Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Oh, Canada

I am a proud Canadian. I am proud that our nation was conceived and came into existence, not through war, but through diplomacy. I am proud that Canadians live in a quiet way that sets us apart from some of our American cousins to the south. I am proud that when called upon, Canadians will stand up and do what is required of them, either on the field of diplomacy or on a field of battle. I think that our history is one to be proud of and should be held up to all students and to the world as an example.

That being said there are some things that make me ashamed to be lumped into the same pile as other people who are supposedly Canadians. Recently, a school in New Brunswick has discontinued the playing of Oh, Canada in the morning. Why did they do this? Because some parents did not want their children to take part in the exercise. It boggles the mind. What possible reason could these people have for not wanting their children to take part in a daily demonstration of the love and pride they have (or should have) for their country? Do these people not like the fact that their children can go to school freely and without restrictions? Is it that they don't feel proud to be Canadian?

One thing I do know is that if this happened in my children's school, there would be one hell of a fight. When the American national anthem plays, people stop. They show respect. Why? Because of their pride in being from the United States of America. Perhaps we have some lessons to learn from our cousins to the south. The playing of Oh, Canada has been a part of the beginning of each school day for decades and should continue to be. What makes me mad is that by removing this daily activity from the school, they are disrespecting the men from my family who fought (and in some cases died) in two world wars for this country and all of the things I am proud of. They are disrespecting all proud Canadians. Bring back the anthem. Sing it proudly. Remember the reasons we can do so freely.

Although I do not agree with this decision or the people behind it, I do respect their right to their opinion—even if it is wrong. Truly Canadian, eh?

The Bloom Is Off The Rose

Did they think they could hide it forever? What were they thinking? In this era of instant communication and shrinking privacy how could you keep such a huge secret? Here we are, just about a month into the New Year and just barely a week into the presidency of Barrack Obama and scandal is in the air. Seems even the darling of the American political system is not immune to the smell of something fishy.

What is the scandal? Is it Afghanistan? The detention centre at Guantanamo Bay? Some kind of CIA torture scandal? Monetary impropriety on the part of a high ranking party member? All of these things? We've seen just about everything in the last 200 years of the great experiment in democracy, from infidelity in the White House to arms deals gone wrong. It seems, that even with the best of intentions, humans really are fallible. We make mistakes. No doubt about it. Most of the time the mistakes are small and no one sees them. Other times the mistakes are bigger and still no one sees them, but we learn and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Then there are those mistakes which find their way into the harsh light of public criticism and we can no longer hide them. Someone once said, that the only way for a secret between two people to remain a secret, is for one of the people to be dead. Well, here we are again—scandal in the White House.

I can almost hear you screaming—"WHAT WAS THE MISTAKE?" Well, patience young grasshopper. The answer is coming. The big mistake that the Obama presidency has made is maybe the most shocking to hit the news in almost a month. The secret that has finally leaked after one whole week-- the music played by the quartet at Barrack Obama's inauguration was taped! Can you imagine? What could they have been thinking! It seems that the cold temperatures on Inauguration Day caused the instruments to go out of tune. So naturally the musicians did not want to sound like a bag of drowning cats and recorded the music ahead of time. Great! Did I notice? No. Do I care if they played live or not? Nope. Did it take away from the occasion? Not at all. Could I have lived without knowing this information? Absolutely.

We live in a world where people die each day as a result of lunatic dictators and war, starvation and natural disasters. Where real governmental mismanagement costs taxpayers millions of dollars a day. Where real news is literally just a click of a button away. The fact that news outlets decide to spend time, money and effort tracking down a story with as much news value as the sun coming up in the morning, is astounding. Here's a news flash—the bloom really is off the rose, just not the one you might think.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Oh, The Weather Outside is… FREEZING!

I don't know about your family, but my family has a couple of people who are the unofficial family history compilers. You know, if you need (or want) to know about your ancestors they are the ones you go to. Usually they have the family history computer programs and have compiled the stories that get told at all of the family gatherings. I am one of the historians for my family.

Although we gather information and compile lists of family members and some stories, there are some things that we will perhaps never know. Questions that we have, that will not be answered, because the answers lie with someone who lived 100 or 200 years ago. Some of the most interesting questions, for me anyway, have to do with how they decided to settle where they did. Why Canada? Why Miramichi, New Brunswick? Why not somewhere else? What compelled them to move from where they were and start a new life somewhere else?

Some questions I have answers to. My family came to this area in 1822. I know that the original fellow who made the move to Canada was born about 1766. So you can see, I have a long stretch for those answers to why here. Not that I am wont to complain about where I and my family have lived for the last 187 years. There are no tornadoes, earthquakes or monsoons. There are no poisonous snakes or dangerous diseases like Ebola. We don't have to worry about yearly flooding. We only get the tail ends of the few hurricanes that happen to make it this far north. But still the question remains—why here?

Only once in a while do I really question the wisdom of my forefathers in settling where they did. Over the last few days the cold has begun to take its toll on me. When the daytime high does not get above -20° Celsius, and the wind makes it feel like -35° or colder, then I begin to question the decision to settle here. I can take the snow storms and I don't usually complain about the weather and such but… TURN UP THE HEAT ALREADY! Why couldn't they have settled someplace warmer—or at least left behind enough money for me to move there?

Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You

Would you like to take part in a Survey? An Opinion Poll? Qualify for a trip? Sign up for our low interest credit card? No problem, just answer these few questions and you can do these things from the comfort of your dining room table. Every evening thousands of Canadians are called on the telephone and given all of these options and more, from companies that mine lists for contact information in an attempt to get you to buy into something.

Recently in Canada the CRTC developed the national Do Not Call List. By signing on to this list Canadians were supposed to reduce the number of calls from these companies and get some peace from the high pressure sales tactics. Now it turns out that, perhaps, this list does not work as well as we were led to believe it might. Aside from a half dozen or so exceptions, this list was supposed to make it illegal for companies to make unsolicited contact with you at your home phone number. Stiff fines were set up and all was to be right with the world. Nope. Turns out that many Canadians have seen an increase in the number of unwanted calls they are getting. Kind of frustrating, to say the least. Apparently, the concept of Do Not Call was too tough for the CRTC to understand.

Can there be that many people out there who do business with these companies to make it worth the effort? How many people are signing up for credit cards over the phone? Do you really believe that you have won a trip to the Bahamas, without having bought a ticket or entered a draw? How many people spend 5, 10 or 15 minutes of their time answering surveys on the phone? Who is making these companies believe that there is money to be made making these calls? There has to be someone. Companies don't spend money without the expectation of making more money.

I have heard of several funny ways to screw with the telemarketers who call. There was one guy who came up with dozens of scripts for all kinds of occasions. In one, he pretended to be panicked and very relieved that the carpet cleaning company called, because he had blood in the carpet and on the furniture and had to get it out 'right now'. Or the Jerry Seinfeld line about this not being a good time but could he call the telemarketer later at home. Then there are those who ask as many questions as they can think of in the hopes of frustrating the caller. And then there are those who just hang up when these people call.

It must be a terrible job to have, to call people all day and have the phone slammed down or be sworn at over and over again. Do call centers have a role in our society? Sure. I have no problem with inbound call centers. You know tech support. Credit card customer service. Things like that. Where I am the one to initiate the call in order to access a service. In an increasingly technological and fast paced world, these places do serve a purpose.

But when it comes to companies who interrupt my dinner or time I intend to spend with my family… Well, we should all tell them the same thing—'Don't call me, I'll call you'.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Oh, Give Me A Home…

It's a case of useful innovation getting lost in 21st Century over indulgence. An architect has designed a building that not only takes advantage of solar energy, but also the wind in an interesting way. Each of the 80 floors of the proposed high rise in Dubai, will be able to rotate around the central hub of the building using the force provided by the wind.

Designed with spaces between the floors where solar panels and wind turbine blades will be located, the building will possibly be able to produce its own power and maybe even supply energy to the surrounding neighbourhood. Not only will the building provide power for its residents but it will also give them a constantly changing view as each floor rotates 360 degrees. No longer will you have to covet the view of the tenant on the other side of the building. Just wait a few minutes and the view will be yours.

Now comes the indulgence part. The apartments will set you back anywhere from $3 to $30 million dollars! One can assume that the more pricey spaces will be near the top of the building. Now if you can afford this kind of home, you probably have a nice car as well, right? Where are you going to park that Bentley or Ferrari? Not only does the building come with a changing view but a drive-in elevator so that residents can park outside their apartment door!

Do we really need another building where the rich can sequester themselves away from the rest of humanity? Could we not find a better use for the millions of dollars the construction of this building will cost? What about the millions used to buy an apartment? Maybe a fund to help the homeless? How far would $3 million dollars go in a school breakfast program? What about healthcare? Apparently the 1100 people already on the waiting list for apartments don't care much or they would be spending their money on social programs and not overpriced digs for themselves. But let's be charitable. Maybe these 1100 people will give their new apartments to the homeless right? Right.

Not that long ago there was a popular song that said, "Give me a home where the buffalo roam…" You know the one. It speaks of simplicity and comfort and warmth and family. I guess someone changed the idea when we weren't looking. The designers of this building took a great idea for advancing the ideas of environmentally friendly construction and made a consumerist monster. Now it seems the song should go "Give me a home with central air conditioning, a rotating view, and an automobile elevator." Doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it?

I don't know about you, but I think I prefer the classics.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Delusional Gene

I don't know if you are aware, but most men possess a gene that women do not. Why most men you ask? Because throughout history there have been a few men who did not possess this gene. I call this gene the delusional gene.

What does the delusional gene do? Well, the delusional gene allows men to believe things about themselves that, in reality, are just not true. What kind of things? Well, have you ever met a man who believed that he was 'God's gift to women', when he clearly was not? Have you ever met a man who claimed he was the best athlete on the hockey team, when he could hardly stand up on the ice? Have you ever been to the grocery store and saw a man who acted like he was dressed in the full on 007 tuxedo and ready for the adventure, when he was actually wearing sweats and a dirty t-shirt? I give you the delusional gene at work! It crosses all economic, cultural and educational lines and affects the actions of all men to a greater or lesser degree.

This gene shows itself early on. You see it when boys begin their journey through the mine field of puberty. Ladies, did you ever wonder why boys felt the need to pull your pig tails? Fart loudly in class or the theatre? Make faces? Act idiotically? These are all early manifestations of the delusional gene. They truly believed that every one of these actions clearly showed that they liked you and that each of these actions would impress you so much that you would automatically fall head over heals in love with them.

Kind of explains the actions of little Billy now doesn't it?

Why am I talking about this greatest of all manly mysteries? Because it seems that the delusional gene is in decline. Recently a new product has hit store shelves that shows the erosion of this truly male gene. The product—Manty Hose! Control top panty hose for men. What is the world coming to? Come on men. Fight the urge! Embrace your heritage! Do we really need manty hose? I say no. Embrace your inner man and fight against this latest attack on your manhood, stand up to the out of control commercialism that thought up this product-- or at least buy a cute pair of pumps to show off your calves.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Somebody’s Watching Me

Hey! Quickly, come closer! Closer! Come on, come on, before they notice! I don't mean to alarm you but… I think someone is watching me. Not everyday and not all the time but I know they're out there. Just this morning I noticed them again.

I was out there, like thousands of other New Brunswickers, cleaning up the driveway after the latest snow fall. I like things to be neat and tidy around, so I spend some time doing this each time it snows. Well, today I was out there for about an hour and a half or so and things looked pretty good. I cleaned off the snow blower, refilled the gas tank and put it in the garage, all ready for the next time. It wasn't until I was in the house, cup of coffee in hand, that I noticed them. As I looked out the window there they were! The loud rumble and scrapping noise! The wall of snow and voila! The end of my driveway was chock full of snow again!

How do they know? How do the snow plow operators know when I am finished clearing the snow off the driveway? It never fails, whether I spend 5 minutes or 2 hours out there. As soon as the equipment is put away and I am warm and snug inside—WHOOSH! Back outside I have to go and clear the end of the driveway again. I am convinced it is a plot against me. They must have cameras somewhere so they can see when I finish my work.

No, really. We should all appreciate the work that these drivers do. All hours of the day and night, they work to keep the roads safe so we can go about our daily routine with as little trouble as possible. Most of us never give them a thought. So, thank you for the work you do guys. We would all be stuck without you.

But do you think you could maybe come by before I finish my driveway from now on?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Unreality of Reality

I know that I will be alienating some people with this blog posting. I know that everyone will not agree with my point of view. But the one thing I hope we can all agree on is that everyone is free to voice their opinion. So here goes-- When are all of these reality TV shows going to end? It has gotten to the point that you can't sit down for an evening of television viewing without having to search for something other than reality TV. Survivor, American Idol, Big Brother, America's Top Model, So You Think You Can Dance?, the list goes on and on and that's not even mentioning the Canadian versions of all of these shows.

For the most part, I know people are just looking for entertainment. Something to watch while they unwind from a day at work. But come on. Reality TV? Most of these shows are more contrived than the scripted shows. Some of them don't even make sense. Where's the reality in a show where a group of people, who seem to have been chosen because of their personality conflict potential, are put in a house, closed off from outside influences and left to do ridiculous tasks?

Wouldn't it be more like reality if the people taken out to the middle of Northern Ontario in black fly season and left to survive on roots, bark and bugs with no help at all? Real survival entails not knowing if you are going to make it back alive, not competing for a spot in a luxury resort so you can have a shower and a beer.

Where is the reality in taking singers to a contest where the winner gets a recording contract based on fan votes? How many of these winners actually have enough talent/creativity to really make it in the music business after their first album? I can think of maybe—maybe, two. If you are really interested in showing the best singers or dancers, why show the idiots who have a hard time to chew gum and walk at the same time?

The main reason these shows exist is because they are cheap. Money is the bottom line. Basically you pay to get the contestants (most of whom are unpaid) to one location. Pay some film crews, build one set (not several like ongoing shows), get some big time sponsors (who pay most of the costs) for product placement and let the ridiculousness roll. These shows cost next to nothing and make all kinds of money for the producers and the networks.

I don't watch a huge amount of TV. There are about 4 shows I watch on a regular basis and a few I catch when I can, if I miss them, no big deal. All have ongoing, regular characters and compelling stories and enough action to be interesting but not distracting. I decided years ago that my life and the reality that comes with it are much more interesting than a bunch of self-centred people looking for a fast buck by doing stupid things.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Death of Manners

The other day I went to the grocery store to get some things we were low on. You know, staples like milk, cereal, bread, fruit and the like. When I was entering the store a gentleman (I use the term loosely) was coming out of the store. He had several things in his hands and so I opened the door and held it for him to exit. To my amazement he did not even look at me let alone say thank you. He just walked right on by as if nothing had happened. No big deal I thought. Perhaps he has things on his mind. But this got me to thinking. Are we becoming more and more uncivil to each other?

As I proceeded through the store, I made a point of being courteous and minding my manners. You know, saying please and thank you, excuse me, that kind of thing. Very few of the people I encountered replied or even acknowledged my courtesy. Most of those who did reply grunted or looked at me with an odd expression. The one person who said thank you and really meant it was an older lady who could not reach an item on a high shelf. She was genuinely thankful for the help I gave her and told me so. You know what? I appreciated that. For me it was no big deal to reach up and get the item. For her, it meant that she could continue her shopping, without having to take time to search out someone to help her.

When I had finished my shopping and returned to the parking lot the first thing I saw was a woman leaving her car. Not only was she parked in a handicap space but had no visible signs of impairment or a parking permit allowing her to park there. As she exited her car she locked it and left it running! As I passed the car I was about to say something but the look she gave me was one of complete defiance. I said nothing and continued on my way. Should I have spoken up? Probably. Would the ensuing argument have been worth pointing out the error of her actions? Probably not. If a person is ignorant enough to take a parking spot from someone who legitimately needs it and pollute the environment, it probably would not have made a difference. I placed my groceries in the car and headed home… right after noting the make and model of the car and her license plate number. Passive aggressive? Maybe. Satisfying? Absolutely!

When the little things like manners no longer matter, what do we have left? Are they worth keeping around? Should we worry about saying please and thank you? I believe we should. When a society leaves behind the little social niceties, how much longer until the larger ones are left behind as well?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Went To A Fight And A Hockey Game Broke Out

Recently the debate over fighting in professional hockey has arisen again. The catalyst this time was the death of a player after he fell and hit his head on the ice during a fight. This debate has been going on probably since the first puck hit the ice. I don't imagine it will end anytime soon, but I do have a few thoughts on the subject (Surprise, Surprise right?).

I know I am inviting the wrath of most Canadians when I say I am not a big hockey fan. Wait before you throw something! The reason being is the fighting. I used to enjoy hockey. I liked reading about it, going to the games and even playing (badly) from time to time. But at some point I got tired of watching people punch each other in the head, when all I wanted, was to see a game played well by those who got paid well to do it. Do I hate hockey? No. I still watch from time to time. I particularly enjoy the Olympic Women's team. The games are fast. Skill levels are high and the games are exciting and there is no fighting. I'm afraid I can't say the same for the NHL.

The last NHL game I watched was like a bar brawl that was periodically interrupted by hockey. Plays were sloppy, action was slow and the game was continually interrupted by penalties and fighting. Why? From what I could see, there was no reason for most of the fighting that took place. Oh, yes, I know that the game is rough, lots of checking and pushing and running into one another. Tempers will undoubtedly get frayed. Frustration will increase and words will be exchanged. But why punch someone in the head because of that?

I often don't agree with my co-workers. Sometimes we argue. Tempers get frayed and frustration enters the picture. Do I haul off and paste them with a right cross? Nope. Unacceptable behaviour in the workplace right? Right. So my question is, are these grown men in the NHL playing a game or are they working? If they are working (and from the millions of dollars they make in salaries, it seems they are) and the arena is a workplace, then fighting should be just as unacceptable there as it is in any other place of business. Right?

If we are going to pay players outrageous amounts of money for their performances then they should perform. We shouldn't have to watch barbarians beat on one another. Failing that, then lets treat the sport like what it is—a game. Something you do to pass the time and have some fun while you're doing it. No need to pay them to do that is there?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Right or Left… You Decide.

It is not everyday that a new invention comes along that changes the way we do things. We can all think of the big ones of course, the water wheel, the printing press, the radio. Even, God forbid, the cell phone. But I think I have the next big thing. I know. That is quite a statement. What could possibly be as important as the printing press? What possible difference could a new invention make to enter the pantheon of these other great inventions? Well here it is…

Directional blinkers for cars.

Yep. Think about it. What would the world be like if suddenly there was a way to determine which direction the other drivers on the road were intending on going? Can you imagine that world? There would be no question on whether that car coming towards you was going to turn right or left to enter a driveway or another street. Perhaps we could tell if another car were about to pass on the highway. We ourselves, with the simple flick of a lever could signal to others our own intentions. The potential is almost limitless! I think I'll call them – Signal Lights!

What's that you say? They already exist? No! Impossible! Not from what I saw on the way to work today. You would think if they existed then people would use them more often!

I know, I know. Sarcasm -- the lowest form of humour. But what can I say. I find it amazing that people refuse to indicate which direction they intend on going. Not only that, but we now have a television show dedicated to those people who, it seems, skipped out on their driver's education classes. The producers of this show scour the country looking for the speeders, nervous Nellie's and the directionally challenged. They pull them all into a secluded location and try to teach them the proper way to drive. They then broadcast the ensuing insanity for all to see.

I have a better idea. Why not hold mandatory refresher testing at set intervals? Maybe people would pay more attention to their driving and the habits we all pick up. Think you don't need it? Great! Just challenge the test and if you pass fine. But what of those who don't pass the test? Well, at least they have a chance to become better drivers and perhaps our wallets, and insurance companies, will thank us.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Catch Me If You Can

There are two great rules in life, the one general and the other particular. The first rule is that everyone can, in the end, get what he wants if he only tries. The particular rule is that every individual is more or less an exception to the general rule.

-- Samuel Butler

What is it about human beings that we feel the need to break rules? If there is a rule against doing something we do it. If the rule is that we should do something, we find ways to avoid doing it. High school students especially, seem prone to this quirk. Why they feel the need, nay compulsion, to bring cell phones to class is beyond me. I will admit right off -- I don't have a cell phone. I did own one at one time, but I had no real need for it and got rid of it. In this age of high tech telecommunication I am a bit of a Luddite. I admit it. Most of my students, however, are not.

In our school the rule states 'cell phones are to be turned off and out of sight during class time'. If a student is caught with a cell phone out it (the phone, not the student) is to be taken to the office. If I had five dollars for every phone I have taken from students, I could make a car payment. No joke. In the last week alone I could have made $25. Twenty five dollars! Over the course of a month that's like having a low paying part-time job!

What really gets me is that they know the rule, they know the consequences and yet they still try and use them in class. The attitude is not one of "I should not do it because it is against the rule." The attitude is "I will continue to break the rule until you can catch me." There seems to be no regard for rules or simple respect for the person making the request. Did I bend rules when I was in school? Absolutely. But I knew how far I could go. I knew when to back off and do the work.

It is not only students who have this disrespect for the rules of the school. Parents expect to be able to text and even call their kids during class time! Not only do we have to try and keep students working and off the phone, but we have to deal with parents who apparently do not have the sense to not needlessly interfere in their children's education. I grieve for society. W hen a parent's own actions legitimize the urge to break the rules, what hope do the kids have?