vendredi 11 décembre 2009

My 100 favourite songs of all-time in order

1Search Party- Wintersleep
2Red Heart – Hey! Rosetta
3Pornostartrek – Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker
4Torn – Natalie Imbruglia
5I’ll Always Be There -Roch Voisine
6Naïve – the Kooks
7Old Man – Neil Young
8The Con – Tegan and Sara
9Heaters – Ill Scarlett
10Lazy Eye – Silver Sun Pickups
11Coney Island – The First Ship
12Jesus Christ – Brand New
13The Grace – Neverending White Lights feat. Dallas Green
14Seaside - The Kooks
15If You Could Read my Mind – Johnny Cash (cover)
16You Raise Me Up – Josh Groban
17I Will Follow You into the Dark – Death Cab for Cutie
18Only – Nine Inch Nails
19Dead Disco – Metric
20Les étoiles filantes - Cowboys Fraignants
21Time After Time – Machete Avenue (cover)
22That Song – Big Wreck
23When it Rains – Paramore
24Your Ex-Lover is Dead – Stars
25Beast of Burden – The Rolling Stones
26Dans un spoutnik – Daniel Bélanger
27Frequencies – The Junction
28Hymne à l’Amour – Edith Piaf/Josh Groban
29Santa Monica – Theory of A Deadman
30The Other Man - Sloan
31Saeglopur – Sigur Ros
32This Time – August Rush Soundtrack
33New American Classic – Taking Back Sunday
34Bobcaygeon – The Tragically Hip
35The Cycle – Distant Society
36Beautiful - Garbage
37Constellations – Jack Johnson
38Bolero – Maurice Ravel
39Kurt Vonnegut – Born Ruffians
40I Wanna Make It With Chu – Queens of the Stone Age
41Your Body is a Wonderland – John Mayer
42Made of Stone – Spiral Beach
43Cocaine Cowgirl – Matt Mays and El Torpedo
44Take Me Back – Story of the Year
45I Alone - Live
46Breaking the Girl – Red Hot Chili Peppers
47Maybe I’m Wrong – Blues Traveler
48Seashell - Seabear
49Wish You Were Here - Incubus
50The Good Left Undone – Rise Against
51Mon ange – Éric Lapointe
52Postcards from Italy - Beirut
53The Wolves (Act I & II) – Bon Iver
54Coalmine – Armchair Cynics
55Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads
56Young Leaves – Attack in Black
57Stoned – Blackie and the Rodeo Kings
58The Hurricane – Bob Dylan
59Breakfast at Tiffany’s – The Ramones
60Astronaute – Damien Robitaille
61Hélène – Roch Voisine
62Freedom – Paul McCartney
63In a Cave - Tokyo Police Club
64Hollow Point Sniper Hyperbole – Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker
65Sleep Now in the Fire – Rage Against the Machine
66Cherry - Ratatat
67Little Bit – Lykki Li
68Montréal -40 - Malajube
69Typical – Mute Math
70Ghost of You – My Chemical Romance
71Synthia – FM Belfast
72Somewhere Only We Know - Keane
73Je l’aime à mourir – Francis Cabrel
74Le Disko – Shiny Toy Guns
75Cocaine – Strata
76Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand
77Steady As She Goes – The Raconteurs
78Tales from the Vienna Woods – Johann Strauss
79Blood on Our Hands – Death From Above 1979 (Justice Remix)
80Like a Prayer – Madonna
81Loyal to No One – Dropkick Murphy’s
82In the End – Linkin Park
83Big Change – Slave to the Square Wave
84The Motions – Subb
85Dusting Down the Stars – Mobile
86Gong – Sigur Rós
87Juste Pour Voir le Monde – La Chicane
88Ooh Ohh – Daniel Wesley
89King Without a Crown - Matisayhu
90Tribute – Tenacious D
91Robot Rock – Daftpunk
92In View – The Tragically Hip
93Dis tout sans rien dire – Daniel Bélanger
94Brand New Low – Treble Charger
95Boom Boom Boom – John Lee Hooker
96Þú komst með hjartan í mér – Hjaltalín
97Tell All Your Friends – Projet Orange
98Radio Nowhere – Bruce Springsteen
99In the Shadows – The Rasmus
100Meant to Live – Switchfoot

lundi 7 décembre 2009

No, Virginia - The existence of Santa Claus et al.

In 1897, the New York Sun published an editorial proclaiming the existence of Santa Claus, answering the written prayer of a young girl named Virginia O’Hanlon. It announced that indeed there was a Santa Claus and that her friends were wrong as they: “have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age”.

Of course, this reassurance of an 8 year old has been taken seriously by many a child and an adult since then. What danger is incurred by believing in Santa Claus to explain the appearance of gifts on Christmas morn? None, really. Eventually the child or the adolescent will figure out that the parents have been placing these presents under the tree and that they have paid for them despite any financial difficulties they may have. It will become logical that this was all a noble lie that has become apart of the North American consumer culture.

This is not very different than another illogical “truth” most parents impose upon their children at a young age. It is entirely related, as it demonstrated in the 1947 and 1994 films “Miracle on 34th Street” when judge Harper proclaims while rendering his verdict on the case that: “If the government of the United States can have faith in God by telling its treasury to indicate on its bills “In God we Trust”, then by the same faith, the State of New York can trust that Santa Claus, a person just as invisible and yet, just as present, does exist and he exists in the person of Kris Kringle”.

By this logic, when children do discover that Santa Claus does not exist, why do they not realize the same thing about God?

For one thing, people do not put the same insistence on the existence of God. We aren’t supposed to learn anything from jolly old St. Nick whereas we are supposed to base on lives on this unreachable deity named God. The bearded man in red comes once a year, while the other is, according to many religious people, ever present. But what does he give us? I see no presents, no gifts, no rewards.

On that point alone it is easier to believe in Santa Claus because we can see the fruit of his works, whereas the concepts which are brought to us by God are intangible: love, morality, peace, comfort. It has hard, possibly impossible, to know if God brings these to us especially considering the world in which we live.

The editorial response to Virginia could interchange Santa Claus and God and be the exact answer modern Christians could give. Yet, we know that Santa Claus does not exist, so why would the same words be used to describe something people invest everything into? Is it fair to their intelligence?

The author of the answer says: “The most real things in the world are things that neither children nor men can see.” What makes them real? Nothing.

Society has so fully immersed itself into religious belief that it sees itself too far in to take a real look and live through logic. Is it too hard to believe in the power of humans ourselves? Are we not strong enough by ourselves to give gifts at Christmas or love each other? Not strong enough to be born, live and die by natural causes?

jeudi 3 décembre 2009

There are Other Ways...

Seamus Wolfe’s recent suggestion that there be political parties permitted in SFUO elections scares many people. Of course, running as a slate when it is against the rules or having slates under the current functioning is bad, but let me tell you of another way.
Last year, I, a little GeeGee on exchange at the University of Iceland, got involved in their student council elections and I can tell you they are light-years ahead of us precisely because of the party system. There are two parties, Vaka and Röskva, which compete in the annual elections. Elections are not limited to these two parties, but they have been around for a long time and represent the essential differences in visions of a student council: Vaka wants to focus on student affairs on campus while Röskva focuses on everything relating to being a student like getting a free bus pass or something like that.

Of course, my bias is towards Röskva because I was a candidate in the elections for them. Sound strange that someone who was going home in two months could be elected? Well, each party puts up 18 candidates for the student council and there are 9 places in total to be divided for the parties which are divided according the percentage of vote received. Usually it is split 4 and 5. This combines with the 9 people who were elected the year before. If the winning party changes, one of the students elected the previous year loses their seat and the student from the other party takes it. All of this means that the winning party has 10 seats, the other party 8. Like in the SFUO, there are different committees and issues and these are formed by the members of the student council – even the losing party getting to chair a committee or two like student affairs, university affairs and family affairs (because many students are also parents in Iceland).

There are many advantages to all of this. The way I got involved was that they wanted an international student to see what international students thought could be done to improve the student council so I went around asking people what they thought was needed. I came up with various ideas and it was all put together into a whole platform. Röskva was fighting for quicker visas for international students, keeping the free bus passes (that’s right, they have them because the student council fought for them) and not having classes past 5 because day cares are closed and it makes life difficult for the parents. Even having better and more vegetarian food at the school cafeteria made it into the platform (which I had fun debating until 3 am, in Icelandic, on a Saturday night). It is published and people know what the party would fight for if elected.

Another plus is that odds are you will know someone on either list, there are 18 people on each side from all sorts of different faculties and so it is not just a popularity contest like it is now. With so many people, each party will have a table in each building every day of the campaign and give out buttons, coffee, sandwiches, occasionally condoms to attract attention. More than 54% of the 13000 university students voted last year! Each party will call and text students to answer questions and remind them to vote. With individual students campaigning here, that is just not feasible and unless you dig deep you don’t really know what they are campaigning about. The party system eliminates the focus on individuals and brings it to ideas and potential candidates whose ideas are too far-fetched for more centre parties can form their own ensuring their voices are heard.
What is especially useful is that the student council gets results. The University represents 3% of the population of the entire country and most educated people in the country and government went to that University at some point. Instead of considering everything a campaign and a battle as it is done here, they will negotiate directly with the people who are concerned and have had incredible success at it. Even though Röskva didn’t win this year, the idea of not having class past 5 was brought by Vaka and is now being implemented. So, what was so bad about having political parties for the SFUO again?

mardi 24 novembre 2009

The Haunting of Gamli Garður - A new Icelandic Folktale

In the period following the settlement, a man by the name of Sæmundur established a farm near Reykjavík. He could trace his family tree to Ketil Flat-nose and many important people in Norway’s history. He was of no relation to Sæmundur the magician. He named the farm Garður for the word meaning farm and the street Sæmundurgata and it has been known as such ever since. Though he named the street after himself, he was in no way a proud man but was known in the area for his hard work ethic. He soon built himself a beautiful turf house big enough for an entire family. He decided to go to the Alþingi to search for a wife and keep abreast on the law of the land.

Many men had heard of him and thought he would be an excellent husband for their daughters. Sæmundur spoke to many men until he met Bergþóra Egilsdóttir, a fair and majestic woman, and after to speaking her for an entire day, he approached her father to ask her hand in marriage. He consented on the condition that it was acceptable with her but warned that she was quite a free-thinking person. The feast was arranged for seven weeks before the harvest.

Once the festivities were over, Sæmundur and Bergþóra settled into their house and made it a home and she soon knew she would have a child. Fall came and brought with it strong winds and much rain yet Garður stood strong. One day, Bergþóra stood out in front of the house and saw someone near the pond. At this time it was rare to see anyone nearby so she went out to greet him. In her haste, the ring she had worn since her marriage fell off her finger. This man appeared strong and was quite handsome. As she approached, he looked out towards the pond.

When Sæmundur returned from his day of work he noticed a shiny object in front of his home before entering it.

When he picked it up, he realized that it was Bergþóra’s wedding ring. That is why the street in front of Garður is named Hringbraut (Ring way). After looking inside the house, he ran towards the pond where for the first time there was a beautiful swan and its duckling. He understood what this meant and his heart was torn. The Icelandic word for pond, tjörn, comes from this. He never remarried, but continued to work on his farm and live in Garður.

A few years later he was visited by a woman whom he immediately recognized as an elf, though she was very much like a human. He invited her in because Icelanders were known then as now as very charitable and welcoming people. Once she had entered inside, she said her name was Björk and that he had built his home with rocks used for her home. All the Huldufólk in the area were angry with these foreigners taking their things; this explained why the marbendill (merman) had taken his wife. She turned around and killed him and spread a curse on the property forever.

When Háskóli Íslands was established, the founders knew of the curse but no Icelander had been haunted for years. However, when they decided to establish a residence for students they used the old name and called it Gamli Garður. There is nothing to speak about for many years.

Eventually, more foreign students began studying at the university because its reputation was getting better known throughout the world. They needed a place to stay.

It was decided that they would live at Gamli Garður because of the pride and attachment that was brought with it. However, the huldufólk in the area still keep their grudge through all the years. For no reason stoves turn off, windows screech in the night and showers overflow with little water and this continued like this ever since foreigners have lived in the building and it is difficult to convince people to repair the problems because they don’t want to be cursed as well.

dimanche 15 novembre 2009

Favourite and Least Favourite Hockey Teams

1) Chicago Blackhawks
2) Montréal Canadiens
3) Los Angeles Kings
4) Boston Bruins
5) Colorado Avalanche
6) Edmonton Oilers
7) Washington Capitals
8) Vancouver Canucks
9) Calgary Flames
10) St. Louis Blues
11) San José Sharks
12) Philadelphia Flyers
13) Buffalo Sabres
14) New York Islanders
15) Minnesota Wild
16) Pittsburgh Penguins
17) Detroit Red Wings
18) New York Rangers
19) Nashville Predators
20) Columbus Bluejackets
21) Atlanta Thrashers
22) Tampa Bay Lightning
23) Phoenix Coyotes
24) Anaheim Ducks
25) Florida Panthers
26) Ottawa Senators
27) Dallas Stars
28) New Jersey Devils
29) Carolina Hurricanes
30) Toronto Maple Leafs

vendredi 9 octobre 2009

3 Types of Canadians who make me Proud to be One Too

In this partially Americanized life in which we Canadians live, we tend to glorify those who bring no useful purpose to our society rather than celebrate those working hard in our country to make it a better place. Those living in our Great White North, our Canadian Forces and the nation’s farmers never receive the right attention they deserve so let’s highlight some of the reasons why they are actually making this country great.

There are approximately 100 000 people who live in Canada’s three territories. Those territories are their home and many surely love living there. Ask Canadians what defines their country or what separates them from the United States and one of the important ideas to come up is this Great White North. H many of us are willing to live in a part of the world where there is little or no sun in the winter time, where the wind is blowing strongly and your community can sometimes be isolated for long periods of time, without access to a doctor? Of course, this is not ideal, even for the people living there but it is a testament to their strength and desire to live there that is incredible. On top of that, they work hard and have amazingly tight-knit communities and organize awesome projects (hip-hop dancing for youth, that the Governor General loves, the Arcircque, etc.) unlike anything we have down in the South. They are important because they make sure Canada is Canada.

There is much talk about the importance of supporting the members of the Canadian Forces these days with red Fridays and yellow stickers, but we must understand why it is important to support them. Support for the troops does not mean support for the mission they are on. Of course, this mission is important and legitimate and rebuilding peace in a society can never be a bad idea, but there is more to it than that. They are risking their lives every day in the name of Canada. As Canadians, many of us take this country for granted; it’s just where we are. They understand that by the service they are doing, they may make the ultimate sacrifice for this country while many of us complain about paying taxes or a possible election coming up. What sacrifices are we willing to make? The men and women in the Canadian Forces need to be celebrated for what they are doing for Canada.

Farming has always been one of the most difficult professions in the world. This is even truer in Canada where the bitter cold winter months mean difficult mornings tending to cattle and where the summer weather is anything but predictable. Canadian farmers are tough. They are the backbone of the country that provide food for the rest of us who complain of the price of meat and that the store’s vegetables aren’t fresh enough. It is even more important to celebrate the farmer with the difficulties that farmers went through over the years without adequate support, difficult conditions including droughts, floods, frosts and failed crops and the fact that they are out there every day to make sure Canadians have food on their tables. This dedication makes them truly great Canadians.

Of course, not everyone can be in one of these three groups. Everyone has their part to play in making this country great. However, it is important to remember the contributions of these Canadians and to celebrate the work that they do. Let us show support for real hard working Canadians and take from their example!

lundi 31 août 2009

North Atlantic Cousins in Crisis - Lessons to be Learned from Past Solutions

The economic crash in Iceland has been in the news for a long time now. Many possible ways out have been proposed with no consensus on what to do. Not known to many is the precedent set by another North Atlantic island in a similar situation 60 years ago. That is when Newfoundland gave up what was left of its independence and joined Canada in an effort to find a permanent shelter from the crash it suffered. By examining both situations and finding the similarities and differences between both, it will be possible to clear up some of the options facing Iceland in the near future and see what long term strategies could be implemented by Iceland based on the varying degrees of success had by Newfoundland in similar situations.

The path which led to Newfoundland’s demise from an independent dominion within the British Empire to a province within Canada is similar to the one currently facing Iceland. Newfoundland was once as independent as Australia, Canada or New Zealand. In 1934, the people realized they could simply not afford to pay off the debts accumulated during World War I and due to corruption over the years and Newfoundland returned under British protection, finding what small and micro states need: a shelter[1][2], because they realized they could not do it on their own. After World War II, the economy had almost doubled thanks to American, British and Canadian bases and Newfoundlanders voted on what to do next. Icelanders, who also got money from the British then American base, chose to become independent. Newfoundland, however, chose to join Canada in 1949. No timeline was established for this union and it now looks like it will be a permanent union, sixty years later. For people in Iceland looking towards the European Union or other possible shelters, this must be a consideration. How long is shelter needed or must it be permanent for places like Iceland and Newfoundland? Examining some of the differences between the cases could offer hints on why things are different now.

Though in both cases the islands had huge burdens which could be extremely difficult to escape, there are some differences which might give Iceland advantages in outcomes over Newfoundland of the 1930s and 40s. For one thing, Iceland is a lot more technologically developed now then Newfoundland was during its struggles: the population is a lot more educated, there is better access to foreign resources and fishing is not the only tool to supply it with income. With such a small population, Iceland may more easily move away from the banking sector that created the crisis towards different income creating areas or develop some of its resources. Though this does not mean that all rivers need to be damned, the hydroelectric and geothermal potential can either be exploited or the technology Icelanders have developed to do so can be exported to other countries around the world. Another difference is that Iceland has its own language. This can influence changes in a few different ways. On one hand, foreigners trying to convince Icelanders to join their cause will not necessarily be able to plead directly to them; most of their material will need to be translated. Icelanders will probably trust fellow Icelanders speaking their language and may be sceptical of outsiders. Having their own language will also help Icelanders in that all material coming in to the country needs to be translated, giving jobs to a few people in this department. Icelanders also fill the bookshelves and CD racks with home grown talent giving a few artists the opportunity to sell their own material as has been happening already for many years. Though language services may not be the biggest industry in the country, it is an industry that Newfoundland did not have when material would come from England, Canada and the United States already in English. Perhaps the most important difference between both cases is that the European Union is not like Canada in a few distinct ways. For one, it is not a state but a grouping of independent states which have chosen to share different parts of their competences and who all have a voice at the table. Canada, for its part, does let all its provinces have a voice at the table but the federal government is the one with the final word on issues concerning everyone and gets all the residual powers. However, as time advances the European Union has been gaining more and more power from its Member States and if Iceland were to join in the near future, the EU would require Iceland to give up certain competences regardless of its desire to keep them or not. These important differences between the cases would indicate that different paths may be followed in both cases, but if Iceland were to join, there may be much to learn from Newfoundland’s case and what as been done, especially recently, to forge a better place within their shelter.

Within every union each member will try to defend their own interests as much as possible. Over the past few years, Newfoundland has been getting better at this by demonstrating strong leadership and finding ways to take as much control as possible of their resources. If Iceland were to join the EU or another shelter, it would be necessary to do this as well to avoid losing all power or sense of independence. The current Premier of Newfoundland is Danny Williams whose approach has been to put his constituents and their interests ahead of those of the rest of Canadians. He has managed to get an overwhelming majority of seats in the Provincial Assembly which gives him weight when negotiating during federal-provincial meetings as he has a clear mandate from his constituents. On the other hand, the current situation in Iceland is not one where someone has a great command of political power with the respect of the majority of people. Though Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir seems to be a good compromise leader, going forward it will be difficult to make decisions without much unity. When Newfoundland joined Canada, it was only with a 52% acceptance rate in the referendum. In the 2007 elections, Danny Williams’ Conservative Party got almost 70% of the vote with 44 of 48 seats and he managed to convince Newfoundlanders not to elect any federal Conservatives because he did not think the Conservatives represented his constituents’ interests. One of the reasons for this is due to the battle over the precious oil resources that the coasts of Newfoundland has. Over the past few years, Premier Williams has been able to negotiate a bigger share of the monies from the oil for Newfoundlanders. Fighting for the resources that are most important is something provinces or small states in the European Union, for example, need to do as demonstrated by Baldur Thorhallsson[3]. The European Union knows that Icelanders will want to protect their fishing and agricultural industries, but they will need to do so within the EU framework if they are to get the shelter they seek. Strong leadership and a stubborn attitude towards any effort to take more resources away will be needed to ensure Icelanders industries remain in Icelandic hands. In Newfoundland, much was taken away but has been pulled back over the recent years with this strong leadership and stubborn attitude.

With all this being said, it will be interesting to see what direction Iceland takes over the next few years to deal with the meltdown of the financial sector and the crisis that has ensued. Looking at what happened to their island neighbour might scare a few, but the different circumstances should provide some reassurance that not all will be lost if ever Iceland chose to join the European Union. With strong leadership and a desire to keep control over resources, Newfoundland has recently managed to secure a better place for itself within the Canadian and world marketplaces and Iceland, if it were to join the EU, could do the same. Of course, those looking towards Newfoundland as an example are more likely to be the ones looking for a case of a North Atlantic island seeking shelter to better its conditions. What about those who think Iceland can make it alone, what examples exist to help their claims of long term success?
[1] Thorhallsson, Baldur (2004) Iceland and European Integration – On the Edge, Routledge: New York, p.163
[2] Keohane, Robert (1969) Lilliputians’ Dilemmas: Small States in International Politics. International Organization 23(2):291-310.
[3] Thorhallsson, Baldur (2000) The Role of Small States in the European Union, Ashgate: Aldershot, England, p. 22

lundi 13 juillet 2009

Russia's Prospects in the Near to Mid Future

After the collapse of the USSR, the future of the large mass of it called Russia was up in the air. Eighteen years later, the initial hope that many shared has slowly swept away for a few reasons. Though Obama affirmed that Russia is still a great nation, many factors are currently working against it for the world’s largest state to regain its superpower title. Due to demographic, geographic and political or legal problems, the world might not shift its attention away from China and India to the North anytime soon.

Russia lost many people as well as a lot of territory when the USSR broke up. However, it still has a population of over 140 million over its vast territory. This is expected to go down in the next few years as the birth rate and immigration there remain low figures and the life expectancy at birth for a man is now below 60 years of age. Studies reveal that many Russians also suffer from alcoholism and as many as 30, 000 are being killed due to alcohol each year. Though almost all are literate, investments in education are lagging behind, especially if the country wants to return to superpower status in a knowledge-based battle. To be a superpower, the people must be able to work for it and right now and in the near to mid future, this does not look likely for Russia.

The sheer size of the country is astounding, the problem is that most of this land is difficult to use either for peaceful purposes or otherwise. Much of Siberia is permafrost and though rail and air connect many regions they are still difficult to reach. Rich in oil, Russia may need to diversify in cases when the price of oil goes down or in case the EU is able to increase its pressure thus reducing Russia’s ability to use its pipelines as a bargaining tool. With the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Russia and China have been able to see a bit more eye to eye and have been able to ease pressures of their borders. Where Russia might find success is in its pressure on the high North which is likely to open up during the coming years and with Russia’s recent announcement that it will discuss more with Canada regarding this space and its affirmation that it will respect the ruling based on the Law of the Sea, there is hope in this field.

This leads to another issue with modern Russia. Though every country will always protect its interests first, the mystery surrounding transparency and the respect of the rule of law in Russia leads to suspicion amongst many with regards to its actions in the international sphere. Multilateral successes aside, the Georgia incident reminded everyone that Russia is willing to act unilaterally with little regards to others intentions. Compounded by the actions taken to cut off Ukraine and others from natural gas and oil in general, a stronger Russia does not mean a better friend. Within the country, the mafia seems to have control on much of the money to be made and the legitimacy of recent elections can be doubted. Foreign investments are therefore quite risky.

An expert analysis may point out different strong and weak points regarding Russia in the near to mid future but a return to superpower status is unlikely and eyes are rightfully pointed elsewhere.

mercredi 8 juillet 2009

The dwarf's dwindling dwelling

A long time ago, there lived a dwarf
He lived by the sea though not at a wharf
He built his home of mud and sod
And thought of himself as a great as a god

He would spend his days admiring his work
And eating some grass was his other small quirk
Adding turf to his home made him beam
He’d do it all the while, he often would dream

But then he needed real food for his belly
So he walked to market all dirty and smelly
They stared and laughed at his silly ways
For he’d been lazy and eating grass for days

Upon his return to his place of rest
He noticed things weren’t at their best
He’d had so much grass, his roof was caving
And there went the dwarf’s dwindling dwelling

mardi 30 juin 2009

Canada at 142

July 1st can only mean one thing in this country, Canada Day. It’s the one day of the year that we can all agree that we are proud to be Canadian. The rest of the year, we spend complaining about everything that is wrong with this country. Just for a moment, let’s take a look at some of the ups and downs the country faces and a few challenges for the future. Rather than simply complain, let’s look for solutions to issues like the economy, personal freedoms and First Nations rights because though we have a great country, there is always room for improvement!

The world’s economy is in difficult times, it’s a well known fact, and the Canadian economy has not been immune to these changes. Though our banks have largely escaped without too many bruises so far, the entire economy is shrinking. The government did not make the mistake of the depression but the intervention still seems to be a hesitant after thought and has invested too much into General Motors. While General Motors does contribute a fair amount to the economy of certain regions, especially in vote rich Ontario, it is a gamble of many billions of dollars of tax-payers money from all across the country and no relief has been seen for people in other hard-hit sectors like manufacturing. Additional investments in green technology should be made, although a few tax credits are a start. The economy is on the right track to recovery but infrastructure investments and others deserve to be placed in priority and cuts should no longer be made to important cultural and heritage institutions.

The government is walking a slippery slope in regards to its attempts at restricting personal freedoms. Though Canada is often seen as a very free country, many laws have encroached upon personal rights and legislation currently in debate in Parliament would further this trend. The government must increase trust its citizens and focus on real criminals rather than the average law abiding citizen. Tougher copyright law which forces ISPs to give out personal information should be avoided as most people are downloading music are simply trying to discover new music rather than build libraries or worse, attempt to make a profit. At the same time, the government does not believe in banning handguns which serve no useful purpose in any society, especially one where the rule of law is applied, we hope, fairly to all.

One of the most pressing issues in our country is the treatment of the First Nations peoples which is an international embarrassment. Martin tried to find a solution with the Kelowna Accord though it has already been forgotten, NGO’s criticise our human rights record for this apathy and a debate about sending hand sanitizer to prevent swine flu is ridiculously insulting. Again, the government needs to trust the First Nations by giving them more powers to represent and govern themselves to ensure a more prosperous future.

It seems a general lack of trust in decision-making is coming from our government. If only citizens’ abilities and talents were better respected, much headway could be achieved. This country was not built in a day, it took millions of people working together to achieve what we have now and we will need this same spirit to build towards our future. What a great country we have built! Happy Canada Day to all!

lundi 29 juin 2009

We all need a Teddy Bear

When the night falls and the lights go off, it becomes easy to simply give in to the pillow’s call and the longing for sleep when one is alone. But with the head at rest, the mind starts the thinking it has put off all day. This can be avoided when another one joins us in our bed without any consideration but to avoid thought and get busy doing something else. We all need a teddy bear. There are a few reasons for this person who keeps us warm at night. Of course, the enjoyment of the acts in which we engage but also the security that having such a person offers. A little investigation will find how this is not as simple as it sounds.

The real reason most people say that a teddy bear is useful is for the fun of the activities taking place. By choosing the same person more than once, making a habit of it, a build-up and knowledge of each others preferences can make it better and better each time and the awkward moments should theoretically disappear. Another important factor is that it does distract us from that ever disturbing need to think about issues that are out of our hands. The energy that is consumed means that by the end, it is normal to simply find the sleep rather than search it in the pillow. This can save many troubling evenings of soul searching and tears. Everyone deserves someone who can save them from the discomforts of unwanted loneliness. A teddy bear can be the pill to dull the pain of everyday life but can be so much more, even the remedy to the hurt.

The teddy bear can be the one to comfort rather than merely its presence. In a certain sense, a teddy bear can give us the satisfaction of knowing that we are alright. By visiting repeatedly, there is an unspoken reassurance that we are acceptable, maybe even enjoyable to spend time with and that despite our faults, they can be overcome and are not overbearing, at least in that sense. A teddy bear can also save us from the cold dark night, when we think we are alone on this planet. It happens that we do not understand what is going on in the world around and all we need is to share a bed, to share a breath and all is well. The noise that surrounds us disappears without a single word to be spoken and nothing is wrong then. This is how we can change the lonely and negative nights into comforting and positive evenings. Then come those precious seconds between fun and sleep when words can mean everything or nothing. Finding a teddy bear who can listen in carefully to worries or joys can lead to a much stronger relationship and in fact can help to go far beyond the original reasoning behind the teddy bear. There are few things as important as someone who can listen to the most meaningless and meaningful words one has to say and if this function can be done when one is the most vulnerable or confident, this can ease the flow tenfold. The role of the teddy bear that one receives as a child and sleep with for a few years can also be fulfilled by a person, if one chooses to call them that and their relative ‘usefulness’ is augmented.

Teddy bears can be much more than cute and cuddly objects that we hold near to us during the viciousness of night; they can become an important part of our lives even to the point of becoming part of our life during the day. The human teddy bear can provide pleasure and make the night go by more quickly but can also offer security in terms of self-acceptance and listening to the worries of every day life. The important thing is to make sure not to abuse teddy bears, because good ones are hard to find.

mardi 16 juin 2009

Lovely Lithuania

I recently spent a school year in Iceland about which I could surely right many articles. However, whilst I was there I befriended a lovely Lithuanian and she spent hours explaining how beautiful her country was and telling me that I should visit it. During Easter Break, I took up on her offer to see Lithuania. We flew from Iceland to Warsaw since it was the nearest place possible and then took the train up to near the border. Though Poland and Lithuania are linked geographically, the rail and bus connections between both countries need further development. A friend picked us up near the border from Augustow in Northern Poland and drove us to my friend’s hometown, the lovely spa town of Druskininkai. The day’s agenda had us going immediately to the capital, Vilnius then to Riga, Latvia for the night. One of the advantages of being in Europe is that crossing borders is easy as the Schengen Agreement means there are virtually no controls. Lithuania seems made for hitchhiking as the people are friendly and there are many bus stops along the main roads where one can comfortably wait to be picked up. Unfortunately, only people from the younger generation speak English. The Lithuanian language has changed very little over the past thousand years and they are proud of their language which is full of declensions and lines and dots where we would never imagine (dotting the “e” as well as the “i” for example). By hitchhiking, the 128 km trek to Vilnius can be done quite quickly and then met a friend for the three or four hour drive to Riga.

After a day in Riga which is full out of its own history and a love for hockey rarely found out of Canada, we discovered the spectacular western coast of Lithuania. The country is characterized by an immense pine forest, fresh air and a radical transformation since the fall of the Soviet Union: the heavy polluting industry of the past has been filled with tourism and a market economy. The modern port city of Klaipéde is a prime example. From there, a ferry for 36 Litas (18$) will take you to the Curonian spit. It is one of the crown jewels of Baltic Sea coastline and its national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The spit is full of pines growing on sand, a remarkable and beautiful phenomenon. Only a few kilometres in, one can see where fire destroyed part of the immense forest. Further, a clearing where thousands of grey herons nest and destroy the tall trees in which they live shows how the ecosystem works to find its own balance. Europe’s largest sand dunes are next and the beach nearby dwarfs anything Eastern Canada has to offer in terms of peacefulness and serenity. In the summertime, locals assure me that the beach is relatively quiet though the water is nice and the temperature outside reaches in the 30 Cs. The town of Nida lies at the southern tip of Lithuania’s part of the spit, Russia owns the rest. This town is famous for its fish which is highly recommended. Since I am less fond of fish, I tried a Lithuanian beer snack which is about as healthy as our poutine: deep-fried garlic bread with cheese melted on it - it is delicious.

Weekend nights mean party time in the capital Vilnius and unlike in Ottawa, Lithuanians know how to have a good time. Although it is no longer legal to drink on the streets, bars are open until six AM with a party going inside. I checked out Woo where a 90’s party blared through the night. The next morning, we set back off to Druskininkai and the spring weather was lovely; it is similar to Ottawa without the humidity. Druskininkai is perfect for those who appreciate a slower pace of life and need to relax. That is why many Poles, Byelorussians and Russians find their way there to enjoy the amazing Aquapark: almost twenty hot tubs, twenty saunas of all types imaginable, two huge pools and four slides and costs 18 dollars for a satisfying three hour excursion. Afterwards, you can rent a bike for only 3 dollars an hour and take the various paths along the two big ponds in town, see a beautiful, blue Russian Orthodox church and explore the woodlands near the Byelorussian border. Outdoorsy people can find something to do in Lithuania all year long as a vast network of snowmobile and 4-wheeler trails criss-cross the country. Clean lakes and rivers also provide for an abundance of places to swim when the summer gets hot or when one is in a fishing mood.

Fifteen kilometres out of town is the amazing Gruto Park or Stalin World. There, a huge collection of Soviet-era statues of Stalin, Lenin and Lithuanian Communists set in a Gulag prison-camp setting offers visitors the chance to discover how life was during Soviet occupation. A restaurant serves Soviet-style food such as milk sausages and fish with a quarter litre vodka accompaniment for about 4$. Of course, this fantastic museum did not come without controversy; many were quick to condemn it as a glorification of a terrible time, but it has survived and grown over the years and is a must-see for those who wonder about those old Soviet days.

Back in Vilnius, the 2009 European capital of culture, a nation celebrates the one thousandth anniversary of its name. The largest country in Europe during a part of the middle Ages, Lithuania has since been part of the Russian, German and Polish empires at various times and was a centre of Jewish learning for many years, all of which has influenced the country through architecture, culture and otherwise. Beautiful cathedrals and churches line the streets, including St. Anne’s which Napoleon wanted to transport back to France while he was heading towards Russia. The Gate of Dawn was blessed by Pope John Paul II as the Virgin Mary has been seen there. Great and inexpensive restaurants can be found and their fare is both traditional and healthy – fast food never really reached Lithuanians and though there are a few McDonald’s, they aren’t cheaper than anything else. The trendy and artistic neighbourhood Uzupis has its own constitution requiring cats to be there for their owner though loving is not necessary. Two bridges adorned with locks giving good luck to lovers join the area to the rest of Vilnius over the river Vilnele. The downtown core is very easy to walk and signs in Lithuanian and English make a visitor comfortable.

According to Lithuanians, the best time to visit is during the late spring and the summer and with the economy as it is, Lithuania and the Baltic states remain a relatively cheap destination that few from this side of the Atlantic have yet to discover. Taking my friend’s advice to visit was one of the best things I ever did!

Our Control Freak State

Forget the “Nanny State” to run our Canadian lives, we’ve got a “Control Freak State”. The current political and legal culture in our country is centered on a lack of trust that runs straight across the board and deep into our minds. This lack of trust comes mainly in two forms. Firstly, laws and government programs are created to limit personal freedoms and responsibilities due to a fear that we cannot manage them. This continues to the point where every move made within elected bodies and the organizations they run become so short-sighted that few even come to term or they are so watered-down that they become useless. The respect between citizen and elected assembly has all but disappeared and neither believes the other has any good intentions. As this continues, Canada’s reputation as a progressive and innovative society will disappear. The “Control Freak State” needs to let go and let citizens and useful government programs lead us forward.

Over the past 50 or so years, North American legal institutions have conscientiously eroded both personal freedoms and responsibilities. On the one hand, laws are created which take away our right to do anything which might inconvenience our neighbour, such when the City of Ottawa limits the amount of bars downtown because they make too much noise. At the same time, the courts have interpreted individual stupidity as thought it were societal commonplace by awarding money to people who get burned by coffee because it’s hot and they claim they didn’t know. Though this has increased the workload for lawyers and judges and given police the chance to hand out more fines, serious issues are rarely addressed. Rather than focusing on firearms or violent crime, which are of utmost importance, regulations are pilled up limiting how we can carry alcohol.

Not only do governments no longer trust the citizens to take any actions, they no longer trust themselves. A few occasions of relatively minor corruption have led to so many controls and watchdogs that no one has the confidence to make a decision which could seem suspicious. Those in opposition parties scrutinize every decision that is made to avoid any possible hint of misspent public funds, which is technically part of their job. However, this does not mean that they should distrust every single action that the government makes and assume the intentions are bad. Every government has good intentions, either to serve itself or its people, but a little more trust and leeway in a strong democracy could make programs more effective. For example, a program for human resources development may be so watered-down - for fear that it will be shut down -that it will be useless. Another program will be scrapped because it was started by the previous party before it was able to start being effective thus wasting millions of dollars spent on its creation without any results. By trusting the reasoning behind the creation of certain programs, those who come into power in the “Control Freak State” can work more effectively and keep the best projects rather than starting anew each time the government changes.

For Canada to continue advancing, the government needs to trust its citizens’ abilities to manage more freedoms and responsibilities. These citizens must also trust the government to work for them. This will increase productivity, reduce scepticism and advance social projects as we feed off each other’s ideas and projects to return to the glory of the recent past.

My first ever blog (here)

The first thing I will need to do is to get better titles for these things as this one is quite lame. In fact, I cannot guarantee that anything I write will not be lame. But here is hoping that once in a while, something interesting will popup and that maybe someday I'll get some money for something I've written.

I've been doing a lot of writing in my life, mostly for school but on occasion just for fun. With time, I received compliments on what I wrote which at first made me blush and disregard them, but their repetition has made me believe that at least some where honest. This is what leads me now to this blog. Of course, rather than a traditional web log, this will be more a forum for debate on my poor, misled Canadian society or a place to publish random articles or short stories which are not shown elsewhere. Let's see how it goes! Of course please leave feedback!

Your typing servant,