Friday, March 29, 2013

A little perspective


Just a bumper sticker on the back of someone’s pickup, but what a slap in the face. It’s meant to be, too, as the language is carefully crafted to make you feel like absolute crap if you happen to disagree with the sentiment.

Ignore the fact that the sticker is on an adult’s vehicle while the words are clearly intended to be spoken by a child (outside of the “Dukes of Hazard,” not too many grown-ups driving pick-up trucks call their fathers “daddy”). YOUR daddy fights for MY freedom. Why isn’t he fighting for YOUR freedom, too, buddy? Doesn’t he love you enough? The slogan could have easily, and more sensibly, said “our freedom,” using language of inclusion to join us all together on the same side. Instead we’re left to imagine some lonely child, separated from his dad by Pop’s noble duty to protect US. We’re to blame, you see, because we demand freedom, and this kid’s dad has to answer the call. Not for HIS child, oh no, but for US. Such a sacrifice.

Who is this guy? Jesus?

And how is he fighting for freedom at all? If he’s Canadian, at best he can be fighting for Afghanistan’s freedom, but I don’t think the bumper sticker on a Manitoba vehicle is meant for an Afghan audience. Our soldiers are fighting for the interests of our government. They are an arm of policy for the national government, no more. No Canadian soldier has fought to protect Canadian freedom since the War of 1812. That was the only time a foreign power invaded our own soil. Is bumper-sticker-daddy 200+ years old? Even in WW2, which many will say was a justified war against naked aggression, our soldiers ended up protecting European freedom. I’m sure they appreciated it, but the only Canadians protected in that war weren’t currently living here.

Since 9/11, humans are no longer allowed to publicly deride the military. Why not? Sure, the military can do some good, but when you consider the ultimate purpose of training with automatic weapons isn’t defensive, no matter what we call our governmental departments, why do we insist on giving the career such a noble cloak? It’s a maxim that the best defense is a good offense, but if you examine that statement, it basically means kill anyone that looks like they might want to smack you. Hurt them before they hurt us. Such is the nature of military. Any time they’ve been used for other purposes (peacekeeping, infrastructure support, what have you), it’s wasting the vast majority of their training. You don’t practice taking and holding hostile enemy buildings with weapons capable of turning humans into hamburger so that Starbucks can move in.

Is it because soldiers face death? It can’t be, as military deaths aren’t necessarily higher than civilian, depending on the job. Cops and firefighters have a mortality rate of around 16 per 100 000. Farmers suffer a 37 in 100 000 death rate, loggers 87, and fisheries a whopping 147! This is just in the normal course of doing business.

Compare this to the modern North American military. In 2006, during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the US Military suffered a 136 per 100 000 mortality rate. Yup, that’s high, but working a fish boat is still deadlier. Bear in mind, that’s during wartime. Compare it to a relatively quiet year, like 2000. There it drops to 55 per 100 000, between farmers and loggers.

(I’m using US figures, as they are a lot easier to find. Thank you, American bureaucracy!)

Are the working conditions of the armed forces that much worse than other professions? I’d hazard to say sometimes yes, but most times “no.” You aren’t on the front-lines every day, or for even a sizable fraction of a 20 year career. Don’t they say military life is hours of boredom and seconds of terror? Or is the manner of death the crucial factor? But I ask you, is being blown up or shot worse than being drowned? All three sound horrifying.

None of this is to say we should deride our military personnel. It can be hard work, particularly for the wrong person. It isn’t a job I’d want (or be any good at). But then, after seeing the mortality stats, neither is logger or fisherman.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bouncer safety

I take my wee daughter to playgroups as often as I can. First, it’s better socialization for her than simply hanging around boring ol’ Dad. Second, it’s easier for me to entertain her when there are toys and play-structures available that won’t fit in my house. And third, there is always the chance I might bump into an adult, giving me the opportunity for conversation above the toddler level. You see many types of parents at these things. Some sit, drink their coffee, read or text, and pay no real attention to their children (at least, I hope these people have brought children with them, otherwise it’s just creepy). Then there’s the other end of the spectrum; hovering parents who swoop in to catch their child on every stumble or trip. No owies allowed!

The YMCA hosts its playgroup in their gym, which is great. The kids have a ton of space in which to go nuts. Every week they also provide this really cool inflatable ship called “Mutiny on the Bouncer.”

This thing is a monster better than twelve metres long. It’s impressive. Kids get swallowed by this behemoth. It also comes with a strict warning label, telling you what behaviours are verboten. This label is insane. Check it out.

No rough play. No tumbling of flipping. No unevenly matched players. No glasses. No facial jewelry (good advice for life, I suppose, but it does beg the question of how many 5 year olds have lip studs). No jewelry at all. Some of this makes sense: no sharp objects and no shoes are sensible precautions (golf cleats are RIGHT OUT). But no glasses? Speaking as a glasses wearer, there is no way I’m going anywhere without my specs. Blind myself? How does that make for a safer play experience? Also, what determines what constitutes “unevenly matched players?” Based on strength, I guess, judging by the picture over that specific warning. So do we get them all to arm-wrestle first? Bench-press? Dead-lift? Cage match? What if Kid A can lift a hundred pounds but is a wheezing asthmatic? Is he then a match for Kid B, who lifts on 75 pounds but can do it for hours at a time? It seems to me only a bout of play on a bouncy ship would settle this dispute.

Then check out the maximum number of passengers. Four. FOUR?? As I said, this boat is twelve metres long. Pace that out. Four kids for that much space? Their bedrooms probably aren’t that big. Tons of kids don’t have YARDS that big.

My favourite, though, is the height and weight provisions. No one taller than 60 inches. No one bigger than 250, I assume, pounds. That is one helluva kid. Five feet tall, almost 18 stone. Can you imagine? If that’s you, you have bigger problems than being denied a ride on the Bouncer.

Thankfully, the rules are regularly broken on this thing (sorry, YMCA, not trying to get you in trouble with the Safety Police). Not naming names, but certain parents (me) let their 30 inch tall daughters go cavorting on the Mutiny with kids twice her height and five times her weight. Sometimes there are even FIVE kids on there at once.

Just as I do whenever I go looking for lawn darts to purchase, I wonder if we’re not being a little too over-protective of our young ones.

Stupid lawsuits. Ruined play for all of us here on the good ship North America.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Judging a candidate by their subject line

“Democracy at stake.”

That’s the subject line of a Liberal candidate, Sheila Gervais. It’s nowhere near the only email I’ve been sent me since I signed up to be a Liberal supporter. But it IS far and away the dumbest subject line to date (hence my singling her out; sorry, Sheila). Democracy isn’t at stake in this or any other developed nation. There’s no one magic version of democracy, anyway. All we have is representative democracy, and a biased version at that: PEI votes count for more than Toronto ones individually, but for far, far less when taken as a total. What people really mean when they say “democracy’s at stake” is that their VERSION of democracy is at stake (the version where only their ideas are voted in, and only their candidates win). This is the kind of alarmist crap I laugh at in American elections.

What about the rest of the candidates? Let’s read some of the other subjects they’ve sent. (I have read all these emails, but first impressions count. Your subject line is where you can make or break the whole attitude of your readership. Like first lines in a novel, you have to snag me right off in a positive way, or I’ll be biased against everything else you write, if I even bother to keep going.) So...

“Country first.”

Can’t complain about that. Patriotic. Understated. Nothing so aggressive as “love it or leave it.” A nice sentiment, even if most of us put almost anything ahead of our nation (friends, family, job, pets, car, Internet connection). Still, when sent by a person hoping to one day lead our country, I heartily approve.

“Expect the unexpected.”

This wins the Second Place Prize for Idiocy. Send me a pat, boring, illogical cliché? Please. You can’t expect the unexpected. If you could, it wouldn’t be unexpected. If this is just a plea to look forward to surprises and shake-ups, it’s equally weak. A few surprises can be pleasant, but most of us love our routine and freak out when things go 100% squirrelly. Thumbs down on this one.

“Got a plan for that?”

Not bad. I’d have been more impressed if they’d just gone with the milk commercial homage and written “Got plan?” but I suppose that could come off as unprofessional.

“Leadership Takes the High Road.”

This was the only one with unexpected capitalization, which I’ve reproduced here. It’s a small thing, but in an email subject line, it grabs you. Other than that odd choice, I had no problem with this as a concept. More accurately, though, it should have read “Leadership Should Take the High Road (But Usually Doesn’t, and Can’t Afford To When There Is Competition).”

“Your input.”

An attempt at inclusion, or a desperate man’s plea for ideas. Your perception depends on whether you’re a fan of Trudeau or not (this was one of his). Since I like him, I think he’s keeping on with his announced intent to try and bring all sorts of people together under the Liberal flag. He was also the only candidate, incidentally, who sent TWO versions of his emails: one with English/French, and the other with French/English. Nice touch. When you’re sensitive about language issues, it’s got to bother you that your language is always listed second.

“Trust. Integrity. Experience.”

High-minded and sort of boring. The oatmeal of slogans: good for you, sure, but it hasn’t got the sizzle of steak and eggs. Also, the potential subject of these three concepts doesn’t match. You offer your trust to a candidate, hopefully the one who has integrity and experience, but all three things can’t apply to the same person from the same direction. Full marks for being positive, though, nicely done.

That’s the crop. Which one would you pick?

EDIT: Marc Garneau dropped out. No picking him now.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Liberal leadership race

I signed up to be a Liberal supporter so I can vote in the upcoming Liberal leadership race. Following politics has always been a casual hobby for me rather than a passion, but I’ve been waiting for almost ten years for Justin to pick up where his dad left off. The Trudeau legacy! Like all legacies, it has good and bad parts, but I’m psyched about the idea of Justin rebuilding the national Liberals from the shambles they’ve been in ever since Chrétien left.

As a “supporter,” I have now opened myself up to receive email blasts from all the leadership candidates. In other circumstances these messages could only be deemed “spam,” but it feels unfair to mark them as such, considering I volunteered my email to their campaign machines. They all want my money, of course, and my vote (at least a little), but also to convince me that substance is key, that their leadership candidate must have a proven track record, the candidate needs to have a consistent, cohesive leadership platform, and that the candidate can’t be Justin Trudeau. Well, they don’t always SAY that last part, but they imply it. Marc Garneau, former astronaut, is the most vocal about how young Justin doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.

This makes sense, as Garneau is clearly in number 2 spot (behind Trudeau), so why attack anyone else? No point beating on Number 5 in a race when you’re three steps behind the leader. That’s precisely the reason Trudeau evaded Garneau’s challenge to a one-on-one debate (glorious evasion, too, by the way, just a “see you later” mention via Twitter, barely even acknowledging the challenge had been made). What did Trudeau have to gain from such a contest? Unless something changes radically in the next weeks, Trudeau is a likely shoe-in for the top spot in the crippled Liberal party. If Trudeau kicked Garneau’s butt in a debate, he’d still win. But if he got humiliated (Rick Perry-style), then Garneau gets a bump up and Trudeau loses the blue ribbon. When you’re ahead on points, your best bet to keep winning is duck-and-move to avoid the KO and wait for the bell to ring.

It’s this “smile and sidestep” attitude that endears me to Trudeau. Beside the fact that he will be a delightful counterpoint to Robot Harper, he knows that the memory of the Canadian voter is less than two months long, and if some mud happens to eventually stick to his Teflon skin, he just needs to keep on going for a bit until our attention gets drawn to some other ridiculous drama. (Seriously, we’re like a dog chasing squirrels in the backyard. No attention span or memory at all.) Minus the smiling part, Harper uses this technique all the time (as did Chrétien, the beautiful man). Just ignore the problem. It will go away. And you know what? It always has. Does the average Canadian even remember when Harper shut down Parliament three years ago to avoid a vote of non-confidence he was almost certainly going to lose? Of course they don’t, and even if they do, they don’t care. As Sun Tzu wrote, wait by the river long enough, and the bodies of your enemies will float by. Garneau doesn’t seem to understand that raging doesn’t get you much in Canadian politics. Eventually we just get tired of the guy who’s yelling, no matter how much sense he makes.

Then there’s their respective platforms. Garneau has been touting his own well-documented and thorough plan, comparing it to Trudeau’s vague one as though this is a plus, and I don’t agree. A party leader doesn’t act alone. He’s not an island onto himself. He’ll have advisors, lobbyists, special interest groups, and changing situations to deal with. Liberal policy, like that of all parties, is a fluid and changing beast. Party platforms are always malleable when it comes to election time anyway, and then they change again once you become Prime Minister, so why pretend to have some etched-in-stone positions on all the issues? I guarantee if Garneau became PM tomorrow, by Monday his well-defined platform would be nothing but a memory, crossed out as easily as you can cut-and-paste. This isn’t a statement on his integrity, but a statement on the reality of politics. The only person I’ve seen in my lifetime with a consistent platform was (and is) Ron Paul down in the States, and he got trounced for it. There’s something a little close-minded about someone who “knows what they stand for” anyway; what happens when things change? Does our future leader change with them, or does he stay mired in his old attitudes? Yes, integrity is a fine quality, but obstinance isn’t. Garneau needs to become Trudeau’s number 2 guy, his policy expert and trusted advisor, but leave the Smiler out front. It’s the smart play. Plus Trudeau puts on a better show and is a lot more fun to watch. Remember how boring Ignatieff and Dion were?

So I’ll be casting my lot with Trudeau. Not only because I think he can beat Harper, but because win or lose, it’s going to be an entertaining ride.