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,