indigenous Australia faces in the future.

Let us turn this page together: indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, government and opposition, Commonwealth and state, and write this new chapter in our nation's story together.

First Australians, First Fleeters, and those who first took the oath of allegiance just a few weeks ago. Let's grasp this opportunity to craft a new future for this great land: Australia. I commend the motion to the House."

There is an excellent multimedia presentation of PM Rudd's speech with powerful images of the day on the Herald's website:

The full 700 pages of the Bringing Them Home report can be downloaded for free at:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Uno Rules!

Or, the Top 10 Things I Learned Watching the 2008 Westminster Dog Show

1. Beagles are the cutest. dogs. ever.
2. Topiary should be restricted to shrubs. Dogs are not shrubs.
3. It is OK to groom your dog while the judge is examining it
4. Tails make convenient handles for lifting smaller dogs on and off podiums
5. Handlers sometimes "handle" their dogs in inappropriate places
6. 20,000 people will pay a lot of money to watch dogs be judged by people who never explain what they're doing or what they're looking for
7. No matter how smart the suit, if you're a handler, sensible shoes are a must
8. Handlers keep extra dog treats in their own mouths
9. Sleeker dogs are more attractive than overly furry ones (except for Westies and Akitas)
10. There are a lot of breeds of dog most people have never heard of

The final seven dogs (deemed best in each of their respective categories) faced off for Best in Show tonight. Personally, I don't know how you would choose between such disparate dogs as an Australian Shepherd, an Akita, a Beagle, both a Standard and a Toy Poodle, a Weimaraner, and a Sealyham Terrier. Following on point #9, above, however, had I been judging, I would have quickly ruled out the two poodles, who really ought to have been on pedestals outside a manor house rather than actually breathing and running around in circles. There is something overtly ridiculous about shivering & naked animals with random poofs of white fur clumped in weird places on their bodies.

And I don't even want to talk about how they groom their heads! It's like Roman warrior poodles! Embarrassing, for both the animal and all people involved. It looks like the poor things were trying to keep warm and accidentally spilled giant sized cotton balls on themselves.

Overall, I wasn't impressed by the terriers either, many of whom can't see where they are going, and who often have rough and unwieldy coats. As the commentator put it last night, when the Terriers competed amongst themselves, "Terriers feel superior and can be difficult to handle because they're bossy." Um. Yeah. And they aren't attractive either.

So that left the Shepherd, the Akita, the Beagle, and the Weimaraner. Each of them was appropriately handsome and well-behaved. The Akita had spectacular fur, but the Beagle (a 15" Beagle - I guess there are different kinds) had personality. Lots, and lots, of personality. He was certainly the crowd favorite, running laps around the hockey arena to the cheers of the crowd. Considering this is basically a beauty pageant for dogs, there is A LOT of running, for both dog and handler. Ergo the sensible shoes. You wouldn't want to trip and draw attention away from your animal. That would be a career-ender. (And yes - people do apparently have careers as professional dog handlers. Funny, I don't remember that being on the high school aptitude test.)

I only started watching the Westminster show last year. I like dogs, but I still don't understand why you groom and fluff them up only to run them around a hockey arena in the hopes of scoring a four foot long fancy ribbon (seriously, the prize was three times the size of Uno, the Best in Show Beagle). It's not like they're being evaluated for their effectiveness as working/herding dogs, or their suitability as family pets. In fact, to the casual observer (like myself), it's not entirely clear what the criteria are. There's some vague talk by the colour commentators about the standards of the breed, but no one ever tells you what those are or even puts a chart up on the TV screen so you can armchair evaluate each animal for yourself. The judges don't seem to talk, or if they do, they aren't miked, so we don't know what they're saying. They spend about 20 seconds with each dog, looking in its mouth, running their hands over its chest and along its back, and then having the handlers run the dog back and forth and then pose the animal, one presumes to assess their lines. It's pretty much as mysterious a process as watching someone else assess a used car. This is particularly daunting during the class competition, when there are dozens of say, terriers, and a viewer has absolutely no idea what makes one a winner, and one, well, a dog. And no one ever explains how the dogs get ranked after all these 20-second evaluations either.

All in all, it's an odd process. Not quite as odd as the National Cat Show held every October, also at Madison Square Garden, where virtually ever entrant is fluffed and groomed until the "greeting cards for five-year-old girls and elderly grandmas" quotient is off the chart, but it comes close. I prefer my pets au naturel, thank you very much, looking more like they'd enjoy a romp through the park on a Sunday afternoon, and less like princesses afraid of a wee spot of dirt. More like Uno, or as he's formally known, K-Run's Park Me in First:

UPDATE: I learned today from reading the press coverage of Uno's victory that he is the first Beagle in the 132 year history of the Westminster Dog Show to win Best in Show. Excellent! Here he is enjoying his prize:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Do copywriters have grammar-check?

It must be February, because I am even crankier than usual. We're entering our third week of -40ish temperatures, and I realize that's enough to make anyone cranky, but it seems to be having a particularly strong effect on me this year. A week of flu probably hasn't helped matters, but I find that when this seasonal bitchiness sets in, it's helpful to buy some trashy magazines, take my phone off the hook, pour a cup of tea, and slip into my fuzzy slippers. There's probably a blanket involved as well.

So imagine how irritated I was to be yanked out of my trashy blissfulness while thumbing through this week's Entertainment Weekly by the ad on page 58. It's a public service announcement about chronic kidney disease, which is noble enough, but the main part of the text says:

"Most of us would know if they were missing half our money or missing half our friends."

This is a full page ad in a major national magazine. It is sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation, a major American charity. The ad is expensive. And grammatically incorrect. At the risk of taking a page out of LMKIA's book (or magazine), it irritates the bejeepers out of me when people, even copywriters, mix their third and second person plurals, and don't understand the basics of lists. Glen, I'm borrowing the withering look of disapproval (TM). Grrr....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

THIS is what passes for reporting these days?

Or, How I'm glad I got out of the news biz when I did.

Unless you've been living in a cave the past couple of days, you know actor Heath Ledger died on Tuesday afternoon at his home in Manhattan. Apart from that, really, we don't know much of anything yet, as an initial autopsy was inconclusive and toxicology and histology reports will take 10-14 days to complete.

BUT - if you've been watching American news, you will have heard:

1. The apartment he was renting was owned by Mary-Kate Olsen (later disproved)
2. Ledger committed suicide (undetermined, but no note or other "suicide markers" according to police)
3. Drug paraphenalia, including a rolled up $20 bill with drug residue, was found at the scene (not true, say police. While a rolled $20 bill was found, tests show no drug residue of any kind; police statement says no illegal drugs or liquor found in the apartment.)
4. Sleeping pills were "strewn about" the room (not so, say police. Prescription medications were found, but not strewn about)
5.'s article on his passing is titled "Heath Ledger: Star in Distress". Really? Distress? Based on what, exactly? The article doesn't explain.
6. Ledger's physical discomfort with being interviewed may have been the result of a drug problem (as opposed to being shy and not interested in the celebrity game, which was the line on him until Tuesday morning)

Now, it may well be that when those reports come in, the levels of toxins in his body may well support one or more of the prevailing theories being tossed around. But that doesn't make the theories true RIGHT NOW. Right now, everything is speculation, backed with every tabloid's best friend, the unnamed source.

It used to be a rule in the journalism business that you didn't publish anything without two named sources confirming the information. How quaint and old-school a concept. It's one thing for tabloids to sensationalize something like this to sell magazines or boost viewership, but when the odious Nancy Grace dedicates an hour on CNN (which is supposed to be an all-news station, but is moving more and more to being the electronic equivalent of the News of The World [can alien photos really be far behind?]) to interviewing people like the editor of In Touch magazine about Ledger's "well-known substance abuse problem", the end of days is truly nigh.

Everywhere, it seems, unnamed sources "close to the family" are running their disrespectful mouths off about all manner of far-flung scenarios without any actual information to back any of it up. We used to call this "gossip". Now apparently, it's "news".

I feel like I need to take an extra-long shower.

For those of you who might prefer to remember Ledger's work, instead of the lurid speculation of this week, here's an article from Slate:

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

We interrupt this program....

Please bear with me. For Christmas, my home computer decided its gift to me would be to die unexpectedly, so it has been shipped out to Edmonton for repair or burial (a diagnosis is pending). So there won't be any posts for a while, but I will be back eventually....patience is one of those New Year's resolutions we can all work on in the interim...