Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Seasons of change

Remember this tree?

What a difference a week makes...

This morning everything was frost-touched and misty and ethereal...

I did a lot of thinking walking through the old burial ground this morning.

Lot of thinking.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Celebrating 30 years of Chinese Culture in NB

The Chinese Cultural Association of New Brunswick hosted their 30th Anniversary Extravaganza on Saturday night, and I was lucky enough to be gifted with two tickets by that generous organization. Husband and I had the best seats in the house - literally front row, center - and I got some photos of the festivities for posterity. This is just a sample of what we saw - I've left a number of performances out just because detailing them all would've become overwhelming. (Clicking on pictures will bring up bigger - in some cases, much bigger! - versions.)

The opening act was the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, recently returned from a visit to the Forbidden City, who played two Chinese pieces they'd learned. They were just about to release a CD of music from that tour.
Next came the Blessing of the Lions, celebrating the lion's role in Chinese culture as a protector, guardian, and bringer of good luck. There were actually 3 lions onstage (red, white and gold) but I couldn't get all 3 of them in one shot, so large was the stage and so close were we to the action.

(Interesting side note: the white lion's head spent a couple of months in my office after a festival while the CCANB got around to having someone pick it up for their next festival. Best office-mate I ever had.)

Aww. How can you possibly go wrong with cute little girls? This dance - the Pearl Jubilee Celebration Dance - was commissioned especially for the event.

Cute bigger girls with parasols never hurts either. The CCANB has both senior and junior dance troupes, including many boys and girls, and is one of the best amateur children's dance groups I've ever seen.

Now we're getting serious. This is NiuSao, a graduate of the Chinese Opera School and later a student of the He Nan Drama Academy. Since immigrating to Canada she's continued performing Chinese opera and dance. Here she was performing a song from Pavilion of a Hundred Flowers, in which the character of Princess Consort Yang Guifei expresses her embarrassment and anger at being kept waiting by the Emperor.

These kids did a dance called "Far Away on a Hilltop" - a remarkable hip-hop-infused reworking of a harvest dance from the Amei region of Taiwan. Everything from moves to costumes were Taiwanese - with - a - modern - urban - twist. It was incredibly creative and fun.

The Ribbon Dance actually got its beginning when extremely long sleeves were worn by Chinese performers and integrated into dance. (NiuSao actually demonstrated that for us during her opera performance, above, whirling like a dervish while her long sleeves swirled around her.) In the modern version, the girls come running out with what look like silk flowers on the end of sticks; at the right moment, all release their "flower" as a bright stream of ribbon.

You may have encountered this before - a Filipino Tinikling Dance. Two people rap two large bamboo poles on the floor, opening and closing them rhythmically. The tinikling dancers delicately hop in and out of the sticks as they open and shut, dancing in, out, through and around the moving poles. The trick is not to get caught in the poles as they snap shut!

There were two performances of classical Chinese works on traditional Chinese instruments. Regrettably, they must have been late additions because they are not listed in the program, so I don't know the name of either. (They were introduced, but due to my hearing I couldn't catch the details.) The lady playing the latter one pictured opened with a Chinese adaptation of Red River Valley, which has apparently been adopted into the Chinese repertoire.

NiuSao joined us again with a dramatic excerpt from the classic Chinese opera Mulan (only tangentially recognizable, apparently, from the Disney adaptation). Those are feathers sprouting from the headdress of her remarkable costume, and they looked even longer in real life than they do here.

NiuSao is a remarkable presence onstage. She has quite a unique kind of composure and dramatic flair. Part of it came from realizing this woman-of-a-certain-age was confidently - supremely confidently - wearing parts written for teenagers. Whatever it was, she was quite a feast for the eyes and ears.

NiuSao later joined us for a demonstration of Opera Face-Changing, an art in which opera masters rapidly change masks they are wearing. Originally, they rapidly changed their faces with coloured powders or pastes concealed in their hands. Later they used layers of masks made of oiled paper or pig bladder. Today they use painted silk masks. I regret that I have no photos of that for you, but I was not going to miss one second of that performance! She changed masks about six times, each time turning away with a shake of her head and turning back to reveal a completely different colour and expression. It was the highlight of the evening, I think, for me. No, the first opera performance was. No, it was a draw. A three-way draw with Mulan.

What was that I was saying about how you can't go wrong with pretty girls in pretty costumes? One of the big numbers of the evening was called the Feathered Fan Dance, said to be a favourite of Chinese nobility through the ages.

It should be noted that Chinese Culture is extremely varied, and before the evening ended, there was a parade of traditional costume from no less than 14 ethnic groups that live in China. Those above are just a sample - unfortunately they came and went too fast for me to be able to remember which these are.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, came back onstage for the finale, which featured confetti cannons blasting a final burst of colour over everything. (Again, I've captured just a fraction of the action.) That's the evening's Artistic Director in the center taking a much-deserved bow.

It was a truly fun evening and a well deserved celebration for a group that works incredibly hard to preserve their culture and customs in their new home. I was so grateful to be invited to attend.



Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blackwater v.2.3: Now, with kittens!

Of all the people who have commented on Blackwater adopting a new logo, which eliminates the "crosshairs" motif of their old logo for a more "corporate-friendly" version, none have done so as amusingly as one of the Democratic Party's bloggers, who envisions Blackwater's continuing logo evolution.

Because nothing says "We don't kill innocent civilians in cold blood" like kittens.



Wednesday, October 24, 2007

They like us. They really like us. (updated; updated again)

I've been meaning to blog about this for a little while now. It's probably going to be a long one, so make yourself some tea.

Canada's mission in Afghanistan is probably the single most contentious political issue in the country right now. We have been debating it ever more hotly as a reconstruction mission turned more and more glaringly into a combat mission in the hottest part of the country, and Canada and the US (and, if I am not mistaken, the Brits) were left to shoulder the burden in violent Kandahar province, while our more timid NATO allies stay more safely in the north of the country, in spite of Canada's pleas for their support in the south.

Well, while we've been debating, someone at leading Canadian pollster, Environics, in partnership with the CBC, noted that "Surprisingly, no Canadian organization has yet to systematically ask the people of Afghanistan about their country and the role we and our allies are playing there". Environics' response was to do a survey of 1,578 adult Afghans (18 years and older) across all 34 of the country's provinces. Females interviewed females, and males males, and the sample was divided 50/50 along gender lines.

Because the majority of Canadian forces are serving in Kandahar province, interviewees in that province were asked additional questions about the Canadians' mission there.

There is a lot of good news. As the CBC notes, "The complete poll results show that the Afghan people are generally supportive of their national government, generally supportive of the role foreign troops are playing and generally optimistic about the future of their country. Nationally, 79 per cent (81 per cent in Kandahar) think things generally are going in the right direction."

Additionally, in Kandahar, 60% of respondents have a "very positive" or "somewhat positive" opinion of Canadian troops, as opposed to 19% with "somewhat negative" or "very negative" opinion. (Unfortunately, of those who did have negative opinions, 45% held them because of Canadians "killing innocent people".)

48% of respondents felt that Canadians were doing a better job than troops from other foreign countries, while 12% thought they were doing worse, and 22% said about the same.

More troubling was the response to the question of whether the use of kidnapping or suicide bombings by forces opposed to the foreign troops was justified.

In the case of kidnapping, 13% nationally responded that they were justified all or some of the time, while 85% said they were justified "only rarely" or "never justified". Similarly, only 12% felt the use of suicide bombers is justified "all of the time" (3%) or "some of the time" (9%); 14% felt they were justified "only rarely"; while 71% felt they were "never justified". Those numbers are probably much better than would be expected by those who see an "islamofacist" under every keffiyeh, but they still indicate troublingly high support for terror tactics.

The most surprising - or should I say astonishing - numbers, as mentioned earlier, are in response to questions about whether Afghanistan is on the right path. "Despite the terrible toll suffered by Afghans for decades," Environics reports, "Afghans are surprisingly upbeat about the direction they see their country moving. A majority (51%) say their country is going in the right direction compared with 28 percent who say it is heading in the wrong direction, although opinion is more divided in Kandahar (48% right direction versus 43% wrong direction). When asked, Afghans say the country is heading in the right direction because they are feeling safer, see reconstruction, disarmament and schools opening for girls." Similarly, 72% of men and 75% of women believe women are better off today than they were 5 years ago, under Taliban rule.

This survey brings up tremendous mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, it makes me extremely happy to hear that we are generally wanted and welcomed in Afghanistan and that we are going enough good there to make the people optimistic about their future. On the other hand, you can slice it six ways to Sunday but we were still sold a reconstruction mission and got home to find our pig in a poke was a combat mission. And nobody has taken the mission back to Parliament yet to let the people have their say on whether we want the damned pig we were sold.

It's enormously frustrating, especially as our NATO allies serve in the relatively safe north of the country (some have only been given permission by their respective national legislatures to serve in the north!) and Canada, like the nice neighbourhood kid who's constantly put upon to babysit for free 'cause he's too nice to say no, gets no respite because someone has to help the Brits and the Yanks keep Kandahar from boiling over.

There have been times when I have said to myself, full of frustration, "It's not our war. We can't save everyone. We've done our share. We need to get out, now."

And yet, when I look at these poll results, I feel like that would be crushing so many peoples' hopes with our heels.

Nothing simple about any of this.

Aw, damn it.

At least it isn't Iraq.

Update: As yesterday's meeting shows, the issue of who is pulling who's weight in Afghanistan is still the most corrosive issue facing NATO, and one which is no closer to finding a satisfactory solution.

Update 2: Unfortunately, opinions among Iraqis are much more pessimistic, as are their feelings about the US forces occupying the country, according to a recent poll (pdf of the full 51-page report).



Monday, October 22, 2007

Across this flat lyeth British Soldiers...

I walk to work through a graveyard most days. I suppose in some towns that would be unusual, but in Fredericton the Old Burial Ground, final resting place to dozens of British Soldiers and the Loyalists they protected, is more quiet city park than cemetary. Those who buried the bodies in this yard did so so long ago that there have been no living mourners left for generations; these are ancestors, not relatives.

Every day this fall I've been watching the progress of this great maple tree right in the middle of the Burial Ground; from a dark green all summer it's now completely aflame with orange and indeed has begun shedding its new auburn 'do.

There's a cross beside the path that runs through the Old Burial Ground (at each end of this path gates open onto busy downtown streets, hence its use as a shortcut). It is dedicated to the memory of the British Soldiers who died in Fredericton and were buried in this cemetery after the American Revolution.

Carved into its base are the words, "To the Memory of the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and men of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army who served in the Fredericton Garrison between 1784 and 1869"

Then, in smaller text: "Across this flat lyeth British Soldiers who died in Fredericton".

That second epitaph, simple and homely, is there for a reason. This memorial is new, but it stands side by side with the original memorial cairn which was erected by the British Army to mark where their men lay. The marble plate in the face of the original cairn - just a pyramid of stones - is cracked by weather now, but the words that mark it can still be clearly read: "Across this flat lyeth British Soldiers who died in Fredericton". Nothing grander than that.

I've looked at that cairn many mornings as I walk to work and I always think the same thing: What a long way from home to die. What must some of them thought of it, I wonder - dying so very far away from home. I guess it's a question soldiers have ever asked themselves, and are asking themselves still.

The leaves have pretty fully turned now and we went for a drive on Sunday to enjoy them. This is one of the country backroads we ambled down, on Keswick Ridge, on the way to Mactaquac.

It was a beautiful day and in the low 20s, so one more opportunity to open the sunroof and enjoy the sunshine while nature threw everything she had at us.

A glimpse of the Saint John River from high atop Keswick Ridge.

Then, this morning, back to strolling to work among Georgian ghosts under the autumn sunshine.


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Friday, October 19, 2007

I think you're wrong. Oh, so wrong.

Here's a little treat I've been saving up for a rainy day: vicious harpy talking head Ann Coulter telling respected veteran journalist Bob McKeown that Canada sent troops to fight alongside Americans in Vietnam:

"I think you're wrong," she repeatedly tells McKeown, winner of two Emmys (including one for his coverage of the first Gulf War), two Geminis, two Edward R. Murrows, two Gracies, two National Headliners and a National Press Club award, when he informs her that Canada did not send troops into Vietnam.

Well, Annie, I think you're wrong. Oh, so wrong oh, so often about oh, so much. It's just so fun to see you wear it so darned publicly for once. And watching you stupidly trying to brazen it out - priceless.

(For added hilarity, Bill O'Reilly followed up on the CBC's airing of the documentary this clip came from on his tv show [click on the link under "US Response" here]. His response? The CBC had "convinced millions that America is the Bad Guy in the war on terror. That could lead to millions of deaths, sir." Millions of deaths - all because Bob McKeowan pointed out in a Fifth Estate story that Fox news is biased and Ann Coulter doesn't know what she's talking about. Dear God, won't someone think of the children?)

Happy Friday, everybody!



Monday, October 15, 2007

A nagging feeling

I'd noticed an annoying trend that was popping up here and there on the 'net - interviews or articles which were in the form of video podcasts, but which didn't have either closed captioning or accompanying transcripts. Similarly, more and more bloggers and article authors, instead of describing, say, a talking-head exchange they are writing about, just stick the (uncaptioned) video in the middle of the article for the reader to watch, and then go on at great length to analyze the exchange.

Needless to say, these methods of reportage are useless for deaf or hard-of-hearing readers.

I have the luxury of plugging directly into my computer if there is a piece of video I must, must hear. But the process is clumsy (I must change into a special earpiece, connect a cord to it, and connect the cord to the computer, to which I am then tethered until I unplug) and unsuitable for work (the direct-connect earhook does not work with a telephone, which I must be able to answer when it rings at work). Others don't have that luxury. And without being connected to the computer, I absolutely cannot understand sound coming out of tinny little computer speakers, even turned up to maximum volume.

Now, I discover that my nagging feeling seems to in fact be a disturbing trend identified by other deaf bloggers. For example, there have been massive problems with the availability and quality of closed-captioning of HDTV. Many deaf people have bought sets and found the captioning wasn't there or wasn't accurate, only to return the tv and be charged a restocking fee. It's bad enough that The Deaf & Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network (DHHCAN) has formally requested reforms by HDTV retailers.

Windows Media Player has an option to allow viewers to view captions if they are available for the video clip you're watching. I discovered and turned on this option after I went deaf - 3 years ago.

I have never, ever, ever, not once, since, ever seen an online or downloaded video with captions embedded.

I expect I will have long since shuffled off this mortal coil before anyone manages to make, much less enforce, some kind of legislation (or international treaty) that says online media (which media? media produced by commercial organizations of a certain size?) must be close-captioned. For now it just makes me kind of sad that CC'ing, cheap as it is, is still an afterthought at best, and has not evolved to be understood to be an integral part of all appropriate visual media.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

The latest Security Theatre

U.S. demands passenger lists for sun flights


From Thursday's Globe and Mail

The U.S. government has angered Canada's airlines with a proposal to order them to hand over personal information about passengers who take flights that go south over U.S. airspace en route to sunny destinations.

Although the planes wouldn't take off from or land on American soil, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is proposing that Canadian carriers send passenger manifests up to 72 hours in advance of departures to popular winter escapes such as Mexico and the Caribbean.

What a handy way to track Americans who travel to Cuba from Canadian airports.

And Canadians doing business in the US who visit Cuba.

And oh, yeah, spot potential terrorists who plan to hijack a plane and fly it into a US target, because that is certainly how they'll strike again, because nobody's watching for it and no changes have been made to airline security to thwart it (such as locked, reinforced cockpit doors).



Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ian Michael Smith on his cochlear implant

Carl Fink, who has a knack for finding and forwarding interesting stories about hearing, deafness and cochlear implants to me, sent me a link to this great interview Roger Ebert did with the remarkable Ian Michael Smith, a former actor (he starred in Simon Birch) and currently an MIT student, just after Smith's cochlear implant was activated. At 3'2" tall, Smith is a very impressive guy, and that's no joke.

What makes the interview all that much more interesting is that when it occurred, Birch could barely hear and Ebert couldn't speak (he had a post-surgical trachea tube inserted at the time of the interview); they IM'd (instant-messaged) each other on two laptops, essentially conducting a face to face interview electronically. Just another example of how technology is changing the lives of people with disabilities.

There is also an update to this interview; Ebert has posted a note from Smith's father about Smith's progress, which is apparently remarkable! I liked the comment about his father being unaware that Ian was listening to music on his iPod and simultaneously holding a conversation with him. Ian Michael Smith chose the same model CI that I did, and can plug his iPod directly into his implant, as I can; and you can hear music in your head that no-one else ever can, while also simultaneously hearing the world through your external mic. It's amazing.

So, for an actor who made his mark on film in a fictional feel-good story, here's to his genuine feel-good story in real life. He is overcoming some significant challenges to pursue his goals with a great attitude.

Thanks to Carl for pointing it out.



Monday, October 01, 2007


Chris Clarke tagged Sherwood with an "Animeme" - a meme (something that gets passed around the internet) that was all about animals. He also told Sherwood that one of the conditions of the meme was that you had to tag nine other people with it.

I am one of those people, and impressed to be in such outstanding company. Since the circle is small enough that several of those I'd want to pass it onto have already gotten it, I won't pass it on to nine other people, but will pass it to one who is especially qualified to respond to it, at the end. (No peeking.)

An interesting animal I had

Our old dog Buster. Buster was what we call in Newfoundland a "crackie", and not just any crackie - which can mean any small mongrel dog - but a true Newfoundland Crackie, a small, black, sleek mongrel waterdog. They probably evolved from Newfoundlands, Black Labs, and some other breeds that worked on the island in the day. Today, they're enough alike to almost be a breed themselves.

Buster came from a litter a stray had under the Orange Lodge in the town I grew up in. He was our constant companion growing up. He was especially my sister's constant companion; she was a toddler when we got him, so they grew up together.

One day, after my dad cleaned the old Canadian Tire Special bar-be-que that everybody in the neighbourhood had, he carelessly stacked it up in a corner of the porch, body, folding legs, and grill in a messy metal pile. Buster, who, if given the option, preferred to sit on something than not on something, sat on the pile and brought the whole thing crashing to the floor. I still recall him running through the house like a streak of dog through a tin whistle. He couldn't have run away any faster if that barbecue had been full of glowing coals.

After my brother and I left home, he stayed with my sister, his muzzle getting greyer and greyer, her faithful companion until the morning, in his sixteenth year, when he just... didn't wake up. Bless that old dog.

Maybe not the most "interesting" animal - although all I've ever had are dogs, cats, gerbils, a dwarf bunny and goldfish - but by far the one that had the most impact on my childhood and youth.

An interesting animal I ate

Let's see... I've eaten elk, emu, reindeer, caribou, ostrich, turr (a seabird), seal, moose... I don't know how particularly "interesting" any of them are. The best thing I ever ate was a purloined lobster. My brother and I had gone to my Aunt's house in a nearby town on our bicycles. My Uncle was a lobster fisherman, and my Aunt gave us a big bag of cooked lobsters to take back to our place. Halfway between the two towns, we left the road (which ran along the sea coast) and hid out on the beach behind a place called Jack's Rock, where the kids used to make bonfires at night and there was a big driftwood log to sit on. We each took one of the lobsters and ate it there and then. The location, the company, and the freshness of the seafood - it was truly exquisite. Then we headed home, leaving the leftovers for the seagulls, and hoping that Aunt Shirley never mentioned to Mom how many lobsters she'd sent with us!

An interesting animal in the Museum

Not the Museum but the Zoo - the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton. We visited last summer, my first time, and I met a very queer animal I had no idea existed. Sometimes you just wonder what evolution is up to!

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal

True confessions time: I dyed Mojo green.

When he was at the SPCA with the rest of his litter, the folks would dab the kittens who had been spayed or neutered with a dab of green vegetable dye so they'd know who'd been done and who still needed to be done. The kittens can't go home until they have the surgery, so when he came home with us, he had this blotch of green dye, about the size of a bingo dabber (in fact they probably use something similar) on his hip. It had kind of dried hard and gummed up his fur a little bit. They told me it would wear off, but I decided in my Cat Mama wisdom to give my little charge a wee bath and get that old sticky dried hard fur all nice and white and soft again. So I put him in the sink, into some warm water, and started to bathe him.

Well, the dye was water soluble, all right. It was so water soluble it turned the entire bath green. And in turn, dyed all Mojo's white bits green as well.

There are no photos of this debacle. I forbade Husband to record any part of this shameful episode in the record of Mojo's kittenhood. I can only hope that the repressed memory of spending approximately a week as the world's only black-and-green tuxedo cat doesn't become the sort of repressed trauma that causes him to become a serial killer later.

An interesting animal in its natural habitat

A moose. Snowy woods. One scared kid.

My dad and his brother used to cut their own wood for their respective woodstoves, going on snowmobiles with sleigh-trailers in tow onto Crown Land for their alloted amount (everyone got a share). My brother and I were pressed into service in this endeavour; we'd help pull logs to the trailer and load them on, but because I was a girl, I got a break around lunchtime when I was to go a little ways away and start a fire and put the kettle on for the boil-up. (Tea, of course. We didn't drink coffee. That was for Mainlanders.)

One of those days, I was quite a ways away from my dad, uncle and brother, and was melting snow in the kettle, adding it as it melted down, to get enough water for the tea, when I heard a sound behind me. I turned and saw a shape through some trees. I couldn't make out what it was, but frankly, was too young to be intelligent enough to be scared, so I went to investigate. I walked through a small copse of woods and there was a full-grown bull moose standing not ten metres away from me. We stared at each other, both a little stunned, I think; then, just as I began backing into the woods, he snorted, turned and walked away. I didn't realize how lucky I was until I told my father - and saw how white his face got. I don't think I got out of eyesight distance on trips to the woods after that.

So there you have it. A lunch hour's worth of animal memories. And who is the person whom I am passing the challenge of providing her own answers to these questions?

My sister.