Loud Murmurs

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.“— Mahatma Gandhi

A New Country, an Old Country

Photo with our Citizenship Certificates

2 Brand New Canadians

“You will always remember this day.” said Judge Anne-Marie Kaines. A tall and impressive figure of authority, she talked about the tradition that Canadians have of volunteerism, of sacrifice and caring for others, whether we know them or they are strangers. She invoked Terry Fox, whose statue was only a few hundred meters away from us in the plaza in front of the entrance to BC Place. “You can’t just expect to ‘plug-in’ to health care and pensions and all the other benefits of Canadian life. That’s simply unsustainable.” Besides paying our taxes, she made it clear that we needed to find something, some cause or charity to contribute to.

In the 7 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed that charity, such as the almost daily occurrence of a Walk for Hunger or Walk for Breast Cancer Survivors or Hospital Lottery or Telethon, is front and centre in Canada. It is telling that perhaps the most universally admired figure in recent Canadian history is a boy who died while attempting to traverse the country on 1 foot, having lost his other to the disease he was essentially doing fund-raising to cure. Fox, as the Judge also noted, had a tremendous worldwide impact, and we should look upon his feat as something that any of us should aspire to as well.

I’m glad that in Canada, charity is not the largely the province of Religion, as it often is in the US. Yesterday, Ann Romney, when asked why her husband Mitt refused to release more than 2 years tax returns as part of the political campaign, said “…we’ve given all our people need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how — you know, how we live our life.” and added that he eagerly gave 10% of his income to ‘The Church’ as proof that he was a good person. Actually, for me, that would be proof that he’s merely a churchgoer (which means nothing morally and may even be a strike against him, in my opinion), and possibly a homophobe, given the Mormon Church’s recent activities (they funded the supporters of the notorious California Proposition 8 that took away the rights of gay people to marry).

I also think that secular charity is also related to a side of what I’ve often noticed in the Canada vs. US differences (which become harder to find, the longer I live here): Canadians are more apt to see themselves as part of a community than those in the US. We see the bleeding over the border of the worst of American ‘cowboy’ culture (and firearms) and are, with due cause, concerned.

A few days before the shootings last night in Aurora, CO, there had been a massacre involving gun-play in Toronto. Our news covering that incident was mainly a serious conversation about how we could have anticipated such a tragedy or better yet, stopped it from happening in the first place. Giving teens a reason to integrate into the community was about the closest one could get to a consensus. Nearly every commentator ridiculed Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford, who idiotically insisted that stricter penalties on gun violence are the answer (since it’s obvious that teenage gang-members are driven by logic and long-range thinking and would certainly change their behaviour if they knew that if they got caught, tried and convicted, it would get put them in jail for a longer sentence. Yes, that was sarcasm, Mr. Mayor.)

The fact that Torontonians (and Canadians) have done a lot of soul-searching and consider the shootings in that city to be a crime against us all and against our multicultural community, stands in stark contrast to US spokespeople and politicians (with the notable exception of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) resorting to empty words about prayers for the victims and their families (Again, the knee-jerk reaction of Americans to invoke religion galls me). In the coverage of the Aurora shootings, I can’t help but see how different the reaction of these two countries are to these somewhat similar tragedies. It’s worth noting, however, that even with the toxic influx of illegal firearms from our southern border, there were  200 people killed by guns in all of Canada this past year, where in the US that number is 9,484. (If it were the same ratio to the population, the US total would then be closer to 2,000.)

I’m determined, now that I’m a voting Canadian, to vote for a candidate who is pro gun control, since such a declaration here is not political suicide. I’ll also support anyone who shares that Canadian acknowledgement of ‘The Common Good’, which is not only what initially attracted me to this country, but was called out as a national characteristic in my Oath of Citizenship ceremony two days ago.

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Canadian Citizenship

Maple Leaf If there was ever something that was going to get me updating this blog again, it would have to be something like this. In less from 24 hours from now, Pam and I will be Canadian citizens.

We have been requested to appear at about 8AM tomorrow morning at the Immigration offices in Yaletown where I took the test for citizenship about 2 months ago (I guess this means I passed.) The instructions included what we needed to bring in with us (all previous documents used in the citizenship application we made, any  passports — cancelled or not, our card that shows we are permanent residents and a few other documents. Optionally, we  can bring a ‘holy book’ of our choosing. Not planning on doing that. We can also choose whether we swear or affirm our citizenship. I don’t believe that there is a legal difference as to which one chooses, but I suppose ‘swearing’ allegiance to the Queen of England is something that some (particularly Americans) are not as keen to do as affirming. I haven’t decided whether I’ll be a swearer or an affirmer, but I’m leaning toward affirmation, all the same. Swearing just sounds too religious for my taste. I’ll see if I can post some photos of the ceremony (one of Pam’s friends is coming to be a witness, of which I’m glad and thankful).

Thoughts that come to mind about this upcoming event: relief that our status will finally be settled once and for all. There’ll be no more worries about renewing Residency Status documents. I also feel excited that I’ll be able to vote, both in the local and federal elections. In fact, I’m thinking that I may volunteer some time working on a campaign again, which is something I did before we left the US. I guess, you can take the boy out of the Country, but you can’t take Politics out of the boy.

Finally, I have a sense of closure and a little pride, that the past 7 years (last week, on the 14th,  it was 7 years to the day that we arrived here with nothing but the our laptops on our backs) have meant something, and that I’ll now be able, without equivocation, to call myself a Canadian. Ever since the 2000 US election, I’ve felt embarrassed and even ashamed to call myself an American, a label that I didn’t achieve, but was born into. To be a born white and American in the last or current century, is to be privileged. Not having chosen or even worked for that privilege, I’ve lately felt more than a little uncomfortable with having it. Whether it’s White Man’s Guilt or Blame-America-First or whatever the people on Fox and Friends call it, I never want to have to cringe again when I see someone in a foreign country act like a jerk and just keep my head down, hoping that they don’t hold it against the rest of us as well. Nope,  just us Canadians at this table.

I also like Canada, if not Mr. Harper’s Canada (and I’ll work hard to help us return to the Canada we could be, not his greedy and environmentally malfeasant petro-theocracy with nothing but money and power on his mind). I like the Canada of Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Terry Fox,  Glenn Gould, Frank Gehry, William Shatner, Moshe Safdie, Guy Laliberté,  Nathan Fillion, Kiefer (and Donald) Sutherland, Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan, Stephen Pinker, David Suzuki, John Kricfalusi, John Byrne, Cory Doctorow and Margaret Atwood…yes, that’s a country I want to be considered a citizen of, even if I wasn’t born there.

Finally, I think it is better to choose one’s country rather than simply wear it, like a red, white and blue birthmark. Many in my family were immigrants who became citizens of a country they weren’t born in,  and now, I’m one as well. Tomorrow, I’ll have the papers to prove it.

Upcoming Events and Talks

I'm attending BarCamp Vancouver 2010

There are some exciting days ahead, and I’ve been spending a lot of time getting prepared. First of all, in less than a week, BarCamp Vancouver 2010 takes place on November 19th-20th at the new location of the Waldorf Hotel, just to the East of downtown. It’s a unique venue, complete with the city’s most spectacular vintage 1950s Tiki bar and it’s recently been renovated and is ready to host events. I’ve put together a presentation and demo called: Playing with Future Television, What I learned Messing Around with Plex 0.9. I’m a huge fan (perhaps even a fanatic) of this free software that turns any Mac (Intel only) into a Media Center. Built originally from the XBMC (XBox Media Center) project, but now an independent initiative, Plex includes a gorgeous (and skinnable/customizable) TV interface (that like Apple’s own Front Row, works with a remote), an omnivorous video player that can handle most of the video formats I’ve ever come across, iTunes and iPhoto connectivity out of the box, plugins that add the ability to stream media from all sorts of places: YouTube, Shoutcast, Hulu and Pandora if you’re in the US – although I have found a sneaky workaround – Apple Movie Trailers, MSNBC, and again, if you’re in the US, Netflix. (That last service ought to work in Canada as well, because we now get Netflix…sort of, but the US plugin won’t work in Canada, and the company has not offered any support for developers trying to use their API in Canada, despite the cries of protest from the small but vocal group of Canadian Plex users and developers.) So that’s my contribution, and I’m also looking forward to presentations by Kris Krug on iPhone photography and John Biehler and Duane Storey on Arduino.

But Wait, There’s More…

Vancouver WordPress Meetup Group LogoA few days after BarCamp, I’ll be doing another presentation, on a completely different topic. It’s entitled “User Experience Design for WordPress Web Sites: Does Your Blog Design Support Your Content?”, and I’ll be presenting it at the November meeting of The Vancouver WordPress Meetup Group at The Network Hub, a co-working space in downtown Vancouver. I’ve been doing a ton of research and work on this presentation, so I’m looking forward to giving it. The attendance so far is completely full, with a waiting list of over 16 people as I write this. Wow.

Turning the Ignition Key

I’m going to just start typing, and bear with me, because it feels a bit like starting up a car that’s been sitting in a garage for several weeks. Not rusty, but a little creaky and not quite ready for the open road for a few minutes, at least until it starts to warm up…

Speaking of temperature, today was chilly, and for the first time, it truly felt like fall was in the air. Never mind that summer has officially been over for 3 weeks. Vancouver doesn’t get the spectacular display of autumn leaves that we used to see in New England, and it was partly what made it my favourite season. Now, I’m not quite as fond of it as I used to be, but I still do like the seasonal dishes and produce: Ratatouille, roasted squash, pears and cranberries, and I also like the fact that it’s typically the time of year when I feel as if everything’s starting up, that the year is really beginning. January 1st may be the official kick-off of the calendar year, but as the son of two teachers and now sometimes one myself, the academic calendar always seems more appropriate.

Back to classes here also means the return of the Fringe Festival, and I’m a fan. That’s over and done with now, but I did make it to a few shows. It was gratifying to see that the annual festival of intimate theatre that takes place nearby us on Granville Island as well as throughout the city was more popular this year than ever. I’m afraid that I didn’t get to the International Film Festival, which usually comes on the heels of the Fringe, but it also looked to be well attended.

So what’s coming up? I’m looking forward to BarCamp, the yearly unconference where everybody gets to be an expert in something. I think I have a subject to talk about this year, and I’ll be putting some of that up beforehand, mainly to tease those who might be interested in it. I’m also anticipating the Cassoulet festival that Oyama Sausage Company celebrates. I’ve written about it before, and perhaps I will again. After all, it’s not ever day that you get to eat what’s probably the most sublime dish ever made with beans, herbs and meats.

I’m not looking forward to the election back in the US. Politics and government in the US has reached the point of complete and utter absurdity. The American electorate is now by and large so irrational and driven by Public Relations manipulation that I don’t expect any sane outcome in November. I’ve been listening to the audio version of the book The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby, and I’m becoming convinced that she is right on target. Political culture in the US is a reflection of general culture, which has become less and less informed, knowledgable and reasoned. Americans have stopped talking about anything important, except the latest scandal, goofy YouTube moment, or gaffe. Instead of calling the Tea Party out on their ignorance of what the Constitution says (like for instance, the separation of powers which makes it clear that a President can’t send in soldiers to another country without the approval of Congress, which is exactly what George W. Bush did in Iraq), the TV networks focus on entertaining people with sound-bites. Americans don’t read newspapers any more, much less books. With entertainment trumping real information, it’s clear to me that the most powerful voice in US politics is not any of the politicians, but Fox News. During my US trip, at certain motels, Fox News was the only cable news channel available on the television. That would be like Pravda being the only newspaper available at a news stand (for those who aren’t familiar with the name ‘Pravida’, it was Russian for ‘Truth’, and was the official news source of the USSR). With Fox the most widespread and popular source of info-pablum, the US is now effectively being led by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

There, it looks like my motor is running again.

Go East, Old Man

It will be interesting to see how this has changed since 2005

Well, I’m not quite old, yet, I hope, but I am going East, for about a week. Here’s the the plan: My family is having a reunion in Orlando, Florida next weekend, celebrating my Aunt’s Birthday (suffice to say It’s a big one). In the week leading up to that date, I’m going to visit some parts of the eastern US that I haven’t seen since we left in 2005 (a year and 10 days ago, to be precise). First stop is Dublin, New Hampshire, to visit The Walden School Summer session. I’ll write more about this amazing institution in my next entry. I’ll be visiting and hopefully soaking in the creative juices there from Tuesday through Wednesday. On Thursday I’ll be in Boston, visiting our old neighborhood in Cambridge and looking up some some old friends. I have to admit that while I consider Vancouver my home, we did live for 14 years in Cambridge, and since we’ve left, every once in a while I’ll do a little digital sleepwalk using Google Maps Street View to our old courtyard and the other streets in the neighborhood. I know every crack in the sidewalk between Hampshire Street and the Kendall Square T stop, or used to know, rather. I expect that I’ll be surprised at how things have changed. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to taste some Toscanini’s Ice Cream, or even an Emma’s Pizza or Kendall Brewery beer, but any and all of those will be nice to sample once again, just to make sure that they are all as good as I remember them. I’ll also have no chance to hear the BSO, or go to any concert, for that matter. Perhaps a ‘cultural’ reunion is something I’ll have to plan for another time. In the meantime, 3 whirlwind days in New England bookended by flights all around North America will be how my week goes. Let’s hope the heat wave has broken before I get there.

Early Friday morning I fly out of Logan (which I must admit I’m not looking forward to seeing again – I hate that airport — often called the worst in North America — with a passion and hope that someday they will mercifully tear it down, but I’m not holding my breath ) to Orlando, where Pam and I will join my parents, cousins and others in the Florida heat (although I suspect we’ll be in air-conditioning much of the time).

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