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).