Monday, January 30, 2006

"Rejoice with me...

"...for I have found my sheep which was lost."

(Actually, this is a whole 'nother sheep. Our lost sheep never was found. But in the dark, all sheep are grey.)


Could God make a missionary so annoying even He couldn't stand him?

I was in Miramichi last Tuesday, which is a trip I really enjoy making; but I had a midwinter cold coming on and was feeling pretty punk, and by the time I returned Wednesday lunchtime I was really sick. I went straight home and crawled into bed; and didn't crawl out of it again until I returned to work this morning - 4 ½ days of sheer misery - except for a brief disaster on Saturday morning which has done nothing to improve my opinion of evangelical religion.

The door alarm went off at 10 a.m. Saturday. As I mentioned before, my deaf door alarm sets my bedside lamp flashing and the vibrating disc buzzing, and since I am still deaf whenever I am not wearing my processor - for example, when I'm asleep - it's still necessary. It's also handy because, in spite of its success, the implant isn't powerful enough to let me hear a knock at the front door when I am upstairs.

"Dammit," I thought - often in the winter the wind will be strong enough and in just the right direction to set the thing off, and if you don't switch it off manually at the door, it'll go off repeatedly. Since I share the bed with Husband and two cats, it was my duty to clump downstairs, headcold and all, and switch it off for the morning.

When I opened the porch door, however, there was someone on the doorstep - and me, without my processor on, deaf as a post. "Crap," I muttered, and gestured to the young woman to "wait there". Back upstairs I ran. Got the processor out of its overnight case. Got a battery out of the recharger. Put everything on. Ran back downstairs. Counted cats to make sure nobody would slip out. Threw the front door open. There were a young woman and a young man, the latter holding in his hand - a bible.

"Good morning, Madam. We were just in your neighbourhood, and..."

"Oh, no," I said. "Oh, no, no, no. You are not going to tell me you got me out of my sick bed at ten o'clock on a Saturday morning to..." I gestured at his bible weakly. "You have got to be kidding..."

He laughed nervously. She looked like she was hoping the steps would open up and swallow her.

I waved over their shoulders. "No," I said. "Go away. I'm sorry. No."

I shut the door and went back inside to the two cats, who were standing at their food dishes expectantly. "Oh, for God's sake," I sighed. I reached for their Tupperware® food container. "What do these people think," I said aloud, "that there are people out there waiting to buy their faith from a door-to-door salesman? That there are people at ten o'clock on a Saturday morning thinking, 'You know what I wish would come to the door? A belief system!'"

I started to drag my poor, sore bones back up the stairs and turned to look at the cats, who considered the whole thing a smashing success since they'd gotten breakfast without even having to make the effort to bug us out of bed. "Damned cats prob'ly put a call in for someone," I muttered. "'Could you send someone around about ten? I don't think you'll have much luck getting either of them up before then, regardless.'"

At least someone's opinion of evangelicals was improved.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

“In a democracy everybody has a right to be represented, including the jerks.” - Chris Patten

Fortunately, my fellow Canadians have chosen, in their wisdom, to hand the jerk subset of the Conservative party a yoke with a very short leash, at least until they can prove their lack of inherent jerkiness.

If they can.

Husband and I voted together, over lunch, as we always do in every election, federal, provincial or municipal. "Molly" voted in the afternoon. "Mohammed", who isn't a citizen, was working as a scrutineer Monday evening after his day job. What a country! ("Don't you have to be a citizen?" Molly's sister "Anne" asked. "Nah," I replied. "We prefer disinterested third parties count the votes.")

We gathered in the pub to watch the election returns come in - "Rob" threw the coverage up on the big screen they use for hockey games and suchlike - politics as the ultimate spectator sport. Caesars seemed both appropriately political and appropriately Canadian refreshment.

Rick Mercer had a wonderful pre-election special and ran a great spoof of the attack ads the Liberals ran against Stephen Harper:

"Stephen Harper has plans for Canada.
Scary plans.
Stephen Harper has a dragon.
He keeps it in a shed.
Stephen Harper drinks his own blood.
He really does. We can't make this up.
The Liberal Party of Canada: Let's see how badly we can lose this thing."

Download the ad here (click on "A message from the Liberal Party of Canada") and/or see his rant on the election here (click on "Rick's Rant for January 23, 2006").

The polls closed locally at 8:30 and the local returns, plus those from Newfoundland which had closed a half-hour earlier, began coming in. The Atlantic Provinces pretty much held the line, God bless us, and the Conservatives gained only two seats here at the end of the evening.

As a result, we were in fairly good spirits as we waited for the polls to close in Quebec and Ontario and Manitoba. Those of you familiar with Canada know that the great bulk of Canada's population, and hence the largest number of Parliamentary seats, are in those provinces; and all indications were that they would make the significant shift that would hand the Conservative party either a minority or majority government. This year the polls there didn't close until 9:30 Eastern time, or 10:30 Atlantic (our local) time, due to some incomprehensible plot to ensure that Atlantic Canadians perform poorly on the day after an election due to sleep deprivation.

By 10 pm I was out of gas; I finished my drink and headed home to watch the rest of the reporting in a horizontal position with a couple of cats to comfort me. Husband elected to stay at the pub for awhile with a few friends who'd just arrived, so I struck out for the five-minute walk home alone, into the heavy snow that had begun falling.

Things were almost eerily quiet. There were no cars, no people on the road, just the hush of a gentle, windless snowfall. In house after house I passed, families were gathered around televisions tuned to the election coverage. There was an overwhelming sense of anticipation; that somehow, whatever the result, we would be a slightly different country tomorrow.

I thought about how in so much of the world, as Brian mentioned on this blog, elections mean guns and riots and people risking their lives to vote; and I thought of Tiannanmen Square where young people were gunned down like animals for asking for the right to vote; and was awed at this quiet miracle of democracy which would doubtless result in a change in government through peaceful and cooperative means.

I was heartbroken when Paul Martin announced, in his gracious concession speech, that he would not lead the party into the next election. He was, my co-worker "Molly" lamented the next day, "a good guy who got the job he waited for all his life and found a huge steaming pile of dog shit left on the office carpet". But he is throwing himself on his sword for the good of the Liberal party, and he knows it and we know it.

All right, Stevie boy. You get your shot. And the Liberals, NDP (who showed well, bless them) and Bloc will keep your neocon social tendencies in check, thank God.

Now: enter Frank McKenna, stage left.


Sunday, January 22, 2006


Jeane Moore said in the comments section:

"Er, what's a thunderstick?"

An excellent question, Jeane, and one you were not alone in asking me.

Thunderstix (as it turns out they are actually called) are inflatable plastic tubes designed to combine maximum visibility of your logo or colour scheme with the ability to make a deafening racket. Usage instructions follow, so pay attention: there may be a quiz at the end.

Step 1: Have someone else blow the Thunderstix up for you because blowing them up yourself will make you giddy and slightly queasy and sorry you had that burrito for lunch.

Step 2: Grip each Thunderstix firmly at one end. Do not grip one Thunderstick at both ends because it won't make any cool noises whatsoever. I can't emphasize this enough.

Step 3: Bash Thunderstix together repeatedly ensuring full contact along entire length for maximum thundery noise output.

Step 4: Scream as hard as you can.

Step 5: Repeat steps 3-4 until you pass out.

There you have it. Thunderstix!


Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Top-Secret Message to my Dear Sis:

- love, ronnie

Me and Paul and 500 of our closest friends...

Thanks in part to the complacency and corruption that infects any political regime which has been in power too long, and in part to the monumental capacity of the Liberal party for screwing up, they've blown a comfortable lead going into the current election campaign and are now trailing the Conservative Party. There is more than a real possibility - there is a likelihood - that Stephen Harper will be the Prime Minister of Canada on Tuesday morning.

This bothers me. If I wanted George W. Bush to be my national leader, I would move to Maine. If I wanted a Little George, I'd move to Alberta. Martin's team has tried to make Harper's neoconservative leanings and his blatent Ameriphilia issues in the campaign to good effect. It was hilarious last night to watch CTV's Mike Duffy, who has come across in this campaign as a shameless Harper toady, apologize to CNN for the Liberals' campaign strategy of framing Harper's ties to the current US regime as a flaw. "It's not working," he assured Lou Dobbs, noting Harper's lead in the polls.

What Duffy didn't make clear was that it is self-evident to us here that if Harper wins it will be in spite of his US ties, not because of them. His worship of and emulation of the neocon Christian right in the US is, make no mistake, the most serious handicap he has to overcome, on the right as well as the left.

But the Sponsorship Scandal and several stupid campaign mistakes appear to have made distaste for the Liberals outweigh fear of the Conservative agenda. As a result, the Liberal poll numbers plummeted as disaffected former Liberal voters said they would instead vote Conservative, NDP, Green or even Bloc Quebecois rather than give them the keys to the Peace Tower again. The press, smelling blood in the water, began to turn on the wounded Martin. An MP didn't show up here. Was he ashamed or Martin? A rally crowd was small there. Were his most devoted followers deserting him?

Annoyed by the negative tone of the coverage, and the sarcastic remarks about 'small crowds' and desertion of the PM, I did something I haven't done since University. I went to a political rally.

Even more surprising, I went to a Liberal political rally.

The PM was in Fredericton last night and I was there, crammed into a too-small lodge with several hundred other people, all of whom had apparently taken amphetemines before leaving home.

I'd persuaded "Molly", a co-worker, and her sister "Anne" to come, too; Molly and I have had many long conversations about our worries about Canada under a Conservative government, our concern for the Fundamentalizing of our country, of the absolutely anti-Canadian concept of reversing, of - imagine! - repealing rights gained by women, gays and lesbians, minorities. We'd talked about how we both desperately wanted to vote our conscience, vote NDP, vote for the fine John Carty, a man who has run the local SPCA for years and who we both personally admire as much as we admire his party's policies. If there was a candidate tailor-made for she and I to vote for, it's John Carty. And how we are afraid to, and are being forced to vote Liberal as the only possible way to stop the election of a neocon Conservative government.

So there we were, the three of us, dazed and confused hard lefties in a sea of Liberal True Believers whose euphoria was touched with just a tinge of hysteria. Thundersticks emblazoned with the Liberal logo were thrust into our hands. Men with earpieces scurried around telling Goldilocks that the way was clear for Papa Bear's entry. Shiny-eyed little girls with "L" and maple leaf tattoos on their cheeks led cheers and chants.

Suddenly, I spotted someone head and shoulders above the crowd - literally. He was standing on a table.

"Oh, my God," I said. "That's Charles LeBlanc!"

Charles is a well-known Character in Fredericton. His story is too long to go into here, but his own blog is absolutely required reading for the politically involved in New Brunswick.

Charles, armed with his ubiquitous digital camera, wasn't about to miss the unfolding events, even if he had to stand on a table to see them.

After much waiting and shifting and chanting in the overheated room (I'm sure the roaring blaze in the lodge fireplace was a great idea when the place was empty earlier that evening...) the PM finally arrived, an hour behind schedule (I am sure that somehow, this is Scott Reid's fault).

The place exploded. I can honestly say I had no idea people could scream that loud, and I've stood in the center of 500,000 people at a Rolling Stones concert. In that case, however, we weren't packed as tightly as last night, which meant they weren't screaming directly into my mic.

I remember wondering half-worriedly at one point whether it was possible to "blow" the Cochlear Implant processor.

The PM moved through the crush shaking hands and looking animated and happy. He may be genuinely optimistic. He may be a remarkable actor. He may have been buoyed by news that the Conservative lead in the polls had stalled and even begun shrinking slightly. Whatever the reason, he was 'on'. With the hysterical screaming, waving and flailing thundersticks, it was impossible to get a clear picture of him, but I did manage to squeeze off a barely-recognizable shot.

A major flaw of the event was the venue chosen. I think the local organizers had believed the negative press themselves. They were clearly expecting about half the group that actually turned out. As a result, the PM's actual speech was given in a room which held only a fraction of the crowd, and those of us on the outside weren't able to hear him. We three shrugged and decided that we had done our part, anyway, and it was time to go home and make a good drink at the end of a hellish week at work. But before we left, I approached Charles and asked to have my photo taken with him. Charles is a hero of mine in a lot of ways. He's overcome some considerable communication challenges to make his case and has always carried himself with dignity.

So we took our leave of the people we'd been talking to throughout the evening and made our way out into the still air. Blog Boy was standing between the Lodge and the Martin bus, Blackberry in hand. I said something clever like "hey, I read your blog, it's great" and he said something like "hey, thanks". So that was a magical moment.

And, you know, we got thundersticks.

We'll gather on Monday to watch the election results together at the pub, as we do every election - me and Husband and C., always, and this year Molly and Mohammed and maybe Anne too. But with just a Sunday now left between now and the vote - a day when few Canadians pay much attention to the news - it's unlikely anything is going to change between now and then.

As my dear Dad would say, it's all over now but the cryin'.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Get some great world music and give £1 to SE Asia earthquake survivors facing a bitterly cold winter

The massive earthquake which devastated Kashmir, Pakistan and northern India last year has claimed tens of thousands of lives already. But with winter biting hard, there are fears that the death toll could rise yet further.

Yesterday, in my inbox, I received a request for help and a way to do so. Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD (World Music, Arts and Dance) has had ties with Pakistan from many years, particularly with Qawwali music and the extraordinary voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. His family have generously agreed to allow WOMAD to make two tracks available for download to raise money for the earthquake survivors.

For £1 (as of today, just $2.06 CAD or$1.76 USD) you can access a very high quality Digital Download of these two beautiful and hypnotic MP3 tracks from the legendary Sufi master -
Mustt Mustt, the Seminal 1990 remix by Bristol's Trip-Hop pioneers Massive Attack, and Taboo, the epic collaboration with Peter Gabriel.

I downloaded these last night and was extremely impressed and moved by the music. Even hearing them through my CI, the superior quality of the digital sound is evident.

WOMAD doesn't keep any of your £1. You get two great pieces of music, and all of your money (except external transaction charges) goes to charities working to support victims of the South East Asia Earthquake. For more information or to download the tracks, go to click on the graphic at left.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

Shaking Hands with the Devil

I am currently about halfway throught Shake Hands with the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Lt. General Roméo Dallaire's memoir of the time when he was responsible for the woefully-poorly-equipped and understaffed United Nation Allied MIssion for Rwanda (UNAMIR), which tried to vainly implement a doomed peace accord between feuding Rwandan factions and which futiley warned about and tried to stop the impending genocide in that country.

Many people who know me well will be very surprised that I'm just reading it now. After all, not only is this an area of intense interest to me - I was working in the area of refugee settlement when this all unfolded in the early 1990s, and count many of the refugees from that dreadful conflict as clients and later close friends - but Lt.-Gen. Dallaire is a great personal hero of mine, a man who represents the best of the Canadian military and who embodied, in his commands, his respect for Canadian ideals which are precious to me - peaceful cooperation between ethnicities, protection of minorities, and peace through community development.

The truth is, I've wanted to read Shake Hands with the Devil since it was published, but was afraid to. I didn't want to go where I knew the book would take me.

When I started this career, I had no idea what it would really evolve into. I certainly couldn't have foreseen that it would lead to me being pressed into service to interview survivors of torture and genocide to record their testimony for posterity and legality. But it did.

The thing that impressed me most, in doing that, I think, was the horrific creativity of murderers and torturers and génocidaires. You are left breathless with the ingenuity of these monsters to inflict inventive misery, pain and despair on their fellow sentient creatures.

Almost as terrifying is the ability, and even eagerness, of our highly-evolved species to identify any ethnic, religous or cultural dividing line -- one Bosnian Serb told me with contempt that the Muslims "didn't even smoke the same cigarettes we did" -- and seize upon it as a means to completely and utterly strip 'the other' of its own humanity; to see one's fellow human beings - even those you knew and lived or worked beside for years - as inyenzi, bipedal cockroaches, and to therefore cheerfully go about the work of exterminating them - men, women, children, infants - with nary a twinge of guilt.

The problem, from a very personal standpoint, is that once you listen to and take down the story, and and the witness cries a little, and maybe you do too, and you perhaps put an arm around them to comfort them for a while, and then gently usher them to your office door to leave and continue trying to rebuild a new life in Canada -- then the problem is that the images they have witnessed have been transferred into your head, like a terrible contagious disease, an infection that flares up as you lie in your bed sleepless and your restless brain invents your own unbidden and unwanted pictures to accompany their words.

There is not enough funding available for counseling for those who have lived through these terrible traumas. There is none for the Settlement Workers whose daily jobs involves working with them. And certainly none for those who, like myself, are occasionally thrust from their usual administrative role into the role of testimony-taker due to the sheer volume of people whose stories must be recorded, when the witnesses come in hundreds or thousands, and recording their stories now may be the only key to successful prosecution of the architects of genocide in the future.

So while I wanted to read Dallaire's book, I was loath to add new images to the parade of human trauma that sometimes marches through my head at night.

I was chastened when a new co-worker, a much younger woman who's earned her stripes working with sub-Saharan refugees in Cairo, expressed surprise that I hadn't read the book. A few days later, she brought in her own copy and lent it to me. It's sat for three months next to the bed now. Three times I've started it, reading with great interest Dallaire's childhood in Québec, his military training, his experiences as a young officer guarding government buildings during the October Crisis in Québec City in 1970, and then sputtered, stalled, when he is posted to lead the mission he will designate UNAMIR, "someplace in Africa" called Rwanda. This time I think I trust him and myself enough to go with him all the way. Even though I know there is no happy ending to this story, I feel like I owe it to him - and even more, to my Rwandan and Burundan friends - to walk through it with him.

(J'ai serré la main du diable : La faillite de l'humanité au Rwanda est disponible aussi en français.)


Thursday, January 12, 2006

One of our Appliances is Missing...

In the incredibly fair division of household labour that Husband and I have evolved, he gets to do things like crawling around in the basement fighting with the oil tank and furnace, crawling around on the icy roof pushing off snow buildup, crawling up ladders to paint at terrifying altitudes, collecting stinky garbage and taking it out to the curb weekly, and wielding sharp blades and other dangerous machinery in the back yard while being eaten by insects, while I get to do things like wash dishes. Clearly something had to be done to alleviate the burden of This Old House, and that something was to get a new dishwasher.

(The old electric dishwasher here at Casa Ronniecat was installed by Ward to make sure June didn't break a sweat while keeping house in her pumps and pearls, and hasn't been actually usable for a few years now. I was in mortal danger of getting Dishpan Hands.)

So when Husband spotted a fantastic deal on a new GE Dishwasher at a local retailer, off we went to poke, prod, click, slide, and thump, and finally sign on the dotted line for our new model.

O happy day! Husband then lined up the proverbial "guy wid' a truck" who was going to pick it up from the store today, bring it to our house, disconnect the old dishwasher, connect the new dishwasher, and haul away the old one, all for an embarrassingly modest fee. (Guys wid' trucks. Half the success in being a homeowner is having connections to the right "guys wid' trucks". They're worth their weight in gold.)

There's just one teensy, eensy, weensy fly in the ointment. They lost our dishwasher.

The store, I mean, not the guy wid' the truck. There was nothing for the guy wid' the truck to pick up. It's gone. The whole kit and kaboodle, apparently. One of our Appliances is Missing. Gone. Don't know where it went. Don't know why. Can't find the kid who sold it to us.

I have a weird image in my head of the lanky, scrawny kid who sold us the unit in an AMC Gremlin with our dishwasher wedged into the hatchback, sweating and checking his rear-view mirrors as he makes his big break for Toronto.

"I'll sell this stolen dishwasher when I get there, and with that money I'll start to make my dream of being an off-off-off-off-off-Broadway dancer really come true!"


Information overload

Read this headline in the paper:

"Harper pitches national highway, border fund"

Thought to self: "But we already have a national highway. The Trans-Canada."

Need to stop reading for awhile. Words making sense not anymore.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Things we said today.

My workplace is unique. Not only is the type of work we do (immigration and multiculturalism policy) somewhat unusual, but the nature of the work means that the people I work for, and with, come from every corner of the globe, speak all languages, practice all customs, and range from millionaire entrepreneurs who have come to Canada to start businesses to refugees who arrived literally with their hopes and dreams and the clothing on their backs.

This leads to some work circumstances and situations that I suppose would be considered incredibly odd or bizarre in other workplaces or, as today, leads to me realizing that I utter some odd statements in the course of my workday. So starting today I introduce to you "Things We Said Today", a collection of rather odd things I found myself uttering (or overhearing) in the course of the workday.

"I need a parole officer. No, no particular one. Any parole officer will do, actually."

"Well, how close is Farsi to Urdu? Can they wing it?"

and last but not least:

"Okay. Just make sure she knows they eat with their hands. You'd be surprised how much that freaks some people out."


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The kids aren't all right.

Pete Townshend has become the latest rocker to confess how a serious hearing loss has dramatically affected his life and career.

In this post on his weblog, he outlines how he believes that headphones have done much more damage than live shows, and begs people to beware of the hazards of headphones of all types.

"Hearing loss is a terrible thing because it cannot be repaired," he writes.

He is right. The most frustrating thing about hearing loss is the terrible irreversibility of it. Even I, who experienced the miracle of going from deafness to sound, will never really 'hear' again. It'll always be a problem and a frustration for me and those around me. Hearing loss is always in some degree forever, as irreversible as death.

The only thing as frustrating is knowing think that people are wilfully ignoring the pleas of people like Townshend, which could stop the terrible progression of hearing loss and deafness. Turn them down, and take them off.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

"Let the Good Guys Win"

And further to my post below, my own personal wish for all of us in 2006. This song, written and recorded by three giants of Canadian music, has brought a tear to my eye every year since 1989. May all the wishes herein come true - for all of us. - ronnie

Let the Good Guys Win
Paul Hyde, Murray McLaughlin, Tom Cochrane

May I get what I want, not what I deserve
May the coming year not throw a single curve
May I hurt nobody, may I tell no lies
If I can't go on, give me strength to try


Ring the old year out, Ring the new year in
Bring us all good luck, Let the good guys win

Ring the old year out, Ring the new year in
Bring us all good luck, Let the good guys win

May the one you love be the one you get
May you get some place, you haven't been to yet
May your friends surround you, never do you wrong
May your eyes be clear, may your heart be strong


May the times to come be the best you've had
May peace rule the world and make us glad
When you see something wrong, make it right
Put a shadowed world into the bright sunlight


" some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful..."

One of the charming gentlemen on rec.arts.comics.strips posted the following New Year's quote, written by writer and artist Neil Gaiman in 2001, and which Mr. Gaiman has posted on his website journal each year since.

May your 2006 be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't to forget make some art - write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in 2006, you surprise yourself.