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Hot Pot Politics

I don’t think I could handle being a politician. In fact, I’d guess that the majority of us couldn’t handle it. And wouldn’t want to.

All you have to do is peruse the “letters to the editor” page in any paper, or scroll through Twitter and news feeds, and you immediately see why. Many people despise politicians, and no matter what mayors or premiers or prime ministers try to do, somebody’s going to be in a rage.

These days, that vitriol seems even more intense. Some of it, I’m sure, is because we are living through an exceptionally stressful time and leaders of any sort are an easy target for that pent up frustration.

Some of it, though, is because these days it seems we have been given permission to be hateful.

Those of us who live here in Victoria, the provincial capital, are pretty close to the political action when it fires up. Many of my students and friends over the years have been government employees in one capacity or another, so I’ve heard lots of stories, good and bad, about the people who run our government.

I became involved in a campaign many years ago when someone talked me into volunteering for a political party during a provincial election. I was pretty young and naïve, and I thought it would be kind of exciting. Well, it certainly was an eye opener.

One of my first jobs was canvassing, which meant going to a designated area within the riding and knocking on every door in the neighbourhood. A lot of volunteers didn’t like canvassing, for reasons I was about to find out. But I was game.

To be fair, many people whose doorbells I rang were polite and took the leaflet I handed them with a smile. But there were others who called me every name in the book, some even slamming the door in my face. It was humiliating. And here I was, thinking I was doing something positive and helpful.

I was supposed to canvass the whole area three times during the course of the campaign, but I think I probably only managed one cycle. That was enough for me.

I also worked the telephones at campaign headquarters. One day, our candidate walked in to meet with all of the office workers and volunteers. He made the time to come up and sit by my desk, chit chat a little, and thank me for volunteering. I immediately liked him and was suddenly filled with that sense of purpose I’d been seeking. Our little chat was the best thing about the whole campaign for me.

Years later, that candidate became the Premier of B.C.

There are many good people out there who truly want to make a difference in their community, province or country. They work hard and they put in long hours, often against all odds, to effect change. They are the ones who are passionate about their work, who try to reach across the aisle and find compromise. They’re the ones who will sit down at the desk of a lowly campaign worker and sincerely thank them for their efforts.

But as sincere and as passionate as these people might be, even if they succeed at getting something done, sometimes they just can’t win. Somebody’s always going to be seething.

Maybe we should consider being a little kinder to them. We can certainly disagree, but don’t make it personal.

Oh, I know there are the bad apples too: those with a sense of entitlement who care more about themselves and their rise to the top than they do their constituents. But that will always be true, in any career.

What I really hope for is that there will be enough younger people interested in fulfilling those important rolls in the future, because we really do need them. Experience is one thing. A fresh, new outlook is another. And hopefully, they’ll have a thicker skin than I did when they go out on their first round of canvassing.

The only constituents I have to deal with these days are the members of my household. We disagree on a lot of things sometimes, but when it comes to Sunday dinner, this is an autocracy. I hold all the power.

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Your Call Is Important To Us

We’ve all had to do it; sit on the phone while listening to distorted, often depressing music, waiting for someone on the other end to finally answer our question or fix our problem.

And when you do get to talk to someone, they rush through their rehearsed jibber jabber, mumble jumble, assuming that you understand every word. Never mind that the quality of calls on cellphones has taken a very steep dive in the last few years.

Remember when phones were phones, and call quality was everything? Now it’s more about how many apps you can stuff on your device, and how good the camera is.

But I digress.

Around mid-January this year, I found out that my 2019 taxes had been reassessed and the CRA determined that I now owed them gobs of money. It was my mistake. I had declared some income I made in the wrong box on my income tax form. It was simply in the wrong box, I didn’t really owe money. But it made a mess of things.

After a number of attempts at calling the CRA, I finally got in the queue. And then it was another 5 hours of listening to that distorted, over-modulated classical music, before I actually got to speak with a real person. After some back and forth, I was given instructions as to how to mail all of my documents to a CRA office in Winnipeg to clear it up.

So last week when I got an email that there was a message in my CRA account, I assumed it was a response, and hopefully a resolution, to that issue.

Nope. It turned out to be another problem. Sigh.

This time, it took 19 calls over several days to even get in the queue. You go through the rigmarole of different menus and long, automated instructions before you finally get the dreaded “All of our agents are busy and the queues are full. Please call back later” thing.

This year’s tax season is turning out to be like no other in recent history for the CRA. They have been hiring thousands of extra agents for what they consider to be a very complicated tax season, with CERB and other benefits payouts being only part of the story.

Many users were locked out of their online accounts as a precautionary measure when it was thought some of their information could potentially be compromised. And the CRA website is only half working, with lots of pages unavailable due to “Technical Difficulties”. It’s a real mess.

On my 19th call, I finally got through to a real person. It was a surprise when the wait was only about 10 or 15 minutes this time. The agent was really apologetic and very helpful. I fixed my issue in about an hour.

I really feel for the agents who have to deal with an awful lot of people who are already in a bad mood because…well, let’s face it, how many of us are NOT in a bad mood these days? Especially when you’ve been waiting in the call queue for hours.

How do you get anything else done? How do you eat lunch? How do you, um, how shall I say, deal with nature’s call? I mean, we all take our phones with us to the bathroom anyway (don’t we?), but what if the agent comes on the phone just at that very inopportune time?

And I think maybe they should reconsider the distorted classical music and find something else. Rock or repetitive pop music might fire people up even more, so forget that. I’d like some jazz, myself. But I think the best choice would be some spa music. Chill while you’re waiting, and imagine having a nice massage, or a sea salt scrub, or a body wrap…ye-a-a-ah….

Hello? Hello? Click…

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Canada Day – A Different Way

Last week, I asked a few of my students what their plans were for Canada Day. Usually, that’s just a casual question you ask when a holiday is on the horizon. This year, however, the responses were decidedly different.

They would stop for a second, stare off somewhere, maybe chuckle, and shrug their shoulders.

Some had definite plans. “We’re going fishing,” one said. That seems safe enough. “Off to our cabin for a couple of days,” said another.

But most had no plans at all. No picnics or barbeques, no street parties, no fireworks or live shows to watch. Not even the usual Canada Day show from a stage set up somewhere in Ottawa, with all the Canadian stars and politicians in attendance.

Oh, there were other shows. Some live streaming and some on TV. But we’re getting used to those new formats now, aren’t we? They’re either live from their living rooms or some kind of “virtual” celebration. Or ninety-three people singing Oh Canada on Zoom.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We’ve come up with a lot of wonderfully creative ways to celebrate special occasions lately, from solitary graduations to drive-by birthdays and weddings, and holiday car or bicycle parades. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to celebrate, and we Canadians love to do that. Especially on Canada’s birthday.

Normally, our family would either go down to the lawns of the legislature and be a part of the living flag, or maybe over to Fort Rodd Hill to celebrate our nation’s birthday there. At night, from our back deck, we always hear the fireworks going off. And the inevitable screech of seagulls flying above as they escape Armageddon.

My husband and I decided that this Canada Day it was time to see and be with our friends. In person. We have a great group of four couples who golf together, spend Christmases and birthdays together, and have done so for many years. It’s very unusual for us to go any longer than a month or two without seeing each other in person, but the last time we had been together as a group was last Christmas. That’s more than six months.

So we decided to host a back yard get together at our home on the afternoon of Canada Day, where everyone would bring their own appetizers and beverages, and we’d all sit an appropriate distance apart and just spend some time together. And it was great. It was wonderful to laugh together again, to share our COVID stories and experiences, to catch up on each other’s news and views. It lasted about 3 hours and it was perfect.

Three years ago, on Canada’s 150th birthday, I wrote a blog about having recently returned from Europe on our first big vacation there. I remember, very vividly, seeing Labrador through the plane’s window on the flight back, marveling at how massive Canada is and how little I’ve seen of it. It was a wonderful European vacation, but it was an especially warm feeling to come back home.

But this year, on Canada’s 153rd birthday, to be honest, I was really just happy to be here. Weren’t you?

We Canadians might have our disagreements. Okay, who am I kidding? We have lots of disagreements. We are certainly not perfect and still have a lot to work out for ourselves. But in spite of our differences, I think most of us would agree that we are darn lucky to live in this great country. And that has become so much more evident in the last few months as we’ve negotiated this strange new and frightening pandemic.

One very important reason for our luck is that we’ve had some well educated and intelligent people leading us through it all. And our humanity has been brought to the surface; instead of fighting each other, we’ve come together to help each other. We’ve learned to follow the protocols, listened to those who know what they’re talking about, and put up with new, uncomfortable rules. It’s been rough on a lot of us, and we’ve still got a long way to go.

But, Oh, Canada! I’ve never been prouder to stand on guard for thee.

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Hit The Road, Jack

So, hey! Where are you heading off to this summer? I hope you didn’t make any big travel plans that you had to cancel. We were supposed to go on our very first cruise to Alaska in August. Nope.

A cruise would be about the last thing I’d want to take right now. A flight comes in second to last. I know people are out there flying, but not me. The most we’ll do is a road trip somewhere.

Come to think of it, I really enjoy car-cations. I’ve driven all over BC, across to Alberta, and even down the Oregon coast to California a couple of times. One of my favourite road trips was a drive with my daughter through wine country in the Okanagan in a rented Mustang convertible, listening to 40’s jazz music. Perfect.

And I love driving through the Rockies, something I’ve done several times. Nothing beats that.

A couple of people I know have driven most of the way across Canada. That is a massive feat. When you fly across this country, you realize just how enormous it is and how impossible it would be to see it all. But this year especially, a lot of us will be spending more vacation time within our own borders and back yards. I think that’s a great thing.

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A couple of years back, my husband and I decided that we would drive all the way up the east coast of Vancouver Island where we've never ventured in all of our years living here. Someone told us "Well, you know, past Campbell River you only see trees and mountains." Well, what's wrong with that?? I love trees and mountains. Isn't that what the wet coast is about? It turned out to be a great adventure and we loved Campbell River and places like Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy.

BC has lots of great places to visit. I prefer to drive through the smaller towns with funny names for streets, or silly town mascots. Like mascot Potato Jack in Pemberton, for instance. Or Peter Pine in Princeton. Apparently, Peter is of mixed race; his father was a pine, his mother a fir/spruce. And then there's Mr. PG in Prince George. He turns 60 this year!

Believe it or not, Saskatchewan is on my bucket list. I want to stand somewhere where I can look around 360 degrees and see forever. Some people think that's boring. Not me. And who wouldn't want to drive through little towns like Goodsoil or Choice Land...obviously good places to grow things.

Or Esterhazy. I wonder what they grow there?

Then again, maybe we'll end up being tourists in our own town. Sometimes you forget how many great things there are to see and do right where you live. There will be some protocols in place, of course, but we can handle that.

And we have our mascots here in Victoria too. There's Marty the Marmot and Harvey the HarbourCat, both always fun to see.

Which reminds me. Has anyone seen Mr. Floatie lately?

Maybe he's just social distancing.

It’s A Weird Wired World We Live In

Mark Twain photo portrait.Image via Wikipedia

Two stories caught my eye this week as I was perusing my usual news and info websites around the web.  The first was the story (ultimately proven to be a hoax) that Gordon Lightfoot had died.  And no, that is not a picture of Gordon to the right; he’s not that old 🙂

If you’re a Canadian over 40 (okay, maybe over 50), then Gordon Lightfoot is an icon and for the most part you couldn’t imagine Canada without him.  That’s not to say that he hasn’t had his share of problems and controversy over the years, but his music is inherently woven into the tapestry of Canadian culture like no other.  I went to see him a few years back when he came to Victoria.  Although I’ve played his songs and taught his songs to my guitar students for many years, I had never actually seen him perform in person.  He is what you might consider a kind of a shy performer.  He chats a little, but other than when he is singing, he seems almost uncomfortable in a way.  He battled with the bottle for many years, likely a habit he got into to overcome his discomfort on the stage.  But the one thing that stood out for me was that he plays all of those songs of his exactly as he did on his recordings…not one of them, no matter how old the song, was changed up even a little bit.  You find that a lot of performers tend to play songs a little differently as time goes by, probably out of boredom rather than anything else!  But not Gord.  There have been true reports over the last few years that he has had some health issues.  Which is probably why people believed the news.

As it turned out, rumours of his death were greatly exaggerated.  It’s not that death rumours about famous people weren’t flying around before the advent of the internet.  That quote (“rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated”) is a very old example of that;  Mark Twain (who is pictured above) was rumoured to have died, so a reporter was sent to investigate only to find that it was a cousin of Mark Twain’s who had actually passed away.  Bob Hope used that quote when he was rumoured to have died a couple of years before he actually did.

The difference now is that the web can spread a rumour faster than corn goes through a goose.  Most of us are not so naive as to believe everything we read, especially Twitter tweets.  But apparently a respected reporter did just that;  and when he saw a tweet about the passing of Gordon Lightfoot, because it came from what he thought was a trusted source, he passed it onto his readers and before you knew it the web was afire with the news.  And, of course, Lightfoot turned out to be very much alive.

So this is an interesting, if somewhat tenuous age of communication we’re experiencing.  Traditional media is competing with all kinds of bogus blogging and misinformation floating around with no truth filter to help us determine what we should and shouldn’t take as gospel.  How do they compete with fancy website names and popular social networks in a way that brings attention back to where people know they can trust what they’re reading?  The media can obviously try to embrace this new information age, and they have, but as in the example above, sometimes that gets them into more trouble than it’s worth.

This morning I saw another story that piqued my interest.  At a high school near Philadelphia, each student is given a MacBook laptop to use at school and at home for their studies.  How wonderful!  Naturally, each laptop has a webcam and the students can use the webcam to take pictures, etc., BUT there’s more to that feature than meets the eye!  A webcam is a window into your world, and I imagine some well-intentioned school superintendent saw an opportunity to monitor the kids’ use of the laptop and didn’t think anything more of it.  You can see that one turning into a scandal in no time.

When one of the students received a notice from the assistant principal saying that he had been using the laptop for “improper behaviour”, the student filed a civil complaint.  That’s when everyone became aware of this “security feature” installed on each laptop.  The original idea was to be able to find the laptop if it was lost or stolen, but they were also using it to monitor the student’s use of it.  So what exactly would they be able to see when the laptop is on in a girl’s bedroom, for instance?  A scandal indeed.

Yesterday I ran into trouble with my desktop computer and finally had to take it into the shop to have it looked at.  As I was standing in line, the fellow in front of me, packing his Dell desktop, started to explain a problem he was having with it.  The technician told him that it sounded like a computer virus.  But the owner insisted that he had security up the yin yang and it couldn’t be that.  Why, just the other day a window popped up telling him he had a particular virus and all he had to do was download this program which would get rid of it!  Most of you (I hope) recognize his error.  For those of you who don’t, this pop-up he saw was the virus itself, and when he clicked onto it, what he was doing was installing the virus on his computer.

I have friends on Facebook who join groups that promise everything:  join that group and win a free computer, join this group and a dollar will go to Haiti, join another group and protest the fact that Facebook is going to start charging us to be members soon.  All of these groups are bogus, but people join every one of them and try to encourage me and all of their other friends to join too.  It happens again and again.  Age doesn’t even seem to be a factor;  young and old fall into the same naive traps over and over. You might laugh, but let’s face it;  the internet is a big world and we can’t possibly know everything about it.  Only the most tech-savvy computer nerds really see the majority of what is going on.  More than ever, we have to remember not to trust everything we read on the web, to ask questions before we buy or install or accept “free” anything, and to try not to be so naive. 

If we do that, then the weird wired world we live in can also become quite wonderful!

IJ

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