jeudi 7 octobre 2010


Shakespeare divided the lives of man into seven ages. In each, we go through drastic changes to our lives. Since the dawn of man, which we could perhaps still describe ourselves as being in, we have recognized these by celebrating them in different ways: birthday parties, marriages, funerals. They all represent fundamental changes in our lives, when we pass from one stage to the next.

On the other side, there are many of us who have difficulty accepting these changes in our lives and react to the switches that are occurred by them. It may be a simple desire not to organize a birthday cake or an elaborate wedding party, but it may be much worse indeed.

A more recent type of transition has been the creation of graduation. At the end of each level of schooling, a little piece of paper celebrating the accomplishment is printed out and the student advances towards his next place in life. As one progresses through most educational systems, the options for the next part of the experience grow. The bus no longer picks you up and drops you off. It is up to you to make decisions and take control of where you are going in this sphere of your life. And this is quite liberating to all those who hated learning about sentence or cell structure and were waiting for this freedom, because freedom is the appropriate word to describe it.

However, the problem can lie in the time between the graduation and the beginning of the next step to take, whether it is a scholastic endeavor or not. The rupture with the previous lifestyle can be devastating to some. The American movie Old School is a testament to that. There are so many people that are not in the right place in their lives. For some, their environment has created this situation. For others, a lack of control on their own actions has slowly constructed the result over a long period of time. Maybe it is as simple as a few mistakes during their freshman year.

Freshmen – The Vervepipe

This feeling of being caught between two stages of life can not only lead to a confusing time in one’s life, but also to quite a traumatizing one. As the world continues spinning, it is possible to get the sentiment that it is goes round and round without letting us jump on board. Or worse, we can get the dizzying feeling that we are trapped in that spinning without being able to get out, like a child on the carousel-type ride at the park being spun by a friend who doesn’t understand the screaming words “it’s going too fast”.

It is extremely easy to get caught in this type of dilemma by living day by day, by accomplishing the simple tasks that are necessary for the next day to pass. This can continues for months, years, decades, lifetimes. For some people, all that can be done is go with the flow and see where the river leads. The ride is relaxing and the end predictable, but you might not see the waterfalls coming.

Max Weber, in his best-known study, put forward the idea that Protestant societies are more likely to be capitalistic because of the values of Protestantism where the individual is at the centre, rather than Catholic societies where submission to authority and security are key elements. Though there is no pretending that the current interpretation is that of a learned scholar on the topic, it is possible to see traces of this today in some ways. Certainly, some people are more tempted to take risks, change the status quo and make a fuss when something isn’t right. On the other hand, some people are more reserved, happy to keep the routine for fear of ruining what they already have, with no desire to break the rules that keep them in line. There is no passing judgment here, but there is questioning to and from people on both sides of the divide.

The Motions - Subb

The desire to rupture with the continuation of a life heading into oblivion can be felt by anyone. One night while performing, Emily Haines of Metric fame announced to her audience: “I don’t want to sing sad songs anymore”. At that moment, she ended that part of her life, that uncertainty, and decided to take control. She said: “I’m really scared (…), I don’t know, where my life is going, (…) what I’m doing”. Rather than continue on that path, she stepped out of the life she was leading in order to find out where she wanted to go with this and went to Argentina. There, she penned a song about the entire ordeal.

Help, I’m Alive – Metric (piano version)

A television program from the province of Québec, Les invincibles, portrays four young men who are looking to make an important change in their lives. In the first episode of the series, they each have a task that they must accomplish at 9 pm, when their blue watch beeps: they have to break up with their current girlfriend. The show starts with this premise and the next episodes and seasons are all based on the results of that initial action.

It is one thing to come to the end of a stage in your life when you know it is ending. Most people have their retirement planned months if not years ahead of time. But it is completely another to have this rupture occur without knowing it is going to happen or at a time when one is unprepared. The tragic ends of relationships have been the subject of countless movies, status updates, blog posts and deaths.

Much is made of trying to break unhealthy habits and relationships. Companies sell products to end the addiction to nicotine and television programs dramatize the end of bad relationships with tears and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. In music, a rupture can bring about some of the most powerful images and sounds in existence and surely, some that have yet to be written. For so many people, music has the power to transform and the power to inspire. And when in a situation where difficulties seem like they will not go away, music can be the greatest comfort. There is comfort in the strum of a guitar.

The Cycle – Distant Society

The idea of a mid-life crisis, when someone realizes that they have been living their life the wrong way and that they need to make a change, is very real. The first part is to recognize the need to stop going down a reckless path or to simply take a more pleasing one. This may take various forms, from getting a divorce to buying a Harley Davidson motorcycle. However, the most important part of the process is going through with the difficult task of making the change and taking the risks necessary to make improvements in life. It isn’t easy to give everything up in exchange for a second chance.

This difficult situation could be called rupture anxiety. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called anxiety the “dizziness of freedom” and in many respects, that is exactly what it is. Faced with the overwhelming possibilities of the world that surrounds us, it is difficult not to feel small in this universe. Take a look at the stars on a clear night and it is impossible to feel anything but a sense that we are but a small part of this universe, but that we can do whatever we want within it.

Many of the people who will read this are lucky enough, or have managed to work towards living in a society that is relatively free. There, work ends at a designated time and after that the freedom to explore and change the world can be overwhelming. A good number of people prefer to hide away, dizzy and lost at the true impact they might have if they would act in the world. Then they grow old and only a few reflect on what they could have done. Where to be in all of this?

Could We Start Again Please? – Mary Magdalene and Peter (Jesus Christ Superstar)

dimanche 12 septembre 2010


The countries we know as the Nordics all have distinct cultures and languages, yet they share much in terms of history with the possible exception of Finland. The other four Nordics are Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. Together, they demonstrate the amazing ability of states to come together and cooperate in so many ways that future wars between them are almost impossible. They share so much and yet, this has not always been the case.


The Vikings were great traders and adventurers, making it from Constantinople to the coast of North America. They named places like Iceland and Dublin and stole and pillaged a lot. They also brought a tradition of telling stories and passing them down over generations. The sagas that we know today were passed down for years before being written and are some of the finest literature of the middle ages. They accepted Christianity on their own terms and have never forgotten Thor, Odin, Loki or the other gods and when you see their landscapes, it is possible to understand why. The Nordics have large urban centres where the populations congregate today, but for many years and indeed still today, the rural towns and farms played an extremely important part in Nordic history. Despite the fact that people have lived there for thousands of years, the Sami or Lapp peoples for example, many places feel untouched and completely devoid of any humanity. It can be extremely comforting or oddly frightening. A group that seems incredibly in tune with this nature is Iceland’s Sigur Ros. Not only do they do what they can to protect Iceland’s natural beauty, but they have a deep respect for the people from around their island as they demonstrated by giving a free tour in different towns and venues as seen in the documentary film Heima.

Saeglopur – Sigur Ros


Over the years, the different Nordic countries would pass through different hands and they each seemingly had a time to rule over the others. As the 20th century drew near and nationalism was in fashion, each wanted their independence. Yet, within a few years, the time for coming together returned albeit in different forms. The Nordic Council is one of the most comprehensive cooperation efforts in modern history and ranges from living arrangements to social security across the entire Nordic area. The way these countries developed was with neighbors helping neighbors and tireless work over hundreds of years in difficult conditions. In Iceland for example, each few years a volcano would erupt causing the death of a quarter of the population and of the livestock. This meant that people had to work even harder to feed themselves and start over quite often. Towards the end of the 19th century, many Nordics left their homes to settle in the Midwest of Canada and the United States creating new communities in difficult lands, many of which still have strong ties to their native lands to this day. The hard work that led to their resettlements showed the true colours of the immigrants. Abraham Lincoln once said that the Norwegian were by far the people who had advanced the most upon arriving to the United States. Like their fellow Norwegian Ane Brun, they showed their true colours.

Ane Brun – True Colours

Social values

Once the 20th century rolled around and these nations were no longer handed over at the whim or marriage of royals, each state became a clearly defined entity and the end of the Second World War solidified this. At one time, a King of Denmark had offered the then colony of Iceland to Germany in exchange for the region where he was born that he had lost in war. As citizens gained more control over legislative bodies, the intense cooperation between them led to the development of what is called the Nordic model. The social system is quite complete and citizens are taken care of from the moment they are born until they die. Daycares, schooling, hospitals are top rate and generally free. Weeks off are plentiful, much work is done to get women in high ranking positions and the gap between the rich and the poor is not generally too high. The judicial system focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment and there are day cares in many jails.

At the same time, the relationships between people are different. On the bar scene, it tends to be the women who more aggressively pursue their potential mates. There is also nothing wrong with having children out of wedlock or not getting married at all. Homosexuality is widely accepted and Iceland has the first openly gay head of government in modern history. In fact, Icelandic news stories would focus more on the fact that Johanna Sigurdardottir was a flight attendant prior to election than on her recent marriage to her female partner.

Indeed, as Swedish star Lykki Li sings about, things are a little bit different in the Nordics.

A Little Bit – Lykki Li

NA perspective

For fans of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, this Nordic way of life is socialist and is giving President Obama ideas on how to do the same thing in the United States. The term used by the locals to describe their form of government is social-democracy or the Nordic model. Although it has its detractors in that part of the world as well, they don’t have as strong of a voice as people who are opposed to such forms of government interventionism in other parts of the world such as in North America. That is surely due to the fact that it works to create stable governments and opportunities for all whatever the personal background might be. The argument is that with the government doing so much work, the opportunities for private citizens to start businesses in those fields are removed. By doing so, the government also destroys competition by creating a monopoly in that field. Followers of the Tea Party might argue that this destroys liberty, as they argued against health care reform. That rests on one particular conception of liberty with which people in the Nordics might not agree.

One might think, then, that Nordics have no need to work hard anymore because they can play off the system that they have created and live happily without working hard. Indeed, people on welfare have many benefits that could make a simple comparison with working find a person quite tempted to be on welfare. Yet, there are people willing to work in all the jobs necessary for a society to function and the Nordics are often very close to the elusive full employment. That is because of the balance that people create between work and the rest of their lives. Work is not what you do while you wait to become rich, it is what you do to help society in some way. The feeling of being trapped in that mode can certainly exist, but in many ways, as Sweden’s Miike Snow will share, we are all still animals needing to be released. We do have this need to let our nature take over and propel us beyond the simple security of the every day.

Animal by Miike Snow


The Tea Party’s way of seeing liberty has achieved great popularity. At the same, there are other ways of conceiving this concept. Instead of liberty being the ability to fulfill our basic needs with different options to do so, Hannah Arendt would contend, as to my limited understanding of work, that liberty is not the ability to fulfill your needs; that is necessity. Liberty is the ability to beyond that and to have the place and the freedom to create.

This is indeed something the Nordics have mastered. Whether it be the stories of the Valhalla where the Gods fought infinity or the sagas which told of real people in occasionally fantastic settings, the Nordics have no limits to their imaginations. What has been important in creating this tradition has been to set aside time for story telling at the end of the hard day of work, even if there is still sowing and other work to be done at the same time. Icelanders called it kvöldvaka – night awake. When it would get dark early in the winter months, they would have little light, but amazing stories to keep them awake to finish the work they needed to do.

Today, this translates into so many people having this desire to create. Thanks to the social system and support, a lot of residents of the Nordics have the opportunity to try their hand at a vast array of artistic activities with great support from corporate and governmental institutions. Walking into a Subway restaurant with paintings by a local artist on the wall is not only an uplifting way of supporting the community and beautifying your space, but also inspires would be artists to try their hand at something they think passions them, just to know.

Icelandic pop-electronica band FM Belfast, for example, made a song for a friend as a birthday gift, so the story goes. Then, they made a few more and found a place in the lineup of the big Iceland Airwaves music festival and now they tour all over Europe. Whether they planned on being stars or not is beyond me and whether they will make a career out of this in the long run is not yet certain. But at least they had the freedom to try.

Synthia – FM Belfast

lundi 30 août 2010

All the way to Norway just to come home

This is the first of what I hope are many podcast-type blog posts. The idea is that I will eventually record what I have been writing and add the suggested music to make some kind of half hour radio show. It's been a long time since I've posted here, but I've been writing, so there should be material to come as the summer light and heat fades away.


For some reason, I thought I needed to go live in Norway for my life to be complete. I needed to escape all the security that surrounded me in Ottawa, and travel to the far reaches of the Earth, the Arctic Circle, to get where I needed to go in life. To have skills that no one else had and that could bring me fame and fortune and everything that goes along with it.

I had done this before; I had started a new life in Iceland. For 8 months, I travelled to the land of the ice and snow with the midnight sun and where the hot springs blow. And I lived there surrounded by great people and learned so much about the world and myself. I must be able to do it all over again, this time in a darker place, further away from everything I knew because I
had to have that edge.

This time, it felt different. I wasn’t excited and ready for a new adventure. The motivation was this necessity – it has to be done. I had gone through this entire process over months on end to get to this point; I must go through with it. Breathe. As I told my sister while in my last seconds of filling out forms at the departure desk, I just need to take a minute. Things aren’t that bad.

Take a Minute – K’naan

Past the customs desk, I take what might be my last iced cap for months. I rarely drink them, yet I need this one now. I hadn’t been able to have breakfast and I didn’t really sleep. I should do that too. The plane is delayed and delayed again. I invent a place to lie down and lay my body on the vertical, occasionally drifting into the sleep I searched for the night before. I wake up in a panic every five minutes only to notice the plane hasn’t left without me. It should just take me or leave me. But I will continue waiting ‘till I fly away, I’ve wanted this for so long I need to constantly remind myself.

Arriving in Chicago, it’s too hot. Like nature is telling me I might never feel heat again so I should enjoy too much of it. I find the international departures with only a fair amount of time, but not enough to find the food I haven’t really had yet. I embark on the first of what will be many SAS flights, this time to Stockholm. Eight hours and I am beside a bit of an older gentleman who won’t hate this flight – the booze is free and he’s in no real rush. I’m sitting, sweating, nervous like I’ve never been. I just need to go there and to settle in and take it a week at a time, like Dad said. There is no reason for this panic, I’ve done it before. But it will be 24 hours of darkness. How did I deal with this in Iceland? The first few days of the week, I couldn’t sleep. I would toss and turn until the morning when I would take a long time to wake up and make my breakfast, alone. The rest of the week I would party. It was amazing, but I couldn’t spoil that by doing it again and spoil my liver and my life. And if I need to be studying, I’ll have less parties, more sleepless nights. As the darkness grows, all will be night, there will never be sleep. Great. I won’t survive long, so will try to survive at all.
I need to go home. All is black, I could finally sleep.

Homeward Bound- Simon and Garfunkel

I wake up.

Ah, going to Norway. Panic again. Wait, I decided I’m going home. Ah right, going home. I’m sure that place is great, I’m sure there would be many great experiences, but I don’t need this in my life. There is so much for me in Ottawa, so many possibilities to not be alone. But I might as well go, just to say I did seeing as my ticket says I am anyway. Stockholm to Oslo, Oslo to Tromso. I get on each plane, they announce something in Swedish, or Norwegian, or Danish, something that I don’t quite understand but that I can grasp. The planes takes off, I sleep. Bell, landing and I’m off with my heavy bags that remind me what I had set out for. I can finally eat, 17$ for pizza and a coke. Not even a full pizza, just two slices. Then Tromso. I shake as I make my way to the University desk in the arrival’s area, even before my bags arrive. “I just can’t do it”. My first full words to a human in about twenty-four hours and they feel great. Like everything I’ve ever wanted to say, not in giving up but in not accepting a task forced upon me, by me.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay for a few days, just to see?” asks the lady with the round glasses who doesn’t want to sell me my ticket away from there. I need to get away, at any price, which is pretty much what I paid. Three more flights before any amount of security, I will find my friend Maria in Stockholm, I must. Tromso to Oslo, to Copenhagen to Stockholm. Bell, landing, walk, repeat. I find her address and her number and drag my entire life with me in the heavy bags that pull me around. The train, the taxi direct me to her door which she opens, looking at her eyelids with me jumping in her arms. Finally I am safe. And Zuzana is there too, my neighbor from Iceland. If I slept at all in my 31 hours of airport travel, I can now rest.

The next day, I am woken up at 11. I can go downtown or Zuzana will leave without me; there is so much to see. The guards, the palace, the outdoor museum. All I do is compare them with what we have at home without truly appreciating what I was seeing. I left for Norway and I’m in Sweden. Nothing is as it should be. Hot air balloons filled the sky as the final indication of my need to be back home, amongst these aircraft that I love so much and are my biggest security and comfort. After their flight and the sun began to set, I finally send word to home about where I am, a few hours too late. All the planning and the goodbyes turn into hello, hello. I don’t know why I said goodbye. Immediately, I bought the first plane ticket I could home. Too expensive, but it was what truly needed to be done. I promised a friend I would send her the name of my top song every week. This first one from the road seemed obvious, even though I knew she already loved it. But it was true, I was coming home.

Coming Home – City & Colour

That night, I slept. It took me a while to fall asleep, but I slept. And when Maria went to work and Zuzana the airport, I said my goodbyes and I slept. Like the war was over and I could get off my guard for a little bit. When I woke up, the sun had travelled more than half way through the sky; it was three in the afternoon. I needed to get up and go somewhere; there was only one more day in Stockholm. A walk through the winding streets to the metro and I hoped on, hoping to see the Vasa museum – an old, old wooden ship. Looking at the strange Swedes, the stops flew by and all of a sudden I was way too far. Maria would be home soon so I should be as well. A short adventure and I was back to the only safe place I knew in Europe.

That night, we kept it quiet with George Clooney’s “Up in the Air”, kebab pizza and the sunset that lasted until late into the night; tomorrow there would be no rush to wake up and get around. Next morning, we made it out of the apartment in time to see the downtown and take a tour of the Riksdag – Parliament. I could have given a better tour with no clue how things work, but my days as a guide are surely over and the simplicity of it all gives hope that great things may be accomplished in that room. Politicians are politicians no matter which flag they fly. I picked up a Sverige shirt, just because that’s the kind of thing I do. I need proof of where I’ve been in case my memory leaves and physical objects are all that remain which will quite likely be the case when I die. Though I had thought that Europe had escaped the zombie craze, I filed into a room with a bunch of teenage girls to sit through a showing of Eclipse and determine whether Jacob or Edward is better for Bella. The one with the soul might be a better choice, even if she can’t be with him forever. Tear. A Chinese food buffet and an early night, tomorrow I go home.

It takes a while to wake up, almost too long for my hostess who needs to get me to the airport train. We make it and make our goodbyes as she heads to the zoo and I to Zoo York with a flight to Newark Liberty Airport. I arouse suspicions by checking in with only a passport, they look at me funny all day – through security, at the gate, everywhere but at US customs which wave me through; Canadian, can’t be that bad. The security is worst in Ottawa, where I must unload all my bags to show them that this crazy week was true. I am not evil, I am home.

Home - Wintersleep

Now what, I come back to the familiarity of everything. Yet everything is different than it once was. I’ve moved out of my home, I don’t have a job or a school; there is just me. It is kind of a scary situation that I had not fully thought out. Then again, it is an awesome feeling to be free and to get an opportunity to start all over again. At 22, with a university degree in hand – should the world not be mine?

Soon, the business of day to day life sets in and a week goes by quickly. Each new person to meet is a new person who needs an explanation to satisfy their curiosity. Yet it wasn’t a bother. Every person deserves to know. The guy who searched my possessions had told me, as if I needed some permission or acceptance, that I had nothing to be embarrassed about. He was right. I had made a mistake, albeit a costly one.

Now, I’m home and a waste no time getting back on my feet. There are so many things I’ve wanted to do, wanted to say, people I’ve wanted to spend time with and projects to accomplish. I’ve gained a year in my life. And I can make anything happen during this year. Anything.
Yes, I did have an excellent opportunity to study in a far off land and gain credibility in that field, but all the credibility I need is with myself. For years, I’ve been uncertain about my capacities and skills. Now I realize that is not by going to the top of the world that I will be able to stand out, but with the tools I already have. I just need a little bit of sharpening to carve my place in the world. And I’m ready to start!

Ready to Start – The Arcade Fire

jeudi 29 avril 2010

1 Year Anniversary of Returning from Iceland

As I sit in my room looking at my Röskva posters at this first anniversary of the end of my 8 month sojourn in Iceland, I think that I have never been further away from that day I left. After spending 8 months living and meeting the most amazing people from all over the world and travelling to beautiful places with some of these beautiful people, I prepare to undertake a much less certain part of my life with none of the securities I enjoyed on that rocky, now explosive, island.

When I returned I worked for four months without more than a two day break. This is normal for “adults” but quite different than my life in Iceland where I scarcely worked two days in an eight month period. To be fair, I did work quite hard at HÍ (University of Iceland) and got better grades than in Ottawa and I am quite proud of the work I did during the student council elections at the University.

Then without any transition at all the school year began and I started working about 70 hours a week for the next three months between homework and my two jobs. I love these jobs, but I probably should have focused on school what with the 7 classes that I had. I failed a paper when I decided I would like to see my grandparents for two days.

Christmas time gave me a short break, but a good one because I got the chance to see many of my friends from Iceland in Manitoba. It is disappointing to think that the whole gang will never be all together again, but that is part of the game. I got back to school in January and lost motivation as I went along. Applying for Masters has reminded me of all the reasons I should go back -anywhere- and get travelling again.

Now, summer is here and it continues to be lots of work. A short trip to London (Ontario) will be nice next week, but it will not be a break as it is going to be full of certifications and seminars. What happened to my life in Iceland when I would wake up at noon, go to Háma, go to Vinbuđ, then spending amazing time on Laugavegur with my friends…every day?

Of course I ran out of money living that last year and I was certainly not making much progress to change the world, but I was having an amazing time with my great friends. Are there things I regret, certainly (April fool’s and everything around that day, amongst other things). But I must say it was the best decision I ever made and there is no other country that I should have been at that particular time of my life.

Now that I’m done my undergrad and I think of the next place to go, Iceland remains a centre of interest. If I am going to be saving the Arctic as I plan, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be in Iceland many times over the next years. At the same time, there is so much of the world to explore. For the next four months at least, I’ll be here in Ottawa working hard, loving it but at the same time looking out my window and remembering the life I used to live and trying to find it again, somewhere out in the universe.

dimanche 18 avril 2010

Losing our sense of community

The town of Cumberland was founded around 1799 and the surrounding area was farmed for many years before the building of the Rideau Canal which connected Kingston to Bytown. As Bytown became Ottawa and government came, Cumberland became a transit point between Ottawa and Montréal. It embodied everything great about Canada: honesty, rural lifestyle with hardworking people and Anglophones and Francophones trying to work together. The first female senator in Canada, Cairine Wilson lived there for many years.

As the turn of the 21st century came around, Cumberland was as vibrant as ever: a large township that was becoming a city with a new City Hall and a forward-looking place with a plan to connect with its neighbours by building roads and marking out the space needed for a potential four lane highway and bridge to keep up with future growth. However, these plans were crushed as Cumberland moved into the new millennium and the Millennium Fields seem to have been the last project to be successful. Since then, the new policy of the city of Ottawa has been to pass on the fiscal burden of downtown on to the residents of the countryside. If one looks at the improvements made to Cumberland since amalgamation, they are indeed few and far between.

What amalgamation has done, in Cumberland like in other small towns and localities within the new city, has reduced civic pride and the sense of community that used to be shared by residents. With attempts to close the Cumberland museum and the end of Riverview School, the very essence of Cumberland has been shifting. Along Old Montreal Rd (which was changed from Queen St by the new city), Maple Hall, S&S Foodliner (Haddad’s) and the churches are essentially all that remain as gathering points). The Farmer’s Market, supported by the new city, was the idea of people from Cumberland (CVCA). One does not need to read Hannah Arendt to understand that people need a gathering point, a public space. The new Cumberland is becoming a bedroom for a city rather than a place on its own.

Thankfully, there are still a few events that bring us together. The Farmer’s Market, the Steam and Power show (though not what it once was) and Maplefest bring people together. Recently, Maplefest took place with lovely weather and a great many guests including MP Pierre Lemieux, MPP Phil McNeely, Counc. Rob Jellett and mayoral candidate Jim Watson, amongst others. The new federal Liberal candidate Julie Bourgeois met people as well. These events are few and far between on the social calendar of the year and the generation that organizes them is getting older. The Harvest dinner at St. Andrew’s United is no more for that reason.

As the city approaches Cumberland village, the memory of Cumberland as it was will fade. If this is to be the case, Cumberland will melt into Ottawa as amalgamation wishes. Many other towns are at risk of this or have already lost what they had. For Cumberland, the ability to make decisions for ourselves has practically disappeared and forgetting about what Cumberland means would make it so.

mercredi 24 mars 2010

The Night Ann Coulter came to Town

As part of a short cross-Canada tour, because apparently Ontario and Alberta count as a truly cross-Canada tour, Ann Coulter came to speak at the University of Ottawa at the invitation of a Free Speech Society. Most of the people in my class left to try to hear what she had to say and I believe it is fair to assume that the vast majority of people who were going wanted to hear what she had to say, whether they agreed or not. To enter, you needed to register, which was free for students, a few days ahead of time. This meant that most people who were there really supported her and what she had to say.

She was of course there to speak about the importance of free speech, but the planned question and answer session would have surely brought out what many of the people who weren’t allowed in wanted to hear: disgusting words about Muslims and homosexuals and liberals. For those who didn’t know, Ann Coulter is not a Facebook fan of these people. Inviting her to the University of Ottawa was guaranteed to create such a show, especially because of Seamus Wolfe, the President of the Student Federation. He likes to get into his own trouble and it was expected that people like himself would try to stop her speech on the basis that it is spreading hate. On the other side, the organizers wanted to promote free speech. It is possible that what the University’s vice-rector François Houle said about the different interpretation of free speech in Canada was important. Telling a Muslim that she cannot fly on a plane so she should use a magic carpet or a camel is not free speech in this country, at least most people wouldn’t think so.

In fact, that so many people were there to hear what she had to say and supported it shows that our country is not as tolerant as we think. What is perhaps more disturbing is that those people are part of the governing elite in Canada and represent an important part of the population. To say that you support free speech is one thing, it should be universal, but to agree with her on topics ranging from converting Muslims to Christianity and destroying the Middle East is a little bit scary. But many people agree with that to some degree and many of the organizers of the event work for members of Parliament or take part in fundraising or what not. This is a scary prospect if ever the reigning party were to obtain a majority. The rights that all Canadians enjoy are threatened, and I don’t mean free speech.

What is especially disturbing is the legitimacy that she has. After seven best-selling books and many television appearances, Ann Coulter still has not really done anything. She does not base her information on facts but on assumptions and close-minded approaches to complex questions. She is not elected and she does not legitimately speak for anyone but herself. How can she define liberals and conservatives and make judgments?

Since the University allowed her to speak, it should have provided enough security to let her do so properly. In that way, she could have done what most expected of her: talk of things that most of us reject as hate and insulting our shared values. Now, she will write a book about it and make more money. At least the University of Ottawa has got its name out for something!

dimanche 14 mars 2010

Old Man, I'm a lot like you

I’ve been caught in a vicious debate within my self for many years. On the one hand, I try desperately to gain credibility within the world of knowledge but on the other, I want to remain true to the people who work this land and make the world go around.

Neil Young’s song Old Man plays directly into this internal debate and reassures me that I’m not the only one in this struggle. Trying to convince the old ranch tender that though he has gained this first credibility does not take him away from the second is captured in 3:25.

Neil Young has of course won many awards and is praised as one the best musicians ever. Yet, this old man didn’t care about his music and his foreign ways, he was a man of the land who didn’t want to see this city boy come and change the way is world spun round. Neil needed desperately to convince the man that though the differences that separate them: city/country, young/old, they share common bonds of humanity. “I’m a lot like you”. When confronted with a new person that we want to impress, we immediately attempt to establish links and Neil, despite his influence and importance, does like any other human.

Over the past years, I’ve continuously attempted to gain as much academic knowledge as possible, to consider theoretical responses to real life situations and to play the game that society wants where a university education is considered the minimum for this job and that. At the same time, the people I respect most are people who work hard, day in, day out, by using their hands and their strength. That is work I could never do: it requires energy, precision, patience and the ability to keep working no matter what. I want to show them that despite this university education where my pen and computer are the tools of the trade, I can relate to the work that they do and the people they are.

Neil wanted the approval of the old man because he thought it was important to feel accepted in this new part of the world in which he was getting himself involved. He wanted his world and that of the old man to join together or, at the very least to be in that world. He wanted to bring the old man back to his youth, when he felt the same possibilities in this world. He wanted to share the common desire for love that binds humanity together and that provides the only link between all of us. “I’m a lot like you were”, he says. I want now, the same things you wanted then.

If Neil Young could say that to that old man, I would like to tell Neil now that “I’m a lot like you were”. I may not yet be 24, but I soon will be. Then, perhaps I’ll be buying my own ranch beside Neil’s and telling him those same words. In the future, it is likely that I will meet with people who doubt my credibility. Perhaps Neil’s words of comfort can remind these doubters of their younger days and give me some of the credibility I seek. If Neil Young needed credibility, I need a lot more.

lundi 22 février 2010

Why I would run for City Council - Cumberland Ward

It could be interesting to run for city council for Cumberland ward for numerous reasons during the upcoming elections. I’ll elaborate a little bit during the next few lines. However, this running for city council would only be done if I’m not accepted in a Master’s program in the fall and I’ve applied to a few of them in Sweden and Norway.

During most of my life, except an 8 month stint in Iceland, I lived at the same house in the eastern part of Cumberland. I was born a resident of the city of Cumberland and from a young age I was interested in seeing my city succeed. These were the days of Brian Coburn as mayor. He had a vision for Cumberland and was able to implement it, by reserving a passage along the river for the future expansion and by building a better Frank Kenny road that could connect to a bridge if it were to be built in the future. Then things went bad, he left to represent Ottawa-Orléans provincially, the city was amalgamated into the city of Ottawa and since then I’ve been angry.

Cumberland has been ignored by this new city of Ottawa. While taxes continuously gone up, the services haven’t. A green bin is useless to rural residents. Over the years, Coburn’s vision has slowly been destroyed: new houses have come up along the river crushing any possibility of a four lane road, the planned bridge at Petrie Island is all but impossible thanks to the work of Phil McNeely. The recent expansions of both Orléans and Rockland have been detrimental to Cumberland because the population surrounding us rises but the infrastructure does not, creating traffic issues without matching it with solutions.

If the rural areas and villages part of Cumberland ward are to have less and less weight in their attempts to secure the municipal services their residents need, then the ward either needs to be divided to take away the expanding part of Orléans, perhaps by changing the line to Frank Kenny road for the next elections, or to separate from the city either to return to the former status as city of Cumberland or join Clarence-Rockland. I was born a resident of the city of Cumberland and we managed our issues correctly, that is how I remember my hometown.

Unfortunately, I’ve needed to move away from Cumberland lately. Though Cumberland has changed a lot over the years, it has never been a place where students can be comfortable. The lack of transportation, employment opportunities and educational facilities makes it difficult to be a student and moving to the big city is an almost necessary task to avoid a long commute. It can be more difficult for a student than an employed person because of the lack of a 9-5 schedule and no access to a vehicle for example. To keep a distinct local culture and community, Cumberland must continue developing its own solutions like the Farmer’s market to avoid becoming another faceless bedroom for Ottawans.

These are some of the issues I want to see raised this fall for my community of Cumberland, On.

vendredi 29 janvier 2010

Canadians don’t care because you don’t let us

If the current prorogation debate can tell us anything, is that Canadians don’t know too much about our governmental structure or really don’t care too much about it. So often, we will hear a fellow citizen say “it doesn’t matter, nothing will change anyway” and when we look at the past 142 years of Canada, that isn’t necessarily false. All Canadians expect from their government is not to waste any tax money or embarrass them too much abroad. When this happens, we elect a new government. The desire for a government that keeps quiet stems from the fact that Canadians have rarely been consulted on the institutions which govern them and therefore expect less from them than people of other countries. Though there might be a fair amount of literature on the subject of which this author is not aware, a few reasons will be cited that could have given rise to such an occurrence which severely weakens our institutions and the accountability of our government.

Canadians were never consulted when the structure that governs them was created, changed and updated throughout the years. The first settlers to come from Europe were used to despotic monarchs that told them what to do and they did it. While other countries fought revolutions to reject these systems, Canadians did not. Ontario has decided to make their motto out of it. A short period of rebellion and radical change was put down in 1837-38 and that was almost the end of it. Since then, Canadians have let the institutions be changed by a precious few members of the elite who representing them by election or not, have made significant changes without direct consultation of the electorate. The foundation of Canada in 1867 is a prime example. Without participating in the creation of this new country and its institutions there was and still is no real attachment to the need to protect these when there is a difficulty. The list is significant.

Canadians do not worship their institutions because they did not build them. Most of the institutions in Canada are not created in this country but were replicas, or attempts to replicate, institutions that existed in other countries. The House of Commons finds its origins in England and the Senate is a watered-down version of its American counter-part that was intended to be like the House of Lords. The Governor General was for a long period of time the continuation of the role of Governor that existed previously and today still has not shaken that image (thanks to Monarchists and a few other close-minded people). The only significant difference that exists in Canada that is different from other countries is the power of the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister monopolizes power and he is usually elected by less than 40% of the population. This is true in this country and reduces the value of every citizen’s vote, at least in common perception. This appropriation of power has never been discussed and though referendums have occurred regarding modifying the constitution, they have never discussed the structure itself, simply the wording.

With these factors in consideration, it is easy to see why the average Canadian does not particularly care if Parliament is prorogued. When we have built something, such as the Canadian forces or our hockey teams, then things are serious. Government, who cares.

dimanche 17 janvier 2010

An Ode to Manitoba (in the style of Manitoba’s own The Weakerthans)

The idea of going to Manitoba, in the dead of winter, was a joke. Maybe not a joke, but it was incredible, too far away from Iceland’s spring to be considered seriously. The days passed and it became necessary and tickets were bought as we flew in from across the continent to see our old friends. It was not just time to relive the past: that was impossible and unnecessary - it was time to create new memories.

We took highway 7 through terrible Teulon to Arborg, a town of 1000 people who all know each other but who stay optimistic despite that. The first stop was at the vendor behind the new bar, Eldhús, where you can buy beer at almost any time by ringing the bell. The locals drink Blue or Club and when in Arborg, you do as they do. We were received by the most gracious hosts as though we were long lost cousins and felt at home. Food was in abundance and the first evening saw us go to the new old bar, the one that replaced the one that burned down three years ago, perhaps the greatest tragedy. Our host Joel’s friends came with us and it felt like we met half the town, útlendinga being welcomed by one and all.

The next day, we discovered this place known as New Iceland. A land grant by Governor General Lord Dufferin, a great fan of Iceland, created a special territory for those escaping the volcanoes and famines to the west. We saw the 20 million bee harvesting operation, the Icelandic farms, the Geysir Hall and the world’s 13th biggest lake, Lake Winnipeg. The frozen surface extended past where eyes could see and no matter how far one ventured, they were no nearer the other side. As some returned to the city, Winnipeg, to find another Gamli survivor, my great Cypriot friend Constantinos and I took a ride through the backroads, beer in hand and admired the fields aslumber, waiting for the next year’s crop to fill them again. The evening is spent at Jon Finnson’s Bible Camp where we watch hockey and drink beer, a very Canadian, very Manitoban and very New Icelandic thing to do.

The next day is New Year’s Eve and a trip to see Stinky the cat is all we need before we head into the city again for the night’s big party. Last year, we were in Reykjavik to see fireworks explode for hours on end, but tonight we’ll be at the Vietnamese Paradise to create some own fiery magic of our own. Manitoba’s largest hotel chain, Canadinn has two rooms for us and we order too much pizza to drink with our vendor bought Blue. We are the party as we arrive and create havoc and the night spins deep as the DJs do. The year is at its best as it ends and 2010 arrives with noise and drinks. At three we return to the hotel to continue the party. It lasts till 5 and when the morning comes, it is absolute ass.

A great party that took everything we could give it leaves us nothing for the next morning but we manage to see the Forks, Portage and Main and the new museum of human rights that is being built. After a nice lunch, we visit the Museum of Man and Nature and Man and itoba…it is a day to laugh at lame jokes. After three hours, two references to Icelanders and one tired bunch, we head to Tim Horton’s and Valour Road then start the goodbyes.

Back to New Iceland for one last night before we all disappear again to our different corners of the world until the next time. We watch Canada’s women beat the American’s with Laura Fridfinnson who should have been on the ice but offered us her expert analysis instead. After a movie and a Corner Gas marathon, we lose members quickly and by noon we are all on a plane to escape from -41 winds and ice. This reunion was so quick, but so necessary. And next year Europe shall host us.