BACK FROM OTTAWA

Greetings,

Well I’m back now from Ottawa. It was an incredible experience for me that I doubt I’ll forget anytime soon, mostly because it was one of those moments in your life where you feel a tremendous sense of belonging, but also a kind of loss at the same time.

The story goes I went back to withinsight this weekend. For those of you don’t know, withinsight was a conference I was deeply involved in when I was at Queen’s. I was on the executive in 2001 and 2002; the conference underwent a series of changes around that time that basically saw it grow into an annual, ultra-successful event. At the time, the conference’s transformation in 2002 was done largely to promote greater awareness of the event among students, sponsors and the like. Today, it’s been four consecutive years of an annual conference. It’s now a huge event, has tonnes of students attending from coast-to-coast and a huge executive team.

I spoke at the conference’s grand finale at the Canadian War Museum Saturday night. In front of at least 200 people, I gave a speech on Dean Silverman, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science who’s completing his term as Dean at the end of this academic year. He’s been instrumental in supporting the conference (and myself) over the years, so I gave it my all in telling students why he’s so important to withinsight.

It was a very special moment.

I sat with current executive team members at dinner Saturday night. It was like looking into a rearview mirror of my mind’s eye; I can vividly remember what it was like to organize an event of that scale only four years ago. These students are amazing.

After the speeches were done, Lesley Krieger, Eileen’s mother, came up to speak to give the Eileen Krieger Award to the delegate who best exemplifies the spirit of withinsight. It was a powerful moment. All the memories of October 3rd, 2003, came rushing back very quickly. It was that day the tree dedication happened at Queen’s and I gave the speech that still sticks out in my mind as one of those turning point moments in my life so far.

The 2006 executive were great. Truly great. For the final picture, they insisted I join them in the group photo. At that moment, I had a profound realization.

I know withinsight isn’t my conference anymore. I recognized that years ago, but there’s a broader withinsight alumni group at play now, an extended withinsight family as it were. This conference is special, not because it’s a bunch of students sitting around talking about policy. It’s about learning from each other, trying to become better people and leaders.

After the photo was over, I felt a tremendous connection to my fellow executive members and the current team. I felt at peace, a great sense of belonging.

On the other hand, there’s a great sense of loss. I’m happy these days, working in journalism and loving my job. I’m good at what I do and I have to thank organizations like withinsight for helping me see a side of myself I never knew I had. But it’s like anything you have a strong attachment to: letting go is hard, and when you do let go, it hurts. On the train today coming home, I thought about the conference and the memories, realizing that for those moments I had with withinsight, I have such special memories because it was such a great event. But that’s all they are now, memories. It’s not my conference anymore, and being an alumnus, coming back to speak, means you’ve changed again without even knowing it.

Withinsight is truly special. Thank you guys. I’ll miss you.

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HAMAS, DOMESTIC SECURITY, HARPER COOLS OFF AND INTERNATIONALISM

– CBS News
Greetings,

HAMAS: The blogosphere is going off the hook right now with postings on Hamas’ stunning victory in the Palestinian elections. So far, it’s hard to tell what Hamas will do. It’s hard to read this victory for a militant organization like Hamas as the Palestinian people only voting for a hard-line voice in government. The more likely scenario is that Hamas is an alternative to Fatah, which hasn’t really delivered
as an effective governing party. This being said, it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask: can Hamas go legit in order to keep the peace process going? It really feels like one step forward, two steps back in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with no end to the cycle in sight. Here’s two excellent reads on the subject: The Guardian and the Counterterrorism Blog.

DOMESTIC SECURITY: Slashdot posted a New York Times piece today that wisely talks about the limits Americans have about domestic spying during the Age of Terror. While many elements of the Bush Administration’s Anti-Terror Plans have been conducted with a certain degree of legitimacy (The Patriot Act, which is still the most terrifying invasion of government into private citizens’ lives I’ve ever read, still amazingly passed, although that was right after 9/11 – I suspect today, even most Republicans wouldn’t go for it), the domestic spying issue has to be considered part of the case Democrats must make against the President if they have any chance after the mid-term Congressional elections to hold him to account. Bush is getting a free ride right now and he knows it. Unlike during the Clinton era impeachment process, the President has no real opposition right now. It’s amazing: Clinton has an affair and he gets impeachment procedures railed against him, and Bush breaks the Constitution and no one in Congress talks even seriously about censure?

HARPER: I’m still skeptical of Harper, but good on him for showing the U.S. it’s not all fun and games now for the Bush Administration with a Conservative government in Canada.

Jeffery Simpson wisely pointed out one thing about our recent election, however: where was the focus in this election on international issues? Why didn’t any of the parties even attempt to outline a serious examination of our foreign policy framework? What about Canada’s role in Afghanistan? The U.N.? Peacekeeping as opposed to peacemaking?

Harper’s biggest tests as Prime Minister are going to emerge out of this theme of international relations. He’s going to be most harshly judged on whether or not he decides to join the missile defence shield with the U.S., our relationship with the U.S. as a whole and our role in reforming the U.N., which is proving more urgently needed as the months go on. Canadians – especially urban ones – are going
to judge him on these topics. Where were they in the campaign?

SOUND OF THE UNDERGROUND

Greetings,

One of the most interesting things about working in Toronto is the commute downtown. The mass of humanity going through the routine of the daily commute is quite an interesting little exercise. Here’s why.

Getting on the TTC in the morning is most peculiar. Finch – the station I get on at – is the main terminal in the northern section of the TTC. Everyone (and I mean everyone) gets on at this stop. There’s throngs of people who enter every morning. You go through the main entrance, swipe your pass and go downstairs to the subway platform. Sounds easy, right? Well, there are many social dynamics at work here. If there was ever a more apt allegory for the good and bad elements of our species, it’s on a subway at rush hour.

First, the good. Maybe it’s just the way Canadians are, but there’s a great tendency on subways to offer up seats for elderly folks and young families when they enter the subway. I admire how ordinary,average folks just give up their seats, half-asleep and potentially several stops away from their destination, so others can have them. I try to do this as often as I can. Sometimes there’s even a competition between folks on who can get up first to give those who need a seat more than us!

Plus, there’s a great deal of kindness at times on the subway. There’s “sorry” or “excuse me” whenever people get off stops, or if someone’s packed into a seat close to the window and they have to get off, someone usually moves out of the way for them.

Now the not-so-good.

One of the most annoying parts of public transit are those folks who take up multiple seats with bags.If it’s the middle of the afternoon with low ridership, this is no problem. But during rush hour, this is akin to a great big middle finger to the rest of the TTC patrons. This week, I saw a woman sit on the outside seat next to an empty window seat. She had placed her purse on the window seat, and this was during rush hour home. Most people don’t like making a scene over a seat, but another woman at around Lawrence came over and said, “Can I get in there?”

This woman looked at the person asking for the seat with a surprising level of contempt. Some people. She got up and moved out of the way to let her in, but she seemed obviously annoyed.

The other annoying part is the non-stop yakking some people do on the TTC. There’s always one or two folks, however, who never stop talking. Ever. And it’s not as though their conversations are being done quietly. Day after day, it’s the same chatter about absolutely nothing of any importance to anyone but them. And it never stops! Sure, it passes the time faster, but why not listen to music? Read a newspaper or book? Or fall asleep for a few minutes? Subways aren’t chatterboxes.

Anyway, if you really want to understand what humanity is all about, spend some serious time on the subway. We’re capable of selflessness, compassion and respect for each other as much as we are selfish, territorial and annoying at others.

THE DAY AFTER

There is he is, Canada’s newest Prime Minister.
Greetings,

Well it’s all over. Canada’s elected a minority Conservative government. Holy freaking God, it’s finally happened. And depending on your political viewpoint, the “holy freaking God” statement can either mean “it’s finally here, yippie!” or “it’s finally here, the end is nigh!”

Personally, I don’t think this outcome is bad. Not in the least. Sure, it kind of sucks that Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – the biggest cities in Canada – all voted against the Conservatives. My riding even went Liberal, and I don’t live in the most socially progressive region of Southern Ontario. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad here at all, but when you’ve got this guy to contend with, it makes it hard to believe we’d vote for the Grits again. Trust me man, we Ontario folks remember Mike Harris. We remember Ernie Eves (even if Ernie was a good guy who got put into a no-win situation). That should provide some clue as to why Ontario folks aren’t too keen on a government that’s both economically conservative and socially conservative.

And to be fair, the Tories aren’t going to enact a crazy, right-wing agenda in a minority parliament. Not going to happen. The Liberals will have to be on their best behaviour as they a) get a new leader, b) pay off insane party debt and c) rebuild the party’s badly beaten image in the West, much of Ontario and Quebec. That’s a tall order, so the Conservatives will probably get a lot of support from the Liberals on various issues (funny how fate truly does have a sense of irony, thank you Matrix).

I don’t think Canadians want another election anytime soon either. So for now, the Tories can count on the opposition to play nice, at least for awhile.

For Paul Martin, his deal to become PM was of almost Faustian-like proportions. Was it all worth it? Were all the years of battling Chretien really worth it? Only you will ever know the real answer.

DOCTOR WHO AND OSAMA BIN LADEN

– BBC
Greetings,

Anyone who knows me will understand that I’m a big fan of Doctor Who. I loved this show back when I was a kid; when I was eight years old, TVOntario used to rebroadcast the classic series daily. I loved it! Sure, the sets are really cheap and the villains kind of cornball in some respects, but the classic series still resonates throughout sci-fi culture for the quite original and interesting storylines. The Daleks, the Cybermen – all the great villians of the old Doctor Who really were awesome (and I thought all great sci-fi had British accents at the time, but I digress).

Anyway, last year, the new Doctor Who series emerged and it was smashing (see, I’m already adopting British mannerisms). Christopher Eccleston was an awesome Doctor, and Billie Piper was actually quite good as his associate Rose. The first season was terrific – the Bad Wolf theme, great storylines, amazing special effects (way, way better than the classic series) and, of course, the Daleks, who were front and centre in the best ending for any Doctor Who season ever. Russell T. Davies, the guy who produced Queer as Folk in the U.K., is behind getting Doctor Who back on the BBC and CBC this time around.

So now, David Tennant has taken over the role of the Doctor (complicated, you have to see the end of the first season of Doctor Who to understand how this all happened) and I finally got around to seeing the Christmas Invasion episode. I downloaded it and it neatly introduces Tennant as the Doctor and gets us all primed for Season Two. The Cybermen are coming back this coming season, which is really exciting. If you want to know more, this site, Outpost Gallifrey, is a great place to start.

BIN LADEN: All I’m going to say is this is not good. Bin Laden is presenting himself in a can’t-lose position here: from al-Qaeda’s point of view, he’s promising fresh attacks on the U.S. soon enough and he enhances his position among his supporters. On the other hand, he gives the U.S. a way out of this mess by offering a truce. He wins either way. In any case, I’m starting to wonder if 2006 will finally be the year that nightmarish day of 9/11 comes back in a new form for Americans. Every year since September 11th, I’ve wondered when the second wave from al-Qaeda is coming and what they’re going to do. Looks like we may know sooner or later.

And that really, really scares me.

JOHNNY CASH

Greetings,

I saw Walk The Line the other day – it’s a great movie, but more to the point, it’s the music that makes the movie special. And yes, Reese Witherspoon deserved the Golden Globe as June Carter Cash. Likewise for Joaquin Phoenix, who sang remarkably well and portrayed Johnny well himself.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though I just discovered Johnny Cash. I love Cash’s music. Back at Queen’s, I remember a story in which I played an album of his late at night after our first issue of Diatribe was printed and my CFRC broadcast was done. I was pretty exhausted, feeling it in my mental state. Came home from the bar after a long, long week, around 1 a.m. I was in the “so tired I can’t even sleep” stage, so I put on Cash and listened to the whole record. It was illuminating. I couldn’t stop listening to the album. Folsom Prison it was, still one of my favourite records.

Since those heady days, I’ve loved Cash and all his music. Johnny’s been there a lot. He helped me through some really hard times back in early 2003, when I felt like my entire world was crashing down.

I was deeply saddened by his death in 2003, as were many people around the world who really loved him and his music. I mean, the guy had fans in everyone from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to country artists.

Which is particularly appropriate, given that Cash recorded the most heartbreaking song I’ve ever heard (and believe me, I grew up in a house with a blues music fan, I know all about heartache in music). Cash did a recording of “Hurt”, a track from Reznor’s Downward Spiral record back in 1994 (still the best NIN album ever) back in 2003, right before he died. June Carter Cash had died before Johnny, and the song and video make me cry everytime I see and hear it. It’s the face of a man who’s lived an entire lifetime, seen so much, lived so long, and now it’s coming to an end. You see a montage of photos and Cash himself. It’s almost too much to bear to see a man who’s lost the only person whom he ever shared everything with gone and out of his life. You see, June was Johnny’s soul mate – he loved her completely and she loved him with equal passion. She saved him, believed in him when everyone else who “cared” for Johnny – his parents and ex-wife – did nothing but make him feel worse. Hurt manages to be the most powerful song I’ve ever heard, and it’s one of the simplest.

But the most important thing about Cash, at least to me, was that he understood one all-important fact about people: you can’t buy into false ideas about life or love. You have to take it all in – the good times, the really bad times and those moments you wish you could forget. Life’s never clean or easy, and sometimes you’ll end up on the wrong path. However, one of the things God (or whatever God is) manages to do is give us chances to redeem ourselves. His music keeps reminding me of that.

God I miss you Johnny.