Posts from the ‘Rant or Rave’ Category

Canada: It’s cold with a Capital F

winter bird

So I heard on the news today that Environment Canada, our national weather service, is thinking of issuing a NATIONAL cold weather warning. A NATIONAL COLD WEATHER WARNING.

Whoah, whoah, whoah…this is Canada, people. A land where Canadians pride themselves on their ability to adapt and handle the cold.

How cold does it have to friggin’ get before we need to issue a warning to everyone in Canada? (Except, I am guessing, the wool sock and sandal-wearers on the West Coast – it is a balmy 3*C there…)

I think this graphic shows our predicament clearly. It is so cold, that I heard some guy comment that his nipples and penis were actually the same size. That’s effin’ “shrinkage” cold.

It's figgin' cold....

It’s figgin’ cold….

idyllic coldI know, I know. I can hear the diehards saying,”… but winter is so beautiful”; the snow, the crisp air, theBonhomme tobogganing, the skiing, the skating, ice fishing…blah blah blah.  They are selling kool-aid; a stereotypical but seldom attained image of an idyllic cold – warm snow encrusted cabins, cheerful winter carnivals, and beautiful hoar-frosted winter-scapes.

But where are those stupid visions now?  Now after several freeze/thaw cycles, the snow is that crusty, dirty, yucky brown. Now when I step outside to enjoy the great outdoors, my nostril hair freezes instantaneously. Now when I turn the key, my car starter and battery generate that low groaning “whrrrr-whrrrr-whrrrr”, which literally translates to “Seriously…it was -29*C last night.  You expect me to start?”

Where is the beauty in any of that?

Cue flashback…

When I was a kid, I think I liked, and maybe even loved, winter; but then I used to eat dirt, too.  I used to stay outside and play street hockey, and skate on the outdoor rink, and sled with my friends and my brother.  I would stay outside so long that when I came into the house for supper, my hands and feet ached with unimaginable pain – neurons thawing as my hands and feet fought to make it back to an appropriate body temperature.  And what kid didn’t try to hurry the process by sticking their hands under warm water…duh! Every other week, it seems I would forget the painful feeling of my fingertips and toes “exploding” and would try again.

When I was a kid, temperature was irrelevant…maybe because I was so busy generating heat that I forgot it was cold, and I had the metabolism of a rabbit.

You all know I love Canada.  It is a great country full of great things. And I take great pleasure in complaining about the cold and telling the rest of the world they are wussies as they bundle up in their frigid temperatures…

While the East Coast basks in relatively warm weather for mid-January, California is being hit with a blistering cold front. 

Oooh...those frigid fahrenheit temperatures. Poor Californians....

Oooh…those frigid fahrenheit temperatures. Poor Californians….

The unusually frigid weather has brought snowstorms and temperatures below 30 degrees to the Pacific Coast state, alarming motorists, farmers and zoo keepers, among others.

I take pride that our winters are harsher and tougher and meaner…makes us look stronger.

I still, on occasion, enjoy the Canadian winter for brief flashes; especially when it is sunny, and there is no wind and the thermometer is hovering around the freezing point.  I love it when my layered winter clothes keep me warm and cozy as I glide effortlessly on the ice or enjoy the bright, white landscape – everything so clean and fresh – and I love it when I enjoy a cold starry night sipping a bottle of beer in a bubbling 104*F hot tub, my bald pate protected by a colourful woolly toque with a bobble. (Sadly, I do not have a hot tub nor any friends with one now; alas, this is one of those idyllic images). 

Truthfully though, this “winter-affection” exists just before and during Christmas. Then, the love dies.

After Christmas, when there is nothing but months and months of darkness and cold to endure before Canada and the North tilt back toward the sun, I hate it. It sucks.

It sucks that I understand how to measure wind-chill in  watts per metre squared – and that I know a rating of 1600 watts/m2 means likely frost bite. I hate that I need a snow scoop (and more specifically that I do not own a snow blower.) Actually, I like my snow scoop…it’s the relentless snow I hate.

NL Blizzard WarningI mean, what Canadian has not been there…looking with dread at their driveway? Hoping beyond hope that the neighbour living two doors down, the one with the TORO Power Max 8260XE (26”) Dual Stage with the Briggs and Stratton 250cc OHV 4 cycle engine, will show mercy and save you 90 minutes of your life, and an aching back and possible cardiac arrest. You hope that he will clear your driveway in the same 15 minutes it took to clear his. (For those who don’t know, I am talking snow blower/snow thrower). Sadly, most times you are disappointed…and fuming; fuming that your neighbour is cracking a cold one while you struggle with your task, and that you gambled on the 52” LCD TV and Wii Fitness instead of the snow blower. But using The Force, you can channel that anger and disappointment into clearing that snow. Your only dilemma is where to put all the snow Mother Nature has dumped on your drive – plus the repeated bonus of the crusty, heavy, soul-destroying furrow of road snow that the “Plough-guy” gleefully pushes into the end of your drive (several times). Aaaaarrrgghhh…

Damn you SnowPlow Man, damn you!...

Damn you SnowPlow Man, damn you!…

I hate that every excursion now takes on the same epic proportions of Scott –Amundsen racing to the South Pole: sweater, fleece, coat, gloves, scarf, hat, boots. I hate that I have the agility of the Michelin Tire Man when I am appropriately bundled up.  I hate that I have too few layers to fight off the cold when I am outside, but too many layers to walk about inside a building without perspiring like an influenza victim.

..Say no more...

..Say no more…

And I hate scraping my car, and the wet trouser legs from my car mats. I hate the high heating bills and the cold spots in my house. I hate the winter…Please make it stop.

I hope this cold snap ends soon – I hate to see those Californians have to put on a sweater to stave off the extreme cold.

I hope we go back to “idyllic winter” because I want to go skating on the Rideau without risking my nose snapping off.  And I want winter to end, so that we can get to a Canadian summer quicker…the thing that makes a Canadian winter endurable.

A nice idyllic Canadian summer – and hopefully one that is not “crazy hot and humid” – ‘coz that sucks too…

Later,

ASF

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No one will ever trust you again, Lance…

Lance Armstrong

in·teg·ri·ty  [in-teg-ri-tee] adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. c.1450, “wholeness, perfect condition,” from O.Fr. integrité, from L. integritatem (nom. integritas) “soundness, wholeness,” from integer “whole” (see integer). Sense of “uncorrupted virtue” is from 1548.

“The big question this week is not whether Lance Armstrong cheated (we know he did) but why he has decided to admit it now…The short answer is money.” – OpEd piece by By David Michael Lamb, CBC Sports Posted: Jan 15, 2013 2:49 PM ET

Zero to Hero.  And sadly, Hero back to Zero. How quickly they fall, eh?

Lance Armstrong is a household name…and his baby, Livestrong, has been a focal point for good-hearted people to show how they feel about cancer. I will commend him for Livestrong, which I still believe is a good cause…it still seems a noble way to show solidarity with those who are fighting the Big C. Livestrong is still looking for new ways to raise awareness, increase outreach and facilitate collaboration in an effort to improve the cancer experience.  These trusting, kind people have given money and time and exposure to this cause, in good faith, with hope, with courage, and with honesty.

And in one fell swoop, Livestrong – and its founder –  are sullied.

I am sad the organisation now has to prove beyond a shadow of  doubt that it has not been a “Church of Oral Roberts” venture for Mr Armstrong…funding his private jet and contributing to his $125 million net worth.  No matter what happens, Livestrong’s reputation will  be forever linked to something dirty.

I am not going to listen to Mr Armstrong’s story as he discloses his justification and rationale for doping. (Okay, I will watch it on tape delay later…) I am sure he will have his excuses for super-oxygenating and drugging his blood, for having a doctor replace his blood with transfusions of un-doped blood. All this manipulation and dishonesty just so he could rise to the top of his game, with an undetected mega-advantage. Some say “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” I would counter with, “if you’re cheating, you’re cheating.”

Now I, like you,  know that people make mistakes. Sometimes  an act of cheating is just a bad decision, an error of judgement. Who hasn’t at some time, wished for a life “mulligan” and hoped for a re-do. We are human, after all and as Alexander Pope wrote, “…to err is human”.

But in this case, I am not sure I can respond with the “to forgive, divine”.  You forgive a transgression, or perhaps two. Can anyone forgive seven?  Seven years of “bad judgement”, and 16 years of denial. I mean as late as June of last year, he was still fighting like General Custer…

‘These are the very same charges and the same witnesses that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after a two-year investigation. These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity.” – The UK Mail, 13 June 2012

I guess the best defence is a robust offence. Just look at his hatchet job against fellow cyclists and against the media. The latter have dished out millions in slander and libel suits. Just like how he cheated his way to convincing cycling victories, when Lance Armstrong lied, he lied convincingly!

And though he has limited impact on my life –  he makes me mad.  I feel jipped. I feel betrayed. I feel used. It all feels dirty. I suppose I can grudgingly accept such tactics in politics and in business (though I do not like it); however,. I do not like it in sports at all.

I do not think I am upset that he doped – in the wake of Baseball’s Steroid Age, the probable use of drugs in hockey and rugby, and given the rampant drug use on the Cycling Tour  – Mr Armstrong was just using “cutting edge” technology to get ahead. Perhaps he considered the treatments as a weird, though damaging and illegal version of the swimmer’s full body “shark suit”, or the metal hockey stick, or the space-alloy prostheses on Paralympians. You do what you can to  gain an advantage. And besides, they were all doing it. It is just happens that  Lance Armstrong – either by virtue of his drugs, or the skill of his doctor, or his athletic ability, or his bicycling know how – was just better at the cycling thing than equally doped up rivals. I get that. I can get over that too.

What I can’t get over is 16 years of lies; the outright bold-faced lies to his teammates, his fans, his supporters, the media, and the world.  I can’t get over the lives he damaged, and those reputations he shattered, in defending the tapestry of falsehoods that he wove.  I can’t get over the fact that we trusted him, we cheered for him because we wanted to believe in the incredible strength of the human spirit – personified for a long while in the cycling cancer-beater.  If Lance Armstrong could do it – overcoming cancer and climbing to the top of an élite sport – then anything was possible if you worked hard enough.

And I did not believe it when the first the cracks appeared in the wall. But through bravado and intimidation and money, Mr Armstrong patched the damage. We questioned, and became skeptical, but we still held onto the threads.

And then, poof!  With allegations unchallenged, and in the resounding echo of his silence, the international sporting bodies revoked his medals, stripped his title. The dream vanished along with his Yellow Jerseys, his Olympic medal and his endorsements.

But more importantly, he has lost his credibility and his integrity will always be stained. Who will ever believe anything he says now? Everything he does from now on will be questioned and “slightly dirty” in some way. He has a lifetime of infamy to look forward to now. I hope his 16 years of fame was worth it.

Later,

ASF

There is no such thing as Free Parking – if you want a good spot, that is…

free-parking

Parking… to bring (a vehicle that one is driving) to a halt and leave it temporarily, typically in a car park or by the side of the road: he parked his car outside her house (Oxford Dictionary)

Simple, eh? Take car, turn steering wheel, select gear, ease on accelerator and brake, stopping the car between the lines or at an appropriate distance from cars in front and rear, and sufficiently close to the curb.

Easy-peasey.

So many options…parking lots, roadside parking, reversing into a spot, parking illegally, double parking, and the dreaded PARALLEL parking.

Parallel Parking

Why is there so much emotional capital invested in the simple act of parking a vehicle?  Really, I don’t think you can be indifferent about parking. You either love it or hate it.

Having lived in England for three years driving a mid-sized North American left-hand drive vehicle, I got pretty good at squeezing the SX2.0 in to some pretty small spots. Add to that the joy of renting vehicles all across Europe and I must admit that I love “the parking”. I love the challenge.

The quest for a parking spot is one of the Great Hunts in life. And like any serious quest, its hidden bounty is even protected by a Parking WardenGuardian. In this game, it is the Bylaw officer or Traffic Warden who is the Gate Keeper. Walking the streets in their omnipotent patrols, sensing the expiring parking ticket or attuned to the ticking meter, they circle like birds of prey, waiting for the opportunity to open their book of doom. They are reviled, taunted, abused – and when defeated, all rejoice in the Vanquish.  Wardens must be rewarded on a quota, they dish out their fines and judgement with unsympathetic abandon. It is un-human! Hopefully they receive good self-esteem training – they probably need it after all the abuse I have seen them take.

Aside from the fine, the Wardens tap into a volatile part of our souls. Why do we exhibit such passion and angst and joy when it comes to parking? A good spot can make your day. A bad parking experience can ruin one.

Maybe it is because parking appeals to a basic instinct. It is like the need for a parking spot sets off this little klaxon in the brain, the kind that warns of a prison break. It is like someone gave the competitive spirit a Red Bull and Vodka. There must be some sort of “hunter/gatherer” thing that comes with parking. For me, I feelthe primitive urge to “hunt for the perfect spot”  as soon as I see my final destination.

Why does the pituitary flood the gates with adrenalin when I need to stop the car?  What’s the problem with a few extra steps to get to wherever I am going?  I tell you what is wrong with it– it is accepting the “merely adequate”, the “just okay”. It is mediocrity…

I love The Chase. I love it always. Except at Christmas.

Christmas parking sucks. The parking frenzy with all its emotion – mostly negative – surrounding the December outing is absurd.

Now, because it is January, and all the Christmas shipping done and the Boxing Day ludicrousness is over, I am calm enough to think about the December parking horrors as they are nothing but a distant memory, like the Ghost of Christmas Past.  I have healed from the “no quarter” battlefield that is the War of the Xmas Parking Spots.

Peace on Earth? Goodwill to all Mankind?  Not when it comes to the Christmas parking places. At Christmas it is every driver for themselves – yelling and cursing and “flipping the bird” and honking…as ubiquitous as Fa-la-la-la-la and Boughs of Holly.

But Christmasn is just a few weeks.  I have noted that rgardless of the season, there are some parking constants…

The HuntThe Parking Spot Hunt is a game of cat and mouse with several key spots. Whether at the Shopping Center, the main shopping street, a box store, a strip mall, an outlet centre, the workplace party, the restaurant, the Christmas tree place, the rink, the theatre, the bank –  it begins with selecting a section of the lot and then narrowing it down to a specific “lucky” row. If the instincts were right, a spot will be waiting – as Sid Vicious would say, “Pretty and vacant” – for your car to slide into like a hand in a glove.

And if the spot eludes you, the chase continues in ever widening circles to find the next best spot.

The truly fanatic “parksman” will brush aside the passengers’ counsel and sightings of potential spots, with a positive feeling that there must be one closer. There is always a mental anguish when committing to spot.  One cannot commit too early… there might be a better one available!

The parking spot hunt has many phases, guises and sensations…there is “the Chase”, “the Stalk”, “the Deception”, “the Disappointment” or joyfully, “the Quickening”. If you are very unlucky, you will suffer an anxious “mix and match”, like the “Chase and Wait” or the “Chase and Deception” or the extremely unlucky “Wait followed by Deception, followed by Disappointment”.

The basic components always include spotting, or stalking a departing patron and the commanding the entry in the soon-to-be vacant as the occupier departs – the Chase.  The frustration comes in waves as the “parkee” leads the “parker” on a wild goose chase, dodging from aisle to aisle as the “parkee” frantically tries to figure out which car is theirs.

The first test to the will is “the Psyche”.  It starts with finding the seemingly perfect spot. You turn your wheel to slip into the spot like a ship berthing at its home port, and then your brain screams, “Abort! Abort! Abort!”. The vacant spot is not so. It is “half-filled” with a motrocycle, a FIAT 500 or damn SMART Car, or a stray shopping cart blocking the spot. You were bamboozled. Goshblarnit!

Next comes the Wait, those tantrum-inducing moments as the “parkee” dillies and dallies in/around their vehicle – taking eons to unload the cart, taking the cart back to the corral, unlocking the  vehicle, sitting, adjusting the seatbelt then the rear-view mirror then  the radio, moving to applying makeup or combing the hair…blah blah blah. Aaargh! Hurry up already, I HAVE THINGS TO BUY! Baby needs a new pair of shoes.

It doesn’t get worse than that. Oh wait it does.  The dreaded Deception.…that is the culmination of the Chase, the Wait, and the complete Disappointment as the person who entered the car did it only to retrieve a wallet or a phone, or to deposit the first wave of shopping.  All you get from the experience is the unsatisfactory shake of the head or dismissive wave of the hand – but the gesture only comes after  committing to the now evaporated parking spot.  As you sit there, feeling that “fight or flight” rush, your turn signal becomes a beacon of your disappointment, your ire, and your disbelief – probably aggravated by the unheard giggles of those drivers from behind. The ones that you let by you, because you had your cross hairs on the Prize.

Loser.

So many emotions all swirled together. Parking is not simply the temporary halt of your vehicle as you pick up that Best Buy gift certificate or that standby bottle of perfume. Though it seems to get worse at Christmas, the whole parking experience can be a  simple snapshot of the worst parts of the human condition.

No Parking for DBs

Unsure of what I mean…let me describe my take on the turds that are competing for those valuable spot – in my order of ascending “douchebagginess”:

  • park far awayThe Far Parker.  This is more of a complaint as a passenger, as you ride with the person who parks in the furthest reaches of the parking lot. You know the ones – they park further away than the mall makes its employees park.  Out by the massive winter snow pile, or the yucky brown pile full of road sand and pebbles.  Usually drivers of BMWs or very shiny SUVs, free of car seats and that gummy goo that kids manage to leave in the seat cracks and windows.
  • The Close Parker. Not quite the opposite of the far parker, the Close Parker is technically correct, as the halt between the lines. But they park so close to one side of the spot that it is impossible to open the door closest to them. If you are unlucky, they will have arrived after you, and have blocked your driver side door. Your only way to exit is to enter the passenger side, straddle across your stick shift and try to limbo into your driver’s seat.
  • The Door Banger, aka the cousin of the close parker. The door banger is self-explanatory as they leave traces of their car’s DNA all over your car…complete with nice dents.
  • The Two-Space Taker.  The two-space taker has no idea where to put his car, where the lines are, or more probably just Two Spacerdoesn’t care. Their car may straddle the line, may actually stop on the line, or worse, they park diagonally across the two spots to protect their car. They try to get the security of the Far Parker achieves with none of the legwork.  Douchebags.
  • The Spot Stealer.  This is almost the douche-baggiest driver in the parking lot. As you follow proper parking lot etiquette, waiting patiently, the Stealer forgoes the wait and jumps in to your parking spot – totally devoid of any class, manners, upbringing or civility.
  • And the douche-baggiest…The Disabled Spot Violator. The blue markings and wheelchair symbol are just a guide. The Violator is just going to be a minute, or just does not give a hoot about whether the old or the infirm or the broken or the infirm are allowed access to the spot society has granted to them. Whenever you see them you just hoping to see the Traffic Warden…where are they when you need them.

Violator

I am glad that the Christmas rush is over. The crowds have dispersed and the population does not have the crazed retail fervour, that Post-Apocalyptic Yuletide Zombie look. Parking spots abound. The frenzy has ended.

But The Chase is never over.  Somewhere out there on my next jaunt, awaits the White Rhino ofall  parking spots. My quest continues.  I can’t wait to find it before anyone else does.

Later,

ASF

Hey Airline…Just tell me the Truth like an Adult

air canada

I am beginning to hate airlines. Wait, that’s incorrect. I don’t hate airlines. I just don’t trust them anymore. I wish that I didn’t have to rely on them, but in this day and age I can’t ignore them. Sadly, as a Canadian, I don’t really have a lot of choice.

Why the rant?

Once again, my wife and I are sitting on tenterhooks, unsure if the Airline will come through and deliver on a service we have paid for – in full.

As a member of a blended family, with children living in different Canadian cities, we have relied on our national airline to bring our family together for Christmas, for summer holidays and for special occasions.  The money we have paid to our national carrier (and at times to the major Western competitor) has no doubt contributed greatly to both airlines’ bottom line.

And it seems that no matter how many ways we are disappointed by the pricing structure – the hidden fees and surcharges and taxes – the lack of flexible flights, the cramped seats, the yucky food, the aloof and sometimes rude customer service, the Airline always seems to find a way to fall short of my already jaded expectations.

Today our girls were to fly back home to Calgary…YOW to YYZ to YYC.  Each had a full fare ticket at a cost of almost $1000 each – booked and paid for in November 2012.

Last night, we checked in online, chose adjoining seats and the plan was to print boarding passes at the airport kiosk.   This morning we headed to the Ottawa Airport from Kingston – almost a good two-hour drive. We had a nice afternoon in Bytown and after a nice lunch at the Market, we were off to the airport. I found a great parking spot – bonus! – and we were off to the check in area. Luckily there were no issues with the queues, and all of us were in good spirits.

Then…the National Carrier’s “Hammer of Disappointment” hit us hard. The first leg from YOW to YYZ – no issues with that. But from YYZ to YYC…uh, umm…”Sorry ladies, I have to issue you standby passes and your seats will be confirmed half an hour before take-off.”

Excuse us…I thought I heard the Employee say that the seats would be confirmed half an hour before take-off?  Isn’t that when everyone is supposed to board? What if there are no seats?  What if they are stuck en-route?

After a number of questions – all answered with vagaries, round-about-isms, and veiled references to the Customer Contract (all paralysing 12 lengthy, font 8 paragraphs worth) – there were no satisfying answers. The Toronto-Calgary flight was overbooked. The girls now had standby tickets. There were two Calgary-bound flights from Toronto tonight…both fully sold out. If the girls did not make it out of Toronto tonight, they would get meal vouchers, hotel vouchers and taxi vouchers…and a night in Toronto alone.  The fact that one’s boyfriend had driven from Edmonton to Calgary to visit over the remaining Christmas Holidays, and that the other had work tomorrow are irrelevant.  Our National Airline would do the very, very best it could. They would probably be home by 4 January.

Dog poop.

I understand that the business case is to overbook…and to take chances.  But really, with this questionable actuarial bean-counter business practice (which I believe some are arguing could be fraudulent – see http://www.moneyville.ca/article/1227876–airlines-told-to-offer-full-refunds-when-flights-overbooked) who takes the chance…the Airline or the Customer? The Airline gets its money regardless. And as for the Customer, yes, it is in the fine print – caveat emptor – tickets are not a guarantee of service…

But…

angry flyerWhy do they surprise me (rather, shock me…) and let me think that I am on the flight when I book and pay for a ticket, when I check in online and when I head to the airport.  Why  should my first notice that I am being bent over, that I am not guaranteed a seat, be at the baggage drop off desk at the airport? They have my e-mail and phone number. Text me. Call me. Bad news does not get better with time. I would rather know early than when I am helpless and held hostage in a departure lounge.

Better yet, why doesn’t anyone who books a spot after the flight is fully sold be told that their ticket is a standby ticket.  Too much common sense I guess…could hurt the bottom line, I suppose.

And what about transparency? I am a person. I have feelings. I deserve the truth. Do not couch it in airline speak of “changing platforms”, “dead-head priorities”, “unexpected maintenance”, “missed connections”, “strong headwinds”, “unforeseen circumstances”. I can handle the truth.  And if the Customer Service Representative is entering information about my booking or possible connections, why can’t I see the computer monitor? Is it because it is simply useless clicking on the keyboard, or that I might make an informed decision, that I might notice some snarky amplifying commentary to enhance my flying experience – i.e. “seat this customer in a middle seat between the loud-talker and the arm-rest stealer, near the broken toilet, in the seat with the malfunctioning entertainment console or earphone jack, and make sure you tell him that there are no more meals available…”

I can forgive a lot of perceived transgressions if I am treated with honesty, dignity and respect. I know flights are overbooked. I bumpedknow that most times everybody gets on. I just want to know why our girls were bumped to standby when they had full-fare tickets and printed boarded passes. Did we buy the wrong ticket, were they too cheap, or have caveats that we missed? Did we check in too late to have a valid seat? (Doubtful as we checked in our luggage 2 hours before departure).  Are we the unlucky winners of a random selection? Do the seats we chose the night before not exist on the new aircraft? There has to be some logic – all I wanted to know is why.  The truth would allow me to understand that we were not feel unjustly treated. With the truth, while I may be upset, I wouldn’t feel insulted and belittled – like a child who is sent away because they cannot handle the truth.

The National Carrier does not have a monopoly…other carriers  can challenge on select routes. But as the National Carrier shouldn’t it be in the service of all its citizens – whether they are Super Elites or just plain Economy Classers. The Carrier should remember that it provides a service and in the end it is in the “People business”, not just the money business. No people, no business, no money.

It should remember that people not only use it to exercise their livelihood, but more importantly to be with family and to live life. They seem to regard us as Units – commodities to be moved from Point A to Point B, like cargo. They  have it wrong.

We are more than units. We are Fathers and Mothers, Uncles and Aunts, Sons and Daughters, Husbands and Wives. We are Significant Others and Partners and Friends. We have expectations, commitments and hopes…and in the blink of an eye, they can be dashed by poor weather, by a missing bolt, an overbooked flight.

True, the catalyst may be out of the airline’s control – volcanoes, storms, breakdowns and most despicably, “oversells” happen – but how the Airline responds and treats the People that are affected by the unforeseens should reflect the character of the national flag it represents.

And as it stands, I don’t think that our National Carrier is quite doing that, eh?

Angry_Beaver

Agree?

(Post-Script. The girls are now on a flight home, only six hours of angst and confusion. I do have an e-mail in to both the President and Senior VP Customer Service of our National Carrier, expressing my dismay. I will let you know how it goes…)

Later,

ASF

Guns, Mental Illness and Infamy…

Innocence LostNothing but tears for the unfulfilled hopes, dreams and expectations of all the victims of yet another senseless act of violence. Condolences and wishes for peace to all those parents, families and a community tragically ripped apart by yet another unfathomable and inexplicable event…

The fourth US mass shooting in the past year with a total of 54 men, women and children dead.   Over the past few decades, there have been mass shootings in Australia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Norway, and the UK.  And not even China has been immune – though their issue is mass knifing instead of shootings.

The airwaves, television screens and internet are all abuzz with stories and theories and recriminations and calls for action. Hasty exploitive interviews with family and children and neighbours and academics and psychologists and sociologists and criminologists are everywhere – each with their own agenda to provide meaningful insight, analysis and coverage. Special theme music, a CNN phenomenon in the post-Gulf War I era, litter the media landscape – as if this sad event needed any more to stress the poignancy.

And as always in the aftermath, the pundits offer their solutions to forever end these debacles. Whatever the discussion, we need to discuss the issues in the right frame – not misappropriate them for purpose of unrelated arguments on whatever topic we champion.

The biggest argument is the persistent criticism of the US gun culture and their Second Amendment – “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  The sticking point is whether the person subscribes to the Individual Rights Theory or the Collective Rights Theory. Does it refer to the e individual’s right to own guns, or the State’s obligation to protect its citizens? There is no consensus.

Regardless, CNN reports that in 2009 there were over 310 million American non-military firearms for  305 million people – and shockingly, there were 11,500 “homicides by firearm” in the same year.

Using the 2009 ratios, proportionally Canada’s 33.7 million citizens would own 34.2 million firearms and commit 1270 firearm homicides.  But for some reason we didn’t… in 2011 there were 7.9 million firearms, and in 2009 we had 179 deaths by shooting. The numbers are much less, but sadly they are not zero.

more-guns-more-mass-shootings

I do not believe that today’s society, one that makes money – legally and illegally – from handguns and long barrel guns, will ever cut shooting deaths to zero.

For the record, I am not a gun owner – never have been one, never want to be one. But,  I do enjoy target shooting on occasion. I also understand that hunters love to hunt and do not begrudge them that. I am not against recreational shooting.

But I do believe that if you only have a hammer, then everything becomes a nail.  If you carry a gun, you probably view everyone as a potential target. And if by chance an intruder into my house has a gun, I’d bet the chance of someone dying probably escalates exponentially if I introduced a second gun into the equation. I am not arguing whether the intruder “deserves” to face a gun…I am talkng about potential outcomes. I can only conclude that if I put “his already-morally-compromised back” against the wall,  I just become a nail to be hammered.  I know lots will disagree – but that’s just me; I simply poin to the Trayvor Martin/George Zimmerman episode in Florida this past summer.

Anyway, it’s a moot point: the US of A will never give up its guns. I acknowledge that.

But as offered by Nick Kristof in the New York Times, “…shooting is fun! But so is driving, and we accept that we must wear seat belts, use headlights at night, and fill out forms to buy a car. Why can’t we be equally adult about regulating guns?” Maybe that will be enough.

Enough about guns.

The other issue that needs to be addressed is the mental illness piece. There are so many viewpoints on this topic, too.

Here in Canada we have been trying hard to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. It is an uphill battle. And rightly or wrongly, we all jump to the issue of mental illness as “rationalisation” for the atrocity –  as if all mentally ill people will inevitably take up arms and slaughter innocents. That is not true.  But, if that is how we brand them, it is no wonder that no one wants to admit to mental issues. But even if we identify the issue, finding help  in this resource-constrained world is difficult.

The Anarchist Soccer Mom takes the issue head-on when she describes her son Michael. “I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me. A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7- and 9-year-old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.”

She then goes on to discuss how her options are now limited after pharmaceuticals, therapy, psychiatry and law enforcement have been unable to control the problem effectively.  Her fear is that he is on the same awful trajectory as all those who have killed others.

Her story offers a new perspective. It is not just about guns – though I am sure that we all agree that a person with mental illness without a gun, or a knife for that matter, is unlikely to commit such a crime of the same proportion.

It is time for a serious look at how we educate ourselves about mental illnes, and how we diagnose, respond, and treat those affected. It should be a high public health priority…

And lastly… I ask what is the media’s role in all this?

In a strange internet hoax, Morgan Freeman, is wrongly attributed for a pointed citicism against the media. It wasn’t him. But I wish the anonymous author would come forward. Their is merit in their words. Sensationalization, voyeurism, instant fame. Anonymous writes on why the shootings continue:

You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here’s why.

It’s because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine?

Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he’ll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.

CNN’s article says that if the body count “holds up”, this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer’s face on all their reports for hours.

Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer’s identity? None that I’ve seen yet. Because they don’t sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you’ve just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.

You can help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.”

Three different viewpoints on the same issue – all trying to learn from the Newtown shooting and to prevent the next one.

Just like we did after the Milwaukee Sikh Temple Shooting, Colorado’s Batman Cinema Shooting, the École Polytechqnique Shooting in Montréal, the Gifford Shooting Spree in Tucson, the Shooting at Fort Hood, the Virginia Tech Shooting, or the Columbine Massacre…and on and on.

Dozens killed or injured in mass shooting at Colorado cinema

Gun control? Mental Illness? The Media?

I don’t know which is to blame. And evidently people with a lot bigger brains are just as confused, otherwise this would be sorted. All I know is that we need to talk about all of them, how they interact, and then we need to sort it. Hearing and seeing adults, teenagers, children – male and female –  die needlessly at the hands of executioners armed to the teeth is not an acceptable option.  And I hope that our egos and our priorities can be altered to appropriately restrict a troubled person’s access to instruments that can kill – guns, knives, or whatever.

Some say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. Okay, I can’t refute that. But surely we can also add a qualifier…”People with guns kill people.” A gun definitely makes it easier…

We have to take away the means (unregulated weapons), address the causes (mental illness, poverty…) and remove the incentive (infamy, notoriety, exposure…) for those who might be inclined to kill the innocent.  If not, we will just continue the same superficial conversations – gnashing our teeth and crying our tears – over another series of senseless deaths.

And while I hope we can all take a moment to think of all those who have been gunned down during the simple act of living their lives innocently, please take an extra moment to remember the little children lost forever, and their protectors who died trying to save them. Offer what strength you can to their families and friends as they deal with indescribable pain and a despair that no one should ever have to deal with…

  • Charlotte Bacon, 6;
  • Daniel Barden, 7;
  • Rachel Davino, 29;
  • Olivia Engel, 6;
  • Josephine Gay, 7;
  • Ana Marquez-Greene, 6;
  • Dylan Hockley, 6;
  • Dawn Hochsprung, 47;
  • Madeleine Hsu, 6;
  • Catherine Hubbard, 6;
  • Chase Kowalski, 7;
  • Jesse Lewis, 6;
  • James Mattioli, 6;
  • Grace McDonnell, 7;
  • Anne Marie Murphy, 52;
  • Emilie Parker, 6;
  • Jack Pinto, 6;
  • Noah Pozner, 6;
  • Caroline Previdi, 6;
  • Jessica Rekos, 6;
  • Avielle Richman, 6;
  • Lauren Rousseau, 30;
  • Mary Sherlach, 56;
  • Victoria Soto, 27;
  • Benjamin Wheeler, 6;
  • Allison Wyatt, 6

Later,

ASF

The No Hockey League. Give it up – the game is bigger than you…

The Glory Days...Probably gone forever...

The Glory Days…Probably gone forever…

Day 87 of millionaires squabbling with billionaires.  All the National Hockey League (NHL) games up to 30 December have been cancelled.  Other than shopkeepers and restaurateurs and the hundreds of other fringe businesses that have lost income for their livelihoods, who gives a hoot?

Not me.

Once upon a time I would have cared tremendously that the NHL was not playing. Not today. Save for the fact that a winter morning’s Sports Centre just isn’t the same when limited to only the latest Dog Show or Equestrian event highlights, I wouldn’t care at all.

I have fallen out of love with the NHL.

Why and When? Who knows?

ICheap Shot Torrest is not like it was a tragic “fall-of-the-cliff” event.  Nope, it has been a “death of a thousand cuts”.  It has been seasons of diluted talent, of absurdly high ticket prices, of mediocre hockey played by commercialised teams more worried about Third Jersey sales than hockey perfection. It was bringing in The Dump and Chase and The Trap, and how the size of the players has grown out of all proportion to the size of the ice surface and has suffocated the entertaining free flow game. Add to that the concussions and the cheap shots and the clutching and the grabbing, and this is not the game that I grew up watching. Add to that, this is the fourth lockout/strike in the last 20 years, and my patience is gone. And though I would be lying to say that I haven’t been entertained by the odd game over the past few years, the NHL does not mean the World to me like it did when I was younger.

1973...Leafs v Bruins...did it get any better for a 9 year old Canadian boy?

1973…Leafs v Bruins…did it get any better for a 9 year old Canadian boy?

My brother and I still reminisce about the “good old days” when we bled Maple Leaf blue and white and followed the League like a religion. It was a simpler time when the first two periods of the Wednesday night game on CHCH Tv11, and if we were lucky, the full Saturday HNIC game on CBC were the highlights of our week. It was a time when we sat in our pyjamas, glued to our 14-inch black and white television, fiddling with the rabbit ears, watching the double-ghost images of the players at Maple Leaf Gardens on a snowy screen, hoping (usually against hope) that the Hometown Heroes would win.

kendrydenI remember all the players…Sittler and McDonald, Turnbull and Salming, Ellis and Thompson. And I remembered their arch rivals like Cournoyer and Lafleur and Dryden and Park and Esposito and Cheevers and Vachon and Dionne and many others.

But if I recall correctly, none of these players, though heroes, were ever greater than the crest on their jerseys. “Franchise players” did not exist back then. Multi-million, multi-year contracts did not exist either.  Rosters changed and players moved – but the very sight of Les Habitants versus the Blue and White, the Red and White versus the Black and Gold, the Blackhawk versus the Ranger, the Broad Street Bully at the Igloo…that was the essence of hockey…it wasn’t Ovechkin versus Crosby, or Gretzky versus Lemieux…it was team versus team. Loyalty to the team was much more important than idolizing a player.

Like most of my generation, so much of my childhood revolved around by major hockey events.  I recall mike_palmateerDarryl Sittler’s 10 point night (7 Feb 1976) – against the Bruins. I remember watching Brad Park, and Bobby Orr, and

Sittler's 10 point night Box Score

Sittler’s 10 point night Box Score

feeling sad watching Jacques Plante’s final NHL game with the Bruins in ’73. (He played for the Oilers in the WHA after that!).  I remember Hockey Night in Canada with the baby blue blazers.  I remember being able to draw every NHL goalies’ mask and name who was who.  And I remember the disagreements during the street hockey games as we all called out who we were – Mahavolich or Ellis…Dryden or Palmateer (which I modified to “PalMann”teer). It was magic.

Goaliemasks

It is just not the same on the Xbox or Playstation with EA’s NHL2013 video game.

edwards california golden sealsAnd I remember collecting the Loblaws stickers for my NHL scrapbooks. I remember the myriad of teams that

Every year we tried to fill in all the stickers....

Every year we tried to fill in all the stickers….

changed cities and names like The Atlanta Flames, or the California Golden Seals (to the Cleveland Barons), or the Kansas City scouts (first the Colorado Rockies and then the New Jersey Devils)…

And I remember the 1978 Playoffs.

The Leafs had a good start that year, knocking off the Los Angeles Kings in two games…back in the day when the first series was  best of three. We were chuffed.  Until we learned that the next team was the New York Islanders, an “up and coming” dynasty – Billy Smith, Resch, Trottier, Potvin, Gillies, Bossy…dammit…the Leafs would never take it. We were crestfallen.

But we held on to the dream, and the series did not disappoint. Game One to the Islanders 4-1; Game Two to the Islanders again, this time 3-2 in a crushing OT period.  You could not imagine the tears on our pillows…the dream was slipping away. But the next two games were at the Gardens! Two wins on home ice and the Blue and White evened the series at 2-2. Back to back games at Nassau Coliseum and the Gardens evened the series at 3-a-piece, which took us to the seventh and deciding game in the Dragon’s den. It was a nail biter…tied 1-1 after 60 minutes of hockey. And then lo and behold, against all odds – in an away game – Lanny Mcdonald scored the winner to take it 2-1 (6’43” mark)

It wasn’t quite a Game 7 overtime goal during the Stanley Cup Final, but to a City that had not experienced hockey glory since 1967, it was a big deal.

Lanny Scores!!!

But as good as that was, no season has lived in my memory as much as the 1978-79 season – the Season we saw out first live NHL game. My little brother and I were 12 and 14.  And as I said, we lived for the NHL.  Pooling our paper-route money together, we managed to scrimp and save up $37 dollars –a 1979 treasure trove. And with our parents’ permission we headed to the Gardens immediately after the last regular season game to try to get playoff tickets. Jumping on the subway immediately after school – remember that this was an era when parents were not fazed to send their kids by themselves into the core of Toronto – we joined a disappointingly long line for Maple Leaf Tickets. Two and half hours later, we made it to the ticket booth, only to be told that all that was left was “nose-bleed” Grey section seats for the second playoff SERIES.

What? The Leafs had to make it to the SECOND round in order for us to see a game?  We were stunned. Yet, after much gnashing of teeth, for the princely sum of $35.50, we managed to get two Greys, side by side, in row QQ, for the second playoff home game of the second series …we had a whole $1.50 to spare and we had two promissory notes for a live playoff game.

So with our pseudo-tickets in hand, we watched the ’78-’79 playoffs begin.  First round – the Flames (of Atlanta, not Calgary!)

Oh! And the joy on 12 April 1979! The jumping, the yelling, the hugging in our living room when the Leafs knocked out the Flames in two games.

And so, it came to pass that Montreal and Toronto would meet in the Quarter Final Series – Montreal with home ice advantage.  The continuation of an age-old rivalry! Game 3 of the Quarters was a Leafs home game – and we were a lock to go and watch it because there was no way that Leafs would not make it to Game Three in a Best-of-Seven series! No one really expected Toronto to take the series from Les Habs…but who cared. Watching this rivalry was a dream come true. Watching a game live was unbelievable. And even after the Leafs went down 2-0 in the series, we knew that April 21, 1979 was going to be a day to remember.

Mtl_Tor_1960_1969

We went to the Gardens early, watching the pre-game warm up, hoping for a stick or a puck.  No luck. And as we made our way up and up and up and up to our seats, I remember the formality of the 1979 Saturday night NHL game. Men in suits, women all dressed up and Ushers stopping movement until  an appropriate break in the action before letting you up.  I remember walking out of the corridors and into the seating – my breath taken away by the sight of the blue maple leaf at centre ice, the crisp, pristine and shiny ice, the monolithic scoreboard suspended above centre ice like the Star Wars Death Star…and all around the ice the colourful ribbons of seats – gold, red, green, blue, grey.  It was so different than our black and white TV…it was unbelievable.

Maple Leaf Gardens...unfortunately the Death Star Scoreboard did not last forever...

Maple Leaf Gardens…unfortunately the Death Star Scoreboard did not last forever…

And the game…oh my… what a topsy-turvy affair. To quote Danny Gallivan, it was “dipsy-doodling” and full of “Savardian spineramas”. After falling behind, the Leafs finally forced it to OT. The first OT ended and it was time for a second OT.  The Gardens was abuzz, and though we were excited, remember we were only youngsters and as midnight loomed closer, we worried if perchance we should go home before we got in trouble!!  But we stayed and “Oooohed” and “Aaaaahed” at every shot and two-on-one and every hit. It was truly magical. But the dream ended when Cam Connor …who you ask?…fanned on his breakaway, fooling Palmateer, and as if in slow motion, we watched Palmateer’s arm sweep backwards frantically, missing the puck as it slid in to the net…Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge! (or some other Queen Mother of a swear word…) It ended, disappointingly for the Leafs Nation.

And so it ended.  The first game we ever saw live. What a game, what an era of hockey!

I moved from Toronto a couple of years later to go to University, and while always a Leafs fan (mock me now), I have  only had a few moments of delight since the late 70s…like the Gilmore years and the Second Swedish Era (Sundin).

But it is over now – just like my childhood with its naivety and innocence.

Severe Weather Edmonton 20110901

If I  watch hockey I watch it with heavy  disinterest – occasionally marvelling at a hockey highlight, but overall despising the League. Watching the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup in June is just not hockey the way I want to enjoy it – and definitely not the way I remember it.

I doubt that they will ever get my loyalty back – not unless “pigs fly” or “hell freezes over” and the Leafs have a good run. And if that happens, I could care less about who is on the team roster.

I say scrap the League. Fire all the millionaires and save millions by putting the Toronto Marlies or the Brampton Battalion or the Peterborough Petes or the Oshawa Generals or the Hershey Bears in the major league uniforms. It would rekindle the spirit and the joy – just like the Boxing Day fever when the World Juniors start. That is hockey with passion…not hockey for profit.

But that will not happen, and we will still see millionaires squabbling with billionaires. A travesty when you consider that some Canadians can’t even afford housing or food and that hockey players make more in a day than the normal Canadian makes in a month – that the average Canadian will be lucky to earn $1 million in their entire working life.

And the owners? Their earnings are “private”.  What cost me $17.75 in 1979 would set me back $300 in 2012.  WTF?  Who but the corporations and over-privileged can afford to go to a game.

And still…

The average annual salary for a Canadian teacher is about $55K; a policeman’s is $65K; an infantry Sergeant makes about $70K a year.  The average NHL salary in 1978 was $90K or about $250K in today’s dollars; the 2012 average salary is $1.6 MILLION!!  All that money for an 82+ game season.  Yet still, the owners and the players are fighting over a bigger piece of the pie.  The only losers are us..

All I have is one word:

Bullsh*t.

End the NHL now. Start a new league with a new, realistic pay structure and affordable tickets. A game based on passion and honour.

Bring back the game I loved as a kid…

Later,

ASF

What’s wrong with this picture?

Cropped NY Post Cover , Tuesday 4 December 2012

Cropped NY Post Cover , Tuesday 4 December 2012

The furor over the despicable photos published by the New York Post continues.  It is even topping the acute morning sickness of the Duchess – though the subway story may be edged out by the prankster DJs from Australia pretending to be HRH EIIR and Prince Charles.

(Tangent…What is with the totally asinine skew on the news these days – I mean aren’t the Civil War in Syria or Egypt Uprising 2 or the Philippines Typhoon or the Palestinian UN Membership issue more compelling?)

I am sure that I am not the only one dismayed about the tragic demise of Mr Ki-Suck Han – and the complete indignity he and his family suffer through in the name of “news”.

Debate swirls over the actions of the freelance photographer who “inadvertently” snapped several photos of Mr Han’s tragedy, all while he was “frantically” trying to signal the train driver with his camera flash.

He tells his side…you can make up your own mind. So many unanswered questions. Could he have helped? Could anyone have helped?  Would you have?

I like to think I would have tried if I could have done anything about it. One thing I do know…I am sure that I wouldn’t be photographing it or phone-recording it.  I like to think that I would have been running down the platform waving my arms and yelling like a madman hoping to alert the driver. I would have tried to reach the man and pull the man up with all my might…hoping I was strong enough to do the job, rather than justifying after the fact that I didn’t try because I knew I was not strong enough to do it. I would like to think I would be like this guy…  man at railroad crossing (video)

But apparently that is not the norm…the chances of no one helping is greater than that of some stepping up.

Sociologists call it the Genovese Syndrome or Bystander Effect (video)… people do not offer any means of help in an emergency to the victim when other people are present…in other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.

I have to admit, I don’t like that such a syndrome exists. Perhaps it is my upbringing as a soldier.  I can’t stand by and watch. I must act. I know all my friends are the same.

I acknowledge that inaction is sometimes inevitable. Sometimes it is beyond one’s ability to rescue someone – ie the risk to your own life is too large. That is why we look at some who have sprung into action with complete awe, they are true heroes. In such cases, recording an event to hand over the pictures to the investigators as evidence is a worthy act.

But that does not always happen.

In my opinion, the Bystander Effect is not the most disturbing thing out there. There is what I call the Tragedy Vulture. The Tragedy Vulture is the bystander who exploits the situation. The person who stands by and records the sadness, when the situation really calls for a reaction that is within the recorder’s ability. Inevitably the Vulture posts the recording on social media or sells it to the media. This is inexcusable.

Sadly, though, it seems to be a recurring theme these days: to stand by and record preventable tragedies and then publicise them.

What’s the motivation? Fleeting notoriety? Greed?

Both of these seem to be the New York Post’s motivation.

To be honest, I hope that it is that simple. I can understand two of the Deadly Sins. And though it is distressing, it is a better option than believing that these Vultures do not care about the dignity and lives of their fellow beings.

That is too depressing.

But, whatever the reason, it is a sad trend.  I hope it stops.

Later,

ASF