Monthly Archives: April 2009

Fighting Night in Canada

“How can you tell a Canadian from an American? Step on his toe. The Canadian will say ‘sorry.’” This is an old cliché and fits with Canada’s “inner archetype” of itself (see Movement). Unassuming, law abiding, and unfailingly polite is how we see ourselves. By and large, I would say this is fairly accurate and it is not surprising our nations founders held up “Peace, Order, and Good Government” as the ideals our nation would uphold.

Because of this archetype, what I am about to suggest may come as a shock to many of you in Canada. Canada is an extremely violent culture that not only condones and tolerates violence but outright celebrates fighting. On any Saturday in any city in Canada, like clockwork, somewhere there will be a fight. I only have anecdotal evidence but I have witnessed and occasionally been involuntarily directly involved in more violent confrontations in Canada than in any other nation I’ve traveled too. This includes the U.S. (though I suspect they are close to us).

Look at our national sport where so many of its heroes are missing teeth from brawls on the ice. What is the penalty for this? Five minutes on the bench. And anyone who watches the game knows this is just for the “drop the gloves” type of fight. The occasional punch to the head is accepted as part of the game and often goes un-penalised. What other sport has such a light penalty for beating up another player. None. The only exceptions are sports where that is the goal (boxing, ultimate fighting etc). Every other sport would eject the player from the game, suspend and fine the player. Remember the outrage against the soccer player who head butted the chest of his opponent during the World cup final? That would never happen in hockey, “come on he barely touched him” would be the crowd’s reaction. Even football a full contact sport has serious consequences for anyone who punches another player. Why is the penalty so lax when it occurs on the ice? The ice is arguably much more dangerous than grass or turf especially if an unprotected head strikes it. Players on skates are also much more likely to fall. It happens every game and in almost every fight. So why is fighting, which has the possibility for serious injury not seriously discouraged? What does this say about the league?

The audience of course enjoys the spectacle. They will pound the glass hoping for blood and applaud with enthusiasm for the home team gladiator as he takes out his opponent. What does that say about the audience?

I used to get caught up it in too. Especially if the one getting his ass kicked was a “hockey villain”. These depend on the team you cheer for of course and one team’s hero is another’s villain. I completely understand the vicarious thrill that comes from watching two grown men exchange blows. I also understand the entertainment value. It’s kind of like WWF wrestling but not fake and more enjoyable because someone, hopefully “the bad guy,” is getting hurt. What does that say about me?

In my early 20s after being involved in a couple fist fights of my own (always involuntarily) I realized the truth. Fighting is stupid. People get hurt and there isn’t any reason or excuse for any of it. All that other stuff, especially its entertainment value for spectators is something that speaks to the lowest part of our natures. Fighting is wrong. If fighting is wrong then it is also wrong when it takes place on the ice. I can’t say for sure whether hockey actively encourages fighting in the culture at large or whether fighting is so prevalent in Canadian culture that it shows up on the ice. Regardless, we should not encourage fighting anywhere on the ice or off. There should be real penalties in both cases, but right now this is not the case. Why?

As I write this my eye is sore and purple because as I was walking home from a bar a random dude ran up to me, grabbed me by the coat (hockey style) and threw a punch. I was lucky he only partially connected. Had he hit me full on I would have been unconscious on the ground. Who knows? Maybe even with a broken neck if I fell awkwardly enough. Fight or flight adrenaline was pumping into my brain and in that moment I did something that was very hard to do, especially after his fist had glanced off my left eyebrow. I looked him in the eye and said “I’m not going to fight you.” He didn’t let go of me so I reached into my pocket grabbed my house keys and if necessary I was going to hit him with my fist and metal key ring so I could get away. This also felt awful.

Another man came along the scene so I called him over and he talked the guy down and led him away. I couldn’t help thinking it was similar to a referee stepping in to break up a hockey fight. I left quickly and all the way home I thought about calling the police to press charges. After talking with my father I realised that this course of action wouldn’t be productive. It’s my word against his, and he won’t remember it. He was that drunk. Sterling mentioned this morning that the police would probably not even bother to file the report. Why? Because Fight culture is so common in Canada it has become routine and except in the most extreme circumstances is not worthy of investigation. A fight happens every Saturday in Canada at about that time of night. Last Saturday it involved me.


Playing With Death

So last Tuesday I played chess with the Grim Reaper. What’s the catch? This Death was an actor from the Radix theatre company.  A group from British Columbia that was in Ottawa as part of B.C. Scene.  The B.C. Scene is an ambitious series of theatre, dance, and musical performances taking place all over Ottawa for the next couple weeks.

My encounter with Death was part of their appropriately named production “The Performance Art Trap.”  During this performance, one audience member goes into a box and interacts with a single actor.  Part of the performance is visible to the rest of the audience (when the box is open) and part of it is hidden (when the box closed). This concept appealed to me,on many levels, and in order to satisfy my curiosity I got in line to go in the box.

I was originally a little uncertain how to proceed and wondered whether or not I should attempt to play some type of character as well.  A friend  of mine  (Sterling 🙂 suggested it would be probably be best if I just “played” myself.

I decided to follow his advice, so I strutted into the box, threw my long black coat over the chair, shook hands with the Reaper, and said “Let’s play!” After a few moves,  it quickly became apparent that Death wasn’t much of a chess player and I was grinning like a cat about to pounce on a mouse.  Yes, I am that competitive even when playing mythical characters.

It was about at this point that the box was closed and I was left alone with Death.  Now it should be said that Death doesn’t talk much (he is silent through out the game) and yet there was palpable shift in his tone.  In the beginning Death was a rather sombre chess player. He grudgingly nodded in acceptance as I captured piece after piece slowly gaining complete control of the board.

Now with the box shut, Death seemed to be taking his imminent defeat rather well. I began to play faster.  I didn’t even have to think that hard to find the best move. Death was literally giving his pieces away and yet, with each piece I captured, the Reaper was smiling.  By the end he was tossing his own pieces into the small wooden box by his side.

Then suddenly a phone rang.  I had not noticed this phone before probably because of my ruthless concentration on the board and the Reaper.  The sound of the ring was actually a bit of a surprise. 

Death pointed a long finger (his signature move) at me and motioned that I should answer it.  A woman’s voice was on the other end. “Your time is up” she said.

The message for me was pretty clear” it doesn’t matter how good you play in the end you can’t beat the clock.

I would like to take this opportunity to compliment the performer.  His real name was left out of the flyer so I can’t name him directly but his performance was solid through out.  I’m pretty sure the “security guard” directing traffic and operating the box was also a part of the company. If this is true, than the fact that I am uncertain illustrates the quality of her performance as well.  I didn’t have the opportunity to explore the other boxes, but based on my experience with this one performance I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the performance as a whole.  The B.C scene is a whole lot of fun. Check it out while it’s here. It will be gone way too soon.

Twitter Dee and Twitter Dumb

I’m still waiting for Twitter to open itself to me like a child’s origami puzzle and reveal the best way for me to utilize it.  It will happen.  I just have to give it a little time.  So far, I have learned that if you mention poker in a tweet you will attract some poker followers (many of them spambots).  Also it seems quite probable that I am not actually following Tow Waits but a Twitter impostor instead.  There is some current controversy over the dissemination of a ring tone on his Twitter page.

It occurs to me in this age of social media and personal online branding that perhaps some effort should be made by the site itself to confirm the identity of the individuals on their site.   If photo ID is provided, then perhaps an icon could be used to show this confirmation. A different icon could be used for non-confirmed identities.  This would allow anonymity but prevent outright identity theft.

Speaking of online poker I feel a similar system should be imposed there.  Right now there are many cases of minors playing on these sites.  Annette15 (she was 15 when she started) being the most famous.  Her story is often mentioned in the promotion of online poker as her bankroll was literally $0 until she won some money in a freeroll (a tourney with no entry fee).  Due partly to skill but also an incredible run of good luck she turned this into a small fortune.  The fact that she was underage at the time is never mentioned of course.  It’s worthy to note that Annette herself was also the victim of identity theft.  Though in her case, giving her ID to the site wouldn’t have prevented the theft of her ID because she trusted someone she shouldn’t have, someone who was misrepresenting themselves in a chat room.

Now admittedly you have to be suspicious of everything you read and everyone you meet online and in the real world.  There is nothing new here.  Also, some people will also always be more susceptible to getting “taken in” regardless of any precautionary measures in place.  Still, I think it would be useful if some basic measures were in place to prevent this kind of abuse.  I also think this is more crucial now then ever before because of the widespread use of the technology.  What do you think?

The Good the Bad and the Fugly: I Need Your Advice

Alright kids! I got a situation here that only you can help me solve. As you know, I have recently joined the ranks of Twitter. Yes, I know it came as a shock to many of you and I must confess I am still uncertain if this is whole social media networking thing is something I’m prepared to take on. So far it has been stimulating enough that I am, for the moment, giving it my full attention to see just how far I can take it. In fact, I have a link directly on my blog, which you can click to get to my Twitter page.


Why should you do this? Well, because that is the only way you can help me with my problem and I know none of you are the type to abandon a friend in need. At least I don’t think you are, so don’t disappoint me!


Here is the situation: I am looking for more ways to link my blog to my Twitter page. While I don’t expect them to be identical I think they should both have certain similarities. Sterling has suggested that a common avatar would be useful.


This brings me to my current predicament. A few years back, Jay photo-shopped a picture that I think is very appropriate given the title of my blog and Twitter page; however, I am not sure whether it would be a good choice for this particular project. As you can well imagine, this is causing my work productivity to plummet to dangerous levels and last night I lost considerable sleep worrying that my new avatar might be working against me as I attempt to climb into the stratosphere of the online social media world. What can you do about this?


 Go over to my Twitter page and have a look at the picture in question. You can zoom in on the avatar by clicking it. What do you think? Is this too weird for a standardized avatar for both sites? Too distracting? Unprofessional?


The picture itself is also a bit of break from anonymity (sort of). You’ll know why I say that when you look at it. Good or atrociously bad idea? My social networking success depends on your advice so please comment either directly on the Twitter page or here. While I welcome feedback of any kind, this one is a group project people so try to refrain from private messaging 🙂  Great thanks gang, I know you won’t let me down.

The Trials and Tribulations of Language Class

I’ve been very fortunate to recently receive French Language training at the expense of  my employer.   As many of you know, because of the official bilingualism policy, fluency in French is crucial to career advancement within the public service sector. I happen to really like school, learning, and new challenges. I even have a slight aptitude for language acquisition so I am very pleased that I have been given this opportunity to improve my French.


Our instructor is very competent and knowledgeable about the rules of French grammar and the common mistakes that Anglophones tend to make. Similarly, my fellow class mates are also highly motivated. In fact, for some their livelihood literally depends on their success in this course. If they are unable to meet a certain level of fluency their jobs could potentially be in jeopardy.  I can only imagine the stress and pressure of that situation. Because I am on contract, I do not have this additional burden resting on my shoulders. Yet so far I am finding it mildly frustrating, which is leading me to question the pedagogy behind language classes in general.


Every language class I have ever taken from Spanish, to Korean, to French I have felt a similar degree of frustration. This is completely different from my experiences conversing with native speakers of a foreign language where I felt real connections were made.


In a classroom environment the focus tends to be on rules of grammar, exercises to practice these rules, scenarios to practice speaking, and then repetition. There is always a little “free flowing conversation” but this is in the minority.


I find it takes awhile for the brain (mine in particular) to get warmed up to thinking in another language. It takes me 30 minutes of conversation to make the switch and at that point I need to speak for a sustained period of time in order to benefit. A class room setting is very much a stop start process. In an hour and a half session about fifteen minutes of speaking (on a good day) is the most I can get up to in a class room setting, which is no where near optimal.


The same is true of reading and writing practice. These exercises tend to be fill in the blank or brief passages, or quick question and answers. That quite simply does not give the student enough time to immerse themselves in the new tongue. The student also has no personal stake in the process. It is not their questions, or sentences they are examining but those of the textbook.  If I am feeling frustrated in this environment, I can only imagine the suffering that those without an aptitude for language are undergoing.


Language classes should instead be about making real connections through the new language with your class mates, instructor, and native speakers outside of the class room. The rules of grammar cannot be ignored but they should be undertaken as a means to improve these connections through more effective communication.  It is the emphasis on real connections and real communication rather than breaking language down into abstractions of rules, conjugations, and artificial scenarios that is key to what I see as a necessary shift in the way languages are taught. We are social creatures and we learned our first language from our peer group so that we could communicate with them and make connections. Why do we treat second and third languages any differently?

A Way to End Poverty?


 Imagine a world where poverty did not exist where all citizens were entitled to food, clothing, and decent shelter. If all the basic necessities were guaranteed to be met, imagine the relief to those who are out of work, or those currently functioning at or below the poverty line. Is this a utopian dream?


For Canada and many other nations I believe this dream is actually very achievable. If a guaranteed basic income was established in one quick brush stroke we will have eliminated the need for many social services. EI, welfare, even affordable housing would no longer be necessary.  Every adult would be guaranteed an income level above the poverty line.  This would end poverty by providing a basic level of income that would meet everyone’s basic needs. I know it sounds radical but really is more practical than it sounds. 


In various pubs around Ottawa, where I have been promoting guaranteed basic income (GBI) I have found people generally in favour of the idea but they have a few concerns


Here are the two most common issues I have encountered so far:

  1. The system is too easily exploitable and a certain segment of the population will simply stay at home, drink beer, and watch tv.


       2. If everyone was guaranteed an income, than who would do those jobs that few desire such as garbage collection, working at fast food chains etc. etc.


I would argue that there is always a certain segment of the population who will abuse any system. This is a problem with people rather than systems and while it can be mediated it can never be avoided.  Examples of people abusing the current system can easily be found.  A few bad apples are unavoidable. Under GBI, however, I would suspect there would be less of this as people would be more open to contribute to society in a manner of their own choosing.  Rather than being forced into a particular industry (fast food for example), which they have no desire to be a part of and receive little financial compensation for.  When you limit people’s options you encourage abuse.


As to the second concern, in a free market system companies always have to create incentives to attract employees. It is a simple case of supply and demand. It, therefore, makes sense that people performing the unwanted jobs in society should make higher (possibly even the highest) salaries or be compensated in other ways.  In other words, market forces would come into play and these jobs would either be higher paying or automated.


GBI may be the signal most important idea for social improvement that has ever been contemplated. If implemented poverty would disappear with one quick stroke of the policy pen. Canada, or any other nation that implements it, would be a utopia. We deserve this.

Any thoughts? Or  other concerns that need to be addressed?

A Mural Update

Well apparently Jay has been very busy over the weekend. I thought I would throw this up as I am having trouble coming up with a post for this morning. This will be the last work in progress photo I post.  I do intend to post photos of the completed work when it is finished.  Very impressive so far Jay. Keep it up.img_7830I