Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Fun

For a bit of Halloween fun, one of my favourite poems, Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven.

As much as I like the Simpson's version, they leave out a few stanzas, including the operative one. You can read the full version here, or search YouTube for the recording-only version read by the incomparable James Earl Jones. If you like Poe's poetry as much as I do, or think you might, read another of his popular gothic poems, Annabelle Lee.

Or, if you like zombies and/or sciency stuff, check out the science behind the zombie legend.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Two Solitudes?

In 1945, Hugh MacLennan wrote the famous Canadian novel Two Solitudes. Since then, the term "two solitudes" has outstripped the novel itself in fame as a term symbolizing the traditionally strained relationship between English and French Canada, especially the lack of cultural understanding between the two groups.

In 2008, does the term "two solitudes" still apply? Or has, as Governor General Michaelle Jean said when she was appointed, the time of two solitudes passed? In the age of internet message boards, wikipedia, and widespread recreational travel, do the two cultures which make up Canada understand each other better or worse? Have equalization, language laws, the B&B commission, and the declining role of religion in everyday life done anything to improve communication between "Canadians" and "canadiens"?

Anglophone Quebec has always been an interesting case study of two solitudes. While it is true that anglos in Quebec, like any minority language group, tend to settle in clusters, they still live and work in an essentially French environment. According to Statistics Canada, the anglophone population of Quebec is declining, but still significant:
"In 2001, about 10.5% of the population in Quebec spoke English most often at home. While this was higher than the proportion of 8.3% who reported it as their mother tongue, the proportion using English as their home language continues to shrink."
StatsCan also reports that anglophones in Quebec have one of the highest rates of bilingualism nationally -- around 67% as of 2001.

Separatism has always been seen as possibly the biggest stymie to national unity. Wondering if this meant, as non-Quebeckers tend to assume, that separatists "hate anglophones", I composed a short e-mail to the folks at Le Québécois, a separatist newspaper, to ask them about whether anglophone Quebeckers would have a place in a Québec libre.

While waiting for their reply, I struck up a conversation with a francophone friend of mine on the topic. This guy is originally from Ottawa, currently studying at the Université de Montréal.
"Anglophones who insist on speaking English in Québec willingly refuse to integrate themselves," he told me. "They don't have a place in Québec. They're taking advantage of the benefits of living in Québec while still insisting to bring their English Canada with them. It's like a Muslim couple from Afghanistan who comes in Canada and the wife wears a burqa. Anglos who speak English in Québec don't truly believe they are part of the Québec nation."
"What about anglos whose families have lived in Quebec since before confederation?" I asked.
"They are British invaders, in a way," he replied. "Or the children of."
Interesting that he should think that anglos are unwilling to integrate into Quebec culture, considering their high rate of bilingualism, and the fact that according to StatsCan, almost one-third of anglo-Quebeckers had a franco spouse as of 2001, and the language transfer rate (i.e. anglophones who spoke French more often than English) was slightly above 10%.
My friend also complained about the rates of bilingualism between the two groups:
"The problem isn't that [anglophones] aren't learning French. It's that they don't care to." I pointed out that learning a second language isn't exactly easy, to which he replied, "It's not our fault if you guys aren't as intelligent as us and cannot learn two languages."
"Haven't you ever met a francophone who didn't speak English?" I asked, incredulously.
"I don't know a single francophone who doesn't know English, ever. In 22 years," he replied. He later conceded that he had met European francophones who did not speak English, but never a Canadian one. Interesting, considering that in 2006, only 42.4% of francophones in Canada spoke English. Granted, this is a much higher rate than the national 17.4% of bilingualism among Canadians, and among francophones outside of Quebec this number increased to 83.1%. Learning a second language is indisputably a difficult thing to do, especially when you have no chance for immersion -- as is often the case in most of Canada. Apparently, for some Canadians, the idea of two solitudes is still very much applicable today.

Finally, Le Quebecois responded to my e-mail. I was surprised to discover a response much more optimistic to inclusiveness.
"[...] je référerai au grand théoricien du nationalisme qu'est Anthony D. Smith. Feront partie du Québec libre ceux qui auront le sentiment d'en faire partie. Ce que cela signifie, c'est que les Anglos, les Allos et les Francos qui croiront faire partie de la Québécitude feront partie de cette nation nouvellement libre."
(I refer to the great nationalist theorist, Anthony D. Smith. All those who feel that they are part of a free Quebec are part of it. What this means is that all the anglos, allos, and francos who believe in Quebec-ness are part of this newly-free nation.)
Apparently, for other Canadians, even separatism does not necessitate two solitudes.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cheap and Environmentally Friendly

We all try to be a little bit environmentally friendly in our lives (well, those of us who aren't huge dicks, anyway). But sometimes, while the spirit may be willing, the wallet may be weak. Right now you are probably saying, "Rebs, I know what you are saying. I am under 26 and am gay for the planet, but being under 26 and all, I can barely keep myself in Ramen noodles and beer!" Ideal Reader, don't I have the same problem. The Good News is, you too can save money while being good to the earth! In fact, most of the common sense ideas were originally designed not to save the earth, but a few dollars.

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #1: Remember what you learned in elementary school.
This one won't save you much money, but it is free, or as we like to call it, budget-neutral. Do you remember learning about the "3 Rs" back in second grade? I don't mean reading, riting, and 'rithmatic, I mean reduce, reuse, and recycle. For example, you can REDUCE the amount of trash you produce by REUSING those plastic ziplock baggies and RECYCLING your pop cans.

Recycling is, unfortunately, not very profitable for most things. Even with all the neat things you can make out of old pop bottles (pullover sweaters!! who would have guessed?) it is still an expensive process. But new technologies are constantly being developed, with new applications being discovered for recycled materials. But one thing that is actually profitable is aluminum -- pop cans for example. Aluminum is pretty awesome as far as poor metals go, and epically recyclable.

One of the things you can do to improve your recycling quotient is to make sure you know what kinds of plastic can be recycled in your area. Most of us instinctively throw an empty yogurt cup or margarine dish into the recycling box, but what about shampoo bottles, or that Tupperware dish you accidentally left on the stove burner and burned a big hole in? Your municipality should publish a list of what can and can't be recycled, as well as instructions for sorting. Just call them up and ask for a copy.

If you are too poor/cheap/lazy to procure an extra recycling box, or if you live in a building where there are big communal recycling boxes in the basement, you can make your own. For example, use an empty cardboard box (2-4s work great if you are mostly recycling paper), and just dump the whole package in your recycling pile.

Get Rich, Hobo-Style: In all provinces and territories, empty beer bottles (and frequently other types of beverage containers) are refundable, usually at 10 cents per bottle. If you are drinking the cheap buck-a-beer stuff, this means that 11 cases of empties equals one free full one! (10 for the beer and 1 for the deposit.)

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #2: Reuse the stuff you buy.
Ziplock baggies are awesome. They keep your cheese from going all dry and hard in the fridge, and your egg salad sandwich from falling apart in your knapsack. They also keep your toiletries together and unexploded while traveling, and your large safety-pin collection from being scattered all over the bottom of your sock drawer. But the best thing about ziplock baggies is that one package can last upwards of a year if you take care of it. All you have to do is wash them out every now and again!

Glass bottles and old plastic containers are similarly awesome. Glass bottles, unlike the plastic ones, stand up much better to being washed-out and refilled while also not leaking crazy toxic shit into your drink. Plastic containers such as those used for packaging yogurt and margarine make great free tupperware (although their level of dishwasher- and microwave-safeness is seriously questionable).

There are tons of ways to reuse the stuff you buy. Things you should not reuse include toilet paper, condoms, and old science textbooks.

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #3: Buy stuff meant to be reused.
Rechargeable batteries, tupperware, lunch boxes, water bottles, and paper clips are all great ideas that we know we should use (even if we don't).

But ladies, you may be missing something that is environmentally-friendly as well as being budget-friendly and friendly for your use as well.

The DivaCup requires an initial investment, but it lasts about 10 years (or until you first give birth, if you haven't already, at which point you'll need a new size). Think of how much you spend on your period in a year, then multiply that by 10. The DivaCup can cost you as little as 30 cents per period, or less (depending on how much you end up paying for it). In addition, it is made of medical-grade silicon, making it hypoallergenic, super-easy to sterilize, and less irritating to your va-jay-jay than super-absorbent tampons. It's great for traveling, as it doesn't take up much space in your bags and you won't have to worry about running out of supplies. Best of all is that it produces no waste after the initial packaging. If you'll save money with this baby, you will definitely save space in the landfill.

Other environmentally-friendly period products include sea sponges, which are worn internally and last a few periods each, and cloth pads, which are worn just like disposable ones but last for ages. Both are washed between uses. If you think washing in between use is gross, go ask your grandmother what she used during the war.

If you are not totally ready to switch to reusable products, you can at least make your Aunt Flo slightly more environmentally-friendly by switching to o.b. tampons, which are tiny and have no applicator, yet are still extremely effective. According to their website, these little suckers generate 1lb less waste per year than your average applicator tampon.

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #4: Reuse stuff other people have already bought.
When was the last time you went to Value Village, Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or your other local thrift shop? I mean to buy stuff, not to drop off a garbage bag full of ill-fitting clothes you haven't worn in a year. Thrift shops are not the best place to go for up-to-the-minute fashion or a specific item, but they are great for staples like jeans or dress shirts/blouses, or the quirky or unique items. For homemade Halloween costumes, they are a great resource. The best thing to do is go with a few friends and a camera and make an afternoon of it. In between trying on wacky things that were very understandably donated, you'll likely find a few gems. Second-hand shoes are already broken in, and finding a classic item of clothing that fits you well is more flattering than a trendy overpriced item. It helps if you know how to sew, or have a friend who does; shirts, for example, are easy to take in for a better fit. Remember, things can be made into other things, too! Cool bedsheets, table cloths, and pillow cases make great skirts, shirts, and scarves. And if you don't mind mismatched sets, you can get an awesome kitchenware collection. No more drinking wine out of tumblers!

Church sales are another great place to look for things like kitchenware, books, records, and occasionally (though less often) clothing. They are often run largely by old ladies who undercharge for everything, and I challenge you to find Treasure Trolls or Moon Shoes at Toys'R'Us.

Another great resource for higher-ticket items is classifieds, like craigslist or kijiji. Both have free stuff sections too, if you are really poor, or you can try Freecycling. If your apartment is full of shitty secondhand stuff anyway, it may as well be as cheap as possible!

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #5: When it comes to packaging, less is more.
Buying in bulk has an advantage other than being less expensive. Larger sizes mean fewer smaller sizes, and thus, less packaging. Individually-wrapped items are almost always more expensive than their wrapped-all-together counterparts. 2L of juice and a 99-cent reusable sippy box versus 13 juice boxes? You do the math. Go ahead and buy bulk! Just make sure that buying in bulk isn't causing you to eat in bulk.

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #6: Don't pay more for processing.
Bottled water. Ugh. Don't make me say it again; we all know that bottled water is the hugest scam ever. There is a saying that bottled water started with some guy in France asking himself, "How dumb do I think Americans really are?" The answer, apparently, is dumber than he could ever have hoped or dreamed. If you are out somewhere with no water fountain in sight and you are dying of thirst, at least buy some apple juice or something in a glass bottle. That way, you are at least paying for some nutrients and flavour, and when you get thirsty again, you can refill your glass bottle with water at the nearest tap or fountain. The vast majority of tap water in North America and Western Europe is safe to drink, and if for some reason it isn't, there will usually be a sign nearby like "Don't drink this shit". If for whatever reason tap water gives you the heebie-jeebies, get a Brita filter. They are epically less expensive and environmentally devastating than bottled water. If you just like your water cold, for pete's sake put it in a Kool-Aid pitcher!

This section is great for talking to your grandparents about their experiences during the war(s). Back then, nothing was wasted, especially if they lived in Europe but even those living in Canada were saving everything to help the war effort. The Great Depression was another big saver; you might notice that your grandparents would never dare throw away leftovers and will wrap up and save the smallest crumb of food. (For a great example of this, read The Widows by Suzette Mayr. For one, Frau Schnadlehuber spreads bacon fat on her toast because just throwing out perfectly good fat is unacceptable.)

Very few items of clothing are ever thrown out at my grandma's house. If your underpants or bath towel are so old and worn out as to be indecent, the item in question will be cut up to make rags, which will be used to clean the bathroom, kitchen, and anything else requiring rags. No Lysol wipes here! Pine Sol? Screw that. Mix a little lemon or vinegar with water and put it in a reusable spray bottle -- this will clean 95% of anything that needs to be cleaned with a rag. Vinegar, baking soda, and hairspray are all part of her laundry stain-combating inventory. Why pay extra for commercial products when household remedies are much cheaper - and coincidentally, more environmentally-friendly? My grandfather, in the same vein, has jars upon jars of saved nails, screws, and other odds and ends in the garage, but that's a different story entirely ...

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #7: Garden.
This may or may not be a workable idea for you, depending on whether you live in a house with a backyard, or an apartment where all your plants are either smokeable or from Ikea (the plant equivalent of being a zombie). If you don't have a backyard but still want to garden, you can check out community gardens in your area -- bigger cities especially often have public areas where you can have a little plot, although sometimes there are restrictions on what you are allowed to grow (flowers or veggies -- although you might circumvent this by growing edible flowers).

Vegetables are the best thing to grow for a great combination of cheap and environmentally-friendly. Many vegetables also taste much better when home-grown, as things like tomatoes and corn start losing their flavour the moment they're picked. Tomatoes are especially good for home gardens as they are easy to grow, versatile in cooking, and tend to grow quite profusely (you'll be giving your neighbours tomatoes throughout the month of July). You can even grow them in large pots if you have a balcony or fire escape but no back yard. Other great backyard crops for southern Canada are cucumbers, green beans, chives, sweet corn, strawberries, raspberries, and zucchini.

A great, environmentally-friendly boost to your garden is fertilizer, such as dried cow, pig, or sheep poop, available from your local Canadian Tire for around $10-$15 per bag. Wait, you don't want to pay money for literal crap? Then maybe you should try composting. This involves a big black box in your back yard which you fill with basically anything that's biodegradable. Pure plant matter (fruit & veggie scraps, non-treated lawn clippings, leaves, dead flowers) works best, followed by table scraps and certain other kitchen matter (moldy bread, coffee grounds and filters, wet paper towels). Egg shells are compostable but tend to decompose at a much slower rate, so you might still see them in your flowerbeds when you spread your compost. Dairy and meat are also technically compostable, but not recommended as it's not very hygienic and tends to smell terrible and attract wild animals. Poop is also technically compostable but certain bothersome laws prevent you from pooping in a bucket and putting it in your garden.

If you can't garden, you can at least make the gesture and do number 8 ...

How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #8: Buy local.
Ever notice how apples from Canada are cheaper than apples from Fiji? How tomatoes from Canada taste a lot better than the ones from Mexico? This is nature trying to tell you something.

Buying local is actually more environmentally friendly than buying organic, as not all chemical farming practices are bad. Buying organic strawberries from California instead of eating your own damned strawberries still means inflated prices and carbon emissions due to transportation, and strawberries that taste like nothing. Of course, if you live in Nova Scotia and you want to eat bananas, your locally-grown search might be, um, fruitless. You might have to make some dietary shifts. But, depending on where you live, there is probably a rich variety of fruits and veggies available. Go to weekend farmer's markets or buy from roadside stands and you can be sure you aren't buying anything grown more than 60 km away.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Liberal Leadership Litigation

As we all expected, poor Mr. Dion did the smart thing and announced his resignation on Monday. However, he surprised us all -- and showed he had some fight in him -- by resigning to delay said resignation until May, when the Liberals will swarm Vancouver in an attempt to get elected leader of the party. Oh boy, oh boy, who will it be, this new leader?

Top contenders as of right now seem to be Bob Rae and Micheal Ignatieff, the two front-runners in the last Liberal leadership race before Dion snuck up with a surprise-attack Kennedy endorsement. But are either of them up to the job? I mean, it was bad enough two years ago, what with the Sponsorship scandal and Jean Chrétien's book and Canadians hating Paul Martin's big dumb face. Now, with their worst showing in over a century (that sounds WAY longer than "since Confederation," for some reason), the Grits are going to need some serious horsepower to pull them out of the mud. They'll need someone who can demonstrate strong leadership, ensure that the party isn't so desperately cash-strapped, and inspire confidence in voters in the way that Dion didn't seem to be able to.

While Rae and Iggy would probably objectively make good leaders, they both have baggage. Iggy the egghead spent 30 years gallivanting around the USA while Rae let the Ontario economy go down the tubes as premier in the 90s, before abandoning the Ontario NDP for the federal Liberals (the fact that his reasons for leaving were probably totally accurate is beside the point!).

So, I propose a few other names for Liberal leadership.

Indiana Jones
circa Raiders of the Lost Ark

Will pointed out that if Indiana Jones was a spry, treasure-hunting, Nazi-thwarting professor in the '30s, he is almost certainly dead by now, to which I reply that Indiana Jones is a fictional character and therefore cannot technically die. Dr. Jones almost certainly has tenure, considering he seems to be able to take long sabbaticals from work (maybe he simply doesn't lecture during the summer semester) and often be on the questionable side of the law without ever being fired, or even subject to a performance review. So we can safely assume that he has the intellect and dedication necessary to run a party and hopefully a country. After all, politics and Judeo-Christian history are practically the same thing, right? Furthermore, he's a doer as well as a thinker, and has an uncanny ability to talk his way out of situations before busting out the gun and/or whip.
Leadership skills: He can lead crusades and raiders, why not a parties and countries?
Financial force: He doesn't seem to be independently wealthy, so we are assuming he gets funding for his crazy adventures from the university. If you can convince your faculty to give you money to go find the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail, you win the Lifetime Fundraiser Award.
Voter confidence: If he can woo the female vote as well as he can woo the females, he is basically set.


Batman is a total BAMF. No one is going to mess with him. Unfortunately, the House of Commons is more about verbal debates than ass-kicking, so Batman might be at a disadvantage there, but he looks so tough that it is going to be hard to criticize him for fear of what might happen in the parking lot afterward. Bruce Wayne is a business magnate, so we can feel confident that he knows what he's doing with the economy, and if his cabinet is anything like his collection of advisers in The Dark Knight, it will be iron-clad.
Leadership skills: So-so. He's more of a figurehead than a policy-maker, that's for sure. He had better find a Harvey Dent to be his deputy if he ever gets elected.
Financial force: Again, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, so his head for finance should be good. At least you can rest assured that he will pay his tab after the leadership race is over.
Voter confidence: Questionable. Batman may not be the Prime Minister Canada wants, but the one it deserves ... or needs ... something like that.

Vladimir Putin

Sometimes I wonder if Vladimir Putin is a man, or a drop of some war god's testosterone-laden sweat made flesh. Putin's CV of ass-kicking could rival that of Batman -- Putin does it without a fancy suit or gadgets. Now, he even has a DVD out to help you learn judo! You too can fight tigers, Georgians, and nosy journalists.
Putin has an advantage over the other contenders on this list: political experience. He was President of Russia for a while, and then he decided to be Prime Minister (the electoral process is so messy, wouldn't you agree?). He might have a bit of a difficult time putting together a caucus, however, as nervous MPs look the other way while thinking about polonium cocktails.
Leadership skills: Proven to be absolute, even if it means circumventing democracy (or the spirit thereof).
Financial force: Russia's economy is no longer crap, so someone is doing something financially right. In a pinch, he can always sell more judo DVDs, or pose for a Vladimir Putin swimsuit calender.
Voter confidence: Depends on the demographic. He's already a political sex symbol, and fascists will love him. But the Ukranians aren't so crazy -- Putin would lose the prairies like Rae would lose Ontario.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Election post-mortem

The 2008 Canadian federal election is over, and across the country, Canadians voted for change.

They voted for climate change. They voted for senate reform -- stacking it with Tories in order to pass bills. They voted for copyright reform, changing our laws to make them match those of the US -- yeah, that country we are always spending so much time telling everyone we don't resemble.

Canadians voted against the arts (and by extension, the economic benefits thereof) and against the Status of Women. They voted against the effective rehabilitation of young offenders, and against effective outreach to and rehabilitation of drug addicts through Insite, an initiative which has demonstrated promising success.

Those who voted for a Conservative MP for their riding actually voted against the interests of their riding; rather, they voted for the interests of the Conservative party. Everyone knows that Harper doesn't do free votes.

And almost 40% of them voted "I don't care." Not voting is as much of a statement as actually voting. They voted to let the government do whatever the hell it wants with their money, their laws, their country, their world. They voted that they didn't care where their money went, which laws they would be expected to obey, what would happen to their roads, schools, hospitals, parks, investments, public spaces, postal service, prices of goods and services, public service, publicly-funded radio and TV stations, and mountains of other things that affect them every day. In case you ever think your vote doesn't count, remember the riding of Egmont in P.E.I. Conservative Gail Shea broke a 24-year Liberal legacy, winning by sixty-two votes.

But, if you look closely at the numbers, only about one in five Canadians actually voted for Harper. The voter turnout rate was about 59%. Harper got just under 38% of the popular vote. If this English major has her math straight, that means 22% of eligible voters marked an X beside a Conservative candidate. The House of Commons is being controlled by the desires of one-fifth of Canadian citizens over the age of 18. Viva indirect democracy! Viva first-past-the-post!

E-night was depressing for everyone, with the possible exceptions of the Bloc and certain NDP supporters. The Bloc saw Harper's careful wooing of les Québécois fall flat, with the Conservatives actually losing one of their 11 seats in Quebec. The NDP picked up a handful. But the Tories fell short of their hoped-for majority, the status quo remained (meaning zillions of wasted dollars for an election which changed next to nothing), and the Liberals had their worst showing since 1867.

The Grits are in trouble. They're flat broke, and unable to fundraise like their Conservative counterparts. While they point fingers at the Conservatives' stagnant membership growth, they are in no position to compete. And while Liberal leaders traditionally get two bites at the apple, party insiders are already talking leadership race. Even Dion's supporters understand that he is maybe not the man for the job. As much as I like Dion (and I'm not even a big-L Liberal!), it's painfully clear that an adorably dorky professor is not doing it for Canadians. What the Liberal party needs now is strong Leadership -- someone who can rally the troops. People are looking at Iggy and Rae. What they need is Indiana Jones, Batman, or Vladimir Putin. Sure he hates journalists, but come on! The man shot a fucking tiger!

Liberté guidant les peuples
Liberty is another candidate for Liberal leadership, here demonstrating her ability to guide people.

As for what will happen next in the House? Well, there is some good news. Harper has made it clear that he's given up hiding under the covers about the economy, and is prepared to tackle it head-on. We're all nervous about a recession, possibly even a depression -- not to mention pissed off at those stupid American banks for handing out mortgage loans like meals at a soup kitchen. With any luck, my twelve-year-old cousin will still have something of an RESP in six years, and my mother will be able to retire, some day. That is, if the government manages to cut back its expenses -- and good luck, what with the EI and other expenses that inevitably accompany economic hardships. In the meantime, I'm going to take my tax cuts and run, because I know better than to rely on any more government-funded programs.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


If the Conservatives get a majority, I swear to fuck, I am moving to Canada Europe.

Election time Employment

(or, How I Almost Ran for The Greens But Decided to Pass My Classes Instead)

One fine evening in July, after a few beers, Will finally convinced me that the fact that the Green Party did not appear to have a candidate for Durham meant that I had to present my candidature. I crafted a very eloquent e-mail to the guy from the riding association, outlining my qualifications (young smart left-winger, strong connections to the community, nominally bilingual). A few weeks later, he e-mailed me back, full of enthusiasm and talking about an upcoming nomination meeting. By this point it had become painfully clear that a writ was going to drop right smack-dab in the middle of the academic year. Sheepishly, I conceded that running in a riding six hours away from school might have a large negative impact on my GPA. Maybe next election.

The under-25 crowd has been seeing more than its fair share of nominations this election. The Liberals, for example, are running Gabriel Arsenault, a 20-year-old second-year U de M student, in Chambly-Borduas. Meanwhile the NDP is running a handful of under-20s, not unlike the Canadian Action party, and the Green Party will run just about anyone who's had their 18th birthday before the writ drops. The Tories' youngest candidate is 24, but they have plenty of old candidates and don't need fresh faces quite as badly. Shawn Reimer, 18, is running as an independant in Fort McMurray-Athabasca. How is it that so many fascinating political newbies can crop up amongst the demographic with the lowest voter turnout rate? Maybe they can at least rouse their friends to the polls, highschool-prez style.

Running in your local riding, or a riding nowhere near your local riding, is not however the only avenue of active participation in the electoral period. Many people choose to campaign for their local candidate of choice -- a particularly popular choice with students, as "payment" tends to come in the form of pizza most frequently. Perks include all the buttons and pamphlets you want. Campaigning can take the form of putting up signs or cold-calling unsuspecting electors, or it can also take the form of going door-to-door passing out lit and asking people if they have a personal relationship with Jesus how they plan to vote. Especially during October elections, it is not unlike Halloween, but instead of giving you candy, people launch into tirades about why they are or are not voting for the candidate you represent, or just kind of look at you awkwardly.

Finally, there is non-partisan work available through Elections Canada, in the form of working as a poll official. (If you are dying to work on E-day but still cling to partisanship, you can always be a scrutineer and just spend all day annoying poll officials.) As a poll official, you will get the sweet sense of satisfaction which comes from having upheld democracy in its purest form, without endowing it with political ideals. You will also get cranky voters who refuse to show you ID, don't speak English (or French), and are confused as to where they are and what they are supposed to be doing. But you will get good money for it -- assuming your definition of "good" is "better than $10/hour". But since you are working as a poll official, you probably do not have a regular full-time job anyway. You are probably either a poor student, or a bored retiree or housewife. Unfortunately, they specify that you cannot bring booze to work as a poll official during the training period (one can only imagine what kind of problems necessitated this specification), but the job itself is pretty interesting as it is, except for the slow period between noon and 7 pm.

I would elaborate, but it's past midnight and I must be getting to bed -- I have a poll to officiate tomorrow morning!

Monday, October 13, 2008

How to Vote

The polls open in less than twelve hours and close in less than twenty-four. (For those of you not in the loop, it's 9:30-21:30. Yes, you can vote after work.) By this point, you had better know for whom you are voting. Wait, what do you mean you have no idea?!

Well, if you prefer to vote for candidates rather than parties, good for you. You're a selfish bastard. See if your riding is offering a Sexy Candidate to vote for.

If you vote for parties rather than candidates, congratulations on being a lazy, scheming bum who cares more about politics than the needs of your riding. You should check out the Toronto Star's super-fun Party Game (props to Vincent for finding this). Or, if arts are your favourite issue this election, check out my article on arts-related platforms at the La Scena Musicale's website, here and ici. You can read more La Scena Musicale articles about the arts and politics: The Arts Get Political and Understanding Canada's Cultural-Industrial Complex, if you like the economy too.

Have fun excersing your democratic right/duty.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Election 2008 soundtrack

Campaign songs do not seem to be as popular for the 2008 Canadian election as they once were. Instead of custom-made ditties, plain old pop and rock songs with vaguely relevant lyrics are being blasted as the candidates march up to the podium. Not unlike what they've been doing in the U. S. since 1923, but not very much fun.

Nevertheless, various parties (not just the partisan vote-for-us kind) have remembered the power of music to rouse, incite, motivate, and other such synonyms. Despite the cuts to arts funding, the musicians have made sure that the 2008 election will not pass with mere boring talking!

In the interest of keeping you up-to-date and entertained, I present to you: The Top Five Songs of the 2008 Canadian Election.

Wayne & Shuster's Musical Parliament sketch would be great here by way of introduction, but every copy that ever existed seems to have mysteriously disappeared off the internet -- and by "mysterious" I mean "probably due to copyright violations". So you'll just have to imagine it.
Speaker of the House comes in, wearing sequined robe
Speaker: Hello! Hello!
Liberals in matching jackets: How-dee-do!
Speaker (in epic anglo accent): Bonjour et comment allez-vous!
Tories in matching jackets: Bonjour et comment allez vous!
Now start singing that damned doo-doo-doo part that always gets stuck in your head, accompanied by the obligatory desk banging to keep time.

#5: Le Bloc répond présent ! - Bloc Québécois
I know I was just complaining about the lack of campaign songs, but the Bloc actually stepped up and got themselves a real chanson de campagne. This one is a little more militant than their cheery Band-Aid stylin' 2004 campaign song. Seriously, if I was new to Quebec and didn't know anything about the Bloc when I first heard this song, I would have rushed out to vote Bloc, before wrapping my arms around the people beside me and bursting into song Woodstock-style. 2008's effort makes me feel like I should punch someone. Or at least, I should if I'm a québécois(e) de souche.

Listen/download here.

Best lyric: Si parfois, j’ai l’air en colère
C’est pas juste mon caractère
C’est parce que je suis fier
(If sometimes I seem angry, it's not just my personality, it's because I'm proud)

Hey, whose pride doesn't sometimes result in rage, right?
The Good: It's very catchy and makes a great drinking song.
The Bad: Depending on who you are drinking with, you may have some explaining to do.

#4: Bounce - Baba Brinkman
This partisan song, by "the Geoffrey Chaucer of hip-hop" has been called the unofficial Liberal campaign song. It's kind of obvious why it isn't official. But it is awfully clever -- if Dion had as many supporters as separatism, Baba Brinkman could be the Loco Locass of the federal Liberal party!

Listen here.

Best lyric: Canadians know they can't trust a man
With a mustache that looks like a muskrat
In the shape of a dustpan

What does Layton's mustache look like to you?

The Good: It's funny because it's true!
The Bad: So partisan it should contain an "authorized by the Liberal Party of Canada" tag ... but then again, a lot of non-authorized material is just as partisan.

#3: You Have A Choice - K-OS, Ed from Barenaked Ladies, Sarah Harmer, Hawksley Workman, Jason Collett from Broken Social Scene (and many more!)
This song is non-partisan in a sort of inculsive, everyone-but-Harper kind of way. Justin Trudeau probably had multiple orgasms while listening to this song; it's a rousing (incendiary, motivational) exhortation to take action, which in this case is synonymous with Vote Not Conservative, aimed squarely at the under-26 crowd. The conglomeration of popular artists responsible for this music and it's "We can make a difference!" message gives it a Band-Aid feel, except we haven't heard it enough to make us hate its guts.

Listen here / download here.

Best lyric: We can change things for the better
Not just dressing it up with a sweater

If you were unsure whether or not this song likes Harper, things should be clear by now.
The Good: Has the power to make apathetic young voters feel like voting, would sound good on your iPod.
The Bad: The clichées will eventually get to you.

#2: Time For Some Campaignin' - JibJab e-cards
Yeah, so this is an e-card. It's got the best original soundtrack an e-card ever dreamed of! A tip of the hat to the American election - because if you are following Canadian politics, chances are you are following American politics at least nominally, and of course everything that gets elected in the U.S.A. affects Canada. Make sure you watch the video, because half the jokes are visual. And they're all pretty funny, from Hillary smacking Bill with a frying pan to Obama riding a magical unicorn to the "Increase your Manhood" campaign promise. This would also make an excellent drinking song, and I am tragically sorry I didn't know it a few weeks ago - it would have made an epic sing-along in the pub after the kickoff party, with a few lyrical tweaks.

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Best lyrics: We spend billions of dollars to make our point clear

To get you to step up and cast your vote here

Then we spin you around and poke you in the rear

This song sounds like an optimistic pro-voting ballad, but it keeps a healthy sense of perspective -- whoever gets elected is gonna screw you somehow anyway.
The Good: It's a shining tribute to the power and beauty of indirect democracy.
The Bad: It exposes how deeply flawed indirect democracy really is.

#1: I've Got A Crush on Harper - Mashline Girl

What are Canadians really good at? If we ask History, one excellent answer would be "copying stuff that Britian and America does and bastardizing it to make it 'Canadian'". You guys all remember the Obama Girl, right? Well, this has been sanctioned by as the "official" Canadian version. As far as copying stuff goes, it's pretty faithful. Although we figured Obama Girl was more or less serious about her crush; Mashline Girl is young and female and we are not sure what would attract her to Harper so much. She either loves irony, or being told what to do by her man. At least there's someone else out there who agrees with me - Canadian politics needs more sex if the voter turnout rate among youth is ever going to improve!

Watch here / download here.

Best lyric: When you're back in office with a new mandate
I won't leave you alone, 'cause I got a crush on Harper

Nothing is sexier than a stalker you've never met.
The Good: Finally, someone is sticking up for Harper.
The Bad: ... possibly ironically.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

October Reading

How about a little break from all that election business, hmm? Let's take a break for something less distressing and more relaxing, like say, Victorian Gothic literature!

Now that it's October, I hope at least a few of you have read (the Wikipedia page for) The Canterbury Tales. October is when things (well, leaves) start to die, and we celebrate this by hanging little plastic leaf-ghosts in our trees, or in some cases, by planting extravagant overpriced decorations bought at Wal-Mart on our lawns. Fun! And of course, what goes better with scaring the shit out of small children than feeding them large quantities of sugar? If you ask anyone under the age of 16, nothing.

Myself, I'm pretty into the whole Halloween thing. I love costumes and ghost stories and parties with candles shaped like eyeballs. I lament the days when making construction paper turkeys at school segwayed into making construction paper witches' hats. Luckily, although I am too old to get the same kick out of construction paper that I once did, age has opened up a new door to getting a kick out of literature.

Therefore, since literature must replace both construction paper crafts and tons of free candy for us grown-ups, I present my Halloween literary choice: Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Quick: what is Dracula about? Vampires? Nope, guess again. The correct answer is sex. To be more specific, female sexuality and sexual mores during the Victorian era. Now, I don't know if this is pure hermeneutics of suspicion or if Bram Stoker one day decided, "I think I'll write a gothic novel that contains heavy themes of sexuality as it is seen by society today," or something to that effect. Let's all be relativists for a moment and look at context.

Bram Stoker (1847-1912) was born in Dublin, had a childhood, got married, had a kid, etc etc. His contemporaries included Oscar Wilde and Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle. Gothic literature was also popular around the time Stoker was writing. He wrote a handful of other novels (mostly adventure) but they weren't as good and no one cares about them anymore.

You can certainly see the adventure themes in between the sex and Christian moralism in Dracula. The men all but shout "This is no place for a woman!" as they march off to stand strong against vampire hussies together (compare: King Soloman's Mines, everything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote, the Hardy Boys).

One of the more interesting things about Dracula however is its undertones of suspicion regarding modernity. Stoker was writing around the time that the Industrial Revolution was picking up steam, and people were understandably suspicious about all this sciencey stuff. One of the morals you could draw from Dracula is "All the doctors in the world won't prevent your turning into a scary vampire hussy." Of course, we need the crazy foreign doctor Van Helsing (who, surprisingly enough, is nothing like he was in the moderately successful 2004 film Van Helsing) to tell us all this. Those crazy Dutch -- they'll believe anything!

In that same vein, apparently Christian paraphernalia is a weapon. Count Dracula is the pure and unquestioned embodiment of evil, yeah, I accept that. And apparently the Christian God and the paraphernalia thereof is the only one he recognizes. Wait, what? Not even a tip of the hat to anyone else? Well, maybe, but we don't know how the Jews or Muslims fared up against Dracula. In fact things are not even looking too bright for the Protestants. Wait, wasn't Stoker Irish and -- oh yeah. Apparently, it's not the faith you have in your crucifix or your communion wafer, it's how you wield them.

The mix of gothic versus modern certainly is interesting. You get your fill of gloomy castles and graveyards and innocent damsels in distress, but then it invades your nice, clean, modern, happy London! What's a band of guys who are in the process of losing a prospective finacée to do? Read Dracula to find out, obviously.

But, let's talk about the sex. (Spoiler alert) Lucy, not Mina, is the one who actually becomes a vampire. She is the obvious choice since she is a total slut who briefly contemplates the idea of marrying three men. Read the bit where Lucy gets bitten for the first time over again -- does it not sound like a really scary Victorian version of a girl losing her virginity? Vampires, whores, they're all bad for society and dangerous to men. When garlic flowers don't work, just move straight on to the wooden stake. Mina, of course, is the model of Victorian womanhood and therefore manages to resist Dracula's advances. She's such a good little Victorian wifey that she inspires a scene absolutely made of cheese towards the end of the novel when -- well, I won't spoil it that much. Also, check out the vampire vixens that Jonathan meets during his séjour with Count Dracula. Voluptuous seems to be one of Stoker's favourite words here. What does voluptuous actually mean?

• adjective 1 relating to or characterized by luxury or sensual pleasure. 2 (of a woman) curvaceous and sexually attractive.
— DERIVATIVES voluptuously (adverb) voluptuousness (noun).
— ORIGIN Latin voluptuosus, from voluptas ‘pleasure’.

(Thank you, AskOxford!) Now, Stoker is using this term in a negative way, remember. Because as we all know, sexual pleasure is for whores and rakes. Now lie back and think of England.

Okay, so Stoker doesn't treat sex in quite the same way that Chaucer does. Try not to be disappointed though. Dracula's still more fun than a barrel of vampires, and if you like getting into the Halloween spirit, totally appropriate. If you are into the Halloween spirit but maybe not vampires and sexual symbolism, try some Edgar Allen Poe (his poetry is great for reading out loud!) or perhaps Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. If, on the other hand, you can't get enough of this whole mixing-Victorian-sexual-morals-with-the-supernatural business, I suggest you check out Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market.