Friday, December 5, 2014

Alberta Schools and GSA's

With the controversy and dialogue that has emerged recently with the debate over the Alberta government's Bill 10 I thought I'd weigh in with some thoughts of my own.  Anytime you decide to mix politics and education issues you are bound to get a storm it seems.  I should start out by saying that I believe strongly in GSA's and that the Bill in its current form is utter garbage.  (For a timeline of how exactly we got into this trainwreck, this post here provides a good overview of events.)   In its original form, Bill 10 would allow students who wanted to form a GSA, but whose school boards refused, the right to appeal to the provincial human rights commission.  Yes, apparently, in this day and age, some politicians feel one must ask another group or body for some basic rights to do something.  Sad.  An amendment to the bill would have allowed students in this situation to appeal or the right to form a GSA to the Education Minister instead.  One can only imagine if that homophobe Jeff Johnston still held the education portfolio.  This amendment in my view places too much power in the hands of a single individual.  And while I'm not that familiar with our new Education Minister (as he is still new to his post) and I'm sure he is a step up from the last train wreck we had, I find the notion of placing the final decision in the hands of a single individual rather abhorrent.  In the end for me, it all boils down to issues of liberty.  If Catholic school boards are going to fight this tooth and nail, I say, fine.  Don't accept our tax money.  It's NOT your money.  It's OUR money.  Kindly, do not use my money to advance intolerant views and perpetuate the stereotype of Albertans as a bunch of regressive hicks. If you want to have your own school system and call the shots, fair enough.  I'm actually in support of that.  Just DO NOT expect me to pay for it.

Thankfully the new premier has grown a brain and decided to put the bill on hold  for further consultations.  While this will inevitably delay things, its certainly better than passing the Bill in its current form.  I've spent the last couple of days sifting the many arguments against the formation of GSA's through my head.  They really should put logic and rhetoric back in to the education system because many of the counter-arguments I've heard out there are simply facile and ridiculous.  Easy enough to mock but I won't do that here because I want to keep a serious focus on an important issue.

I suppose its easy for some politicians to downplay or ignore students who want to form such groups but really, it won't be too long before these students can vote.   Hopefully we won't have to wait that long before we get some action on this issue.  I would urge all our MLA's to think this issue through carefully and vote cautiously.   (I should add that it appears that our own MLA appears to be in support of GSA's.)  LISTEN to what STUDENTS want.  Because there is an election here in the next couple of years.  Many current students will be old enough to vote.  They WILL remember.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Soldier's Prayer

Prayer Before Battle

When 'neath the rumble of the guns,
I lead my men against the Huns,
'Tis then I feel so all alone and weak and scared,
And oft I wonder how I dared,
Accept the task of leading men.
I wonder, worry, fret, and then I pray,
Oh God! Who promised oft
To humble men a listening ear,
Now in my spirit's troubled state,
Draw near, dear God, draw near, draw near.
Make me more willing to obey,
Help me to merit my command,
And if this be my fatal day,
Reach out, Oh God, Thy Guiding Hand,
And lead me down that deep, dark vale.
These men of mine must never know
How much afraid I really am,
Help me to lead them in the fight
So they will say, "He was a man".

Major Alex Campbell
Officer Commanding
"A" Company
Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment

Killed In Action
25 Dec. 1943
Ortona, Italy

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Golden Buffalo and Shell Place

A potential new development and developments just completed have caught my attention in the past few days here but I have only had time to sit down to write about them now.  This new signature building, now in the permit stage, could grace our downtown skyline in the future.  It's encouraging to see movement afoot when it comes to downtown revitalization, and while one single project can't be expected to take the full burden of renewal, this appears to be a step in the direction, given the mess that our last city council created on this front.

Aside from giving us a better skyline (which currently consists of a short brown government building and two 1970's concrete apartment buildings) the new project will provide much-needed retail and hotel space in our downtown core.  I also like the idea that this will lead to some of the big players in the oil sands having their offices here, rather than down in Calgary.

The second big development, now pretty much finished to my knowledge is Shell Place, the new stadium down at MacDonald Island.  It's been some time since I've past by it (with all the big equipment and fencing, there really wasn't all the much to see) but I look forward very much to seeing it in the near future.  This new facility will play host to the Northern Kick Off in 2015.  (Yup, CFL action right here in Fort McMurray.)  In addition, Shell Place will also play a leading role in the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games coming here next August.

And of course, since we are on the topic of new projects, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that all these athletes and visitors (along with other travelers to our region) will be arriving here through our recently revamped INTERNATIONAL airport.  An interesting year ahead is shaping up for the region.

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 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.


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.