Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Post-it Positive

A high school student in Airdrie, Alberta approaches her locker to find that someone has broken in to it.  Worse, she discovers that the perpetrator used her iPad to access her Facebook account to tell her to die.  Rather than play a victim, the girl decides to turn a negative into a positive and post sticky-notes with positive, encouraging messages around her school.  Sounds like a display of compassion and initiative.  Sadly, incomprehensibly, however, her school didn't see it that way.  Rather, some genius "educrat" decided that this was littering and reprimanded her for this kind act.  

This issue is set in my head especially since I took an opportunity at work yesterday to centre out a couple workers (who I don't even know since they work in another part of the plant) for some good work.  I'm not trying to sound like I'm bragging here.  I'm really not.  But I've come to learn that a kind word can go a long way.  You never know what that other person is thinking.  They could be having the worse day of their life.  They might feel unappreciated, misunderstood or simply need a little encouragement.  The thing is....you just don't know.  A positive word CAN make a difference and this is something I try to put into practice in my own life on a daily basis.  Sure, it won't change the world, but it could make a big difference to the person receiving that good word.

Anyhow, that is the back story to why this incident here speaks to me.  Frankly, my first though was that the principal of this school is a very poor leader, a complete idiot, or maybe worse.  After stewing over it I thought I do a bit of searching to find out just who this principal was since now name was given in any news source I've seen yet.  Ah, the wonders of the internet.  Of course, it didn't take long to find a name and an email.  And of course, I couldn't just leave it at that.  I had to email the guy.  Now, its not clear whether the principal was the individual who delivered the reprimand however, as the principal of the school one would expect that he would have the final say in disciplinary decisions.  The buck stops here, as the old saying goes....leadership 101.

The principal's name is Ed Polhill.  Here's what I wrote......

Dear Mr. Polhill,

It is with great concern that I read of a decision by the administration of your school to reprimand a student who did a brave thing by standing up to bullies.  As a parent and former educator myself, I find this move very disappointing.  A good word to a person, be it verbal or in the form of a short written note (as was the case here) can make a big difference in a person's day.  Surely the upside of this is worth more than the value of a few sticky-notes.  I find it sad that your school puts more value on joining the anti-littering, environmentalist band wagon than on the value of students.  With respect, this is shameful.  Perhaps if you got out of your office and actually spoke to some of the students you would get a better sense of how this one kind-hearted student's altruism put a positive spin on their day.  Sometimes the actions of one student are just as effective at combatting a problem as are fancy jargon and programs from all sorts of experts on the topic of bullying.  I feel what this young lady did was quite admirable.  She should be thanked for showing some initiative, turning a negative into a positive and contributing in such a healthy way to her school.  She certainly should not be reprimanded.  This is ridiculous.

regards,

Darcy Steele

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Into The Field and Conquering Fear

I had a change of scenery last week as I was transferred to a different area of Suncor and have joined a crew "out in the field" as the saying here goes.  It's also referred to as being "put on tools."  Anyhow, its been a busy last few days to say the least.  My work schedule changes as well as I get 2 extra work days.  The extra time off over the summer was nice as it was the most time I've had off to enjoy summer since I moved out here.  I actually started out in the field on some much-appreciated over time days so beginning work down in the plant with 5 overtime days in a row is a pretty nice way to kick things off.

At the risk of sounding self-absorbed, I feel vindicated by the last week.  I'm not a physical type of guy though I don't mind getting my hands dirty when I have to.  I've had a few people tell me I'd never transition successfully from an academic, indoor job to working out in the elements.  Boo to them.   Truthfully you probably wouldn't want to have the physique of a football linebacker in my trade anyway given the endurance you need, the tight spaces you sometimes need to fit through and the climbing.

Yeah, for some reason I didn't give a great deal of thought when I started out working in the yards here that scaffolding can involve a lot of climbing around in high places.  You see, I do have a fear of heights.  Or at least I thought I did.  I'm pretty much sure I've cured myself of the worst of that now.  I spent the bulk of this past Sunday afternoon over 200 feet up on a structure helping to modify a hoarding around some piece of equipment.  (The view was great.)  The first 185 or so was mostly stairs which wasn't so bad.  It was once I reached a platform with a 30 foot steel ladder anchored to the structure that I thought I had met my Waterloo.  I came very close to apologizing to my journeyman and telling him it was just too much for me.  But since I was already most of the way up and didn't want to let my crew down I thought "the hell with it," took a deep breath and just did it.  Major butterflies about halfway up.  They tell you not to look down and it really does work.  I took my time, made sure I had a firm grip on the rungs and before I knew it I was up.  A couple more smaller ladders and I was at the top of the structure.

Going down that big ladder the first time was probably hardest part of the day.  You step through the safety gate, slowly get swing your feet out on to the ladder and put that big empty space below you out of your head.  Holding the rungs in a death grip helps.  Okay, I do exaggerate here.  I looked straight ahead and distracted myself by humming part of a tune in my head.  Turns out I could hum the thing 4 times by the time I reached solid ground.  (Thanks Bach.  Is there anything you can't do?)

I probably made that climb 5 or 6 times over the course of the afternoon.  By the end of the day, it was easy.  At one point I remember being shocked that I was so relaxed being up at that height.  Sometimes in this trade you have to tie off and work or hang outside of the structure temporarily depending on the requirements of the job at hand.  Now, of course I didn't do this (though a couple of the guys I worked with did) and wouldn't be asked to or even allowed to do it at any rate, but it was a pretty big victory for me.  I can be a tad introverted at times.  Sometimes, I've let my fears stop me from doing things.  Not that I woke up that morning thinking "Hey, I think I'll climb 200 feet in the air and hang outside of it just for kicks".   Oddly, I had a harder time yesterday climbing around 4 or 5 feet off the ground on a scaffold.  It takes some getting used and I am of course tied off to the scaffold but I didn't want that fact to give me a false sense of security and overstep my limits.  In reality, its the smaller slips and falls that can give you problems if you aren't careful rather than ones from 200-300 feet.  A little gallows humour always helps.  "Hey it's not the fall I'm worried about.  It's that sudden stop at the bottom.!"

Perhaps in the end it was more my WORRY of being afraid of heights (or acrophobia to give it its technical name) rather than actually BEING afraid of heights.  In the end, for me at least, it was simply mind over matter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Some Parents Need a Slap Upside the Head

When I first heard of the tragic shooting of a firearms instructor in Arizona, it was difficult to even begin to wrap my head around it.  Several thoughts went through my mind.  Nothing good ever comes out of the end of a barrel of a gun so I'm stunned that parents would even consider allowing their child to handle an Uzi sub machine gun.  I should say that I am no anti-gun nut.  I believe strongly in the responsible use of firearms.....the operative word here being "responsible".  Clearly, giving a military-style weapon to a child is not being responsible, regardless of circumstances.  Growing up, I never shot anything more powerful than a .22 calibre.  (Yes, I know an Uzi uses the same calibre round, but there is a huge difference of course in the amount of recoil, which clearly was a big part of the problem here.)  I did once shoot a 12-gauge when I was around the same age as the young girl in this tragic tale and I still remember to this day the amount of "kick back" I experienced.  It quite literally knocked me on my ass and my ear protection flew off.  Even today as an adult, before I fire any weapon the question of just how much "kick" I will experience is one of the things going through my mind.  I always remember that little episode of my childhood as it gave me a healthy respect for the power of a firearm.

I did a lot of shooting as an army cadet and again in my early 20's in the reserves.  I know that even the standard Canadian automatic weapon (known as the C9, if I recall correctly) can be a challenge when you first use it.  Heck, I recall from basic training a few people (myself included) finding if a challenge to fight the "barrel rise" from the recoil.  And this was when firing using a bi-pod in the prone position. Needless to say I grew up with a healthy respect for firearms.  I don't mean to get in to the whole gun control debate here as there are obviously strong opinions on both sides of this issue.  I do believe strongly in the responsible use of firearms and I struggle to see how this sad incident is an example of that.  I think its truly sad and speaks volumes of American society in general where anyone, let alone the parents of a 9-year-old feel compelled to put such a weapon into the hands of a child no matter what kind of instruction may be available.  These aren't toys out of a video game.  They can kill if not approached with the respect they deserve.  Sadly, this lesson came too late here.




Monday, August 18, 2014

The Comedic Genius of Jim Prentice

(My apologies for strong language but a fellow can only put up with so much nonsense.  Anyhow, to be foretold is to be forewarned.)

Apparently former federal MP Jim Prentice was in town  this past weekend to drum up local support for his run at the premiership to be decided next month.  Now nothing against the guy personally but when I read in local media here about some of what he had to say, I could only really shake my head and wonder who writes his talking points.

In the world according to Jim, we have great local leadership in our local MLA's.  I'm sure we do......ok, other than the fact that one of them was arrested, charged and found guilty on solicitation charges.

He also won't commit to time lines for improving or increasing infrastructure.  Of course not.  Because that would require commitments that he would then be responsible for and I'm sure Jimbo has been around in politics long enough to see the folly in that.

Preston Manning once said, in reference to the former Chretien Liberals, that you can repaint a house but underneath it all, it's still the same old house.  So forgive me if I take Mr. Prentice's claims for transparency with a grain of salt.  Government transparency sounds good on the campaign trail or in this case a leadership run but frankly, I've seen nothing to make me think that changing leaders, or repainting the house as it were, will really make a difference.

I don't like to be a cynic.  Honestly, I don't.  But after 43 years in power, how can this sorry lot claim to be innovative or to be striding toward transparency?  Wouldn't transparency be like telling Albertans which MLA's voted to allow local MLA Mike Allen back into caucus after being found guilty of solicitation?  Ah, I can hear the crickets chirping.

Wouldn't ridding government of red tape and bureaucracy be like having our hapless education minister not dicker with the math curriculum when it is clear that it isn't necessary and many parents don't want that to happen anyway?

Wouldn't it be great if our PC MLA's were like Nascar with all the names of their sponsors glued to them?  Because I sure as hell know I wouldn't see my name on their shiny suits.  Can we just dispense with the bullshit that our politicians have my best interests at heart?  Can the PC's just be honest and admit that at this point it's all about holding on to power rather than the fiction of "public service"?


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cat Days Of Summer?


It must be the heat.....because I really don't know how else to explain her rather odd sleeping positions as of late.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Mother of All Encores

One of the things I love about classical music is discovering a new work or a piece by a composer you may not be all too familiar with.  Such was the case this afternoon when I decided to escape our mini heatwave here and indulge in a few tunes.  While Mozart is of course familiar to most, oft listened to and performed one of the unfortunate side effects with music of the Classical era is that there is a great deal of other great music out there that deserves to be better known but often isn't simply because....well, it's not Mozart.  Anyhow, I came across some small ensemble works by Italian composer Domenico Cimarosa and its been a great listen so far.

I can perhaps be forgiven for not being overly familiar with the man given that I probably only played one or two of his piano pieces growing up, nothing of his during university and also for the fact that he was known in his day (like many an Italian) as an opera composer.  He wrote more than 80.  Cimarosa also had the misfortune of being a Mozart contemporary.  He was a child prodigy, didn't die young or have fiery romances.

He DOES however, have one very interesting claim to fame for having the best encore in operatic history.  Following the premier of his opera, The Secret Marriage in Vienna in 1792, a mere two months after the death of Mozart, Cimarosa received the mother of all encores, so to speak.  So impressed was Leopold II with the opera that he ordered dinner for the entire company and asked for the entire work to be repeated.  When I first read about this, I didn't know what to make of it.  I had to go look it up.  I did attend a performance once by English pianist Murray Perahia at the University of Michigan 20 years ago where he played 4 or 5 encores of some smaller pieces and I thought THAT was impressive.  But apparently, this mammoth encore actually did happen.  Having an opera heartily endorsed by the Emperor is certainly a good for the resume, especially since unlike with some earlier composers, Cimarosa didn't always have a powerful patron.

In this one respect, though Cimarosa certainly trumps Wolfgang hands down.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Neighbours You DON'T Want vs The Neighbours You DO

When I first heard the story and read the article about some crazy neighbours, my initial feeling was one of gratitude that they didn't live next to me.  It was only a day or two later that it was pointed out to me that this story actually happened in town here.  Now, I have no idea exactly where these sweet hearts live but as I said, they don't live next to me thankfully.  I feel bad for the family on the receiving end of all this nonsense and it makes me grateful for the good neighbours I have had since I've lived here.

Since I moved in here, the houses on either side of me have both changed hands but I haven't had any issues.  My one former neighbour, who had lived these for 20+ years was a real gem, oftentimes cutting my front lawn for me when I was working insane hours.  He even saved me money when, in the course of a conversation he let me know that the former owners of my house had mentioned to him that the air conditioning unit (which to this day sits on my back deck) was too small for the size of my house here.  Better to buy a bigger unit if I was looking into installing one, he said rather than to waste money installing one that probably wasn't up to the task.  The house on the other side of me was a rental when I moved in and despite the stereotypes of a group of guys renting rooms in a house, they were great neighbours.  One was actually a DJ for a local radio station apparently.  A couple years ago a younger couple moved in and while I don't know them that well due to work schedules, they are quiet and keep to themselves.

Obviously, the neighbours mentioned in the news item above, have some serious issues involving territorial aggression, and perhaps paranoia.  Whatever their issues, I'm thankful they aren't MY neighbours.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hot, Hot, Hot

Now, if it was a dance club I was referring to in my post title or perhaps even some night-time er, "extra-curriculars" it wouldn't be such a bad thing.  Unfortunately, in this case, the title is in reference to the weather here.  Yes, I know it's summer and I realize the mercury can climb but it still messes with my head that it can be just as warm here (sometimes even warmer) than down in Edmonton or Calgary.    Having spent quite a few years in northern Canada, its taken me a bit of time to readjust to hotter summers.  It wasn't until last summer that I began to feel comfortable with temperatures over 25C so I WAS on the right road though with +32C and no AC, I think I've reached the upper threshold.

Now I DO actually have an AC unit.  It's been sitting out on the back deck since I bought the place.  It was never hooked up and frankly, I never gave it much thought as I figured it wouldn't be all that necessary.  For the most part, I've managed fine without it though today I must admit to casting a few longing glances at it from the kitchen window.  Even the cat, who is usually pretty bouncy, seems rather lethargic.

At least I don't have to work today, which is a small mercy.  Given the nature of my job, even temperatures around +20C can feel downright uncomfortable under the right conditions.  Ok, well I was SUPPOSED to work today, just to finish off the last day of my shift.  Two buses usually come by my stop very close to the time I get picked up.  Now, its the second bus I'm supposed to take but for some reason, my bus came first and so without even thinking I let it pass by.  It wasn't until the second bus (for the mine) came by that I clued in to my mistake.  That plus the fact that another fellow who takes my bus from my stop all of a sudden wasn't standing there anymore.  Ooops.

I'll just blame the heat.

(And yes, I know I've been a horrible blogger the past little while.  I can't blame THAT on the heat.  But I have my regular laptop down in Edmonton getting a fix up so I'm resorting to using my old MacBook.  So once I get my baby back I should be good to go.  And hey, I get to go down to Edmonton to pick it up so I figured I might as well make a couple days out of it.  Plus, apparently, its not quite as warm down there.)


Monday, July 7, 2014

Tory, Tory Same Old Story....The Return Of Mike Allen

When I first caught word that beleaguered MLA Mike Allen had been allowed back into the Tory caucus I thought someone must have surely imbibed a bit much over the weekend.  But, no.  There it was in black in white as I began to peruse media sources.  My shock turned to disbelief and then anger, quite frankly.  I'm still stunned as I try to make sense of it all and I've had to step away from my keyboard several times here in order to get something coherent down on paper, or screen as it where.

When I learned prior to the last provincial election that our city would get a second MLA do to some electoral boundary tinkering I was quite pleased.  The city has grown, and continues to grow, and its important that this growth be reflected in the legislature.  What I didn't realize at the time though was just how much of a double-edged sword this would be.  Thankfully, as it turned out, Mike Allen is not in my particular riding here, but he still represents our community as the riding of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo covers that part of Fort McMurray not included in Fort McMurray-Conklin.

If you recall, Allen was arrested on a government junket about a year ago in Minnesota, where he attempted to solicit sexual services from two ladies who just happened to be undercover cops.  Oops.  Anyhow, after seeing his trial delayed a few times, Allen was finally found guilty of solicitation late last year and fined $500.   The guy actually got off pretty easy as he was facing the real possibility of jail time.   Rightfully, then Premier Allison Redford gave Allen the boot from the PC caucus, one of the few things I actually agreed on with her.  Rather than do the honourable thing and step down, Allen decided to hang around as an Independent.  Always nice to have your community represented in part by a useless Opposition MLA.

And now Mike Allen is back, welcomed with open arms into the Tory fold.  Will the government do the right things and make pubic which MLA's voted to have this misogynist pig back as a caucus member? It would be the right thing to do of course.  But then again, politicians are a self-serving bunch.  Having THAT information floating about would surely put one hell of a dent the re-election chances of whoever was foolish enough to vote the goof back in.   This government never ceases to amaze.  It's like they have some sort of competition to see just how low they can set the bar before voters finally tire of all their bullshit and choose to get rid of the whole rotten bunch.

Consider this a warning shot of sorts.  Mike Allen certainly does not represent me and he does not represent my community.  To the government, stop treating us like bloody children.  What are the results of this recent vote?  Why do you feel the citizens of this community and this province should not be aware of how our MLA's voted?  I for one would love to know.  We're adult.  We can handle the truth.

Something is very wrong in society when a politician can pull this kind of nonsense and essentially get a free pass.  I for one, am sick and tired of the excuses.  We have issues here in this community and we certainly do not need this issue taking up the time and space.  Enough, Mr. Allen. Your antics grow tiresome.

Please grow a brain, Mike.  Use your head.  NO, not THAT head.  THAT one got you in this mess in the first place.  Use your OTHER head.  Resign and end this circus.  That is all.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Post By-election thoughts

With 94% of the votes counted as I type this it's guaranteed that our riding will be sending another Conservative to Ottawa.  I can't say I'm too surprised as Fort McMurray-Athabasca has elected either Conservative or Reform MPs since its creation.   However, as I watched the results come in tonight it was clear early on that the Liberals weren't about to fade quietly into the night.  I suspected they would pick up some votes but was surprised by just how many.  The Liberals had put a great deal of time and energy into the campaign here though and were able to tap into what seems to be a growing frustration with the government.  I figured that if the Liberals improved their vote count only marginally then such a small increase would quickly be forgotten in Ottawa and things would carry on as before.  With Conservative support dropping from 72% in 2011 to roughly 47%, clearly a warning shot has been fired across the bow.  It will be interesting to see how these results carry over into the 2015 general election.

Two things do concern me as we move forward.  Firstly, the abysmal voter turn out.  This riding is notoriously bad in this respect.  I'm sure the fact that the by-election was called so close to Canada Day played a role. Apathy too.  The Conservatives have held this riding for so long that there was no doubt a sense among some of "why should I even bother?"  Frankly, I don't know what the answer is.  We had 3 days of advance polling and many people out on site were able to leave their shift early to vote (as I did) AND still get paid for the full shift.  Clearly, we can do much better.

My other concern has to do with our MP-elect.  I wonder how responsive David Yurdiga will be to people's concerns when he didn't bother to show up for any of the candidate debates.  I will say that this played a role in how I voted.  And I've generally voted Conservative for as long as I've been old enough to vote.  I will say that Mr. Yurdiga has his work cut out for him if he hopes be re-elected next year.

While much of my focus over the past few weeks was obviously on the contest here I did pay a little attention (or at least as much as my schedule would allow) to the other 3 ridings which were also facing by-elections.   John Barlow's win in Macleod was pretty much a no-brainer.  Anything less than a Conservative romp would have been a huge disaster for the government.  I was pretty confident the Liberals would pick up Scarborough-Agincourt but was surprised they cruised to victory in Trinity-Spadina.  Maybe I just read the tea leaves wrong on that one but I was expecting the NDP there to put up much better results.

I would like to acknowledge all five candidates who put their name forward to represent our region.  Its easy to be cynical and it takes guts to stick your neck out.  So to David Yurdiga, Kyle Harrietha, Lori McDaniel, Tim Moen and Brian Deheer....Thank you!

Anyhow, there you have it.  A bit disappointed here in the result but perhaps a strong message has been sent....yes, the oil sand are important here BUT it is not the only thing that defines us.  This region (and this city) are not a monolith but rather more dynamic than the stereotypes can sometimes suggest.  Here's hoping that at the very least, a strong message was sent to Ottawa tonight.