Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Bard at the Barracks

Last night C. and I went to a performance of Twelfth Night, part of the Bard in the Barracks series of outdoor performances of Shakespeare's plays. The plays are performed by NotaBle Acts, a Summer Theatre Company and Festival, using the old barracks in Officer's Square as their backdrop, hence the name; and it's a great set because the barracks has rooms accessible at ground level and two open balcony-walkways above, all of which were used to effect in last night's performance, as the barracks stood in for Countess Olivia's estate among other things.
It was a perfect, perfect night for it and the performance was outstanding. These are people who have been busy professional stage actors for years in some cases and decades in others and we are lucky they are all here to entertain us this summer. I only took a handful of pictures as I didn't want to distract the actors, and we were in the front row. In this image, Viola (disguised as a boy, Cesario), declares her master Duke Orsini's love to Countess Olivia.

Later, Cesario reports on "his" luck in winning Olivia's affections, as a young audience member watches intently. He was successful - but in all the wrong ways, as Olivia has fallen for him instead of the Duke.

Olivia has a quick-witted, tongue-twisting conversation with her fool, Feste, while the Puritan Malvolio watches disapprovingly from the background.

Having been tricked by a forged letter into thinking that Countess Olivia harbours feelings for him, Malvolio dons the garb requested in the letter - yellow stockings and crossed garters - and prepares to sweep her off her feet. Instead, he'll be mocked mercilessly by the ne'er-do-wells who set him up (Shakespeare really did not like Puritans, who would've loved to see his bawdy plays, as well as most forms of public entertainment, shut down) and eventually thrown into jail as a lunatic.

It was genuinely funny - you forget how, in the mouths of talented actors, Shakespearean English becomes immediately understandable, right down to the double-entendres and ribald jokes. That, plus given that the physical comedy skills of the company is outstanding, made for a laugh-out-loud performance.

I'm extremely pleased that C. suggested going. It was the most enjoyable thing I've done in a long time. Of course, what less would you expect from a play which opens with some of the loveliest words in the English language:
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour!

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

The last journalist in Washington, DC

Glenn Greenwald posts a short interview with Helen Thomas, who appears to be the only reporter in Washington these days with any balls... ironic, isn't it?

Of course, she's been treated shamelessly by this shameless administration - a respected veteran White House correspondent moved to the back row of the press gallery in a schoolyard show of pique that is all too expected from these petty tyrants. Her crime? Insisting on asking real questions and refusing to get on the March To A Just War bandwagon.

But Helen is one of those people who seem to gain a little more stature every time some lesser minion tries to put her in her place. That's a talent that you earn through one quality and one quality only - integrity.

She is still asking the real questions. White House Press Briefing, June 20, 2007:

Q: A study shows that Iraq is the second-most unstable country in the world. Do we have anything to do with that?

MR. SNOW: Do we have anything to do with that? Yes, I saw the study --

Q: -- the killing?

MR. SNOW: We don't -- I'm not sure I got the --

Q: I'm talking about Petraeus, also, intensifying -- is he trying to build a kill record before September?

MR. SNOW: No. No. In point of fact, Helen, if you take a look at the record of the last two months, the people who have been trying to put together the kill record are al Qaeda. Go to the mosques --

Q: Is everybody who resists our occupation a terrorist?

MR. SNOW: Do you think somebody who goes in and blows up 50 people in a mosque is resisting occupation?

Q: What have we done for five years?

MR. SNOW: What we have been trying to do is to work with folks to deal with a highly volatile situation in Iraq in the wake of a murderous regime --

Q: We've killed thousands of people, tens of thousands --

MR. SNOW: Many have died, and hundreds of thousands died under the previous regime. This is a place that has too long been wracked by violence. And the fact that in fighting --

Q: We're not supposed to be comparing, are we?

MR. SNOW: Unfortunately, if we fought evil guys who simply would say, you caught us, we're evil, we give up, we'll be good -- that would be great, that would be wonderful.

Q: Everybody isn't evil who fights for his land.

MR. SNOW: A lot of the people we're talking about, Helen, aren't fighting for their land, because it's not their land. They don't even come from Iraq.

Q: Are we fighting Iraqis, inherently, in their own country?

MR. SNOW: Are we fighting Iraqis inherently? I think if you take a look at what General Petraeus is saying, is that increasingly Iraqis are joining with us to defend their country from the onslaught of outside fighters, whether they be from al Qaeda or Iran.

Q: Good, but we have to admit we're killing a lot of Iraqis who are against our presence.

MR. SNOW: I'm not sure. I mean, that requires the kind of canvas of those who have died that I'm not capable of doing.
Molly Ivins is gone. God help us when Helen Thomas retires.


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Sunday, June 24, 2007

A quirky people.

This is part of a Canada Day display at a local liquor store, which happens to be attached to the supermarket where I do my weekly shopping. They're all Canadian products, of course, from the celebrated locally-produced Moosehead beer (the green cans, lower left) to the ice wine in the tall, narrow bottles with the golden maple leafs on the top shelf, to the raw, ragged-tasting Newfoundland Screech in the bottles with the tan labels mid-right bottom shelf. (I note, with amusement, that in some kind of promotion, if you buy a bottle of Screech, you apparently get a mini-sample-bottle of some other product. Honey, if you're drinking Screech, you do not be wantin' to be drinking no other product.)

And yes, there is a bottle of Canadian Club on the top shelf, and a bottle of Canadian wine (probably Niagara or BC region) on the bottom shelf, which are wearing tiny, hand-knit maple leaf sweaters.

I sometimes gently mock the stereotypes about Canadians on usenet by starting a post with, "We are a clean, industrious people..." but while some stereotypes about Canadians are true (including that we have a tendency to smugness), the one that it seems to me is least true is that Canadians are boring. Almost all of us are at a minimum funny. Many are slightly eccentric. And some of us are downright certifiable.

Now, I do live in Atlantic Canada, which skews oddball; but all in all, thinking about the conversations I have with strangers and the oddball things I see on a constant basis - such as wine bottles wearing tiny, hand-knit maple leaf sweaters - I'd say we average out at quirky.



Friday, June 22, 2007


Xtreme English sent me a link to a very funny Huffington Post article entitled "I can haz weaponz?" (amusingly noting "this is in your language, I believe...").

The article starts with the recent reportage that the Pentagon has confirmed a long-standing rumour that it had requested funding to develop a "gay bomb" which, when dropped on the enemy, would have an aphrodesiac effect so powerful they'd immediately forget about fighting (not to mention their natural largely-heterosexual orientation) and stop to make love, not war.

While that story has provoked much hilarity, it's only the tip of the iceberg, according to an ABC news story today.

Inspired by news that the Pentagon will spend about $78,000,000,000 this year researching such things as armour that makes soldiers invisible, camera-equipped remote-controlled sharks and "psychic teleportation", Huffington Posters Gabriel Delahaye and Max Silvestri came up with some other suggested weapons for study, starting with "Piranha gas that when inhaled turns into a piranha in your lungs with a hunger for lung meat".

Read the whole Homer Simsonesque list of weapons of mass delusion in the post.



Wednesday, June 20, 2007

World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day.

Afghans make up the world's largest refugee population, with 2.1 million believed to be living outside their homeland of Afghanistan.

The second-largest population, thanks to their "liberation", are Iraqis. UNHCR estimates 1.9 million Iraqis are displaced internally, and up to 2 million in neighbouring states. In fact, the UNHCR says that the 14% increase in the number of refugees in the past year - the first increase in 5 years - is being "driven by Iraq".

Then there is the situation in Africa. 686,000 Sudanese, 460,000 Somalis and roughly 400,000 people each from DR Congo and Burundi.

Nine million of these wretched people worldwide are children.

The UNHCR World Refugee Day website has some suggestions on how you can help this appalling situation, but there is a very simple way that anyone can help - by supporting a generous refugee admission policy in your own country, by volunteering at a local immigrant-settling agency to act as a friend to a refugee family (in Canada, inquire about the HOST program, offered in a number of cities across the country), or by just smiling at the shy woman in African tribal clothing with her baby in a sling on the bus. The best solution would be to get these people resettled in their own homelands. In the meantime, surely the very least we who have so much can do is be kind to those who have gotten out.


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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Woman perfoming Karate kick

On Saturday night, my dear friend Tristis Ward was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Campus/Community Radio Association (NCRA).

To put this into some perspective, this is only the second time this award has ever been bestowed. The first time, it went to Freida Werden of CJSF , founder of Women's International News Gathering Service (WINGS), a womens' news service used by radio stations around the world.

Tristis gave me my first job when I moved to Fredericton, as Traffic Coordinator for the local campus/community station, CHSR-FM. She was then Program Director, and my main duty was scheduling advertisements, PSAs, federally-mandated station IDs, and so on, and recording that they'd occurred. At the time, what I knew about campus/community radio could be put into a thimble with some room left over. By the time I left, I recognized campus/community radio - - radio which is run as a collective, which is often located on a post-secondary campus, but which anyone in the surrounding community can get involved with and eventually offer programming through -- is incredibly important in getting unheard voices on the public airwaves.

We not only became co-workers, we became extremely close friends, and she was a bridesmaid at my wedding. We both think slightly sidewise; and often it seems like she is the only person who understands my cockeyed ideas, and vice-versa.

Tristis is currently CHSR's Station Manager. Most, but not all, of her programmers are university students, who also make up most of the Board of Directors she works with. Anyone who has supervised university students, much less been supervised by them, will recognize the challenges she has faced. Her key role is the monumental task of creating a place that is a "safe space" not only for the lesbian thrash-metal show host but the born-again Christian who shares the station with her, for the Chinese students who host a weekend show to the fellow who has been doing a Newfoundland music show for years to the vintage punk host to the Voice of Islam. Yet she's managed it - with a few significant explosions along the way.

I expect that the main reason she's received the award, though, is in recognition of the work she's done in helping other communities - in particular Native reserves - set up their own stations. She's been a very hands-on resource for communities seeking to have their very own way to communicate through radio.

C/c radio people are goofy people, and Tris describes her award to me thusly: "[It's] two feet tall, has a woman performing a Karate kick on the top and has the random number 83 at the base. I was amused. I think it's cool." Here's an appropriately-out-of-focus photo of her admiring it moments after receiving it (I am not sure if people without Facebook accounts will be able to see it).

Woman performing a Karate kick, eh?

Appropriate, I'd say.

Congratulations, Tris. You deserve this far more than your modesty will ever let you understand.



Friday, June 15, 2007

I just want to get this off my chest...

(Credit: Meme Cats)


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Slow boat from Cuba

Finally! Brian, in California, reports that my postcard to him mailed from Cuba has arrived!!!

I had actually given up all hope, given that most people I asked reported that postcards from Cuba to North America and even Europe usually arrived by a month after posting. (Granted, many of them would've been posting from Varadero or Habana, and we were in very rural Las Tunas.) I guesstimate, assisted by Google Earth, that the postcard took approximately 2.5 months to travel about 8850 km, or 5500 miles. That's one of the shorter trips the cards I sent will (or won't) take, believe it or not, so it makes sense it'd be one of the first to arrive.

Even if this is the only one that arrives, my faith in the Cuban postal system - and the US postal system - will have been bolstered.



What your Dad absolutely, positively doesn't want for Father's Day

I was at the gym last night and saw this poster in the locker room:

Now, here's what your Dad does not want for Father's Day: he does not want you to give him an "anti-aging system" skin cream collection, which will strike men of the older generations as uncomfortably, uh... fruity, and men of any generation worrying at best and self-esteem-crushing at worst.

He especially doesn't want you to give him an anti-aging system for which you paid "only" $59, after first spending $100 on other products, thus reminding him that he is also an abject failure at teaching you any financial sense or responsibility.

Trust me. O, rly.



Ah, the lolcats. You either love them or you hate them. And it appears they've spawned an unstoppable juggernaut of lolmemes which takes the style, vocabulary and in-jokes of LOLcats to a variety of other environments and themes, from LOLing the entire Rocky Horror Picture Show to LOL(scientific)Theorists. (Laughing Squid has a good list of the various LOL sites.)

During lunch today I visited LOL80s. It's heavily 80s-music referential, so being a teenager during that decade heightens the experience considerably. Since I turned 15 in 1980 and 25 in 1990, I was in a fine place to have my experience heightened. Like most unedited, user-submitted threads it had offerings ranging from just plain unfunny, to incomprehensible, to mildly amusing, to extremely funny. These three in particular just slayed me:

(Credit: "Not the real Village People")

(Credit: "ThatNickGuy")
(Credit: "Bluski")

Win!!!1!! Srsly!

(There was also a large picture of Kenny G playing his sax, with the caption: "I M N UR ELLEHVADER... SAPPN UR WILL 2 LIV.")



Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Catching up

I had an unexpected but most welcome visitor at work yesterday. The woman who I wrote about here, the first person I peer-counseled after getting my implant, had kept in occasional touch with me by email - my last contact was an exchange of Christmas cards, I think - but yesterday she dropped by my office to see me.

I often refer to people I've met who've had the implant, or who have close family members who've been implanted, as being part of my "CI family". There is a definite sense of instantly having something in common, of shared experience. That is certainly how I felt about seeing this woman again, and we sat and talked and laughed for a good half-hour about common experiences and common acquaintences (like the staff at the Nova Scotia Speech and Hearing Centre) and so on.

The most gratifying thing for me was her great enthusiasm for her life and results post-implant. Like everyone I've peer-counseled so far, she, unlike me, had residual hearing in the implanted ear - hearing she was definitely going to lose if implanted. So she took a much bigger risk than I did. I am so happy that her decision has been the right one for her and has added so much to her quality of life! A good visit indeed.


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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Happy Loving Day!

June 12, 2007 is the 40th anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision in the case of Loving vs.Virginia, which, if you are unfamiliar with it, struck down the so-called "anti-miscegenation" laws in the 16 states that still had them.

In other words, it determined once and for all that it was unconstitutional to deny couples the right to marry on the basis of being of different races.

The fact that this is the 40th Anniversary was a little mind-boggling for me, because while it wasn't in my conscious memory, it is within my lifetime that these archaic and wicked laws were on the books, and were removed only by appeal to the highest court in the land.

The parallel between the unfairness of anti-miscegenation laws and denying gays and lesbians the right to marry has already been argued to death. If you're anti-gay-marriage, the differences are so fundamental as to render the comparison pointless.

But if you're pro-gay-marriage, the parallels are too obvious to ignore. So it's not surprising that a gay marriage advocacy group in the US is running some very interesting - and very carefully targeted - ads pointing out not only the parallels, but how the benefits of Loving vs.Virginia are being enjoyed by a number of key people in positions of authority and power.

If nothing else, reading the story of black woman Mildred Jeter and her white husband, the suitably-named Richard Loving, should inspire you. (An account is about halfway down the page of the Freedom to Marry Loving decision anniversary ad campaign site linked above.) This couple left their native Virginia - where they were forbidden to marry - to wed, and upon returning to Virginia were arrested in the night, in their own bedroom with a copy of their marriage certificate hung over their bed. Convicted of violating the anti-miscegenation law, and given the choice of prison or 25 years' exile from Virginia, they chose the latter, and began their fight for justice - a fight that took them all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

There must've been some very, very dark days during that fight. One can only imagine the abuse, mockery and threats they suffered, and the "friends" and family who turned their backs.

It should inspire you. And remind you of how far we've come.

And how far we have to go.

Happy Loving Day. If you're straight, take a moment to reflect on your privilege to proudly introduce the person who is the most important person in the world to you as your spouse without a soul raising their eyebrow.

If you're gay, and married, as I know some of the readers of this blog are, take a moment to reflect on the fact that you have - finally - attained - and claimed - the same privilege. Mostly. Except for the raised eyebrow here and there. Pat yourself on the back. No shrinking violet, you.

And if you're gay and unable to marry - yet - know that it's only a matter of time.

Just like Loving vs. Virginia.



Friday, June 08, 2007

Cats with cameras

So what would your cat take pictures of if you gave it a camera?

A fellow in rural Germany wondered what his outdoor cat, Mr. Lee, got up to during the day, and conceived - and created - a camera that could be rigged to automagically take pictures now and then, and could be worn on the cat's collar.

The design is beyond my ken, technologically speaking, but I bet many of you can understand and could duplicate it.

While I'll always be an indoor-cat advocate, the photos are absolutely amazing! (Links to four set of "trip" photos are at the bottom of the page linked above.) (Note to the ophidiophobic readers of this blog - you know who you are - there is an [uneventful] encounter with a snake during trip 3, so you may wish to skip it.)



Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Is this a political debate or a revival meetin'?

Some excerpts from answers to questions (about evolution, and about Mitt Romney's Mormonism) in last night's GOP debate:
HUCKABEE: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. To me, it's pretty simple. A person either believes that God created this process or believes that it was an accident and that it just happened all on its own.
But I believe that all of us in this room are the unique creations of a god who knows us and loves us, and who created us for his own purpose.

BROWNBACK: … I believe that we are created in the image of God for a particular purpose. And I believe that with all my heart… And I am fully convinced there's a god of the universe that loves us very much and was involved in the process.

ROMNEY: I believe in God, believe in the Bible, believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe that God created man in his image. I believe that the freedoms of man derive from inalienable rights that were given to us by God.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that few in America understand how jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly weird this kind of talk sounds in the rest of the world, coming in the middle of a political debate of candidates who want to be president of a country. (At least, outside the Islamic world; I expect that they line up to avow their faithfulness to Allah as well.)

I kept trying to imagine these questions and responses appearing in a Canadian leadership debate and was flummoxed. Even Stephen Harper, the self-declared fundamentalist Christian, only got as far as adding "God bless Canada" to the end of a couple of his first speeches as PM before public discomfort encouraged him to knock it off.

Frank McKenna, our former Premier (o how we miss him) and, following his premiership, Canadian Ambassador to the US for a while, said matter-of-factly in a speech recently that America is a theocracy.

I wonder if anyone's told the Americans yet. Mike P. says they know; but "since it's the way God wants it, we haven't objected".



Monday, June 04, 2007

Ronnie's American Day

If other bloggers saw their days in terms of themes, as Mojo does, I guess today would be my American day. Which started yesterday, actually, since I decided to watch the first few minutes of the Democratic Candidates' Debate and ended up watching all two hours of it. I was impressed by a lot of what I heard and tend to agree with the pundits who give Hillary Clinton the "win" but, dammit, her weaseling on voting to support action against Iraq got even worse last night. Now she says she couldn't possibly imagine Bush would actually use force, which is why she voted to give him the authority to do so. That's even worse in my opinion than her pigheaded refusal to admit it was a mistake couched in these terms: "if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have voted for it". She was recently given the opportunity to do just that. It is an easy out, because it takes the blame for casting the vote off her, and places it on the false and erroneous information that Congress was given before the vote.

Did she take that opportunity to say that IF she knew that some of the information she'd been given was false or wrong, she wouldn't have voted to authorize the use of force? An opportunity that allowed her to get the issue off the table and admit the mistake while not actually looking like she did something wrong?


I heard a CBC news story about a Clinton rally and an older gentleman attending spoke in glowing terms about Hillary. When asked by the reporter whether he would support her in the primary and/or the Presidential election, he surprised her by saying he hadn't decided. "Sooner or later," he said, "she is going to have to come to terms with the Iraq vote thing. Until she does that, I don't think I can vote for her."

I am not sure her campaign really understands what a deal-breaker this might be for Democratic voters.

Then today I was in the office of a new co-worker. She's an older woman, the oldest on our staff now. Tons of NGO experience and a good addition to our team. I dropped by today to say hello and, more importantly, to make her feel welcome by asking her about the photos of her adult children and grandchildren she has on display. Her children's photos are wedding pictures, but for her youngest daughter who isn't married. She showed me a photo of her youngest son and his wife.

"Is that... a U.S. Marines uniform?" I asked, surprised.

"Yes," she said, and she explained why he joined the USMC, but that's a little too much of someone else's personal information for inclusion in this blog. Then she paused, and then she said, "He was deployed to Iraq on March 1st, and I can't sleep a wink. I'm terrified for him."

Hard to know what to say to that.

Just a couple of hours later, I got one of the most unusual phone calls I've gotten in my career. It was an absolutely cold call from a woman in California who wants to emigrate to Canada. She'd found our organization through a web search and wanted to know if there was anything we could do to help her.

Honestly, it was one of the most poignant work conversations I'd ever had, because there was so little I could do to help her except direct her to the people who could. We, I said, worked on settling the people once they got here - the mechanics of getting here was a bit outside my scope of expertise. I directed her to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the NB Provincial Nominee Program, etc. I explained Provincial Nominee Programs to her, told her that most provinces had one and that it was her best bet for getting into the country; I explained the point system.

It was, at times, oddly funny. "Do you know where we are?" I asked, wondering why she was contacting NB of all places. "You're... you're on the east coast. Right?" she said. "I went to the web site. It's beautiful. I looked at the map. It's far away."


At another point she said, "Will I need to learn to speak French?"
"Oh, Lord, no," I said. "I barely can, and I live here."

It was her reasons for wanting to move here that made the call poignant - that, and the knowledge that unless she has a skill in an area of shortage, her odds aren't great. Contrary to popular belief, Canada is picky about its immigrants; and Americans and Europeans do not get extra points for being white and western. (Having fluency one of the two official languages is about the only benefit American applicants have, and any Ugandan has the same benefit - English is their official language, too - ditto Cameroonians [English & French].)

"I have two children," she said. "I'm a single mom. I don't want to raise my kids here anymore. What's happening in this country politically, it scares me. My oldest is about to start school. I don't want to send her to school here. It scares me. The crime is so bad in the neighbourhoods we can afford. I'm a good person. I'm willing to work hard. I have no criminal record. Will that help? [Oh, my, yes.] I want to live somewhere that is more in tune with my values, where I can feel good about the values my kids are learning."

Frankly, I think she is indulging in the type of idealistic fantasy that Husband and I engage in when we talk about buying a little place in the Caribbean. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. If investigating a move to her idealized vision of Canada keeps her sane and gives her some potential rosy future to look forward to, good for her. As a stress-relieving pursuit it beats popping Prozac and drinking cheap wine.

And who knows? Maybe she'll actually do it. And maybe it'll be the right thing for her. I just think it's sad that she feels the way she does.

I took her name and phone number. I actually think I'll follow up with her, see how she's doing.

If nothing else, she'll know she has a friend in Canada.



Friday, June 01, 2007

I don't get it.

If they're so crappie,

why would I want to buy one?