31 December 2008

for whom the bell canada tolls

as someone who has recently done battle with a telecommunications company and someone who pays taxes, i would hope that someone, somewhere in the bowels of government is using some of that tax money to ensure that i'm protected when it comes to the predatory nature of telecommunications providers.

however, in canada, it seems that we're on our own.

rear view mirror


so this is it. 2008 is just hours from being over.

this is the time when we're supposed to stay for a moment and ponder what has gone on in our lives in the last twelve months. of course, the barrier between years is fake. if you wanted to reflect on your life at a certain time, you could pick any point during the earth's annual orbit of the sun. the only reason we do it at the end of december is because that's when everyone else we know does it and because the digits on our calendar change.

that said, i think that quiet reflection is an underrated activity, so i don't mind taking the excuse to do it and i really can't think of anything bad that comes from people reflecting once a year en masse. if only the spirit stuck with them past the first monday in january when they all went back to work.

there are usually a few high and low points that i can point to during any given year. in that way, i think i'm exceedingly normal. this year, however, is a little different. this year, there's been so much change that i hardly know how to start processing it all. in fact, my life seems different in almost every way on december 31st, 2008 than it did on january 1st.

i spent much of january 1st on a train from montreal to toronto, saddened to be leaving and determined to return soon. it was appropriately bleak and snowy outside and i spent those hours wondering what i was going to do until the time that i could make the big move, something i had been tossing around in my brain for years, back to montreal where i've always felt more "at home" (despite the fact that i'm not from here).

in point of fact, much of the first half of the year was awful. a friend and i even decided to fire 2008 at the end of june because it had been so bad. the opportunity to travel, briefly, in april and re/connect with a few friends in london was a positive experience, but mostly, life seemed to mirror the near-record snowfalls outside: a never-ending stream of crap seemed to land on my head.

the culmination of this, of course, was losing my feline companion morgan, who'd been with me for half my life, on may 29th.

that really represented the nadir of 2008. after that, i quit my job, packed up my belongings and two remaining cats and came back to montreal. some would say that leaving a stable job and taking off to another city is a sign of some sort of instability. i count it as one of the best decisions i've made.

the move allowed me to reconnect with the friends i have here, who are as close to me as family.

it also allowed me (almost immediately and unexpectedly) to connect with someone very special, who finished off the year by moving into the spacious pad i'd found for myself.

if there's one thing that i regret from the year, it's that i'd hoped to cap it off by having an anthology of short stories published. that's in the works, but it'll have to be my first accomplishment of 2009 (information to follow).

still, after years of looking back at some minor highlights and low-lights that comprised a single year, it feels good to sit and reflect and feel like i've been through a lot. i can remember that train ride twelve months ago, i can remember it quite clearly, but it's a concerted effort to remember my own mindset, my thoughts and feelings. that's kind of an accomplishment.

17 December 2008

how the grinch got grinchy


with all due respect to doctor seuss, who i have admired since childhood, i need to say a few words on how the famous grinch got to be how he was, before that magical christmas in whoville. i don't think that it had anything to do with his shoe size or his heart size, either.

personally, i think that the grinch, living as he did in a suburb of whoville, was forced to spend time leading up to christmas in some malls, shopping for stuff that was supposed to make the people around him happy, but that more than likely led to thinly veiled disappointment and a feeling of awkwardness and failure that tainted his enjoyment of the roast beast.

because once you've braved the horror that is the modern pre-holiday consumer orgy, you feel like you deserve some sort of award for just being able to say you survived.

everyone has their own hot points. for some, it's the crowds, who constantly look like they're about to trash the entire city in a frenzy of frustration at being unable to find the right things to spend on. for others, it's the consistent repetition of trite phrases devoid of anything approaching meaning for decades.

but for me personally- and i know i say this every year- it's the music. look, i have no problem with the classics, although i don't even want to hear them six hours a day seven days a week either. my problem is that every year i seem to get subjected to more and more painful fare that is supposed to make me feel cheery (and rich, i think), but which actually leaves me feeling like i want to practice my knife throwing skills.

my last foray into fear exposed me to a few treats such as the hi-NRG disco version of "feliz navidad" (abysmal in any form, so in a way it's impressive to see something that manages to lower the bar on this one), the R2D2 christmas song (not half as interesting as it sounds) and celine dion singing o holy night (o holy mother of god, get it away from me).

in a way, though, these tracks are what christmas is now. they are all irritating, crassly commercial and patently phony. one could be forgiven for getting a little grinch-y when surrounded by this sort of dreck year after year and being told that if you don't act like you're enjoying it, you're a miserable excuse for a human being who's ruining it for everyone else.

the grinch, of course, finds his redemption, because the whos aren't merely insane consuming machines, but little folks who are able to enjoy the presence of family and friends even in the absence of objects. this is what people remember from the story, of course. but what gets lost is that the poor guy may have had perfectly valid reasons for ending up the way he did.

personally, i'm in favour of the general slowdown that happens in most western countries around this time of year. i think it does us all good to take a collective breather. in fact, i think that simply taking the time to relax and not worry about the things that occupy the rest of our lives would be a great step towards engendering all those nice feelings that christmas purports to be about.

but when you're thrown into the cesspool of consumerism or forced (as i have been many times) to endure the grim horror that is holiday travel, the end effect can be quite the opposite.

and so are many grinches born.

10 December 2008

famous first words


there are a couple of caveats to what i'm about to say and they are very, very important.

1. it's not even the middle of december, so technically, winter hasn't even started yet.

2. i haven't been forced into the time-honoured montreal tradition of waiting for a bus in 70km/h winds and -25C temperatures yet.

now that we have that out of the way, something occurred to me yesterday that brought a smile to my face. yesterday i was outside in a fairly heavy snowstorm (15cm total) and cold temperatures (-10C, -17C with the wind chill). it wasn't especially pleasant, but i can't say that it was entirely unpleasant either. the times when the wind was in my face were not enjoyable, but i was layered and bundled enough that i really can't say that i felt uncomfortably cold. i even found myself dawdling a little, choosing to walk rather than take the bus (because i was adamant that i did not want to be inside any vehicle that went above ground) and feeling sorry for the poor sods in cars (who probably thought that i was the unfortunate one) as they tried to make their way home at a speed of 10cm per hour.

what made me smile was that i realised when i got home that, by and large, winter doesn't get a whole lot worse than what i've experienced this week. it was a bone-chilling -21C on Monday. i know that i can expected a few weeks of that in january/ february, but at least i know that i survived and even managed to walk around a little without feeling as if i was going to die. yesterday was a storm, which made walking difficult, but i managed to deal with it, walking even more than i had to.

last winter was infuriating to me, because of the record setting snowfalls that made getting around really unpleasant. the old age home around the corner from my toronto apartment was never plowed, no matter how much snow was on the ground. it didn't help that i worked on a street with no sidewalk, making getting to the office from the bus stop a life-threatening proposition. it was also irritating because it just wouldn't stop. it was cold and miserable from november through to may, pretty much with no breaks.

however, i did make it through, with no permanent damage. and that means that i know i can make it through winter in montreal. it's supposed to be a fairly normal winter in these parts. "normal" would actually temperatures above what we've had in the last few days. (and, yes, i realise that the average is found between the warm and the cool days. at least it means there will be warm days.) the average annual snowfall is more than what i was so frustrated with last year, however. i'll just have to hope that they're better at clearing it out of the way. (toronto is notable for repeated epic fail in this regard.)

yes, winter is upon us. this year, i have myself halfway convinced that i can deal with it...

08 December 2008

electile dysfunction

i'm peculiarly proud of myself for voting in the quebec provincial election today. perhaps it's that sense of self-sacrifice, that i went out and walked the ten minutes in freezing cold weather to mark my little "x" in the full knowledge that it wouldn't count for anything. only canadians seem to be able to take pride in doing things that are pointless and painful out of a sense of responsibility. that said, with recent voter turnouts, it's becoming obvious that most canadians are hopping off that train in record numbers.

i can't really say as i would blame people who opted out of this contest. after all, we're in the midst of a flash freeze that unexpectedly dropped the temperature from around freezing to minus double digits in the space of twelve hours. who really wants to head into that?

then, of course, there's the issue of the actual parties and their positions, which always makes engaging in quebec politics rather like hugging a porcupine. sure, it's cute from a distance.

leaving aside the free-falling flash-in-the-pan action democratique, there are in this election and every election, two parties who are competing for the votes of quebeckers. you can find their public platforms on a variety of issues on the linked web sites (although i have to say that as i'm typing this, the liberal web site isn't working) but there is one important thing that every student of quebec politics should understand that you won't find mentioned therein: neither of those parties wants to separate quebec from the rest of canada.

this is sort of a difficult proposition to wrap your head around, since separation (or sovereignty, if you prefer) is a key part of the platform of the parti quebecois. nonetheless, it is true. after all, quebec has a pretty good deal going with the national system of equalization payments, receiving more money than it could hope to generate on its own by virtue of the fact that it remains, however sullenly, within the national federation of canada. and, in truth, no provincial party has done more with their equalization money. university tuition in quebec is significantly lower than in other parts of the country, owing to a decision that kept fees capped for over a decade. quebec also used public funds to start its own $5 a day day care program under the pq watch in 1997. so no one can argue that the separatist party doesn't enjoy and employ the benefits of remaining in canada. the fact is that any serious separatist party would be taking every step to cut back the province's expenses and to wean it without delay from its dependence on money from the federal coffers. after all, we each learn when we make that first move away from home: as long as your parents are still paying the bills, you're a long way from being truly independent. (if you want to see people who really do want quebec to separate, trying looking at people in every other province in canada. a lot of them look like the proverbial rich guy realising he should have had his wife sign a pre-nup. he desperately wants her gone, because she's making him crazy every time she talks, but he knows that leaving her himself is going to be way too expensive.)

no one can say that the liberals, the erstwhile voice of federalism within quebec, don't take full advantage of its image as st. george holding back the separatist dragon, armed only with huge bags of money from ottawa. and that propaganda is hugely successful. make no mistake, the liberal party of quebec will garner many thousands of votes today from people who either do not agree with or do not know the party's stand on issues of direct importance to the lives of citizens, simply because those people believe that if they do not vote liberal, the province is headed for sovereignty and doom.

and maybe those people have the right idea. after all, if you're going to choose between two parties who don't really want to separate quebec from canada, you might as well give your vote to the one that comes right out and says it. ah, but there in the fluffy angel cake of political compromise lies the razor blade of reality. the fact that every provincial election in quebec must be fought with the question of sovereignty lurking beneath the surface means that there isn't ever an election about anything else. no one ever gets to think about all the other issues that provincial governments are supposed to be dealing with, because each vote comes down to weather you want to give your support to a party that says it wants to separate or a party that says it doesn't.

i'm willing to bet that there are a lot of quebec residents who'd be willing to trade some of those equalization dollars to get some real political debate and representation.

dj kali unsound montreal set list 2008.12.05

set 1

skullflower :: black ass bone
gnaw their tongues :: chinese torture worship
ethnic acid :: il papa
sutcliffe jugend :: this is the truth
maska genetik :: moments of truth

set 2

dive :: dead or alive
whitehouse :: killing hurt give you the solution
coil :: ostia
wakeford/ stapleton :: walk the white ghost

set 3

foetus :: butterfly potion
coil :: the anal staircase
synapscape :: spill
annie anxiety :: turkey girl
jouissance :: the primrose path
november novelet :: bluish eyes
novy svet :: begin/ nada/ fin
hentai :: untitled
coil :: paranoid inlay
geins't nait :: trailles
d.a.f. :: sato sato
haus arafna :: paranoia
eyeless in gaza :: voice from the tracks
danielle dax :: bed caves

... at which point the sound system stroked out.

03 December 2008

coailition government true and false

like most canadians, i like to maintain a smug sense of superiority about our knowledge of political issues, particularly in comparison with our neighbours to the south. however, the last few days have made me realise that, when political push comes to shove, we're basically sheep following what we've heard in the news in the last seven days. so here is my humble attempt to address some of the partisan myth-making that has been circulating as a result of the current constitutional confusion.

a majority of canadians chose stephen harper and the conservatives to govern the country- false. of those who voted (59.1% of those eligible), 37.63% voted for the conservative party. this is not a majority by any measure. it is a plurality, which means only that the conservatives got more votes than any of the other parties. this percentage of the vote was not enough to give the conservatives a parliamentary majority, meaning that the other parties combined have more seats than the conservatives, but no single party has as many seats.

coalitions are inherently unstable- depends on what you're comparing them to. they are unquestionably less stable than single party governments with an outright majority. however, they are no more or less stable than minority governments operating without a formal coalition agreement.

a majority of canadians voted against stephane dion- false. no one in canada voted for or against stephane dion except the residents of the st. laurent-cartierville riding. parliamentary systems, unlike presidential ones, involve voting for parties, not leaders. the sad fact that many people allow themselves to believe otherwise, because it's easier than finding out the details of a party's actual platform, doesn't change that. stephane dion is not the issue, except for his own party.

to give the power of government to a group of parties, none of whom were given a mandate to govern, is undemocratic- false. and true. it's false in the sense that, combined, the liberals, new democrats and bloc quebecois actually represent a substantial majority of those who voted. the argument that they didn't run as a coalition is specious. coalitions are formed by parties by determining if they can come to an agreement on major issues to an extent that would allow them to govern and in minority situations, it is to be expected that some of the parties will work together. it's also true, however, that governments that function on a purely "first past the post" basis are inherently undemocratic, because they immediately discount every vote that was not cast for the winner. if the conservatives govern alone, every vote for another party- 62% of those cast- is essentially lost. if the coalition prevails, every vote for the conservatives- the largest single party block of votes- is lost. no one was given a clear-cut mandate and therefore the system dictates that a large group of people lose out. the way to get around this is to change the system. the outcome of the current crisis is irrelevant to the question of democratic representation.

the coalition can't work- false. coalition governments do work and have worked in other countries and in canada. in fact, the conservatives have been governing with a kind of coalition for two years. they have not had (and have not generally sought) the support of the opposition parties, but those parties have given a kind of consent by strategically absenting themselves from parliamentary votes to prevent the government from collapsing.

the inclusion of separatists in government is unprecedented in canada- false. separatist politicians have participated in past governments to a greater extent than the bloc quebecois would under the current coalition agreement. the difference is that they weren't calling themselves separatists. brian mulroney's success in quebec was due in no small measure to his ability to win "soft" separatists over to the progressive conservative party. he even put some of them in cabinet. remember?

and here are a couple of less clear-cut questions...

the coalition represents a power grab by the opposition- maybe. people will interpret the motivations of the opposition as they will, mostly based on their own previously established partisanship. "person on the street" interviews in burlington, a heavily conservative toronto suburb, show a vast majority of people with a vitriolic reaction against the coalition. in the same sort of interview in montreal, where the voters tend to be more left-leaning (and where the conservatives do not hold a single seat), the reaction was more positively disposed towards a multi-party government. the fact is that no one can speak with any authority on the motivations of the politicians involved.

stephen harper needs to resign- probably. the impression being given is that much of the belligerence on the part of the conservatives comes from harper and his unelected staff and that the strange developments of the last few days can be traced back to harper's own truculent style of governing. remove him from the equation and the argument that the conservatives need to go because of their unwillingness to work with the other parties loses much of its resonance. in addition to the fact that the harper-driven economic update was the landmine that set all this off to begin with, his reaction has been blundering, petty, hysterical and ill-informed. whatever the end solution is, it seems unlikely that it can be a positive one with him in the picture.

and now that you've heard my opinion, you might want to check here for a different, but also non-partisan opinion.
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