Thursday, July 28, 2016

What I would like to hear Hillary say

My wife is very frustrated with me right now. I guess it's hard to blame her, because at a time when I should be packing and preparing for our 3000km road trip that starts this weekend, I am spending every night watching the Democratic National Convention; just like last week when I was watching the Republican National Convention. Gina finds politics in general to be distasteful, and American politics especially incomprehensible. I, on the other hand, can't look away.

Waiting for the show, amirite?

As a Canadian, I am a fan of American politics in much the same way as a person from Eastern Canada might be a fan of an NHL hockey team despite the fact that the nearest team is located an 8-hour drive away. I have known many hardcore Boston Bruins fans (rest in peace, dear Reg) or Leafs or Habs, or even New Jersey Devils (wahoo!) who have never seen the team play, and for geographic reasons would never be able to attend a victory party. Yet, hockey fans can pick a number of reasons to choose one team and shout at their TV sets every Saturday night.

I am (as I have said before) an unabashed liberal, so it makes sense that I would naturally be a fan of the Democratic Party in the US: and I am now rooting for Hillary Clinton to become the next President of the United States. I think many other Canadians are with me on that one, as we are naturally more liberal (with a small letter "l") than our American brothers and sisters. We have had universal healthcare for eons, and have never felt the need for our citizenry to walk around bearing firearms (neither for our own protection, nor in case we feel the need to overthrow our government), and we mostly understand the reality of climate change and the necessity to treat women, minorities like LGBT or ethnic and religious groups fairly. These are all things that the Democratic Party stands for, and the the Republican Party can't seem to find a path on.

Pictured - a Republican looking for support of gay rights in the party platform. I hope they brought a lot of rations...

In fact, I find that a large number of my Canadian friends judge Hillary Clinton as being not liberal enough, and were hoping that the Democratic Party would select Bernie Sanders as their nominee. I have never agreed with that sentiment, but I certainly understand it. Regardless, Clinton now faces the challenge of gathering the support of Sanders' fans within the Democratic Party - mostly young, extremely liberal newcomers to politics; along with the moderate or independent American voters - a lot of middle-aged non-educated white guys who don't know much about politics, but they know that they don't feel secure in their manufacturing jobs and they are hearing one candidate promise to end immigration, or off-shoring, or anything that would jeopardize those jobs in favour of foreigners. I don't think it's a stretch to say this is not an easy task for her.

Add this to the fact that a large number of American instinctively don't like or trust her. I don't know why this is, although I have a theory. People would probably claim that it's because of Benghazi, or the email server affair, or for giving speeches to financial institutions. But let's be honest, these "scandals" have been seriously overblown by a Republican Party that has been looking for ways to publicly discredit her. They have known for 8 years that the day would come that she would be their prime enemy in an election campaign, and they have been working hard to find ways to have voters dismiss her. How else can you explain 2 years taken, and millions of dollars spent and hundreds of interviews performed on the Benghazi inquiry when it was fairly clear from the start there was nothing to be found? She is game, and the media is never going to ignore a hunt.

No, I believe the attention to these things are a result of the distrust of Clinton, not the cause of. For any average politician, we would laud their ability to spend 40 years in the public eye and not get caught at any time doing anything untoward. In politics this is usually called "success." I think a man would be talked about differently in the media and would be considered a strong leader under the same circumstance. Yet Hillary is called names like "bitch" and "c*nt".I would argue that in many American political scandals there has been clear evidence of men doing worse things than what she is only accused of (not least of which is actually Donald Trump, who has left a trail of litigation in his wake), yet these men are not subject to the scrutiny and suspicion that she has. For the most part this is done by us subconsciously, but it is tangible.  I could be wrong, but this is where I think the root of her disapproval is.

Austin is not convinced that such a strong personality as Hillary's can  actually be a woman.

That being said, how does she overcome this? There have been some fantastic speakers at the DNC this week, including Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama himself. They have all been praising Hillary unreservedly, vocalizing their respect for her and talking about her career of service, and lambasting the other party for their policies and their candidate (more on that in another post). They are saying, "I trust Hillary, and you should too." Will people believe that? There's no way that this message will take unless they see the candidate herself and observe that everything lines up.

So, here is what I think Hillary needs to do tonight. She needs to keep on the issues, like she has been doing. She needs to talk about her team, and her party, which she has also been doing. She should not spend a lot of time talking about her opponent, other than to present how much better her policies will be than his. This is all basic stuff. But I think she needs to appear genuine - and this is where it gets difficult. Hillary is naturally cautious, both in her actions and her speech. She cannot make you believe her words are from the heart, because they are not - they are from her brain. She is not an engaging storyteller like Bill, and she is not an soaring orator like Obama. So she needs to admit this explicitly. Roughly phrased, she needs to say something like:

"I am not an inspiring speaker like Barack Obama or my husband Bill, and I do not speak off the cuff like some other candidates, so I am going to just say what needs to be said honestly, even if not candidly. If I don't have the emotional flourishes that some other speakers do, that's not because I don't care - it's because I care so much I 'm not going to flippantly say something that is of more risk than it is of value. I want you to know how hard I worked on this. I can't promise to be a cheerleader, but I can promise that when I speak to you it will be no-nonsense and well thought out. America doesn't need someone who just speaks and tweets whatever is in their his or her. American needs someone who can work hard on its problems and can get things done."

This, I believe is the kernel of what her message needs to be. With this, she validates her style, and can get people focused on her message. She may have occasions like when she cried during the 2008 primaries that her emotions break through. And at the time, it helped to humanize her and it boosted her support. But she can't manufacture moments like that - instead, she will always look a bit robotic in front of a crowd. She needs to run with that; not promote it and advertise it, but occasionally remind people that her personality is guarded by nature and it is for a reason, and it's part of what makes her great.

I keep coming back to how we would see this if it was a man, rather than a woman in this situation. We psychologically expect women to be warm and mothering, and when we don't see that ease in a woman she is seen as aloof and uncaring. Yet a man who appears unaffected is seen and strong and fatherly. In a way, it's ironic that these same personality traits that she required to get to where she is are now her greatest liability. It's an unfair standard that we need to acknowledge, and Hillary needs to find a way to work around it if she wants to earn the trust of those who, for whatever reason, have decided they do not like her. The glass ceiling will only be shattered once and for all when we no longer "dislike" a woman because her image of power is a threat to our men.

But I do like her - I don't get to vote, but I can still cheer. And I hope the victory party is grand. It will at least be historic!

I know this is fake, but I couldn't help myself.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The war on jarts

Do you remember Jarts? Or lawn darts, as they were also called?  Maybe if you're younger the question would not be if you remember them, but rather have you ever heard of them at all?
Jarts was a wonderful game that we had in my childhood that consisted of a set of darts similar to those you throw at a dartboard, except large enough to wrap your hand around at the tail, and heavy enough to lodge themselves in the ground when thrown up into the air. The game was played by placing a ring on the ground and throwing the darts into the air, trying to make them land in the ring the same way you would try to land a horseshoe around a post. 

Large, heavy projectiles with pointy ends, launched into the air by children or drunken adults on a summer afternoon. What could go wrong?

Look, I'm not going to pretend that there were no problems that arose from the occasional game of Jarts. Some people got hurt. But I think it's unfair that the irresponsible actions of a few Jarts players ruined the game for all of us. 

And when I say ruined, I'm not exaggerating. Try to find a set of Jarts at your local Walmart. You will fail. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but at one point the game virtually disappeared. Actually, that's not entirely true. I do know when the game disappeared - in Canada it was 1989, when they were completely banned. This was following a similar ban in 1988 in the US. It seems that in 1987 a little girl in California was killed when a game of darts went awry, and her father saw fit to petition the government until they took action. But really that's small potatoes. One child here or there - these things are bound to happen. What's important is that most Jart owners are responsible, and would never have let that kind of thing occur. 

The truth is, children should never be playing with Jarts. At least, not without proper adult supervision. And adults should never leave Jarts where children can find them. Obviously, this is not a problem anymore, since the government has taken away the Jarts.
It's too bad the founders of this country didn't know about Jarts, since they hadn't been invented at that time. They could have put something in our charter of rights to ensure that the right to play with Jarts was accounted for. However, times change: those kinds of documents omit important details just as often as they include items that might outlive their authors' intent. Like Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3.

I am frustrated by this, though. I'm disappointed that the Jart industry didn't fight more on behalf of Jart owners. I have to assume the profits available to Jarts manufacturers was just not enough to entice them to take up the fight. Because of this, you can't buy Jarts in stores at all. I believe it's probably still possible to buy Jarts if you go outside the normal channels. In the end, a law-abiding citizen can simply not get his hands on Jarts these days. 

It is a shame. Personally, I only ever used my Jarts to practice my accuracy, although I do know they could be used for self-defence. Not nearly as effective as simply avoiding Jart combat altogether, but sometimes you don't get to make that choice. After all, the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a Jart is a good guy with a Jart. And what's to say the next criminal you encounter isn't carrying a couple? I know they say that owning Jarts is more likely to be dangerous to the thrower himself or those close to him than it is to their intended target - I simply refuse to believe that. I know how well I can throw a Jart!

Maybe I'm just nostalgic. Times change, and I miss the old days. It seemed like a simpler time when we could all throw our Jarts in the air, and we never bothered to worry about where they might land. But I know that things will probably never again be the way they were then; so I will strap on my motorcycle helmet, fasten my seatbelt, and hope that the choices that are being made for me are for the best, even if I can't understand why.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tribute to Big Nanny

I had the honour of delivering a tribute to my grandmother at her funeral today. Here is the written text of my speech (minus ad-libs and the grown man blubbering):

If you aren't up a sports fan,  I want to apologize, but I have to talk about the Toronto Blue Jays, so I’m going to start with a baseball analogy. I hadn't really followed baseball in years, but this year was special because this is the first season in over 20 years that the Blue Jays made the playoffs. Now if you're a Toronto Maple Leafs fan like my Aunt Mary, let me explain what that means - the regular season ends, but your team has been successful enough that they get to play extra games to see who can win the championship. In life, I am going to say that Big Nanny made the playoffs. Of course, the Blue Jays had some trials in the playoff, losing the first two games in the series against Texas, but coming back - including the most amazing inning of baseball I’ve ever seen. Nanny also had her trials lately. I think the victories you win when you have to make a comeback can be even sweeter; as good as it is to win, it is even better to win well. Even for the team that wins the World Series, the season always has to come to an end, so you want to have big wins, and hang onto those memories. You can have incredible moments where you throw your bat up in the air in victory, and those are the moments that you take a picture of and savour.

I start with this because my Nan was a devoted Blue Jays fan. I like to think that Jose Bautista is her second favourite Joe. Watching the Jays play baseball is something that she loved to do, although it’s not something that I remember about her from my childhood - anyone who has been around her the last few years knows how important the Blue Jays are.

I have to wonder how she could have had time earlier in her life to watch baseball. She certainly was never one to sit around, and I would go so far as to say she would find staying put irritating. I can remember when she worked at Fawcett’s Hardware, and before that at the Post Office, and she always played bingo at the hall, bowling at the lanes, and cards at the kitchen table. Even before that, I know she had a long and varied career which included working for Canadian Blood Services, and as a switchboard operator, while doing the stuff you have to do when you are raising four children.

I am the oldest of her grandchildren, and I’m 42 - the same age that she was when I was born. That means she had a whole lifetime before I was even around to see anything. I wish I could say more about what she was like as a younger woman, but I’m relying on ideas and stories from others. I’ve been asking. John did start to tell me a story the other night that included her dancing on the kitchen table with her leg in a cast . I’m pretty sure I’m missing some important context to that story, but it confirms what I’ve always suspected. She must have always been a handful!

She was also never one to keep her feelings to herself, and around her house the way she wanted it was the way it was going to be. I’ve personally never been one to wear a hat, which mean that I’ve never suffered the indignity of having her take it off my head and smack me with it for wearing it at the kitchen table. And I’ve never been a smoker, so I didn’t have to face the glare she would give the smokers after she herself had quit smoking. But I’ve seen these things happen, and I knew better than to cross any lines that she had drawn.

I will also say she was ahead of her time - this thing called “road rage” that everyone talks about? I’m pretty sure she invented it. I think it was Mary who was telling me that once Nanny was describing how someone had cut her off, so she showed how she gave them the finger! That had to be a joke, because I’m positive she knew the correct way to express her feelings.

She did have a wicked sense of humour. However, if you thought you were being funny she wasn't necessarily amused. She didn't have a lot of time for would-be jesters, or those who didn’t know what they were talking about. If you were going to try to say something smart around her, well, you better actually be smart. And if you really were, and it wasn’t something that would cause a needless argument, she would certainly discuss it with you.

I’m sure she recognized duplicity easily because she was fairly well read. For a while, when Lori had a used book store in Sussex, Nan would help tend shop and talk to customers. She could discuss any book in the store and make recommendations, since she probably read just about anything they were looking at anyway. Customers love to hang around and chat with her, and she loved those discussions.

Even so, she never did get on the internet. That’s really OK - my brother doesn’t have facebook and we still manage to communicate. But I think she could have learned to enjoy having some much information available. Even so, I wouldn’t say she wasn’t being left behind. Like the rest of her generation, she just saw so much change that in the end it must have been hard to even keep track of what was a fad and what was a new normal. I can find it hard myself, and I’m a middle-aged guy who actually works in technology. She once asked, back when the internet was first becoming mainstream “how are we going to run an electronic super-highway, when we can't afford to keep up the roads we have now!”

But change or no change, she was not afraid of much. I don't know if any of the other grandchildren remember much about our Grampy, but I do. He took me fishing, and watched hockey with me, and let me sit on his back and ride him like a horse on the livingroom floor until he had to rest. He made pom-pom throws for the backs of chairs, and couldn’t say anyone’s names correctly unless it was simple like “Bob” or “Jim”. Couldn’t or wouldn’t - I’m not sure which. They would have been quite a couple. When Grampy passed away, Nanny found herself with no husband and her children grown up. I was nine, so my recollection may not be as accurate as those who were older, but it seems to me that rather than use that as an excuse to feel sorry for herself, she forged ahead. I'm sure she mourned, and I know that they loved each other; but she knew that she had a lot of time left. As a child I watched her pick herself up and carry on, and that was my example for how someone deals with loss - even losing the most important person in your life. And I am grateful for that lesson.

She traveled quite a bit after Grampy passed away, doing bus trips with her close group of friends, or visiting family like when Lori lived in Toronto. She did not shy from trying new things. She did whatever touristy thing someone travelling should do, visiting all the sites and piling up all kinds of experiences.

And of course there was Avon. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a few bottles of Wild Country body wash stocked up, and who among us doesn't have a bottle of skin-so-soft ready to make your bath luxurious, or take price tags off of something, or in case you need some bug repellent? She became to me the model of what an Avon lady must be. And she won president’s club so many times I couldn't count it. I know she was always proud of how well she did with Avon.

That’s explains how so much Avon product found it’s way into gifts. That, and her finds at yard sales when she saw something that she really thought one of us should have. After she negotiated a better price, of course!

In the last couple of years it became more difficult for her to do all the things she had done. This is where I think her passion for the Blue Jays became even more important for her, with 150 or so days a year when she could cheer (or yell!) at her tv. This year was more cheering :) I also know how special it was when my brother Jeremy took her to Toronto to watch a Jays game. I’m sure he will never forget what that meant to her.

There are so many highlights to talk about. I don’t think anyone would argue with me if I say that my Nanny lived a lot of life in her 84 years. And when I look around and see my mom and my aunts and uncle, all of us grandchildren, and my children and all the other great-grandchildren, I am happy that so much of who she was will live on. All of those memories that we have with her, we can share them with each other just like that photo of Jose Bautista tossing his baseball bat in the air, and how that image was shared throughout the country.

There was a moment in the hospital on Monday a week ago, when we all knew where things were going. While we were sitting with her, Nan opened her eyes and was struggling to speak. We weren’t really sure what she wanted, but we tried to help. We adjusted her blankets, and listened hard as she mouthed a few words but couldn’t quite get it out. We moved her oxygen mask away, and when we did she looked up at me and said “God, you’re handsome”. We all laughed to tears. I think it was the greatest thing I had ever heard. It’s so fitting that, gasping for breath, she wouldn’t say “I love you”, or “Don’t worry about me.” If she wasn’t struggling so much just to speak, she probably would finished the phrase “God you’re handsome...but you need a haircut.” I’ve certainly heard that from her before. And to be honest, she could have been talking to my cousin Ken sitting beside me. Or maybe she thought I was Johnny Reid - I know she thought he is handsome. Or maybe she was seeing Dr. Yummypants. It’s really hard to say, because she was not really herself after that (as far as I was able to see). But I will always remember that her last words to me were exactly what a vain man like me would want to hear. I’m sure she knew, so she made it a good one, like she always did.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Why I am thinking of Paris

Pain can create beauty

We've put a couple days between us and the terrible events in Paris now, and those past days the Facebook has been flooded with many dumbfounded reactions shared by my friends, family and myself. I am seeing patterns in these posts; the one that struck me immediately is the number of people urging to "Pray for Paris." I see this one whenever there is a tragedy that happens someplace in the world - "Pray for Boston," "Pray for Moncton," and many others complete with matching hashtags. What is interesting about applying this meme to Paris is that France is one of the least religious countries in the world. I have to wonder if these expressions of religious devotion from around the world are as comforting to the French as the speaker intends - especially given that these attacks were themselves born out of a religious dedication.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't pray - by all means, everyone should observe whatever litany their faith teaches, and they certainly offer their supplications on behalf of the people of Paris. I just wonder if it might be better to just keep that to oneself, and speak to the people of France with words that may be more meaningful to them.

But don't just take it from me - let's have someone in France weigh in:

A photo posted by Joann Sfar (@joannsfar) on

So then what can we do? When these kinds of catastrophes happen we all feel helpless; yet we want to offer something to those who are hurting. We can't all jump on the next flight to France to lend a hand, but social media has made the world so small today: we can offer hashtags and status updates, tri-colour profile pictures and memes. But what kind of content is respectful and useful?

As the initial state of shock passed, the next thing I noticed was a slew of memes and comments that are critical of immigration. This is particularly poignant here in Canada, where our last government tried to stir up this xenophobic feelings against immigrants in its attempt to gain re-election. It failed spectacularly, because for the most part Canadians are more generous and caring than our former Prime Minister's campaign wanted to give us credit for. Our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is going to be challenged on his decisions to accept thousands of Syrian refugees, and his shift in strategy in the battle against Daesh in Syria. Trudeau and his ministers need to make the right decisions, and he needs the support of his people in doing so.

I am no military expert, but I suspect neither is the average Facebook poster. However, I try really hard to investigate things that I see - to read different points of view, to check facts, and to seek out reliable sources of information - before I assume that I should report my ideas to the world at large. I may make mistakes, but I am really loathe to. I want my words to raise the level of the discourse, not lower it. So I find it frustrating to see so much material that comes from ideology without analysis, driven by an emotional response to things that are simply not understood.


When you are afraid, it doesn't matter to you that terrorists are not known to masquerade as refugees to get their operatives into a country for attack. It doesn't matter that the numbers clearly show that immigrants don't "take out jobs," but actually propels economic growth that creates jobs. It doesn't matter that the Syrian refugees are the people trying to get away from these evil people. And it doesn't matter that the overwhelming majority of Muslims have beliefs and values similar to our own (I won't say that I have no problems with Islam - I also won't say I have no problems with Christianity). Because you don't know those facts. Facts are not what matters in the face of emotion: all that matters is that the worst fears of your imagination are possible.

Which is really paradoxical:

Interesting interview with a former Muslim extremist. Some interesting points:- an overwhelming majority of "domestic"...
Posted by Joey Reid on Monday, November 16, 2015

And this is all exactly what the terrorists want. Just like ten months ago, when another group of extremists (also in Paris) attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo. They were able to silence their critics and when the Western media cowered in the face of some of the details and images around the story, the terrorists could be satisfied that the free speech we brag about herein the civilized world had been wounded.

Some people, and otherwise very reasonable people that I respect, acted as if Charlie Hebdo deserved the attack because they were "poking the bear". Yes, exercising their free speech. Yet on this past Friday night, Parisians were provoking the terrorists by doing what? Going to a rock concert. Eating out at a restaurant. Going to a football game. Should we gird ourselves in fear, no longer filled with a joie de vivre like those 129 who died? No! We need to live our lives to the fullest, we need to welcome those fleeing the villains; and we need to be rational - taking count to know that the odds we are next on the list are so vanishingly remote, even while we soberly admit the possiblity is real.

When we speak out from our emotions and not our reason, we do more damage on behalf of the terrorists. When we spread fear and uncertainty on subjects we don't really understand, we are making their job easier. We must be thoughtful, and diligent to learn the matters at hand.

In the end, Paris doesn't need us to pray - it needs us to think.


Friday, October 16, 2015

To my friends in Saint John/Rothesay

As a politics nerd, I have been tracking #elxn42 very closely. I follow @308dotcom to get all the latest poll results; I read all the newspapers online, both news and opinion, to see what the media has to say about this and that. To this end, a couple of things seem really clear to me at this point: 1) The Liberals with Justin Trudeau will be forming our next government, and 2) the race in Saint John-Rothesay is a dead heat between Liberal Wayne Long and Conservative Rodney Weston. I have already made up my mind where my vote is going: in fact, I already voted with my family at the advance poll. If you have been paying attention, you know that I am eager for a change in government and have voted for Wayne to bring that change.

But some of my friends may still be undecided, or maybe leaning one way of the other but not committed. That's fine, we still have a few days left, and as long as you do vote I can add you to me list of heroes. But before you do mark that "X", I would like you to consider the following:
 - Rodney Weston is touting his accomplishment in Ottawa, but has he really done anything? I mean, his party is the one in power which you would expect gives his riding some pull in the federal funding of projects. And even at that, clean water is the best he can come up with? We're not living in a third-world country, shouldn't clean, safe drinking water be presumed?
 - Saint John has a history of electing members despite the rest of the country's choice of governing party. Remember when we sent good old Elsie in there as one of only two Conservative MPs in the entire country? This speaks to the quality of candidates that we have available, and we should be proud of that. However, it's a sad reality that electing a candidate who is not a member of the ruling party reduces the say that we have in Parliament. When Trudeau is Prime Minister, a near certainty at this point, wouldn't it be more effective for our region if we had a Member of Parliament who has a more favorable position in the House?
 - When we talk about the quality of candidates in our riding, you couldn't ask for a better one than Wayne Long. Wayne is a lifelong Saint Johner, who was educated at UNBSJ and built his own succesful business in this city before bringing QMJHL hockey and the eventual Memorial Cup Champion Sea Dogs to Saint John. He is extremely well spoken, as you would know if you have seen any of the candidate debates, but very approachable. He is driven to represent our community, as you can tell given that he has canvassed tens of thousands of homes during the campaign. That is definitely an improvement over the robocalls I have received from AJ Griffin! All things being equal, I would certainly not hesitate to give Wayne my vote; but things are not equal, and a Liberal vote in Saint John is the best choice we have in this election.

I have a lot of reasons for disliking the Conservatives, aside from their foul campaign tactics, I simply don't like the way they have governed our country over the last 4 years. I guess if you're not currently eating your dinner out of a garbage can then maybe you might think that Stephen Harper's economic plan has been working; but for a lot of my friends, the decisions made by this government have resulted in them moving out west or traveling to get work, or worrying about their jobs.  This is not  a good economy, and it is the result of poor management. And worse, this short-sighted approach has resulted in a recession and lack of growth, thanks to reliance on a single industry that is struggling now that the price of crude has dropped. Research and innovation in new energy technologies and environmental protection, things that WE KNOW provide well-paying jobs have been defunded and obstructed. Around the world, industry is begging for STEM graduates, but my son who is currently studying Science does not see good employment prospects if he chooses to stay in Canada. And all this in favor of a strategy that limits growth and requires us to ship our fathers and sons across the country to make a living. It's maddening to see people choosing false promises of lower taxes over proper resource and fiscal management, thing that have historically made our country great.

But the flip side is that there is now hope. All the numbers guys - the ones who were right last time - are saying that the chance of the Conservatives forming the next government is remote. Even if they beat the odds and squeeze out a minority victory, both the Liberals and NDP parties have said they will not support a Conservative government and would work together to ensure that does not happen. Whether that's a coalition (which the NDP have said they are willing to do) or simply cooperating to ensure their House vote pass, that would mean Justin Trudeau is our next Prime Minister, and policies set in place by the Harper government that I am so at odds with would change. I am encouraged :)

But the best thing for me would be to know that my neighbors are on board and that we can share in the victory. I would like see the best things happen in Saint John, and I know that means we need as many people as possible to vote for Wayne Long. If you are on the fence, think about that. If you are planning on voting for Weston just because he's a Conservative or Griffin because she's NDP and that's your "team", I beg you to reconsider. On Monday we will have a change, let's embrace it and give our city a strong voice!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

All dogs go to heaven, or something.

We're all gonna die.

I'm not trying to alarm anyone, but that's a fact that needs no reference. The earth revolves around the sun, rivers run to the ocean, light races along at nearly three hundred million meters a second, and our time living in it all will end. You can count on it. You're alive at this moment or you would not be reading my post, but some day (and there's no getting out of it) you will pass on; as will all of my friends, as will I.

As will my dog, Monty. And that one really hurts.

My favorite human person with my favorite canine person.

Don't get me wrong, I will certainly mourn you, I promise. But I'm not expecting you to go very soon, and you'll have to forgive me if you're not at the forefront in my mind, given that I can't really be sure who is reading this. With Monty, every morning for years he's the second person I see, and every night he's the second to last. Every day I watch my beloved schnauzer, and I know that for him the end is nigh.

Monty is thirteen years old. He still wants to play with me - I know this because he always finds me and stands in front of me until he has my attention, then runs away to the only room we have with a rug (where he can get traction) and stands above his rope-bone, waiting for me to try and steal it. It's hard to imagine why anyone would want a frayed smelly old rope-bone, but I usually oblige and snatch at it, only to have him grab the other end and tug until "he wins". He still meets me at the door when I get home from work (most days), looking up for a pet and for me to let him immediately out the back door (even though he likely just came in!). He sticks his nose up to my bed and sniffs at me until I rub his head, then turns around so that I can scratch his butt while he throws his nose up in the air, making grunting noises and looking at me over his shoulder.

That's about 50 pounds of handsome, right there.
He does not behave like old dogs do, yet. But I can see it coming. I can tell by the way he needs a couple of attempts to get out of his bed, or resorts to a full-on belly flop when he tries to lay down gracefully. Or how he struggles with stairs, and often won't trouble himself to rise for every little inconsequential happening (like he used to). His hips are old, slowing him down. Soon, more of him will slow down, and parts of him will ache all the time. He will stop having fun, and will be simply tolerating his own existence.

I know this is true, but I don't like to admit it. Of course, we're going to see if we can get treatment for his hips, and maybe that will get him over this hurdle and buy us more time. But my lovely wife, ever the realist, the ultimate pragmatist, won't stop reminding me of this truth. I don't know if she talks about it so much in order to make sure we are prepared, or if it is because she wants me to be prepared.

Well, I am preparing. It kills me, but I am. It sounds odd, but I have never lost anyone in my life who is as close to me as this little canine. I have raised him since he was a few weeks old; trained an alpha male to be part of (and not the head of) a family, and watched him grow to trust and be trusted. I have literally bled (since he was so dominant as a puppy that he was vicious with anyone who dared to handle him) for him. And he has bled for me, saving me multiple times from deadly groundhogs striving to overthrow the sovereign territory of our back yard. We are the truest friends. And I have to be ready for him to go.

Here he is as a vicious, domineering puppy. It's OK to say "Awwwwww!"

Despite the title of my post, I don't believe I will see him in some sort of doggie Heaven. That's a story we often feed to children because it's too difficult for us to tell them what we know to be true. I don't need that kind of hope anyway. Like with everyone else in my life, I am honoured to have had his love for thirteen years, or fourteen or fifteen, or whatever fortune brings. Things will not be empty for me when he is gone, because I will have my memories. I will say my good bye, and he will be gone, and I will never see him again. But I will always remember, as long as my mind and body are connected. And I will not be alone, since there are other dogs, and cats, and humans that will want my love.

Don't we kinda look alike?

I could certainly feel guilty that there are people in my life that may leave me, and that I won't have said all that I need to say to them or made it clear to them how much I care about them. That's the beauty of a relationship with a dog - I will never imagine that he didn't know I loved him. Every time I trip over him while he's circling my ankles, I know he loves me back. And every day when I see him limping and tripping, I'm reminded how brief the rest of our time together might be. But people don't get under my feet, and they live far longer, and sometimes they leave without warning me that they're on their way out. There is no way to give myself to everyone the way I have given myself to Monty, so I must hope that my loved ones all understand that I do cherish them, and always will. Even when they are gone for good, I do not expect to mourn the time I can no longer have with them, or regret the time I did not have with them - I will rejoice that I knew them, and that I loved them. That is a great legacy for anyone. That is what I also hope those that I leave behind will do for me.

All this, I learned from an old dog, my hairy cousin with bad breath. I wish that all could be so lucky as to have a friend like my Monty.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How not to pray, or: how to not pray.

As long as I can remember, prayer was a struggle for me. It was not something that I did at all before I was born again (Hallelujah!) at the age of fifteen. I have vague memories of being taught to pray "Now I lay me down to sleep..." as a young child, but I don't remember who taught me. I don't think it would have been my parents, since neither of them was religious. But that's neither here nor there, since the exercise was no more spiritual to me than reciting "Mary had a little lamb" or "Humpty Dumpty".

Is it just me, or do you find the idea of an anthropomorphic egg to be just a little creepy?

When I became a part of evangelical church culture in my mid-teens, prayer was a vital activity in order to belong. When I attended youth group, we often gathered in a circle to pray together, and as a self-styled leader among these teens, I forced myself to participate. Privately, I made myself take daily time to talk to God and read the Bible, so that I could conduct a "relationship" with God. Of course, the frequency with which I simply fell asleep during the practice of sharing my soul with God was much greater than that of the times when I felt I had made some kind of connection. There were rare times when I sat alone, in an emotional transfixion, thinking I had reached out to God; but for the most part I felt as is my thoughts were bouncing off the ceiling rather than traversing the heavens to connect to the Creator.

Because of this, my private prayer life almost completely dissipated over the years, despite my guilt over the fact. Regardless of this I grew to become a significant member of my church. I even participated in the "Ministry Team" for a period of time, a cadre of lay people whose sole purpose was to go to people who had come up to the front of the sanctuary (usually during, but not limited to, the time towards the end of the service) looking for prayer. I fit in very well - I've never been one to struggle for words, and I have a reasonably sharp intuition, so in "prayer ministry" or group prayer I don't think I ever looked out of place. I know that I prayed with people, and many time my words were comforting or encouraging to them.

And I hated every second of it.

I was happy that I could be an encouragement to my friends and fellow church-goers, don't get me wrong. I just felt like a fake, because I knew that I was not actually speaking to God in Heaven, I was saying words to the people standing around me. It was totally for them. And I think I was pretty good at it. I was asked to pray often. People seemed to be able to relate to what I had to say (to God).
1. Speak to God
2. ???
3. Prophet!

I was also the token Christian in my family, so I got to pray at all our family get-togethers. You might say that in true hipster fashion I was religious before it was cool - in the last few years many of my family members have found a devotion that I never saw before in them, but prior to that I was alone. It's important to mention that this unique role I had carved out for myself was not without its responsibilities. Every year my family has a gathering for breakfast on Boxing Day, and every year my grandmother, the matriarch of our clan, would have me pray the blessing before we would chow down on our bacon, eggs, sausage and ham. I would always oblige, swiftly thanking God for our wonderful family and asking for His blessing in our lives. Despite my hesitations, I felt good being given such a place of honour in our family.

This became an anxious ritual for me a few years back. As my beliefs were changing, I started to become more comfortable with my abstinence from prayer. After all, it was not me that hadn't held up his end of the prayer-bargain, it was God: why should I feel guilty about something I had put every reasonable effort into? As I retreated from church life I finally had no reason to ever pray publicly, aside from this once-a-year family gathering. I started modifying these speeches to become less like prayers, and more "invocations". I was not thanking God, but acknowledging the cooks. I was expressing my desire for blessing on my family, but not asking anyone in particular for it. I'm good enough with words that I don't think anybody noticed. At least, nobody ever mentioned it. But it was still spectacularly uncomfortable for me.

Maybe this would have solved my whole problem?

Finally on the morning of one of our breakfasts, when my grandmother approached me semi-privately beforehand to ask if I would pray I very politely suggested that she find someone else. This had the effect of putting a total seizure on the event while Nanny tried to figure out why I would decline, until my aunt gracefully recommended another family member. It seems that my grandmother, who was not religious in any way, was much more upset about my loss of faith than I was! I think she may have seen this as me relinquishing the post of "family chaplain." I had hoped to back out of this quietly, but her reaction to the news made it anything but inconspicuous. As it turns out, old people don't seem to appreciate change.

Now that a couple of years have passed, I have been able to remove myself from from any expectation from anyone that I need to perform prayers. Even in the social environments where someone may need to pray, I don't expect to ever be the person asked to do it. I will be honest, it's been a great relief.

I understand that I may be making a huge mistake in writing about this publicly. In admitting that I struggled to communicate with God in prayer, I may open my arguments up to dismissal from believers who wish to claim that I was not a valid believer if I did not have a "strong prayer life" (yes, Christians talk like this!). This line of reasoning is known as the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, and it's frankly bullshit. However, I'm willing entertain that risk, because I would be willing to bet that it is in fact that other way around: I'm sure that many Christians have experienced the same frustration that I did, and can identify with my struggle; that they have also faced years of silence from God punctuated by brief epiphanies. Believers are encouraged to admit that they doubt, but never to analyze that doubt for fear that it might overcome their belief. I have come through on the other side, and have have found more encouragement here than I ever did before.