Monday, June 20, 2011

Ruffians Ruffle Each Other

The Royal Ascot was plagued by tattoos, flesh-baring and old-fashioned brawls, all with the Queen in attendance. It was a black day for horse racing, as the once prestigious affair was marred by these unseemly characters and actions, at what should have been a restrained and classically snooty English affair. The English soccer hooligans can have their sport; but surely, horse racing was meant for a more high-class end of society, one that is fascinated with hats and understands how to get socially tipsy on expensive champagne? You know, the 'honey, have you seen my matching cumberbund?' type crowd?

But alas, it is true, as the article clearly states:

"For 300 years, it has been the highlight of the summer calendar for the well-off and well-connected," said the Daily Mail newspaper.

"But these days, it seems, the enclosures and stands of Royal Ascot are becoming increasingly popular with a much less distinguished breed of racegoer."

Veteran BBC racing commentator Peter O'Sullevan was quoted as saying the tattoos and bare flesh were "disrespectful -- not just to the queen, but to the horses."

(end of quote)

Disrespectful to horses? Heavens, it's one thing to offend one's God-anointed sovereign on earth, it's another thing entirely to thumb one's noses at horses. That most noble of animals, the mightiest of steeds- how could they bear such an offense? With regal quiet, of course, as any animal which feeds primarily off of hay would do.

So the offense is not just for royalty, but for animal royalty as well. Who knew that horses were so sensitive? Personally, I think that if I were that snippish an animal, I wouldn't let some clumsy human get on my back, elite or not. Nor would I spend my days chasing some mechanical bunny around a racetrack for their benefit. How boring. As the top of the animal world, I would want great open fields to picnic in.

And if I were an elegant four legged animal, I would be sorely offended by the sight of tight skirts and fighting. After all, I'm not some alley cat living off garbage cans. I expect the grand public to at least dress decently in buttoned coats and knee length skirts.

Of course, one should maybe question the need for this event to take place at all, now that the horses have been offended. Perhaps this is the time to make this event even more exclusive and make it an invitation only affair where all participants are inspected prior to their arrival? Or on the other hand, perhaps this is an event that has run its course so to speak, and there is no need to have such old-world extravagance in the first place?

With the tide changing in England, and less and less people inclined to provide for traditional ways, maybe the sudden brutish behavior is an indication that the old days are truly gone?

Risky Business

A very helpful article on yahoo! today informed me of something that I may not have known otherwise: portable pools pose summer risk for kids. It appears that a doctor from Columbus, Ohio, has found that portable pools pose just as much of a risk of drowning as in-ground pools, especially for children and especially during the summer.

The researchers further go on to state that adults must supervise their children very carefully and to not be distracted by either having a couple of drinks while sitting on the sidelines or chatting on their phones. Because nothing, it seems, is safer than a parent hovering directly above their child, within arm's reach, as they play. And, presumably, children are much happier when they're protected by parents rather than having fun on their own- after all, what child doesn't love the hovering parent?

Another helpful tidbit in the article beyond the hover parenting is the suggestion that children be made to wear lifejackets. Yes, because in an inflatable tiny backyard yellow pool filled knee high with water in the middle of a smoking hot day, there's nothing better than the thought of wearing a lifejacket with your parent hovering directly above you.

Why stop there? Why not have the child wear a helmet too? Nothing is safer than a helmet after all. The child could slip out of their knee high water inflatable yellow dinghy and land smack dab on some grass without their parent's helpful arms to catch them directly overhead.

And why not opt out of filling the pool at all? Why not have the child indulge in imaginary water? After all, water is involved in 100% of child-related drowning. Why not take water out of the equation completely and instead have the child play in imaginary water in their inflatable pool with their lifejacket and helmet on, with their parent standing directly overhead in case they fall?

Better yet, why not have the child go inside on a hot day and sit in an air-conditioned room where they can safely spend their summer days reading the Bible?

Growing up, I remember that we had a pool. I was told not to go anywhere near it without a grown up around. And you know what I did? I listened. It taught me to obey my parents because what they were saying probably made common sense and it taught me to be careful. And when my parents watched from a distance while I played in the water, maybe with a drink or chatting with a neighbour, I did what most children my age did. I played safe.

What ever happened to teaching kids how to be safe without safeguarding them like they were made of glass? Whatever happened to kids just taking their parents' word for it that certain things were not a good idea or that other things were entirely forbidden? Back then, the only thing that needed to be expressly hidden was the cookie jar, which was always out of reach somewhere.

There will be a point in a child's life where they will realize that safety is a personal issue and that it requires vigilance and common sense. But how will they learn those things if we're always protecting them, even protecting them from water?

Maybe it's the parents who need a common sense refresher course.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Not Hockey

While images of the city of Vancouver rioting after their devastating Stanley Cup loss to the Boston Bruins make their way around the globe, it must be said that this is not Canada. There are probably people out there, shaking their heads in amazement and labelling all Canadian hockey fans as a bunch of backwards moose-eating hooligans, but this is not the case. Here are some fundamental truths about Canada and hockey:

1- The rioters are not hockey fans. 100,000 some odd people showed up to watch the Stanley Cup Final on big screens in their designated fan zone, mostly families with children. The handful of violent rioters are the kind who don't come for hockey, but who love to create mayhem- and this kind of world stage is just the kind of thing that they're looking for. It's happened before in Montreal as well. The real fans come to cheer; not to smash cop cars.

2- Hockey is a religion in Canada. The Stanley Cup originated in Canada and it's the Holy Grail of hockey. The hardest trophy to win in all of professional sports and named after Lord Stanley from the province of BC, it is the most coveted award and there is no doubt in our minds, as proud Canadians, that it belongs in the hands of one of our teams. We are passionate about the game, passionate enough to even postpone political debates in order to accommodate the playoffs schedule. But we are not violent about it.

3- We leave it on the ice. While it may surprise some people that a nation known for its politeness and sense of general fairness is obsessed with a fast-paced body-slamming sport, Canadians know to leave violence on the ice. It's where competition can be fast and furious and sometimes bloody, but it doesn't go much further than that. We are the type of nation that scraps on the rink and shakes hands afterwards. That has always been our mentality, that has always been our game.

4- What you saw on Wednesday was not real hockey. The officiating was the worst that I have ever witnessed in my hockey loving life and the game was an all-out goonfest. This is not the sport that we love. Real hockey requires skill, speed and precision- all of which were absent in this clumsy, brutish game. The rest of the world may think that we love a brutal sport, but we do not. Real hockey is beautiful to watch- and this wasn't it.

It's too bad that this Stanley Cup Final didn't live up to its billing. It's too bad that the quality of the hockey played didn't live up to the high standards that we hold to the game. And it's even sadder to know that the rest of the world will think that we are crazy, violent sore losers.

Let's hope for better next season.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Don't Surrender your Lunch Money

CBC is focusing a lot on the issue of bullying in the workplace, in particular, the Public Service of Canada. Their latest article focuses on the issue of workplace mobbing, a tactic employed by employers to squeeze out an employee through vicious behavior. What is the most disturbing aspect of the article is the analysis and advice provided by an 'expert' in the field.

(taken from the article)
"Kenneth Westhues, who is a professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, has studied workplace mobbing for about 20 years. "Workplace mobbing is about ganging up on a particular individual, towards eliminating that person from the workplace." Westhues notes even in an institution with many policies, rules and regulations, harassment still happens.

"Over the past few years I've gotten, I don't know, 50 to 100 inquiries from federal public servants many of them high level public servants, who say I have read your research on public mobbing and I think this has happened to me."

Westhues predicts most of the complaints are legitimate, but he doesn't think more rules or better legislation will solve the issues. In fact, he thinks managers need to use more common sense and victims need to know when to move on.

What I urge people to do is sit down with a piece of paper and write out, what are their resources, job security, tenure, how much money they have.and make a decision on the basis on realistic assessment.

"By far the most common solution, pack up and get a different job. No shame in that."

(end of quote)

That's it? That's the best you can do? Back when we were kids, the only solution to schoolyard bullying was to fork over our lunch money or transfer schools if things got really out of hand. That's basically what this 'expert' is telling us to do. He further states that harassed employees are costing the average taxpayer when they attempt to fight back against their aggressors. Which is basically blaming the victim and akin to telling kids that if they're being beaten up for their lunch money, they should just learn to go without lunch.

What kind of world do we live in when we can't even go to work as adults and be treated with fairness and respect? Is it any wonder that nobody is interested in working hard for a living and living by honest means?

There are several good reasons why we should 'waste' taxpayer money to defend these people. The 'expert' should consider these:

1- Nobody has the right to take away your job. You competed for it, you qualified for it, you work at it and you are perfectly competent. Your performance reviews are positive and you do good consistent work. You should not be bullied out of your job for being competent! Only incompetent people deserve to lose their jobs. You shouldn't be forced to leave it and take a job for less pay to escape from an aggressive boss. This is just plain wrong.

2- Nobody has the right to power trip their employees and act like this is a natural thing. We respect human rights in Canada. We uphold those values. We are committed to the idea of treating people fairly and with respect. That is our country, is it not? So how come the people who serve Canadians are allowed to be bullie and harassed in their workplace?

3- There is a real cost to the detrimental effects of bullying on people, both employees and employers. It's the mental health of the person, the morale within the office and the real cost of sick days and leave associated with not being able to step foot into the office again. Going to work should not be an ordeal. It's not alway pleasant, but it should not be an ordeal. If these things are not dealt with, the public service will experience a massive drain of perfectly qualified and intelligent people who will go elsewhere, benefits be damned.

The public will get just the kind of service it deserves if it lets these issues go.

For the full story, see:

Care for Cargo

The Air Canada strike was called today, mere minutes before the federal government introduced legislation to force the strikers back to work. It appears that this is a very important issue to the government, as stated below:

"Air Canada has a huge section of the market in Canada in terms of travel. It affects tourists of course but it affects business, it affects the delivery of cargo in Canada and from Canada abroad. So this is a matter of significant economic consequence," Flaherty told reporters.

Yes, that's right: cargo delivery in Canada and from abroad is far more important than any pesky worker's rights type problems. It appears that the reason for this strike is centered around the typical annoyances: pensions, job security, safety, quite possibly a cost of living increase to keep up with an inflation rate that is barrelling out of control for the average Canadian. But none of this has any business affecting cargo delivery. And that's the way that the government sees it.

It's startling to see how the gap between the rich and the poor has widened, how unions have become increasingly maligned as troublemakers and greedy hogs who want more days off than they should legitimately ask for, and how Canadian household debt has increased to close to $1.5 trillion dollars.

Trillion dollars? I thought that was a joke dollar made up on the Simpsons when they flew to Cuba and Castro stole it from Mr. Burns who was running away for tax evasion. Apparently, it's real and it's a real problem too.

But getting back to this strike issue. It finally seems clear to me why Air Canada employees always look so sour. I used to think that the monotony of the job was the problem, but it appears that poor work conditions and little pay for lots of aggravation from the general public are the real culprits. Not to mention the full barf bags.

Air Canada is reviled in a pan-Canadian way, due to poor service and just general cheapness, as everything on board starts to cost something and customers are now asked to check their own bags. Cancellations, delays, inefficient routes and astronomical fares to go across Canada are also factors. So it stands to reason that if Air Canada can treat its customers this way, the employees can't be much better off.

It's strangely ironic that a government which prided itself on making life easier for the Canadian family is now putting cargo ahead of worker's rights. The priority of the government is to support big business first, intervening on behalf of Air Canada, which is the injured party in this whole affair, as their cargo will be badly affected by the actions of greedy tax-paying hard working....Canadians.

Leave us not forget the fact that Air Canada is the company that taxpayer money helped to save back in the days when it was close to bankruptcy, probably because they had paid Celine Dion an outrageous amount of money to sing about the airline before her Vegas show took off. Just another embarrassing chapter in the airline's history.

This one will surely be a part of that, if the Air Canada employees buckle under the pressure. As much as I dislike the airline, the employees are right to stick up for their rights. They are right to take their employer to task. And they have every right to stand up for themselves and let the company and the government know that they are worth more than cargo.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sausage Debate

It appears that PETA has struck again and it has decided to hit people where it hurts; meaning, squarely in their manhood. Two PETA activists have made an impromptu appearance at the Formula One racing car event armed with vegetarian sausages, arguing that they are 'better than taking sex drugs' and that meat can cause them to tank in the bedroom.

While this argument makes sense to a certain extent, what with the effects of meat on blood vessels and other arteries, it seems strange that this is PETA's latest argument in their on-going war against meat eaters. Perhaps it's because their moral badgering approach clearly wasn't working. Showing disgusting photos of slaughterhouses and cruel chicken coops had no other effect than simply being disgusting and the use of such graphic images had many meat eaters inclined to think that PETA was simply crazy. The long lectures, holier than thou attitudes and Pamela Anderson campaign didn't really resonate with people.

Perhaps an appeal to the boudoirs of the nation is the better, more practical approach. It's difficult to sell vegetarianism from the point of view of morals and ethics, on the one hand because it's preachy and pushy, and on the other hand, because some people just aren't concerned with morals and ethics. They aint what they used to be. The morals and ethics argument also tends to give way to the free choice debate, with many meat eaters asserting their rights to consume what they want. It's the classic 'don't tell me what I can put into my body' argument and it's hard not to look like a fascist when faced with that argument.

Appealing to the male sex drive may be the way to go if PETA wants to rehabilitate its image from crazed ecoterrorist preacher to a softer, kinder, and sexier reformer. While it is hitting below the belt, so to speak, it does get its message across without doing the one thing that most PETA campaigns ultimately do: offend the audience.

While it is laudable to encourage people to be more aware of issues related to their consumption and to moderate them, PETA could afford a less militant stance. It's good that these two sexy young activists took it upon themselves to have a little fun with their awareness campaign. Caring for animals and the earth doesn't have to be an angry crusade. And people don't react well to them. As an enlightened population, we often roll our eyes when people tell us we're going to hell, as if that's already a well-known fact. Hell just doesn't have the fear factor of days past.

But people always react to sexy ads.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Vote for Cat Name

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked Canadians to once again head to the polls; but this time, they will only have to go as far as Facebook, where they will be asked to vote on a new name for Harper's latest addition to his family, a tabby cat. The article on Yahoo features a less stern Stephen Harper bathed in the soft lighting of the Commons next to a picture of an adorable grey tabby kitten, looking beseechingly at the camera. It's a little late for campaigning, as the election is over, but it's never too early for image rehabilitation.

Especially in light of recent news regarding the Harper government. First you have the page who ventured out into the middle of the Senate floor with a sign saying Stop Harper, a daring move that got the attention and support of filmmaker Michael Moore. Then you have the recycled budget being presented in the House of Commons, the contentious bill that drove the parties to a non-confidence motion that triggered the election in the first place; something that everyone conveniently seemed to forget in the midst of a long, annoying campaign. Add to that the recent announcement of cuts to the public service and its various programs, and you have a pretty bad week in government.

So it makes sense that Harper would rather have his image associated to kittens rather than controversies and fighter jets. But you have to wonder: just how gullible is the population at large? How many of them will ignore the larger social and political issues so that they can vote on a cat's name?

Then again, the short memory of the population has been shown time and time again, as people 'forgot' all the past incidents that have caused outrage, like the proroguing of Parliament.

Which then begs another important question: at what point do you go from animal lover to crazy cat lady? It's not like Harper is the first person to use Facebook to help name his pet, but he's the leader of the nation. Doesn't he have more important matters on his mind? Like running the country? Does he really think that posting a picture of Fluffy McWiggles is going to make us all forget his controversial policies? Is this the nicer, softer, newly-improved hairballed Prime Minister?

Or could it be that Harper is trying his best to distract us all with a bit of yarn while his acts slowly squeeze any semblance of social justice in this country?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Having it Easy

"You kids have it so easy these days. Back in my days, we used to have to walk to school, up the hill, down the hill, in the cold, in the rain, in sleet, with no shoes..."

A lot of us have heard this old chestnut and it always makes us smile to think of how our grandparents would chide us when we claim that life is tough. Older people are always quick to remind us of the hardships that they endured and all the luxuries that we consider standard that they never had. But it looks like a school in the Philippines puts us all to shame, grandpa and grandma included, as a Facebook campaign raised money to buy a boat so that the children no longer have to swim to school. That's right: swim. Holding their books over their heads, arriving to school soaking wet with no change of clothes.

That probably even beats out sleet.

The story of the dirt poor village in the Philippines which still believes in the importance of education despite poverty, dilapidated buildings and congested schoolrooms really makes you stop and think. While kids in North America are being driven to school or are taking buses, looking glassy eyed and bored to even be at school, there are kids in the world who are willing to swim to their classrooms because education may be the only way out of a poverty stricken existence.

So little value is put on education in North America. Perhaps it's because lack of education is not necessarily a barrier to success; many uneducated people have been able to make great careers in entertainment or even gain political office. As well, education for the sake of education, meaning the love of learning, is often seen as nerdy by teenage peers or snobby by adult ones.

In Europe, a well-educated person is seen as cultured, mature and intelligent, but there doesn't appear to be the same level of appreciation in North America. Take, for example, the public's perception of Michael Ignatieff, former Liberal Party Leader. He was seen by many as being too 'academic.' Being worldly, recognized and published by several reputable printing presses is apparently not what the average Canadian wants to vote for. Sound bites about the average Canadian family and tax cuts are much more effective with the general public.

But this just highlights how much people have lost their respect for education. It's not seen as the way to overcome social barriers and advance in today's society through merit and hard work; probably because merit and hard work are no longer used to measure success. Blatant nepotism and office politics have seen to that. It's not what you know, it's who you know, after all.

Basic education may be seen as a right in North America, but it should be seen as what it is for poorer countries: a privilege. A chance to make a better life for yourself and to learn because it improves the mind, rather than your chances of not getting grounded for bringing home a D. People shouldn't bask in their ignorance, as more and more people appear to be doing. 'Book learning' doesn't harm you. Homework doesn't kill you. And academic is not a dirty word.

And be happy you don't have to swim to get to school, holding your books over your head.