Monday, August 18, 2014

The Comedic Genius of Jim Prentice

(My apologies for strong language but a fellow can only put 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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

By-election: The Empty Chair in the Room

When I heard about the all-candidates debate in town tonight for the June 30 by-election, my interest was piqued.  Here was a chance to see the candidates and hear their stances on the issues affecting our region.  I even considered booking today off as I was due to work so that I could attend.  In the end though it turns out I wouldn't be hearing from all the candidates because one of them would not be attending.  There would be an empty chair in the room.  I can understand candidates having busy schedules during an election campaign though I have to wonder what could be so pressing as to cause a candidate to skip out of such an important part of our democratic process.

But when I heard that Conservative candidate David Yurdiga had also passed on another all-candidate debate in Lac La Biche last week, I was puzzled, and then quite frankly, miffed.  To think that a political hopeful who wants MY vote can't even be bothered to hear constituents' concerns and questions is something I find disgusting.  Are we so unworthy of your time, Mr. Yurdiga?  If I had a dime for every time I've heard of a politician flying in for a day, gushing about how our region if the "economic engine of Canada" and then flying out and ignoring the challenges we face, I could probably retire.  I have to admit I find if disturbing that a candidate can blow off not one, but two public forums and then potentially win the seat by a large margin as tends to happen with Conservatives in this province.  I realize that Fort McMurray-Athabasca is quite a large riding (larger than several European countries in fact) but if a candidate who may end up representing me in Ottawa can't be bothered to show up for a debate in that riding's largest population centre then, really, why the hell would I feel compelled to vote for him?

I did receive some election mail yesterday so I suppose I HAVE heard from the Yurdiga campaign in a sense.  A rectangular laminated card from the Conservatives stating on the front that "Conservatives support the oil sands."   Because apparently the ONLY thing in our riding is the oil sands(?)  Now I realize this is a by-election and candidates aren't going to come out with a full policy platform as in a full-blown election campaign.  But still.  I resent the notion that as a voter I only matter to a politician because the industry I happen to be part of happens to make good money for them.  Now I wouldn't mind it so much if this card addresses other issues but only the oil sands is mentioned.  Mr. Yurdiga, you do realize there are other things going on here other than just what happens a few kilometres up highway 63, right?

On the reverse side of the card are 4 quotes from Liberals (including a senator and a former party leaders) along with a picture of Justin Trudeau.  None of the four quotes were actually spoken by Trudeau but they stick his mug there nonetheless.  Couldn't they have instead brought up some actual issues?  Do I really care about a quote spoken by Stephane Dion seven years ago?  I mean, we all know how that turned out for him.  It's 2014 now.  Try to keep up.

Don't propagandize.  Familiarize.  Familiarize us with your views and what you feel needs to be addressed.  Listen to what we have to say (to be fair, most politicians seem to fail in this).  But please.  There is more to our region than just the oil sands.

Our region needs a voice.  Not another empty chair.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Application Accepted

It's been a few days now since I received the email but I have to admit my head is still swimming.  Graduate school was an idea I had toyed with off and on over the last ten years and I finally found myself giving it some serious thought last spring.  Having been out of academia now for almost 15 years (where has the time gone?) the idea of going back for a masters degree was, I admit, rather daunting at times.  Ten years of living throughout the North also added a host of other historical interests on top of the 50 other things I find interesting within the discipline.  Thankfully, however, I don't have to decide on a research area tomorrow or the next day and I've managed to narrow things down (a little bit).

I began the whole process over a year ago and spent much of my free time in March and April figuring out research ideas and possible schools.  I didn't realize at the time just how long a process this would be but by last September I had the actual application underway.  I spent a couple weeks on this though the actual section where you have to detail your specific areas of interest for research took perhaps a month. I had never written a research proposal before so of course I wanted to take my time and craft a good one.  I'm pretty sure I sweated less when I wrote 30-page papers during my undergrad.  Never has a measly 250-word blurb caused so much angst.  The most time-consuming part was locating references, which, after a 15-year hiatus, was interesting to say the least.  Not without its challenges but obviously possible.  I managed to get in touch with a former professor of mine, now teaching in the US but currently on sabbatical in Germany as well as an acquaintance (and former MLA)  in Nunavut.  I'm pretty sure there aren't too many applications that have had references from such far-flung and radically different parts of the world.  I was hopeful that that in itself would spark some interest among the selection committee.

I should mention too that I was initially planning to apply to 3 schools and Windsor actually wasn't very high on the list.  But since I had done my undergraduate degrees there and lived there more or less continuously for 7 years, I decided to include it on my short list based on the familiarity factor alone.  As an added bonus, some of my favourite wineries are only a short drive away.  Gradually my list of 3 became 2 as I decided the one school would involve too far of a move and it would be nice to be a bit closer to family.  Then, as I was having issues with the one school over writing samples I needed for my application, I took the decisive step back in March of going for broke and focusing all my energies on Windsor.

In the end it all paid off as I've been accepted into the Master of Arts program for History at the University of Windsor.  I will have to take a couple of senior undergraduate courses prior to starting the program just to bring my writing and research skills up to speed but I'll take it as it will make the transition back to academia a little less jarring.  At the risk of getting too far ahead of myself, pursuing a Ph.D has been flitting around my head the last 6 months.  Time will tell.  In the meantime its nice to finally get the ball rolling.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Family Re-united and a Stereotype Smashed.

Let's be honest.  Teenagers probably have to be the most stereotyped group out there.  They're lazy.  They're ignorant.  They bitch and complain.  They vandalize.  They think they know everything.  I spent the better part of a decade working with young people in various roles so I think I've heard and seen a lot.  I won't say everything because there are always surprises.  How many times have you passed a group of teens on the street and just thought "ya, up to no good."?  I'll raise my hand.  I admit I've done that myself.

Which is why I found the story of a group of Quebec teens who took it upon themselves to take action and rescue a days-old infant from a would-be kidnapper so refreshing.  Rather than simply seeing a photo on social media and thinking "oh, how sad", they took action.  It's great to see these kids busting stereotypes, although really that should be on us as adults to do that.  How quickly we can be to judge.

At any rate....Sharelle, Marc-Andre, Charlene and Melizanne, YOU GUYS ARE FREAKING AWESOME!  And seriously, if I'm ever in Quebec, the meal's on me!