Monday, November 29, 2004

Tommy Douglas vs. Homer Simpson

It's conventional wisdom that there is very little difference between Canadians and Americans, but a recent survey of the "Greatest Canadian of All Time" conducted by the CBC tells a very different story. Here is the CBC's Top Ten:

1. Tommy Douglas
2. Terry Fox
3. Pierre Eliot Trudeau
4. Sir Frederick Banting
5. David Suzuki
6. Lester B. Pearson
7. Don Cherry
8. Sir John A. McDonald
9. Alexander Graham Bell
10. Wayne Gretzky

The "Greatest Canadian of All Time" survey was part of a television series on the CBC of the same name, and in typical Canadian fashion, the merits of each nominee were debated in public forums across the nation prior to the final vote. Many Canadians were dismayed at the inclusion of Don Cherry, the bombastic host of "Hockey Night Canada" on the list. Many viewers also lamented the fact that a professional athlete, Wayne Gretzky, also made the list.

What conclusion can an American living in Canada draw about his host country from this list? It would be resonable to conclude that Canadians value public service, scientific discovery, triumph over adversity, the environment, and hockey. Don Cherry's nomination also highlights another characteristic of the Canadian mentality: a sense of humour. The top 100 features a large number of Canadian comedians such as Mike Myers, Dan Akroyd, and Jim Carrey.

I tried to find a comparable list of "The Greatest Americans of All Time" via a google search, and could only find three rather unscientific surveys.
The first was a survey of ninety conservative American bloggers that championed Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan. The second survey was conducted by the BBC, and Homer Simpson claimed top honours, beating out runner-up Abraham Lincoln by over 30 points. The final survey, featured in the Harper's Index, declared Jesus the 13th Greatest American, a position Christ shared with President Bill Clinton.

Perhaps the lack of a definitive survey of American heroes is a reflection of values in and of itself. In 2001, Time Magazine published a list of the most influential figures of the 20th Century, and most of them were Americans. Does this reflect a mentality that says "America is the center of the World", or is America simply too large and influential a country to conduct a comparable survey?

The Top Canadian of All Time according to the survey...Tommy Douglas. The ideas and values esposed by Mr. Douglas would definitely not reflect the "Values Voters" that elected President George W. Bush, and I'm convinced that a comparable American historical figure wouldn't have a chance of cracking the top 1,000 in a survey south of the border. Here's what the survey has to say about him:

Tommy Douglas's legacy as a social policy innovator lives on. Social welfare, universal Medicare, old age pensions and mothers' allowances -- Douglas helped keep these ideas, and many more, watching as more established political parties eventually came to accept these once-radical ideas as their own.

Read The Results of the Survey:


Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Curse of the Nomad

If you talk to teenagers in a small town for any length of time, you'll inevitably hear them complain about how their lives are boring. "There's nothing to do", they claim, "My life sucks. Nothing ever happens to me". Inevitably, several of these disaffected adolescents resort to behavior that seems frightening to adults; they listen to strange music, dress like hobos, and lurch around the public square like extras on the set of a zombie flick.

Eventually, the well-intentioned community sets up a youth centre hoping that disaffected teens will find an appropriate outlet for their angst. Unfortuately, there is nothing less cool than any teenage activity sanctioned by adults, and this effort inevitably fails, much to the consternation and bewilderment of the community at large.

Boredom, to an adult, is an unfathomable mystery. We understand procrastination, but to us, an uneventful day is a good day. If nothing happens, that means our lives are orderly and peaceful. We've read the papers enough to realize that "something happening" is usually a bad thing. Boredeom smacks of ingratitude. Those kids don't know how good they have it.

Of course, I realize my own perspective may be slightly skewed. You see, I'm living under The Curse of the Nomad, and eventually, my pleasant, if uneventful, life will one day be plagued by unimaginable suffering.

It was the summer of 1995, and I was a volunteer English teacher in Jos, Nigeria. On a dusty Saturday savannah morning, I made my weekly trek down to the main market. The market was a sprawling, chaotic mass of commerce; Igbo women from the south in colorful printed batiks smiled and shouted "see tomates! see tomatoes", and crafty Hausa merchants in long, flowing robes attempted to entice with their bootleg tapes and genuine rolex watches. The market was teeming with thieves, touts, and beggars, as well as bedraggled children mesmerized by their first sight of a "bature", which means European in Hausa. I bought tomatoes, peanuts, and spinach from my usual vendors, and, as usual, gave my change to the resident lepers and amputees.

In Nigeria, begging is seen as an honorable profession by most. I quickly learned that the greatest insult a Nigerian can say is "he didn't want to help". You weren't expected to give everything you had to the impovished in a Christ-like flourish of generosity, but you were expected to give a little bit of what you had--a few coins after breaking a bill. Beggars functioned as de-facto tax collectors, and I was more than willing to do my part. I even came to recognize a few of the lepers and amputees, and had developed a friendly rapport with them in my smattering of Hausa.

On that day, however, I was accosted by an agressive beggar; a scar-faced Tuareg nomad that towered over my 6'3" frame. I gave him the change left over following my most recent purchase, and instead of smiling and blessing me for my generosity, he continued to follow me from stall to stall, muttering and gesticulating wildly. Because I didn't want to succumb to intimidation, I ignored him. For a half and hour, this intimidating man in his black turban and indigo robe continued to shadow me, and when I saw a merchant dressed in the same fashion, I asked what he wanted. The merchant, in somber tones, told me that I was being cursed.

"He dey say, you no good man. He say he curse you. You na go have lower back pain."

I was shocked by the specificity of the curse. This must be powerful juju...As I wandered through the market I wondered if this was the first time I was charmed, or whether it had happened before without my notice. After all, if you can be cursed with lower back pain, perhaps social awkwardness or hallitosis could be induced as well. Perhaps we're all victims of such commonplace curses.

I managed to give my tormentor the slip, but to this day, I live in dread of the nomad's curse. I make sure to lift heavy objects with my legs, and try to keep my stomach strong, but I know that someday, it'll catch up with me.

When the curse finally takes effect, perhaps I'll think back to those careless days of youth when I myself complained "nothing ever happens to me". My curse on the youth of this bored, slackjawed generation is this: "May you one day become old and neurotic like your parents". I have no doubt I possess powerful juju.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Canadian National Tartans (reposted for instructional purposes)

I've always loved the comfort and warmth of plaid flannel shirts. Because of this, I was overjoyed to find out that most Canadian provinces have an official plaid!

Linda and Jay in Calgary...Do you know the official plaid for Alberta? The government's Canadian heritage site provides an explanation of the origin of each tartan beneath a colorful mosaic of each plaid...Of course, you could always wear the offical tartan of Ontario. I think the yellow, green, red, and brown would suit you well--especially if you were to relocate. Anyway, here's the history of the majestic Ontario tartan from the culture website:

The creation of the tartan inspired by the Provincial court of arms which is the Armorial Ensign was recognized as the symbol of Ontario for almost a century. The yellow is for the three maple leaves which appear on the green background of the coat of arms. The red is for the Cross of St. George. The black is for the bear which appears at the top of the shield. The brown is the colour-combination created by the moose on the left and the deer on the right of the shield. These five colours go to make up the tartan.

See The Tartans!


Monday, November 22, 2004

Hell Incorporated

You've probably heard that the Devil will find work for idle hands to do--that's still true, at least nominally speaking.

In practice, however, all human resources decisions have been outsourced to a subcontractor for the sake of maximizing profit and decreasing liability.

Satan isn't much of a micro-manager; In fact, these days, he's little more than a figurehead, and even that task isn't very much in demand these days. A rarely seen demonic entity doesn't have much of a chance when stacked up against your flesh-eating viruses and briefcase nukes. There are so many other more tangible things to be afraid of these days.

As Hell's managing director, it pains me to say this: Satan is a shadow of his former self. When a damned soul first arrives at the gates of Hades, they receive a meeting agenda. During the meeting, the same minor demons and hobgoblins piss and moan about one thing or another, and Satan is such a weak discussion leader that nothing constructive ever comes of it. The next morning, the eternally cursed find another meeting agenda on their desks, as well as several reminders in their email inboxes (Hell's inboxes are always loaded with spam--don't get me started). After lunch at the food court of Hell's outlet mall, they return for a follow-up meeting at which they're broken into committees...Now that I think about it, maybe the old guy does know what he's doing after all. Although he's contracted out sales, marketing, p.r., and greed, he can still torture with the best of 'em.

Fortunately, Hell Inc. diversified long ago, and although our largest subsidiary, Eternal Damnation Holdings, Ltd. isn't a household name anymore, we wield considerable power in the world's financial market and have controlling shares of most of the world's fortune 500 companies. It's a bull market for evil, and we're just getting started. If you've ever thought of investing in Evil, there's no time like the present.


Sunday, November 21, 2004

Desperate Guys: Next Year's Spinoff Sensation

The hottest show on television right now is Terri Hatcher's Desperate Housewives, which provides a salacious glimpse into the saucy, decadent world of four women living the good life in an American suburb.

I'm hoping to cash in on the spinoff mania generated by shows like Frasier and Joey, so I've taken the liberty of writing a spinoff to Desperate Housewives: Desperate Guys. I know it'll be successful. I've seen the issues of Cosmo as I've stood in the checkout line at the grocery store: Women are desperate to see into the secret, inner lives of guys, and a man's man such as myself is in a perfect position to provide it.

Our story is narrated by Dave Young, a former resident of idyllic Elm Street, whose life tragically ends in suicide--at least that's the official story.

For reasons yet unknown to our television audience, the disembodied voice of Dave chooses to spend the afterlife airing all the delicious secrets of his former friends and neigbhors, The Desperate Guys. This darkly satirical drama tinged with wry social commentary centers around Dave's four closest friends, all of whom typify Thoreau's axiom "Most men lives of quiet desperation".

The opening scene features Dave's next door neigbor, Charlie, otherwise known as Chaz, standing in front of his closet in his tidy-whities. Most of his clothes lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, and Chaz fishes through the pile, drawing forth a blue button-down. After being subjected to the "sniff test", Chaz takes his favorite shirt to the bathroom and dampens it with a quick burst from the shower and then tosses it in the dryer, thus avoiding ironing. Like most men, Chazz runs his closet like a baseball team; he has a starting lineup of five shirts, a bullpen with a couple trusty relievers, and a closer--the stylish shirt he wears for a night out on the town. After a breakfast of leftover pizza washed down with coke straight up from the two-liter bottle, he brushes his teeth and takes a "trucker bath" by placing three thick stripes of deodorant down his torso.

As Chaz waits for his clothing to dry, he sees Dave's wife, Charlene across the chain-link fence seperating their property. Why would Dave kill himself? After all, he just bought an HDTV with surround sound, didn't he? Something doesn't add up here. His eyes narrow with suspicion as Charlene, dressed in a pink J-Lo tracksuit, waters the flowers on her back porch. He stares at her intently. She seems to be devoid of grief. She also looks totally hot; kinda like Heather Locklear...ah, Heather Locklear, he thinks to himself, replaying that familiar old T.J. Hooker handcuffs fantasy in his head.

After absent-mindedly buttoning his shirt, Dave lifts a pair of brown trousers to his face and inhales. At that moment, Charlene notices her neighbor staring at her from his patio window while sniffing a pair of trousers.

...There it is, ladies, a scandolous glimpse into the secret lives of men living in a film noir-like world of shadow and intrigue. Damn sexy, eh?


Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Evolution of Hunting

It's hunting season in North America--otherwise known as Darwin Awards sweeps week.

Eighteen years ago on my first hunting trip with my father, my own life almost became a cautionary tale as well.

Part of what attracts people to hunting is its ritualistic aspect. Orange camo uniforms, clapboard hunting shacks, and jokes told only in the company of men are the stuff of a modern-day rite of passage. Trooping through the woods to your post, you feel as though you're part of the predator-prey cycle; part of the great circle. As I sat on an overturned five gallon bucket munching snickers minis in my moonboots, I thought of my father as a venerable Ojibiway chief and myself as a young brave learning the time-honored traditions of his people. My father farted. "Stepped on a duck", he chuckled. The reverie was broken.

It was a beautiful fall day. The rosy fingers of dawn were climbing through the trees as a dusting of snow fell on the carpet of autumn leaves below. Soon, faltering footsteps could be heard on the ridge a hundred yards away. Dad's eyes opened wide, and he pointed his rifle in the direction of the sound. Two does sauntered out of the underbrush, muzzling the ground and scattering the leaves with their hooves. The deer moved closer, breaking into a gallop. Dad motioned for me to stand and take the first shot. When they were about 25 yards away, one of them stopped, reared back on its haunches, and jumped high up into the air. The other mimicked its companion. They were frollicking like puppies in the crisp fall air. This realization unnerved me, but I could see the urgency on my father's face. I pointed the rifle several feet above the deer and pulled the trigger.

The kickback from the rifle sent me hurtling backwards. The rickety support bar of the deerstand gave way, and I plummeted to the ground nine feet below, landing squarely on my shoulderblades.

I haven't held a rifle since, but I still respect the notion of hunting. There's an honesty to it. You're forced to confront the fact that meat doesn't come heremetically sealed on a styrofoam tray.

Six years ago, NATO began a 30 day "precision bombing" campaign of the former Yugoslavia in an attempt to halt ethnic cleansing. In the course of the 30 day bombing campaign, not one single NATO bomber lost his life. For the first time in human history, War was completely antiseptic for troops on one side of the conflict.

Thanks to the ingenuity of a Texas businessman, hunting can also now be a risk-free venture. With a click of a mouse, hunters can now hunt on the internet. Even the most negligent, drunken buffoon of a hunter has absolutely no chance of shooting off his foot or falling out of a treestand. Just as the bombing of Sarajevo was the evolution of warfare, internet marksmanship is the evolution of hunting. Without a doubt, the world will be a much, much better place as a result.

HOUSTON, Texas (Reuters) -- Hunters soon may be able to sit at their computers and blast away at animals on a Texas ranch via the Internet, a prospect that has state wildlife officials up in arms.

The Web site already offers target practice with a .22 caliber rifle and could soon let hunters shoot at deer, antelope and wild pigs, site creator John Underwood said on Tuesday.

Texas officials are not quite sure what to make of Underwood's Web site, but may tweak existing laws to make sure Internet hunting does not get out of hand.

Read The Full Article


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I Believe In Cheezus

It was a dark and rainy day in Itaewon, the cluttered foreign shopping and entertainment district adjacent to the U.S. base in Seoul, S. Korea. My chest rattled, my joints ached, and I felt weighed down with various and sundry burdens of the soul. I had reached rock bottom, friends.

As I emerged from the subway, a was met by a vision of Korean cheerfulness and saintliness in a bright yellow rainsuit, her smile as bright as the long-absent sun. I shall never forget the words she said to me that fateful day.

She looked at me with a visage that shook my soul in its purity and as she handed me a pamphlet, she said:

"Cheezus loves you"

The pamphlet was in Hangul, the Korean script which I'm unable to read, but colorful illustrations made it possible for even the illiterate to understand the message. The frames told the story of a troubled blue stick figure comforted by an enlighted red stick figure, who bends down to lift up his companion. After a heartfelt hug, the red stick figure leads the blue stick figure by the hand to the final frame, which shows these two friends bowing down before what looks like a representation of the sun with a cross in the middle.

Of course, an educated man such as myself realizes the obvious religious allusion to the Cheezus story--our friends were obviously bowing at the base of a gigantic, crosscut wheel of Dutch Gouda--an unmistakable symbol for followers of Cheezus.

At that very instant, I knew, in my heart of hearts that her words were true, but it took a while for them to really sink in and begin to heal my sin-sick soul.

I was perplexed; confused. Sure, I thought I had heard the name Cheezus before--maybe it was in a commercial or in church--I'm not really certain on the details. It seemed to me a vaguely recalled him saying "Blessed are the Cheesemakers" somewhere in the scriptures..For the next few weeks, I mulled over this incident, and kept thinking to myself, "Who is this Cheezus?", and "What does Cheezus want me to do with my life"?

It was several years later, at a wine and cheese party, when I truly accepted Cheezus into my heart. There, I saw all the miracles of Cheezus; roquefort, gouda, stilton, sharp cheddar, brie. At that moment, the sacraments of bread and wine found their perfect compliment--that sublime product of teat and fungus--cheese.

I don't have all the answers, but I do know that since I've accepted Cheezus into my life, I've been a happier man.


Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Worst Cars of All Time

As a kid growing up in the eighties, my greatest ambition was to leave behind the sorry lot of misfits on the big yellow school bus and join the cool kids who were able to drive to school.

Eventually, my parents succumbed to our pleading, and bought the "kids car"; a rusted-out orange Cadillac Sedan DeVille from a bygone era with a white cream leather interior. The Dreamsicle, as we called it, was about the length of a third wheel and got about nine gallons to the mile. While this tail-finned monstrosity was not a status symbol by any means to adults, it had retro charm and provided us with that first sweet taste of liberty only the open road could provide. I knew the folks slept well, knowing we couldn't afford to drive far from home, and that it provided almost as much crash protection as an Abrams tank. Back then, it was enough to simply have a car, and I wasn't too picky.

Whenever I see an old ElCamino or Suzuki Samurai on the road these days, I often wonder who its first owner was. Who looks at a Kia Spectra and thinks "that really reflects me as a person"? In North America, where public transportation is minimal, a car is a big part of your personal identity. Of course, the auto manufacturers expend no small amount of money to encourage this sort of product identification.
People take it seriously, too. After retiring from the comics, Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes has started a lucrative car-decal career. Surely, you've seen his work:

A recent Saturn commerical focuses in on a young woman picking up her boyfriend at the airport. She confesses to the camera that she's dated a number of men, but none of them "felt right". Then she met Ben--the handsome, casually dressed man stepping out of the terminal. "It just felt right", she tells the camera as Ben, cute as a speckled pup, nuzzles her neck. If she had a bit more money, I wonder if she'd feel right in a Lexus or BMW. Would she therefore be dating a more handsome, better dressed man? It's a faulty analogy, but it works. Every crappy car on the road was at one time purchased new.

My buddy Rick Fawcett has assembled a photo montage of some of the worst cars ever produced. It's hard to believe that someone at one time bought them off the showroom floor.

Click Here To See Rick's 20 Ugliest Cars Ever Made


Friday, November 12, 2004

My Inner Child Wants To Give You A Wedgie

I'll never forget Dr. Paparella. On the first day of our masters class, he asked for a show of hands:

"How many of you are artists?"

Out of thirty educators, three art teachers raise their hands.

"How many of you are writers?" I raise my hand, two other hands go up. Dancers? Singers? Nobody raises a hand.

From out of his briefcase, Paparella silently pulls out a videotape and pops it in the machine. There he is in a kindergarten classroom asking the very same questions same questions. Hands shoot up. "I can sing! You wanna hear me sing?" "I can dance! See! Look at me!"

It was a moment of somber reflection for a roomful of teachers. The enthusiastic tykes on the tape in no way resembled the students in my high school classroom--or myself, for that matter. When did we all lose our self-confidence and love of learning?

Many psychologists and social workers are proponents of getting in touch with the "inner child" as a means of recovering from psychological trauma. They argue that many of our present doubts and insecurities have roots in our negative childhood experiences. By getting in touch with our inner child, we can rediscover true joy. I decided that night that I would try to do so as well. The next day, I awoke with a renewed sense of purpose, ready to embrace the wonders of this world with childlike awe.

I marvelled at sunsets and replicated them in fingerpaint; I danced like no one was watching; I made up nonsensical songs and sand them to strangers; I sent my wife a note, written in crayon, that read "Do you like me? Check the box". I placed ripe olives on my fingertips and pretended I was a gecko. I wore footie pyjamas. It was a creative renaissance, a spiritual epiphany, and a psychological emancipation.

All was well at first, but once the cork is out of the bottle, it's pretty hard to shove that genie back in again. A week ago, I awoke to find some petroglyphs scrawled on my wall in green magic marker...Apparently, My inner child has plans to smash your halloween pumpkins.

I realized at that moment that the little bastard was taking over. Since then, I've discovered that my inner child wants to give you a wedgie. He wants to put a bag of flaming dog poop on your front steps; He wants to put his hands under his shirt and make farting noises during your marketing presentation. It takes all the repression a Swedish Lutheran can muster just to keep him in check.

I don't know who first came up with the "inner child" hypothesis, but I can assure you they don't know squat about little boys.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Tim Horton's and Identity Theft

In a recent Tim Horton's television commerical, a young Canadian lad backpacking in Europe writes home to his proud parents about a peculiar phenomenon: He finds that his Tim Horton's travel mug allows him to hook up with other Canadians also touring Europe. Our young hero cavorts with beautiful young Canadians on the Eurorail, under the Eiffel tower, and in the London underground, his mug swinging from a Candian flag-festooned backpack all the while.

The intention of the advertisement is clear: they want people to associate Tim Horton's with national pride in the same way Molson's "I AM CANADIAN" campaign does.

Why, you may ask, aren't his fellow Canadians attracted to him due to the Canadian flag patch on his backpack?

The reason is because the proud Canadian flag has been expropriated by Americans. It's nothing less than national identity theft. In the past seven years, I've lived in Turkey, Korea, and Nigeria, and travelled to many other nations. In practially every country, I've encountered at least one American who confidentially admits to hiding their national identity behind the maple leaf. Even the iconic American fast food establishment, McDonald's, does its best to distance itself from its American identity. In Canada, they plant a maple leaf in the golden arches, in Korea, they offer an Asian-styled menu and offer Pokemon pogs in happy meals, and in cow-loving India, you won't be able to buy the signature McDonald's hamburger.

To me, this seems like a cowardly facade. What's next? Placing maple leaf decals on the bombs dropped on Fallujah?

Fortunately for Canada, the world has caught on. In the spice bazars of Istanbul and the malls of Seoul, it's common knowledge that any rude, obnoxious, backpacker with a maple leaf patch is actually an undercover American.

If Americans want to present an appealing image to the rest of the world, I would suggest a fundamental shift in strategies. First, stop selling weapons to every Tom, Dick, and Mohommed; every petty dictator from Azerbaijan to Uraguay. Secondly, start viewing warfare as the last resort to setting disputes rather than as a default strategy. Bombs arent bread; they don't have expiration dates printed on the package. Finally, if you can't take criticism, leave the rest of the world alone. Rather than visiting the Eiffel Tower, visit South Dakota's famed Corn Palace or the World's Largest Ball of Twine in Slayton, Minnesota. If you don't respect the rest of the world, you shouldn't expect to be welcomed in it.

Monday, November 08, 2004

A Mouthful of Trouble

My sister Jennifer, at age 36, has never had a single filling. While she's flashing a flawless grin somewhere, my own teeth are chipping like plates from the dollar store. Like many, she's always equated a need for fillings with moral failure. Maybe she's right, or maybe we all end up in dental hell, one way or another.

Twenty years ago, she was a caged beast. Despite a tremendous Austin Powers overbite, the dental angel of death passed me by, and I avoided the clutches of Dr. Hurt(yes, that really was his name), the town's resident orthodontist. For several years, Jennifer and my brother Rich ran the glittering gauntlet of dentistry, while I remained blissfully unaware of the horrors of malocclusion.

I'm the third of three children born within a span of 33 months. Because of our close proximity in age, our mother was frequently mediating disputes both petty and profound. Now that my sister Jennifer is the mother of two daughters, she considers my mother's very survival an awe-inspiring accomplishment. As the runt of the litter, my survival was also not a foregone conclusion; I was frequently goaded into all sorts of misadventures-many of them involving public nudity--in attempts to curry the favour of the older kids. They weren't cruel; I never faced swirlies, beatings, or wedgies, but my gullible nature and desire to please was a source of endless entertainment. I suppose this was the justification for my schadenfreude; my grinning and gloating from the backseat of our orange plymouth colt station wagon as they truged in to yet another appointment with the dreaded Dr. Hurt. I recall now, above my hearty helping of crow, how I used to taunt them at the dinner table:

"Looks like you strained some broccoli there, metal mouth".

"Nice retainer, Frankenstein--did the doctor tighten your neck bolts too?"

It's funny how these things come back to haunt you. Today, I discoved that the root canal I had last spring didn't take. Not only wasn't the hole drilled correctly, but the x-ray revealed that the previous dentist had even left the tip of a tool in my tooth. Now I have an appointment with a specialist. I can only assume that this is the branch of dentisty reserved for the most sadistic of practitioners. I can't confirm it, but I've heard rumours of leather straps, assless chaps, and satanic rituals involving blood sacrifice. You don't really believe they just flush all the blood and saliva they suction out of your mouth down the drain, do you?


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Boss Hoggs For Bush

During the runup to the election, many Canadians asked me why the voting process seems to be so complicated in the United States. Like most other democratic nations, Canada has a uniform voting procedure throughout the country, whereas the polling process in America is a mixed bag. The following graphic from the Christian Science Monitor indicates the mosaic of voting procedures in the U.S.:

Why isn't there a national procedure in the U.S.? The answer is elusive, but part of the problem can be traced back to the Jim Crow laws in the American south. On any number of issues stretching back to the time of slavery, the issue has been framed as "State Control vs. Federal Control". Conservatives tend to be suspicious of any attempt to federalize matters originally conducted at the state level. When white southern politicans start talking about "State's Rights", African-Americans start to get worried. Republicans have traditionally thought of the federal government as "Big Brother", while Democrats view local control as being synonymous with turning the government over to thousands of local "Boss Hoggs".

On the issue of elections, standardized federal election procedures would make it far less likely that minorities could be disenfranchised, which is exactly what has happened yet again in this election. There are currently hundreds of lawsuits alleging vote theft. I don't believe Americans elected Bush, I believe Boss Hogg won.

Consider the map above again. Is it merely a coincidence that many of the diebold electronic voting machines without a paper trail are used in states that were won by the president?


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Global Warming League

Neil Broten, legendary figure of North Stars Hockey

The year was 1993. For hockey fans, it was the beginning of the end. The state sport of Minnesota and the national sport of Canada would never be the same.

Only two years earlier, the Minnesota North Stars had shocked the hockey world by upsetting the defending champion Edmonton Oilers on their way to the Stanley Cup finals. Hockey was a way of life in Minnesota at that time. The University of Minnesota's Golden Gophers were perennial contenders, and everybody knew that the "Miracle on Ice" team was coached by local guru Herb Brooks, who found most of his talent playing pickup games on the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota--which are frozen six months out of the year.

If any state deserves an NHL team, it's Minnesota. That's why every peewee puckchaser on the frozen tundra was in a state of slackjawed disbelief when owner Norm Green sold the team to a cadre of Dallas businessmen. More Ice Country extinctions followed. First it was Winnipeg, then Quebec, and then Hartford, and each franchise relocated in a part of the world where ice doesn't naturally occur. Now I'm not saying that someone living in Florida doesn't have a right to appreciate hockey, but for goodness' sake, why do you need two teams there when you have palm trees and millions of miles of sandy beaches?

Florida, Nashville, Phoenix, and every other hot-weather hockey outpost should be forced to subsidize the northern teams, and their owners should be conscripted into tree planting brigades on the African savanna during the offseason in an attempt to forstall desertification. In addition, every Canadian or Minnesotan hockey player on a team south of Indiana should have their Tim Horton's double-double privilges revoked.

Eventually, due to the devistation wrought by global warming, the possiblity of playing hockey on an outdoor rink may become a thing of the past, in no small part due to the excessive use of cooling equipment to keep ice rinks open in Phoenix, L.A., and Dallas.

It would be poetic justice, I think, if Floridians found themselves in a desert wasteland and vacationed on the sandy tropical beaches of Winnipeg and St. Paul.


Monday, November 01, 2004

A Tale of Two Countries

On September 11th, 2001, my then-fiancée crossed the border to the United States at the very moment the second plane hit the World Trade center. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Our personal joy was tempered by the corresponding sadness and fear pervading the world in that time of tragedy.

Three years later, Laurie and I made the decision to move to Canada. This decision has led to a certain amount of ambivalence on my part. Before moving, we discussed our options. While we were doing so, a friend of mine was shot outside his Minneapolis home while raking leaves in his front yard. Thankfully, he completely recovered, but it certainly tipped the argument about which country we’d like to raise our children in. It would be pretty hard to imagine the same thing happening in Goderich, Ontario. On other family issues, such as maternity leave, education, healthcare, and the environment, it’s also pretty hard to argue that America is the better option for young couples.
All the same, I feel a certain degree of loyalty to the country that provided opportunity and freedom to my ancestors; the country that enabled me to have an education and a decent standard of living.

The problem is, I’m not sure that same country still exists. When I was an infant, my father became ill. Because he had health insurance, life insurance, and adequate benefits, we were able to get by. I’m not sure an American family today would be so lucky. 45 million Americans are currently without health insurance benefits. Last week my 64 year-old mother was told she was not able to get a flu shot for the first time in her life. In addition, some of my friends are currently in Iraq, and God only knows when, or if, they’ll return.

I know Canada isn’t some perfect Utopia, but my experiences here so far have given me perspective. Last week, I sent in my absentee ballot. If you were in my shoes, who would you vote for? If you were in my situation, where would choose to live and raise a family?
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