Sunday, February 20, 2011

Family 28 / 30

Tonight is the final installment of the thirty days of writing.  I know – the title says its only day twenty-eight of thirty, but owing to the two days I missed, twenty-eight out of thirty is where we ended up.  That’s better than I feared, but not the 100% I was hoping for.  Still, by anyone’s measure, 93.33% is a pretty good mark.  It is an ‘A’ in any class, and good enough to earn you a magna cum laude in university.  If I succeed at 93.33% of the things in life, I’ll be pretty happy.  So I am content with that score, and happy that I found time, nearly every day for a month, to put some words on ‘paper’ and to make the time, if only a half hour a night, to write.  I showed myself that I have the dedication to pull it off, and I’m going to face my current writing projects with the same dedication – I’ll do it every day, but I won’t beat myself up if I miss a night here or there because something more important came up.

The odd thing is, this whole process did show me a couple things about what is important, and one of those is really standing out for me right now… family.

No matter how you define family, and no matter how you feel about family, I don’t think that anyone can deny that family is the most important thing in most people’s lives.  Sure, there are exceptions, and once upon a time I thought I was one, but I think those exceptions are rare.  Our families give us our sense of connection to the community and greater world around us.  They provide the basis for our morality and our ideology – for good or for ill.  In some families, they provide us with the strength and support we need to get us through bad times, and in others they show us how to look inside ourselves to find that strength when it isn’t offered to us.  They hold us up, so that we can reach higher.  When they hold us down, they teach us to strive even harder.  Even the ‘worst’ family in the world still teaches its members a lesson, how to survive hardship.  And I used the quotes around worst for a reason.

Judging another’s family is no business of mine.  Sure, there are times when I wonder about the parenting techniques and skills of my fellow Haligonians.  There are times when I hear stories of family behaviour that makes my skin crawl and makes me long to dial 911 to have someone, somewhere, arrested.  But just because I disagree with the way a family conducts itself, with the manner in which they raise their children, doesn’t make my family any better than theirs.  Sure, there are some absolutes – if you are abusing your children or the other members of your family that must be stopped.  But if you don’t show love to your kids they way I do to mine, that’s no judgment on either of our families.  That’s your family, not mine and at the end of the day, how you live together and love each other is none of my damned business.

My family, on the other hand, is my business and I am proud to relate that it’s doing just great.  We walked for a while today on our way to see Sue, whom the boys thought was pretty darned cool.  Griff made growling noises for hours afterward, and Noah is sad that there are no more dinosaurs and wishes they would come back to life.  But on our walk to the exhibit, Noah was lamenting how long it was taking, and asked if we were really going to see dinosaurs.  I joked (and here’s where you should feel free to judge me for my stupid comment) that we weren’t going to a museum, we were in fact walking off into the wild so that we could leave him in the woods.  He laughed, and hugged me and said “No dad, we can’t do that.  We’re a family.”  I damned near cried.  First, because he knew that I was joking, and that told me a lot about the strength of family that Shannon and I are building, but also because he knew, even as young as he was, just how important family is.

My family has undergone a lot of changes in recent years.  Some for the better (hello to all my Koenig family members!) and some for the worse (would have loved to learn about your wedding when it was happening, rather than a year later little brother!) but all of those changes, the positive and the challenging, are just part and parcel of what makes my family what it is.  And I love it just the way it is.

So whatever you are doing today when you read this, find someone who’s a part of your family.  Maybe they’re family by blood, maybe by marriage.  Maybe they are a friend you have come to love as family.  Maybe they fit into your definition of family in a way that I can’t understand, but you do.  Whoever they are, and whatever they are doing, tell them you care.  Let them know, in some way, that you value them and that your life would be less without them in it.  It will make their day, I guarantee it. 

Thanks for reading.  We’ll talk again soon but I gotta go now, I have two little boys to kiss on the forehead while they sleep.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Brick Wall, Meet Forehead 27 / 30

Alright, lets start with the basic proposition that I am an asshole.  I have accepted that, and in fact, embrace it a bit.  From that proposition, lets expand it to also include I am arrogant and automatically assume that I know more about any given topic than the individuals I am discussing said topic with.  (Wow, what a bad sentence, but it captures it nicely.)  Again, no disagreement there.  One further expansion - I am a pretty intelligent guy who actually tries to research his facts prior to defending them and when confronted with evidence to prove, or even suggest that I am wrong, will step back and occasionally admit my error.

I got my knickers in a knot a while back when I discussed how fricking annoying it is when people don’t take the thirty seconds to educate themselves on an issue prior to putting their opinion forward as fact.  That’s fucking annoying.  There, I said it.  I used the words asshole and fucking in the same post.  That ought to say something about the level of frustration that sheer idiocy is causing me.  It has happened three times today alone and twice yesterday.  The last one today was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It isn’t a localized phenomenon, and it impacts every aspect of our lives.  People are wrong all the time.  And that is OK.  I tell people all the time that fear of being wrong will really limit their ability to achieve anything of consequence.  You think Einstein got E=MC2 the first time out?  Doubt it.  There’s a great ad out there, though ad is probably not the right word… aha!  Its right here:

Love that.  And so true.  You have to fail to succeed.  No one gets everything right the first time.  Hell, most of us fail miserably for a really long time before we finally achieve anything even remotely resembling competence.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here.  Being willing to fail in order to get better at something – a willingness to take risks, is not the same thing as being knowingly wrong and still trying to defend that proposition.

And something about the internet seems to bring that out in people.  Perhaps worse, it brings out people like me who will bash our heads against the monitor to try to explain to these people that a) they are wrong, and b) they should learn from the experience.  But of course, we all know how futile that can be.

I stand by the things I write, and am willing to be challenged on them.  Prove me wrong, and I’ll say thank you.  It might take you a while to get me there, and I’ll fight you like hell, but I’ll still say thank you.

But for the love of all that is decent, check your facts before trying to convince others that you are right.  Because when you aren’t, you just look bad.  And no one wants that.

P.S.  Just realized that the comic didn't have a signature.  Its from and reproduced under the Creative Commons License agreement on their webpage.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Speaking of Wind 26 / 30

Today I slept, for a plague has once more swept over our quiet suburban home.  And as I slept, I dreamt a dream of wind.  Wind has always been special to me, I don’t know why, but it always makes me feel more at peace, more connected to the world.  I tell the boys that the wind is Mother Nature’s breath, and that if we listen closely, we can hear the voice of the earth.  They think I am mad but sometimes, when he thinks I’m not watching, I see Noah listening to the wind in the trees, and he always has a smile on his face.

Today I dreamt, and in that dream the wind’s message was one of sorrow.  I don’t know why Mother Nature is blue, but I can imagine.  We do terrible things to her every day, all in the name of human progress, and we forget that we are tied to her and what we do to this planet comes back to us a hundredfold.

The trash we produce, the smog that we pour into the air, and the forests that we devastate, all so that we can have disposable razors, two cars per family and pornographic magazines, continues to pile up, continues to take its toll on our home and our families.  We’re making some steps in the right direction, we are pressuring our governments to listen to us and we’re trying to leave this world a better place than we found it.  But we’re held back at so many stages.

Halifax Regional Council is facing pressure over a proposed garbage bag allotment reduction.  Currently any household may put out six bags of garbage per pickup period.  For the majority of the year that is every two weeks.  Under this new proposal, that number would be reduced to four.  (For the record, you can put out as many bags of recyclables as you want.)  Four big bags of garbage every two weeks.  And people are fuming mad.  

You know what makes me mad?  That my kids step on garbage every time we go for a walk.  That I can’t escape oily water, even when I am two hours from the nearest city and have hiked through the woods for twenty minutes.  That the bald eagle population of Nova Scotia is surviving but remains threatened.  That the second deepest harbor in the world, my harbor, is only now getting some respect – for two hundred and fifty years Halifax has just been dumping raw sewage into it.  That our oceans are polluted and over-fished, and that our lands are drying up and over-fertilized.  That trillion dollar oil companies spill oil into our waters, and in six months, the media and the public have forgotten about them.  That the voices of people aren't raised louder and aren’t making demands.  That our foods are modified but our way of thinking remains mired in decades old ideology.  And that I am a part of the problem too.

Our family sorts its trash fairly carefully.  I am happy to say that we produce maybe one kitchen sized bag of garbage every week.  The proposed changes won’t have any effect on our garbage habits.  Noah knows which kind of waste goes into which of our three garbage bins (paper, plastic and garbage), and he knows where the compost bucket is.  But still, as I packaged up the recycling tonight, I was frustrated at the sheer volume of it.  So many food boxes, juice containers and so bloody much cardboard.

The worst part is, it is so hard to get away from it.  Even buying less processed food, as we’ve been doing these last couple weeks, hasn’t changed it all that much.  Things still come in cans and boxes.  The apples still come in a plastic bag, and the oranges in a box.  The soups I bought, switching brands and flavours to avoid MSG and more ingredients I couldn’t pronounce – well, they are still cans of soup.

I have been inspired, over and over again, by the stories of people who have taken the one year challenge – to produce no trash that goes into a landfill, for a year.  It ain’t easy, according to most of them, but it can be done.  Do I have the strength to even attempt it?  I don’t think so.  But I am still inspired to do better.

So this week, a new goal.  To reduce the amount of non-recyclable trash we produce.  For our kids, for our planet and so we can still listen to the wind, and maybe, just maybe, hear a happier story.  Because I want to see my sons smile when they listen.  Even if they think I am mad.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Winds of Change 25 / 30

Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Iran… what did Tunisia start?

I have held for many years that protest is essentially useless.  I’ve attended a couple, and privileged university students banged on pots and pans, chanted ill rhyming slogans and berated powerful people for things they were doing in other countries.  In most cases, turns out the people they were screaming at weren’t even in that building, and in a few cases, weren’t even in the same city.

The chanting/flag-waving/bandana-wearing/placard-making/angry people never seemed to get much done.  I never saw any change in domestic or foreign policy either in my own country, or in others.  Despite what I have always considered as the most beautiful act of personal heroism ever captured on film . . .

. . . I have always felt that protest, while a valid means of communicating one’s displeasure with one’s government, was ultimately futile.

Man, was I wrong.

I don’t think I have ever been so pleased to be proven wrong before.

I think it is odd that most people are seeing this as a positive thing, but not really a global issue.  A lot of the major media outlets seem to be paying lip service only to the subsequent protests that have arising in many nations in the Middle East, likely due to their producer’s realizing that we, as North Americans, are easily bored and need to be entertained by something else, something that will capture our att – Hey look, Lindsay Lohan did something dumb!!!

I think that attitude is an odd one.  For the first time in recorded history, these parts of the world are facing real challenges from their population, being told by their citizens that “Hell no!  We are no longer going to accept the status quo!” and that is amazing, to say the least. 

Millions of people are having their first taste of what it might be like to be free, and they are liking it.  The sad part is that many of their governments, trying desperately to cling to the last vestiges of their power, will attack and kill their own people.  Members of the Iranian government today were calling for the trial and execution of members of the opposition party.  Note the wording there – trial and execution.  Not just the trial, not an investigation – their minds were already made up, the opposition members of government should be killed for supporting the citizens of their nation in protest.  Wow.  Makes me very happy indeed to be a Canadian.  Not that Harper hasn’t likely asked his advisors about summary executions, but hey, so far so good.

Despite this almost guaranteed retaliation, the protests continue.  Despite police arrests and military interventions, the protests continue.  And one can't help but have hope now, seeing two nations succeed, that these protests will not be in vain, that they may go through hell, but these people have a real shot at democratic freedom for the first time in thousands of years.  And they did it themselves.  No UN embargoes, no US interventions, no peace accords, no civil wars.  Just thousands and thousands of ordinary citizens, uniting to stand up for what they believe in.  For their freedom.

So thank you, people of the Middle East (and large parts of Northern Africa as well) for proving me wrong.  Thank you for reminding me that when we work together, we can accomplish marvelous things.

Noah and I watched a movie the other day, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  At the end, there is a great little scene where these small creatures lift a relatively large weight by working together.  Noah and I were on the bus, and he was talking about that movie.  He asked me how the 'rat-birds' had carried all that weight.  I explained that when a lot of little things work together, they can accomplish great things.  He turned to me and with a very serious look on his face, asked “Dad, what can a whole lot of people do if they work together?”  I hugged him very hard, and said “Miracles.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You're One in a Billion Baby 24 / 30

So maybe I am naïve, or maybe just not paranoid enough.  Probably a focus of my upbringing, what with all the hugs and love I experienced.  Or maybe it’s because I have never done any drugs that would cause me to be paranoid.  Or perhaps it’s because I am such a well adjusted individual with no anger or anxiety issues.  Whatever it is, I am sure glad it left me unscarred and naïve – because I kind of like it.

I recently posed the suggestion that a universal DNA registry, along with a universal fingerprint registry would be good ideas.  I also advocated in favor of street corner cameras, a la London.

Seems I am in the minority.  Not entirely certain why though.  A few people cited “privacy concerns” with regard to letting the government and the police have access to their DNA and fingerprints.  I inquired if those same people ever blew their nose and tossed the Kleenex away, or if they incinerated all of their various bodily spills – blank looks.  I asked what about their DNA was so private, and I got “well, you never know what the government would do with my DNA now, do you?”

This is a good point.  I don’t know what the government would do with my DNA, nor my fingerprints.  I mean, it’s very possible that they would frame me for murders, nail me for tax evasion and steal my Wii games.  They could even use camera images to splice together images of me doing things I have never done, in places I have never done.  You know, because I am such a high priority for the government and CSIS is routinely reading my mail, email, texts and blog posts.

Seriously people, why so afraid of “Big Brother”?  Let’s face it, the government and the police are too busy dealing with criminals to waste time ruining my life.  The only things I have to fear from my government are increased taxes, non-accountability when they steal money, broken campaign promises, reductions in services, smaller school budgets, stupid quasi-military spending and rogue leaders proroguing Parliament.

What is the source of this fear?  Why do so many people (about ten I asked today all had the exact same response) have issues with governments watching them in public places, and governments being able to readily identify individuals?

Think about it for a moment… how many crimes would be far more easily solved if the police could easily run the DNA they found at the scene and get a match.  Sure, it’s not an exact science, its only 99.9% accurate (or less, depending on who you talk to) but it is getting better all the time.  And think about how that could be used:  Let’s say you are a gay couple living in small town Nova Scotia, and someone deposits human feces on your property.  Why would anyone do that you ask?  Well, because people are generally speaking real idiots and overall big douchebags.  But right now, no way to tell who’s feces that is.  Now if we had a DNA registry, the police could take a sample, and viola!  We have someone to talk to.  Sure, its not conclusive evidence that the feces was deposited there by the person to produced said feces.  But it’s a pretty good place for the police to start.

And say there was a camera on every corner.  With today’s face recognition software (which face it is only going to get better and better) the mugger who assaulted the old lady could be identified, located and questioned.  Why are these things such bad ideas?

What is the fear?  Anyone?  Anyone?

Yes, your DNA could be used against you.  Yes, the government could take my DNA and make thousands of SRD clones, unleashing them across the country to wreak a terrible havoc and destroy life as we know it.  But seriously folks, if you aren’t breaking the law, why would you be concerned about these sorts of things?

If anyone can actually give me a non-conspiracy answer to this question, I’d sure appreciate it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hurricane Hazel 23 / 30

I read this article about the amazing Mississauga mayor, dubbed Hurricane Hazel by her pundits and fans alike.

She turned 90 today, as you can clearly see by the story, and is quite the fixture in Mississauga, having been mayor now for twelve terms.  She's so damned successful that she didn't even campaign at the last election, she just kept working and won again.

I was most intrigued by this part of the story:
McCallion was hailed as a hero in 2006 during a police standoff involving a distraught man who was threatening to kill himself.
The five-hour standoff came to a peaceful end when McCallion appeared and demanded the man stand down so emergency personnel could attend to more important matters.
Now that's more of what we need to see.  Plain old fashioned common sense.  I've often wondered why the police send dozens of cars and officers to proposed suicide locations.  Don't get me wrong, those folks at that stage do need help, and they deserve to get it.  But why the giant media circus?  Why the ERT van?  Why does the media show up?  Seems like Hazel has the right attitude to me - don't do it, but if you must do it, do it quickly so these people can get back to saving other lives.  But that's the lingering cynic in me speaking.

McCallion's attitude reminded me of the video I am certain you have all seen by now, which you can go see here on Youtube.  Remember, I hate posting the actual video - messes with the formatting.  :)  The truly bothersome part of that video, over and above that a pensioner had to come to the rescue, was that people are driving and walking by, no one is intervening, no one appears to be overly bothered even.  But enter Super Granny with Mjöllnir in her sensible handbag, swinging like mad and obviously pretty upset at these young people's antics!

So, two different stories about two older women (both are seniors by anyone's definition) both putting a stop to behaviour with the simple method of direct, no nonsense action.  We need more people like this!

Maybe its growing older and gaining wisdom.  Maybe it is being too old and too tired to waste any time on bullshit.  Maybe its just plain common sense.  Whatever these two ladies have, I say we need to find more of it and try and get it across to people of all ages.  That kinda moxie, I like.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Rising Hope... 22 / 30

I’ve been loosely following the changes in Egypt with something akin to optimism.  Change is coming to that part of the world as people of all walks of life, of all faiths and beliefs, stand up against what they see as oppression and tyranny.  Democracy, for all its flaws, seems to be spreading without CIA intervention or external military force being applied.

The Egyptian military, currently in charge of the country, vowed today to rule the country for six months, or until democratic elections can be held.  They have pledged to uphold the treaty with Israel, which has both positives and negatives, but lets view ‘not going to war’ as an overall good thing for the moment.  They have dissolved Parliament and suspended the Constitution.  Those are a tad scary sounding, but may well be necessary in the short term, so that they can restore order to the country.

A few protesters are refusing to leave.  A few hundred, according to the news coming out of the country, are committed to staying in Tahrir Square until those election promises are kept.  I think that is commendable – they aren’t accepting the military’s word or its promises, and I can’t blame them.  I also think it’s a tad foolish though.  This nation will need a bit of time to arrange an election - despite what Mr. Harper thinks, you can’t put one of those together over a weekend.  Unfortunately, some of these protesters have been arrested by the military, and taken into custody – their status remains somewhat unknown.

Other protesters have returned to the Square as well, with brooms and dustpans, paint and rags.  The same people who tore up the sidewalks to use the concrete as ammunition against the police and military are now back there, trying to put things right.  And its this part of the story that really gives me some hope.  These people, Christians and Muslims, atheists and military, bankers and doctors, are still working together.  They are still remembering the success they achieved (and lets face it, this is huge news for the non-democratic world) and remembering how they achieved it – by working together and setting aside their differences and enmity.  Lets hope their message is still heard by the military.

The media is giving a lot of credit to things like Facebook and Twitter for helping the protesters to spread their message and get support internationally and nationally.  I think it would be very interesting to see how those mediums, and the Internet as a whole, influenced the upswing in protest in the first place.  I have long believed that as the education and communication of a group goes up, their willingness to be oppressed goes down.  History bears this out.  Illiteracy is a weapon used to keep people in line.  Dogma (whether religious or political) exists for the same reason – if you are told you “must” do this, and you know nothing else, then you are far more inclined to do as you are told.  But when you can see that others in your area / nation / continent are no longer standing for the same treatment, I think that empowers people to stand up for themselves and their rights.

So Egypt, keep working.  The world is still watching.  Your citizens are still mobilized and can repeat their actions if needed.  In fact, should the military fail to live up to their demands, I believe we’d see an even larger movement in opposition – they succeeded once, they’ve a taste for democracy now.  And that taste is sweet.