Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

Do Canada’s Leaders Have the ‘Nads?

May 10, 2008

The stink being raised in Quebec over Governor General Michaele Jean talking up Quebec City’s 400th anniversary celebrations this year highlights Canadian politicians’ lack of vision and leadership.  There are two objections that Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and others raise.  I disagree with one but agree with the other.

Separatists are offended by the idea that Ms Jean and the federal government are calling the celebration a Canadian celebration.  They say it is a Quebec celebration.  This is the one I disagree with.  Quebec is part of Canada and Quebec’s history is part of Canada’s history.  I studied it in school, too.  Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain made Canada possible.  They discovered and founded a French colony, not an independent country.  So, it is every bit as much Canada’s history as Quebec’s.

Where I agree with the separatists is their complaint that the Governor General represents the British queen.  This is a national embarassment that I wish the rest of the country would want to remedy as much as some Quebecers do.  As the queen’s representative, she is a reminder that we don’t even have our own head of state.  Separatists see the link to the British crown as a constant reminder of the capture of New France by the British about 250 years ago.  This is one of the biggest problems they have with the rest of Canada.  They think of the rest of us as the British conquerors and colonizers.  Why can’t we feel that humiliation and decide to do something about it?  I mean, really, borrowing someone else’s head of state?  Are we an independent country or not?  The separatists know they want to be one.  Maybe if the rest of the country felt the same way, we could get on the same page and move forward as one.  As one joke goes, Quebec can go as long as it takes the rest of us with it.

They aren’t the only ones who are offended and think we should have our own head of state.  When I was living overseas in London, I was asked several times why we didn’t “go with the Yanks”.  They don’t understand why we would maintain a link with them.  They were often offended to hear that the queen has the title Queen of Canada.  “What?  Now their taking our queen?”, they would say.  They don’t want to share her with us.  She’s their head of state.  Every country should have its own head of state.  They think like a country.

By contrast, a lot of people in Canada still want to share their head of state rather than have one of our own.  They think like colonials.  Many of these people are British immigrants or recent descendants of them who don’t want to let go.  Some may be descendants of United Empire Loyalists who cling to British roots partly out of bitterness over what their ancestors endured at the hands of their former neighbours.

This attitude is holding us back as a country.  Not only does it give separatists something to complain about, it permeates our political and business leadership.  Colonial style thinking is still widespread.  Fitting into others’ plans is the easier option than conceiving and executing our own.  Sending raw materials to bolder countries that know what they want to do with them is easier than making and marketing products.  Arguably, we’ve even been lazy about that.  I don’t agree with everything in it, but, as Andrew Cohen wrote in ‘While Canada Slept’, we don’t export to others so much as allow them to import from us.  If we still cling politically to our colonial connection to Britain, economically we look a lot like an American colony.

Letting go of mummy’s apron strings would go a long way towards alleviating the resentment felt by many separatists.  It would be a good investment in national unity.  It could also result in a new attitude and outlook among our political and business leaders – one that puts us first.  Maybe then, if we stop clinging to the past, we will start thinking about and planning for the future.  Maybe we could see leaders emerge with a vision of the future that extends beyond the next election.  Maybe we would see some forward planning, with short, medium, and long term goals.  They might even think about where this country could be at the end of this century, for example – long after they’re gone.

Vision.  Goals.  Planning.  Going your own way.  Takes balls.  Do we have ’em or not?

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Take a Gander, Why Don’t Ya?

April 9, 2008

I watched the movie ‘Flight Plan’ on TV last night.  Well, most of it, anyway.  I missed the beginning.  Normally, Jodie Foster’s presence in a movie automatically lends it a certain quality.  It can usually be assumed to be a cut above.  Not this time.  There was a glaring mistake so bad it insulted both my intelligence and my national pride.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the story is about a woman whose daughter goes missing in a passenger jet mid-flight over the Atlantic Ocean and her subsequent struggle to find her and convince everyone else on board that she was ever there.  The plot thickens as it twists and turns then at some point the decision is made to make a premature landing in Newfoundland.

Initially, I was impressed by how perfectly the characters pronounced “Newfoundland”, with the emphasis on the last syllable and virtually eliminating any vowel sound from the second syllable.  Most Canadians west of the Gulf of St. Lawrence don’t even say it right, enunciating and emphasizing the middle syllable instead.   Gander was later mentioned by name.  “Well”, I thought, “they seem to know their stuff.  Here are some Hollywood types who actually took the time to find something out about Canada.  At last, a little respect”.

All that came to an abrupt end when the plane landed at Gander, Newfoundland,  and dozens of FBI agents were waiting for it.  FBI agents!  What are FBI agents doing in Gander, Newfoundland in the middle of the night?  What country is Newfoundland a part of?  And what country is the FBI an agency of?

This is cultural imperialism aimed at Canada, plain and simple – a complete and utter lack of respect.  You know as well as I do that if the plane had landed in Britain, MI5 or MI6 or MIwhatever agents would have been waiting.  But, we don’t even rate our own federal agents in the movies.  What, they’ve never heard of the RCMP?  Everybody’s heard of the mounties.  And, when it comes to airport showdowns, they taser with the best of them.  They always get their man, necessary or not.

Maybe the producers went even further and simply annexed Newfoundland and Labrador for the U.S.  Maybe they figured that would make the plot simpler.  Maybe they’re not even aware it’s in another country.  The movie industry already considers Canada a part of the U.S.  We’re included in the ‘domestic’ market by distributors.  Why not just extend that into the plots of movies?

Ms. Foster, I’m officially over my ‘Taxi Driver’ crush.  Having said that, if you’re ready to respect me… call me.

Family Reunion

March 16, 2008

I arrived at my aunt’s house in Glasgow for a family reunion, of sorts.  The whole family wasn’t there, but it was crowded enough.  My brother had found me in London and told me about it.  I’d been working on a movie, which was exhausting, so I figured I could use a getaway and some relaxation.  I must have been exhausted, because I’d forgotten that the words ‘family’ and ‘relaxation’ were incongruous.

Besides my brother, there was my sister and her husband, their daughter, a couple of cousins and their spouses, their mother, and my older cousin’s daughter.  Those were just the ones visiting from Canada.  We were all staying in my aunt and uncle’s house.  Then there was all of their children and grandchildren who were there most of the time, as well as other occasional visitors that weekend.  I’d have left the keys with someone and told them to call me when they’re clearing out.

Despite the chaos, it was nice to see my siblings and cousins after many years.  We talked and filled in some of the gap.  At some point on the first day, we Canadians were on our own and somebody told me that one of my Scottish cousins’ son, whom I had met for the first time a little earlier, was basically a sociopath.  His mother took a liking to me that weekend, and it was mutual.  I would have found it difficult to not like her.  Although she appeared to suffer from low self-esteem and, possibly, occasional depression, she had a lovable quality about her.  Maybe a need to be loved, too.

I thought back to the last time I had been in that house.  I recalled a late night conversation with my aunt years earlier.  She talked about her pregnant teenage daughter.  There are some words spoken that you just never forget.  They leave a mark.  They affect you.  They inform you about the world around you and become integral to who you are.  She said, “She made a mistake and now she has to pay for it.”  I grew at that moment.  If that’s the way that kid is going to be raised, I thought, what chance does he have?  If he’s going to be treated or made to feel like a punishment from god, what hope is there for him?

Now, I remembered why I hadn’t been back up to Glasgow since then.  I also remembered why I hadn’t been back to Canada to see my family.  This Catholic christian attitude that seemed to come with the territory was annoying, off-putting, and even offensive.  This kid, who was raised in an environment that considered him something dirty, was now being described as a sociopath and the description did seem to fit.

If he didn’t seem to care about other people, I was told there was one exception.  Before returning to London, I had another one on one talk with my aunt.  This time, she talked about her grandson, the sociopath.  She said that only she could get to him or tell him what to do.  She is the only one he’ll listen to.  Only she could teach him right from wrong.  The same person who created the idea that he was a punishment from god was now his only salvation.

My aunt can be a nice lady, but she is a personification and microcosm of her faith.  By being that, she seems to have undermined her own daughter’s self-worth and manipulated her grandson.  It’s no wonder my very likeable cousin seemed to need love.

One Little Lie

February 16, 2008

I took a look at the results of The Georgia Straight’s sex survey on the recommendation of a reader.  There were a few interesting results, although they emphasize it was not a scientific poll.  One thing that stood out is the few percent of people who have sex more than thirty times a month, or more than once a day.  Even more interesting was the fact that 5.3% of married women did, while only 0.7% of married men did.  Hmmm…

What else is there?  Have you ever blatantly told a lie to persuade a person to go to bed with you?  No, not me.  Oh, wait a minute.  There was that one time…

Shortly after arriving in London, I realized the English had a serious attitude problem when it came to Canada and Canadians.  Sure enough, I came across a book that listed things that were ‘naff’, or unfashionable.  It included things you shouldn’t say, do, wear, or be.  It declared that Canada and Belgium were ‘naff’.  By contrast, in those waning years of the Thatcher era, they had America on the brain.  Maggie had been promising them for years that it was “going to be just like in America”.

One night, I was in a pub on Seven Sisters Road, I believe, just across the street from a theatre that had been a popular concert venue in the 60s and 70s, where Bowie and others had played.  There was a sort of early club in the pub, with live music, DJ, fun decor, oilwheels, and lighting.

I spotted a pretty girl who really appealed to me.  She wasn’t very receptive when I approached her, at first.  Then I decided to try an experiment.  I told her I was American.  A big smile came across her face.  You know all those enemies of America who call Britain “America’s whore”?  They’re right.  It’s a Bangkok hooker with “FUCK ME USA” painted on her back.

We went back to my place and had a great time.  We discovered, among other things, that she couldn’t pee and give oral sex at the same time.  We spoon slept, waking up perfectly positioned for more.  It was great.  The chemistry was great.  I felt great.  I really liked her and, when she told me about some carnival or fair she was going to that day and asked if I’d like to come along, I wanted to say yes.  But, I couldn’t, because it was all a lie.  I quietly said that, no, I wouldn’t really be into it.

The truth was, I didn’t care where she was going.  I wanted to accept her invitation and spend the day with her.  I walked her to the door and watched her walk out of my life.

Belief Does Not Make You Good

January 28, 2008

There is no correlation between morality, or ethics, and religion or belief in god.  The one doesn’t require, or guarantee, the other.

China is officially atheistic but they have strong traditions and morals.  Women are taught to be modest.  They might even be considered prudish compared to western women, including Christians.  They believe a man wants to marry a virgin, so – no sex before marriage.  I’m not saying this modesty makes them better, but a religious zealot would aspire to a society of such ‘virtue’.

Things are changing, now that the country that used to talk of western decadence has adopted the mantra, “It’s glorious to be rich”.  So, it seems that economics and the pursuit of material wealth have more to do with influencing ethics and morals than belief or non-belief in a god.  You could be a highly ethical atheist or a sleazy believer.

I was once in the presence of someone who I think may have actually killed someone, and he told me he believed in god.  I found myself in the London flat of someone who knew someone I knew.  Someone else was there, too, sitting across the coffee table from me.  The conversation revealed that he was twenty-six and he’d just got out of prison after serving eight years.  So, he was sentenced at eighteen.

Maybe the situation is different in Britain these days, but at the time the papers were screaming about wishy washy liberal judges who were soft on criminals and more concerned with their rights than the victims’.  They also complained about parole being automatic.  So, if he served eight years, he was probably sentenced to at least twelve to fifteen.

I wondered what an eighteen year old kid had to do to get a twelve to fifteen year sentence from a wishy washy judge who thinks he deserves another chance and that, given the position of disadvantage he started from, it was inevitable that he would make some bad decisions.  The only two things I could think of were murder or a particularly brutal rape.

But, he believes in god, so, according to his fellow believers, he’s a better, more ethical person than me.

Less Than Humble Beginnings

January 4, 2008

They say a new year is a new beginning and this one has me thinking of my first beginning.  On New Years Eve I met a woman from the Scottish town where I was born, who happened to be standing next to another woman from the Canadian city I grew up in.

I was in the Cascade, a fairly new pub-eatery with a friendly enough vibe on Main Street here in Vancouver, where I exist.  She was asking about Absinthe.  Do they have it?  Is it the real stuff, like she’d had in Budapest, or the imitation?  I pointed out the two bottles behind the bar and that one looked like the stuff I’d had in Prague, which was unavailable in the west at the time.  I asked her what part of Scotland she was from, cleverly deducing that she was by her accent, and she said “Cumbernauld”.  Well, what a coincidence – that’s where I was born.  Apparently, Craig Kilborn, of Late Late Show fame, was too.  Or his mother was – I can’t remember, there was alcohol involved.

We talked some more and, as it turned out, she’d not only lived not far from the house I was born in, she had also lived in the Maryhill district of Glasgow, where relatives of mine lived.  Pleasantries aside, she then told me how lucky I was not to have grown up in Scotland in general, and Cumbernauld in particular.  If I’d grown up in Scotland, I would probably be an alcoholic, drinking whiskey for lunch, she said.  I recalled stories of visiting relatives for her, in which I was hospitably fed whiskey like it was beer.

She would later say something that reminded me of another unpleasant aspect of life in Scotland.  She asked about my religious origins, making an assumption on my name.  Apparently, in Scotland, people can, and do, guess your religion based on your given name and treat you accordingly.  This is just one aspect of the religious divide there, particularly in Glasgow, where soccer violence has been fuelled by religious affiliation.  The two rival teams – Celtic and Rangers – deliberately encouraged this to build fan support, thus profiting from religious hatred and violence.  I let her know that I rejected all religion as nonsense.

But Cumbernauld, she said, was a bad place within a bad environment.  In fact, it was a bad idea.  A great place to get raped, I think is how she put it.  With pedestrian underpasses replacing crosswalks, it seemed designed for crime.  All part of the ‘new concept’ design of the time.  The lack of foresight is astounding.  Even a child would instinctively know they were a bad idea.  My sister may be the proof.  I’m told her claim to fame is that she was the first person to be hit by a car in Cumbernauld, a town designed to prevent people getting hit by cars.  Probably thinking, “That tunnel looks scary”, the little girl crossed the road instead.  The driver of the car, probably not expecting a child to be crossing the road because he would have been led to believe there wouldn’t be any, hit her.  So, this ‘people friendly’ design actually seems to have been more car friendly, as it kept traffic moving, and put people at greater risk by creating a criminal friendly environment.  Maybe the drugs really were stronger in the old days.

Curiosity led me to visit Cumbernauld, once.  During a visit to Glasgow, where I drank much whiskey, I decided to go see the place of my birth.  For anyone who has never heard of it, Cumbernauld is one of five new towns built in Britain after the second world war.  Others include Eastkilbride, also in Scotland and home of postpunk pop band The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Milton Keynes, in England, which has a reputation for being rather dull.  Anyway, after waiting at least an hour for my connecting bus, I finally got there.  The driver, who had clearly been in no mood to explain the delay earlier, dropped me off at what I initially assumed must have been the wrong place.

Most cities and towns are established and grow in a location for a reason – there’s a good harbour, a river, or a useful resource or good farm land nearby.  Cumbernauld doesn’t appear to have any of these.  It sits in the middle of central Scotland, roughly at the centre of the triangle created by Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stirling, but not close enough to any of them to be considered a suburb.  I could be wrong, but there doesn’t appear to be any water nearby.  If the land surrounding it is arable, it seemed it wasn’t being farmed.  I know this because the place I was dropped off by the side of the road was also beside open land, empty except for a power pylon near a hill.  On the other side of the road were buildings.  So there it was, in the middle of nowhere with no apparent purpose.

I looked at a map and found I was not only not in the wrong place, I was actually near the street I was born on.  It was just on the other side of the road which, as it turned out, was the main road.  To create the people friendly town that wasn’t actually very people friendly, it seems to have been designed with the main road going around the town rather than through it.  Now there’s a way to create a vibrant, people friendly atmosphere.  I left the emptiness of the main artery and walked into town.  One street in I turned into Lennox Road, walked a short distance and found it.  The house I was born in was a little pebble covered townhouse, identical to all the others around it.  A bit dreary, really, and hardly worth the pilgrimage.  Be careful what you look for, you might find it.  I came, I saw, I left.

This trip planted an idea in my mind that was confirmed on New Years Eve by the woman I met.  I am the product of a failed, terribly misguided social experiment.  This explains a lot.  But, on the bright side, look what it did for Craig Kilborn.  Alchemy?

As for the other woman, we agreed that Windsor is a place people come from.  More about that fabulous metropolis will no doubt come.  In case you’re really wondering, one is married and the other has a boyfriend so, no, I didn’t get my tongue down either throat.  However, it may come as no surprise that the Scottish woman is the one who stood on the bench against the wall and counted down the new year for everyone.