Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Welcome to the Information Age

I realize that I have been a bit remiss in posting this month. That small glitch is partly due to my inherent laziness, but it is also partly due to my re-thinking of this blog and if it should continue. I am deeply appreciative of all of you who have read, continued to read and have commented (mostly in the positive) on my rantings and ravings. But, I have begun to seriously wonder as to why anybody would care about the half-formed thoughts of an occasional-time cantorial soloist from the outer reaches of the North Jewish Ghetto on the outskirts of Toronto. I have heard definitions of bloggers that range anywhere from intellectual self-gratifiers to narcissistic a**holes, and I have begun to wonder if my need to write this piece wasn't in fact a deeper-seated need that was screaming for validation. For those of you that buy into the self-aggrandisement argument, I realize that there will be no altering your point of view and I bid you adieu. I have come to the realization that this blog, along with the multitudes of others out there, not only serve to be the voice of the previously silenced, but have forever changed the landscape of how we the people choose to receive and impart information. Together with other forms of new media, (social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and the like) the blogs have become the voice of the people. Several events over the last couple of weeks have elucidated this theory for me.

The results of the Massachusetts senate race was a difficult pill for any left-leaning liberal to swallow. The idea that a republican, even a moderate one, could sit in the seat vacated by the liberal lion was almost too much to bear. To be certain, Mr. Brown tapped into the discontent of the voters who have been stung by the economy, by the apparent complicity between government and a greedy Wall Street, by the empty promises of an administration that began with such promise but has yet to live up to their billing, and by the total distrust of an electorate concerning a health care bill that they viewed as threatening their own fairly decent state package. But, Brown and his team did more. Taking a page out of the Obama online playbook, they raised millions via the internet and reached out to the masses that were out there in cyberspace and hungry for a new voice. They watched their opponent run a badly managed and traditional campaign that was tinged with an air on entitlement, and they instead presented themselves as new, hip, and in touch. (Not an easy task for a Republican!) This was all done with the help of social media networks and the blogosphere. Scott Brown clearly demonstrated to all observers what the Democrats and especially the President had forgotten. That the world is increasingly paying attention online and those who neglect those forms of media will ultimately lose. The proof is that in the wake of the Republican victory in Massachusetts, Obama has reassembled his campaign team from 2008 in order to stem the tide for massive losses in the midterms.

On the other side of the border, thousands of people gathered in below freezing temperatures across the country last Saturday, and in several far-flung locations for expats, to protest the recent prorogation of Parliament by our fearless leader Sweatered Stevie. (Can anybody honestly tell me that they had EVER heard the word prorogue before Harper callously shut down the government last year??) The protests were organized by a grassroots group that started on Facebook called Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament. At the time of this writing, the group had amassed an impressive membership of almost 218,000 people. When the Prime Minister decided to halt the work of Parliament until March, most of the traditional media applauded his move as smart and calculating. There was no doubt that the PM was attempting to duck some very difficult questions about Afghan detainee torture, the state of the economy and the ballooning deficit, his highly questionable behaviour and response to the Copenhagen environmental summit, and rising unemployment rates until after the collective mood-altering Olympic haze has passed. CAPP was having none of it. They were initially dismissed by the MSM as a fad and passing fancy. Facebook groups rarely translate into real-world missions, and the MSM were quick to point that out. Well, were they ever mistaken. The photos of the events are proof of the tremendous discontent amongst the traditionally apathetic Canadian electorate, and Harper has watched from the sidelines while his poll numbers have plummeted more than 10 points in 3 weeks. While it is true that those demonstrations will have little effect on the Prime Minister and his incredibly arrogant view of Canadian politics, it has served as a wake-up call for the media and the population across the country that our voices do indeed count.

When the disaster in Haiti hit, the very first images and thoughts that most of us saw, came via Twitter. Much like the Iranian demonstrations of last year, the on-the-ground reporting of average citizens was a first-hand accounting of the devastation in the island nation. Twitter has been dismissed by many as a passing fad, but it is proving to be much more. The immediacy and personal interaction of the micro-blogging site has allowed up-to-the-minute reporting from around the world in a way that is simply not possible with television. Twitter has pointed out success stories, failures, heartbreak and hope in a real and intensely personal manner. Every major media and online information site now has a Twitter account. It is proving to be an excellent way of quickly imparting information. Small organizations should take note.

I'm glad you asked me about those small organizations. I happen to work for one. Religious institutions should be jumping all over the social media bandwagon. We in the business, tend to complain vociferously and continually about attracting people to our services and our programs. Often we hear that people were unaware or simply uninformed. We could run the most exciting, spiritual and fantastic events ever orchestrated, but they fall flat if nobody comes. Most institutions have websites, but we should be taking it further and faster. Program information should be front and centre. It should be on the front page and it should pop with colour. Nobody will search through layers of web pages. People simply don't have the time, nor do they care enough to sift through garbage. If you want them, grab them. If your religious institution hasn't yet formed a Facebook group or page, you are missing out. (Our page is still in its infancy, but it is proving its worth already. You don't need to be a member of the synagogue to join this group!) Add a Twitter account link to the site and update it often. At the recent URJ Biennial, Rabbi Yoffie spoke passionately about the need for congregational blogs, and the union has all of the resources online to help. Perhaps it would be prudent for boards to appoint a technology liaison to oversee these ideas and ensure that they are implemented. These initiatives are merely scratching the surface, but information is power and if we want to attract and re-energize our congregations, we need to be ahead of the curve. We cannot allow ourselves to think that web mastering or Facebook are secondary tools for our congregation. They have become primary links and should be afforded appropriate attention.

I have come to the conclusion that this blog is not merely my way of self-stroking. (OK! There is some of that, I will admit!) Instead, I truly believe that we are witnessing a revolution of information by the people and for the people. It is up to us to figure out the truth from the fiction and to separate the wheat from the chaff. When I first began blogging a couple of years ago, my sister-in-law remarked to me that she was enthralled by the idea of the blogosphere. She stated that she believed that blogs were a bit like a giant time capsule. Millions of people sharing their experiences at exactly the same moment in time. A giant social experiment, if you will. I believe that those of us who are looking at social media and blogging as a fad should heed those before who feared the future in such forms as radio and television. The revolution has begun. All those ready to join, follow me.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Loving Tribute to Kate

In loving memory of Kate McGarrigle. Performing here with her sister Anna.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

I Need to Learn to Pee Standing Up

I think that I have been a good daughter. I am involved, attentive and interested. I call on a daily basis and I never miss a birthday or anniversary. I am supportive of their globe-trotting ways and I have said on many occasions that I would like to be just like them when I grow up. I don't just love my parents, I am one of those increasingly rare individuals who actually likes them. I enjoy spending time with them and involving myself in their lives and vice versa. My relationship with my parents has evolved from the traditional adult/child model, to one of mutual friendship and admiration. So, it is with great trepidation and more than a little bit of consternation that I need to ask "Why are they trying to kill me?"

For my most recent birthday, my mother and father bestowed upon me a very unusual gift. They decided that I would really love to have 6 pre-paid sessions with a personal trainer with whom they had recently become involved. My first inclination was to sputter with righteous indignation,"So you think I'm fat?" Holding my caustic tongue, instead I smiled and thanked them profusely. The truth was that I really needed a jump-start to get me back into a regular workout routine, and I knew that forced involvement with a trainer was probably just the ticket. I have been feeling really well physically since the start of the great vegetarian experiment, but I have been extraordinarily lax in my exercise habits since my tumble down the garage stairs in November. So, I sucked back my cynicism that my parents were trying to make a point about my body image, and when I returned to the southern home I contacted Oscar.

Oscar seems to have jumped right out of those commercials for bullshit fitness equipment. He is a seemingly soft-spoken Venezuelan with a perfectly toned and tanned body and a beautiful smile of perfect white teeth. He is the type that makes sweatpants look good, baldness sexy, and earrings still masculine. I love how he struggles to say my name without an accent and how he has no compunction about relaying his philosophies of health and fitness. Oscar is 40 but looks 25, is oozing with charm, and it would stun me if women didn't fall all over him. All of this was my first impression. Then our first session began. When he is working, Oscar becomes a Nazi. He has no patience for slacking, cheating or pain. I think that he sees it as his personal mission to attack every part of my physical ineptness, and to wage war on my not-so-hidden desire to spend the remainder of my days slothing. I squatted and lunged. I pushed-up and I pulled down. I lifted and crunched, and I found myself moving parts of my body that I didn't know still worked. I spent that first hour with Oscar sweating harder than I ever had on the treadmill, and when it was over I had a sense of satisfaction that was rarely experienced in exercise. I was swaggering and smug when I booked my next session for two days hence. STUPID STUPID STUPID!!!!!

By the evening of that first workout day, I could hardly move. My legs and butt felt as though they were being poked continuously with tiny little fire-hot pitchforks. I was in spasm from my abdomen on down to my ankles. There wasn't a position on any chair that made me comfortable, so I spent many hours wandering around the house and halls of the building simply to avoid the agony of bending my legs into a sitting position. Getting up was even worse, so I finally decided that bed was the answer. NOT! Sleep was not an option. I couldn't turn over without screaming like a banshee and every breath, cough or sneeze was a new experience in pain. I tried to take a jacuzzi, but the jets seemed to be inactive. (An aside. Why is it that every single time that I am down here by myself, something in the house breaks? Could it be that The Husband is sending messages through telekinesis about how much I really do need him? Hmmmm!) I decided that a hot bath would still be a great help to relax the muscles, but climbing into the tub was kind of like trying to get out of a back-zippered dress without help.

The next day was worse. Stairs? Forget that. Elevators were invented for a reason. Oscar had made me promise to do a moderate walk on the treadmill, but that was obviously overly ambitious. But, in spite of all of the problems confronting me and all of the new muscles that my body had discovered, the absolute worst experience of all was sitting on the toilet. Think about it. What is physically involved with this seemingly benign activity? (Don't get gross or anatomical!) I am simply describing the simple act of sitting or squatting. Toilets are not generally designed as really high seats, unless they are being utilized in accessible facilities. Squatting that low down for somebody coming off of as many sets of lunges and squats as was I was a new type of pain. Rising was worse. I decided as I was getting up from one such experience in full-throated scream, that it would have been really great if God had decided to give women the option of standing while urinating. I think that we would have been way better at then men. Women would know how to concentrate effectively so that the pee ends up in the bowl and not on, under or beside it. Women would never neglect to lower the seat, because we all know the feeling of cold water on our asses at 2 in the morning. Women would love the idea of a urinal if it meant never again having to line up for a stall at the theatre. Finally, women are already half-way there in our quest to stand and pee. Ask any woman if she fully sits on a public toilet, or if she does a mid-legged squat.

Oscar continued his torture yesterday, and as such yesterday was another day when I avoided the loo to the best of my ability. I figure that one of two things will come out of this wonderful birthday gift. Either I will become incredibly ripped and toned, or I will develop a killer bladder infection because of my inability to sit on the can. Thanks Mom and Dad. Next year remember that I really like chocolate.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Life:Bottlenose dolphins mud-ring feeding

Yet another reason that I am absolutely infatuated with dolphins. Thanks Mom for passing this on.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Up Close and Personal

I owe Rashminda a bouquet of flowers, or at the very least breakfast. Isn't that the usual procedure when somebody is accorded the privilege of feeling you up? Who is Rashminda, you ask? Well, she is the sweet, petite, slightly overworked and somewhat overwrought employee of Transport Canada who has been put into the extraordinarily awkward position of having to check the intimate crevices of every woman passenger travelling out of Toronto Pearson Airport's Terminal 3 bound for American destinations. As a result of some asshole attempting to celebrate Jesus' birthday by blowing up his own asshole, we Canadians have been subjected to airport security more intensive and certainly more invasive than we have ever before known.

For reasons that only the truly reactionary can comprehend, any Canadian flight inbound for the good old US of A must now undergo a screening process that would make prison matrons blush. We are no longer allowed to bring carry-on baggage onto an aircraft. Our personal effects have been reduced to small purses and computer bags. No backpacks, wheeled luggage, briefcases or suit bags allowed. At least the ridiculous pretense of customer service or civility within the airline industry is finally gone, and we can all finally moo out loud like the cattle we have truly become. The humiliation begins with a thorough grilling by US customs agents. It continues with the requisite shoe removal, strip down at the metal detectors, and an emptying of all personal contents at security, (including a swabbing for explosive residue on every single piece of electronics) reddening with embarrassment while some underpaid civil servant passes judgement on my choices in literature and music, and creepily checks out the pictures of my kids that I keep in my computer case. That used to be the end of the line, but since the jackass who tried to wage jihad from his Jockeys, the fun stuff just keeps on coming.

From security we moooooove as a pack to what is now being called secondary security. We are separated into XX and XY lines (a wee bit too WWII for this Jew's liking) so that we can get up close and personal with Rashminda. Poor Rashminda! What a job! She squeezed so many boobs today that I thought that she should have been issued mammography equipment. The woman touched me in places that I thought were mine and mine alone. Apparently not according to Transport Canada. Since Christmas Day the world of air travel has once again changed and we poor bastards are all along for the ride.

The remarkable thing about all of this increased security at the airports and on the planes, is that it seems to be very one-sided. I flew home to Toronto from Fort Lauderdale last Thursday and not one thing was different on the American side. Passengers were invited to bring along all of their carry-on baggage as per usual. The level of inspection at security was very much the same as it was before Christmas. Sure, we had to remove our shoes and display our gels and liquids in a small Ziploc, but there was no pat down, strip search, ripping or shredding of personal belongings and no verbal grilling. We didn't have to arrive at the airport at some ungodly hour, and the process moved along without cattle prods or branding irons. As far as I can recall, the underpants incident was carried out by a Nigerian national flying from Yemen through Amsterdam en route to Detroit. The only thing Canadian in this equation is the airspace that our government graciously afforded to the Northwest flight and over where, (God forbid) the thwarted attempt would have occurred. (Chatham Ontario was a possible casualty!) I am definitely having a "why us" moment. Why is Canada the only country, outside of the 14 terrorist supporting nations that the Obama administration has identified as problematic, forcing her citizenry into these draconian measures when the Americans aren't doing likewise? The holes in this strategy are big enough to drive a 737 through.

I am not one of these people who is standing up and screaming about civil liberties when it comes to flying, even though the idea of these new x-ray machines that will probably get some pervert off viewing my stretch marks, are wracked with problematic issues and questions. I am a fearful flier and I would prefer that the industry does what it can to keeps us all safe, but once again I believe that rather than envision and prepare, they are being reactionary. Chaos ensues from reactions rather than preparations. If the Americans are truly concerned about what is flying around in their airspace, then they should impose the same restrictions on their domestic flights that they are on international ones. And if it isn't the Americans dictating these rules, then the Canadians should stop with the bullshit and own up to their own systematic flaws. In the meantime, what do you all think? Should I send Rashminda roses or daisies? We've become quite close.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Blogus Interruptus! AGAIN!

I suppose that it is the nature of blogging that my thoughts cannot in any way, shape or form stay linear. I fully intend to complete my vegetarian/Jewish thoughts in an upcoming blog, but everyday life just seems to be constantly interfering and calling me towards a less academic, but possibly a more entertaining stream of consciousness. (Not that anything I write is in any manner academic. I certainly wouldn't want to insult those of you out there who truly make your living in that world!!) No, vegetarianism will have to wait a bit while I explore the much more relevant and much more important issue of the F@*# You! attitude that is pervasive down here in the what was once genteel southern home.

It should be noted that I have touched upon this phenomenon here and here, and I have made several pointed references at many other times to the general lack of manners and civility that seems to be a way of life down here, but it seems to have reached a boiling point. Every line, every traffic light, every crowded locale, and every eating experience has become a new adventure in F@#* You! At first I wondered if it was as basic a cultural problem as the difference between Americans and Canadians. (I will attempt to elucidate this point without stumbling into the mass generalizations that so many of my compatriots trend towards when describing our cousins from the south.) Many Americans tend to be strong, patriotic and individualistic. They are taught from an early age to stand up for their rights, never allow oneself or one's country to be victimized by a bully, and that the cream of society can rise to the top if one works hard enough and diligently enough. Canadians, by contrast tend to be apologetic, happy with second place, (unless it is hockey-then all bets are off as many Canucks would happily decapitate an opponent with a shinny stick!) and meeker. In short we are the before picture in the body building ads. The little guy on the beach who gets sand kicked in our faces. We are the people whose foot gets stepped on and we apologize to our offender by saying "No issues. I have another!" It would have been easy to wave off the lack of civility as simply American behaviour, but it isn't fair nor is it accurate. The fact is that Canadian snowbirds in South Florida are amongst the rudest souls in the area, so what is the problem? Is there something in the water?

Over the past few weeks I have been stepped on, shoved aside, bumped into more times then I can count, sworn at, rammed into with shopping carts, almost run over by old people on scooters, (OY! That truly is becoming an issue for 2010!) cut ahead of in line, almost burned by lit cigarettes and cigars, had smoke blown directly in my face, dealt with crying babies at R-rated movies, had telephones ringing in inappropriate places, and have been cut off or almost hit in a car on a hourly basis. Every time some asshole or lobotomized driver pulls some unbelievable maneuver, The Husband has taken to looking at me in stunned bemusement while we both smile and yell "F@#* YOU!" It has become the mantra for every person trying to survive in public down here.

Yesterday, we decided to take in a movie at the Aventura Mall. That was our first mistake. As we drove into the covered garage that The Husband has lovingly dubbed the Aventura Speedway due to its hairpin turns, lack of speed limit, and guardrails, we knew that parking was going to be an issue. We kept heading upwards with the thousands of other morons, searching in vain until we came to a dead stop. Imagine the scene. Car A is idling to the right of the lane hoping against hope that a shopper will relinquish his spot. Of course no shopper is forthcoming and Car A is simply tired of the quest and remains in neutral. Car B is in a spot on the right, and is attempting to unload all packages into the trunk, and put 3 kids and Grandma into the back seat. There is no guarantee that they are going anywhere quickly. Car C is directly in front of us and half-way parallel with Car A, thereby blocking the entire lane so that no car can squeeze around it. Car C spies Car B and stops dead hoping to score the spot before Car A. (Wait there's more!!) We are in Car D directly behind Car C so we are stuck. Why? Because Car E in a spot to our left is attempting to back out, but cannot because of all of us blocking her path. Car F is travelling in the other direction and is parallel with us, but facing the opposite way. He spies Car E trying to pull out and wants to back up to score Car E's spot ahead of us. Confused yet? Well, all of this was occurring through a cacophony of horns, cuss words and The Husband's "F@#* YOU!" Thank God nobody was injured or worse, and thank God no guns were drawn. That actually did happen in the same parking garage a week earlier.

I have started to wonder if South Florida is the way it is because nobody is actually from here. Everybody is from someplace else. We are a society of transplants. New Yorkers, French and English Canadians, New Englanders, Mid-Westerners, Cubans, Haitians, South and Central Americans have all found winter domesticity in the sunny south, and we all bring our cultural disparities. I have remarked on many occasions on how I would be if I made this place my permanent home. Would I need to adapt simply to survive? Today at the Las Olas Art Show, I purchased a $10.00 poster. I handed the young woman a $20 and she gave me back 2 fives. Without realizing it, there was a $10.00 bill stuck underneath the 2 fives. As I turned to leave, I noticed her error and I immediately returned the extra $10. It wasn't a big deal. It was what I hope most of us would do, but she was flabbergasted and actually felt the need to thank me for my honesty. Hopefully she pays it forward by waiting her turn in the next long traffic line or by giving up the next convenient parking spot to another. A little bit would go a long way to solving F@#* You!

Friday, 1 January 2010

A New Year's Update on the Veggies

I felt it only appropriate that on this the first day of 2010 that I provide any of you who still care, an update on the great vegetarian experiment of December 2009. The month has finally turned and technically we are no longer beholden to the promises that we made to ourselves in a previous era, place or lifetime. That said, I have truly enjoyed turning over a new lettuce leaf and food has taken on a whole new meaning for both The Husband and myself. While the final tallies are certainly not complete and the effects of a single month cannot be examined in a vacuum, I can only speak for how I feel and that is pretty damn good.

I am less bloated and less heavy after meals and I haven't gnawed on a Rolaids in a month. (For those of you who know me well, know that this is a stunning development.) I have lost about 7 pounds and this feat is truly remarkable since I have done absolutely nothing else different. I haven't forgone chocolate (perish the thought) and I even indulged in the occasional dessert while floating on the Caribbean. My exercise routine has been dormant for almost the entire month (something that WILL change as the new year dawns!!) so the loss of weight is really a nice surprise.

We have dramatically cut down on our portion size, probably because we are more full and require less. We have noticed this is the case especially when we eat out. We are less concerned with how much we get on our plates, and instead are much more concerned with various flavours and textures. We have enjoyed cooking together and sourcing new recipes and ingredients. We have always tried to do much of the shopping together in the past, but now we are making it an appointment and meal planning has become much more diligent and much more collaborative. I have become educated in great protein sources like Chia Seed, TVP, and quinoa, and I have become much more schooled in how to use all kinds of beans and legumes to better effect. Yes people! There is vegetarian life after tofu.

The Husband? Well, his manhood is still firmly intact and his sack hasn't shrunk an iota as a result of his foray into the feminine world of ethical eating. If I ask him to give me an honest appraisal of the month, he usually just grunts like a bear and says something like "Yeah, fine!" But, the other day I heard him lauding the new diet on the phone to his brother, and when my mother asked him yesterday if he would continue on, he answered "Absolutely!" I fully expect him to take it seriously. He has been doing copious amounts of reading on the subject of factory farming and healthy lifestyle choices, and he is ready to make the switch. That is not to say that he wouldn't eat a rack of ribs on occasion, but I think that he is proof positive that veggies are manly.

There have been some challenges. Our boys had to deal with some of the new nareshkeit while in the Southern home, and we had to discover new restaurants that would be palatable (pun intended!!) to all. It is definitely easier for The Husband and I to maintain vegetarianism without the distraction of having to prepare meals for the boys on a regular basis. We have also discovered that we prefer Thai or Indian vegetarian to Chinese vegetarian, but that is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

I have been questioned on many occasions by people who are trying to understand the rationale for our decisions. I have discovered that I don't owe anybody explanations, anymore than I did when I was eating meat, and I have discretely and not rudely dissuaded the conversations. Tomorrow I will address why this way of eating seems to be working for me as opposed to a Kashrut lifestyle and how and why I believe I have discovered a truly Jewish way of food consumption.