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.

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.

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.

Did She Just Say That?

Hap­py July 4th to all of my friends and rel­a­tives back in the US. Pam and I tuned in this morn­ing to the news and polit­i­cal talk shows, expect­ing a pret­ty unevent­ful roundup of pre-Fire­works chat­ter, and were sur­prised to see some news­wor­thy items. One was a final reac­tion by pun­dits to the Repub­li­can Nation­al Committee’s head, Michael Steele. For the past cou­ple of years, Steele has been ‘the gift that keeps on giv­ing’ to Lib­er­als like myself, and it was always hys­ter­i­cal when he came out with one of his either undig­ni­fied or ridicu­lous state­ments. The lat­est one, how­ev­er, seemed to go over the line. At a fundrais­er in Noank, Con­necti­cut, some­one caught Steele in the fol­low­ing video that became one of those gaffes heard round the world:

Tran­script:
“The [Gen­er­al] McChrys­tal inci­dent, to me, was very com­i­cal. I think it’s a reflec­tion of the frus­tra­tion that a lot of our mil­i­tary lead­ers has with this Admin­is­tra­tion and their pros­e­cu­tion of the war in Afghanistan. Keep in mind again, fed­er­al can­di­dates, this was a war of Obama’s choos­ing. This was not some­thing that the Unit­ed States had active­ly pros­e­cut­ed or want­ed to engage in. It was one of those areas of the total board of for­eign pol­i­cy [that was at least?] that we would be in the back­ground sort of shap­ing the changes that were nec­es­sary in Afghanistan as opposed to direct­ly engag­ing troops. But it was the Pres­i­dent who was try­ing to be cute by half by flip­ping a script demo­niz­ing Iraq, while say­ing the bat­tle real­ly should in Afghanistan. Well, if he is such a stu­dent of his­to­ry, has he not under­stood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Alright, because every­one who has tried over a thou­sand years of his­to­ry has failed, and there are rea­sons for that. There are oth­er ways to engage in Afghanistan…”

Now I won’t go too much into how wrong that is on so many lev­els (not the least of which is that it’s his­tor­i­cal­ly inac­cu­rate — there was no ‘choice’ involved and the US, led by George W. Bush, attacked Afghanistan after the ter­ror­ist attack on the World Trade Cen­ter and the Pen­ta­gon on Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001), but the con­dem­na­tion from Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans has been pret­ty severe, with the excep­tion of the always-sur­pris­ing Ron Paul, who said that Steele, “has it right and Repub­li­cans should stick by him.”
At any rate, we did a dou­ble-take when we heard this from Cyn­thia Tuck­er, the Pulitzer prize win­ning reporter of the Atlanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion:

Wow! It’s not often you hear some­one deliv­er as blis­ter­ing a cri­tique as that. In fact, I dare say if any­one else had said what she said, (par­tic­u­lar­ly some­one who wasn’t also black) they might have been accused of being racist.

It’s pret­ty clear that Steele is toast. As I hint­ed ear­li­er, that’s a shame for Democ­rats (Al Hunt a few moments before this clip sug­gest­ed that Steele was actu­al­ly a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Mole). How­ev­er, he (and Ms. Tuck­er) did pro­vide some ear­ly fire­works for this July 4 morn­ing.

Tomorrow

July 5 is also a big date, at least for Pam and me. On this date, 5 years ago, we left Cam­bridge, MA and began our jour­ney to Cana­da. While I’m always a lit­tle pen­sive on the 4th, remem­ber­ing those long after­noons on the bank of the Charles riv­er get­ting ready for the fire­works and singing patri­ot­ic songs, I also remem­ber how excit­ed we were to be start­ing a new chap­ter in our lives. These days, I don’t intro­duce myself as a ‘new Van­cou­verite’ any more. I now con­sid­er the low­er Main­land my home, and despite more than a few glances back at the US, we have no plans to return to liv­ing there. The July 4 of 2005 will prob­a­bly be the last one we spent as US res­i­dents.

Joe Wong Slays 'em at the Annual RTCA Dinner

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma made the news for doing some standup the oth­er night at the Annu­al Radio and Tele­vi­sion Cor­re­spon­dents’ Din­ner in Wash­ing­ton, DC, but I think the real news was some­one else on the pro­gram. I’d nev­er seen this come­di­an before,  but I was absolute­ly blown away by how fun­ny he was and how good his tim­ing and deliv­ery were. If this is any indi­ca­tion of his tal­ent, I hope we’ll be see­ing more of Joe Wong:

I also hope he tours Cana­da soon. How about a dou­ble bill with Rus­sell Peters?