Sunday, 28 February 2010

O Canada!

O Canada!

For a fortnight and a bit (give or take a couple of days) we have watched our national pride and identity grow exponentially with each Olympic day. It has little to do with medals and it has little to do with record finishes. We have basked in the glow of the world's collective lens trained relentlessly on every aspect of our country, and frankly we have survived the intense scrutiny with aplomb. But let us now turn our vision inward onto ourselves and attempt to remember the vivid lessons that these Games have taught us.

O Canada!

We spent over 6 billion dollars on these Games. We can argue passionately as to whether or not it was money well spent, but the debate is fruitless and passe. Instead, let us accept what has been wonderful, but to also remember that sporting events should not be the only impetus to increased political spending on social programs and infrastructure. The next time we quibble on monies for poverty programs, women's assistance programs, water main repairs or transportation increases, let us remember that, like these Games, we are all in it together and we need the political will to spend to aid our own.

O Canada!

Let us remember that over 75% of the Canadian medals at these Olympic were won by our women. Let's elucidate that point when we debate equal access to ice time for our girls, and let us remember how important organized sports are to those girls who need to escape difficult home situations. Women are carrying the load for the country this year. Let's not dismiss them when they come calling for daycare, health care, equal pay for equal work, programs for women in crisis and educational opportunities.

O Canada!

We have proven to ourselves that our national inferiority complex should be banished to the dustbin of history. Enough already with the constant apologies. The world looks to us for leadership and we provided it during these Games. Let us remember that at the next world environmental summit or at the next G20. It is time for us to step forward front and centre on the world stage and start leading with the values that make us the envy of all.

O Canada!

The best of who we are wasn't demonstrated by our hockey teams or our curling teams. It was on display in the form of a slight figure skater from small-town Quebec. Her strength and courage showed the world Canadian fortitude. Let us remember that resilience the next time some pundit from another nation questions our loyalty, our commitment, or our values.

O Canada!

We have done ourselves proud. Let the national hangover commence.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

When The Message Gets Lost

I am a huge fan of dog shows. I realize that this passion is a bit off the wall and I know that many of you would rather watch paint dry then tune into a canine convention, but it is a love that permeates to the deepest regions of my soul. I believe that it comes from my childhood and a unique experience afforded me by my Other Father.

When I was a kid, my Other Father and Other Mother owned and operated a small breeding kennel that raised Miniature Schnauzers and Bichon Frises. They ran this business out of their home, so it was inevitable that the 4 of us younguns would be drafted into service to do whatever needed to be done. While we fought vehemently against cleaning the pen, (I still maintain that gloves are better than shovels!!) we loved the care, feeding, playing with, and training of the multitude of puppies and young adult dogs that passed through. (Some were so beloved that they never left!) My mother the nurse, and thus the closest thing we had to a vet, was in charge of whelping, and Other Father became an expert in all things American and Canadian Kennel Club.

It became obvious early on that in order to make a good name for the kennel, showing the animals was a necessity. Customers love the title of show champion on their pets, and they scrupulously research lineages. Showing provided all of that and it enabled the kennel to raise its profile in the doggie world. I was the child who showed the most interest in the process, so I was allowed to tag along from time to time to such far-flung locales as Cobourg and Peterborough, and when my Bichon Alfie was in the circuit, I was even permitted on occasion to take him through his paces. Oh the excitement. Seriously. I loved it.

The dog world is comprised of a truly unique group of souls. There are a lot of women clad in cheap polyester suits and sensible shoes. At the major competitions, the judges come decked out in evening wear. Behind the scenes, there are more hair care, nail, and teeth whitening products than can be found in the finest salons and spas. But, this is a community of true and committed animal lovers. Nobody can ever doubt their passion for the dogs, nor should anybody question their love and concern for animals.

Which made the ridiculous protest by two misguided PETA supporters at The Westminster Kennel Club dog show all the more irritating. As the Best in Show competition was just getting underway, two well-dressed women made their way to the centre of the show ring and help aloft signs that said ""Mutts Rule" and "Breeders Kill Shelter Dogs' Chances". The sold-out crowd gasped in disbelief and proceeded to boo the women off the floor as security removed them. What was truly sad about the display, is that Westminster and the American Kennel Club have been tremendous supporters of the efforts to adopt shelter dogs. Every commercial break on USA Network featured at least one ad advocating the practice. The crowd was filled with well-heeled and celebrity dog lovers. Bernadette Peters was in attendance. She is one of the driving forces behind Broadway Barks, a New York program that actively pursues these adoptions. Last summer The Husband and I were fortunate enough to attend the street adoption fair that she hosts every year on Shubert Alley, and we witnessed many dogs find new homes. The idea that PETA thought that this show was the ideal location to launch yet another misguided protest, demonstrates to me how irrelevant and fringe they have become. Their messages are getting lost in the stupidity and poor timing of their activism. It seems to me that there might be better ways and means of advocating for animals without alienating the very people who purport to support you.

I am an animal lover and more specifically a dog devotee. This stretch of five years is the longest I have gone without a canine companion since the age of six, and believe me I miss it every single day. When the time comes to bring another four-legged friend into my home, I will seriously consider a shelter dog, but I do not need nor do I want PETA to garner any of the credit for my decision. They need to re-think their strategies.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Anybody but Gretzky

I realize that this will make me less than a patriotic Canadian, but I am not a huge fan of these or any Olympic Games. In a previous post, I lamented some of the issues that I had with the Summer Games. With the distinct absence of European Handball, my feelings about the Winter Games isn't all that different. I still believe that the Olympics have become a bloated, excessive, expensive and over-hyped experience that is primarily run by large corporations for the expressed purpose of shilling their products. The very idea that McDonald's is an Olympic partner, pushing unhealthy eating habits to a passive sports-watching world, is beyond ironic.

That said, it is difficult to ignore the sense of patriotism swirling throughout my country these days. Canada rarely has a world stage on which to show herself off, and these Games should display to the world that we are so much more than Mounties, Celine Dion and hockey. Ok, maybe not the hockey thing.

You see, there is a savage debate raging at home as to who should light the flame this evening. Newspapers columnists and average Joes alike have all put in their two-cents, and the majority seems to be decided on the Great One. I passionately disagree!

While it is truly understood at home that hockey rules and that Wayne Gretzky is the finest that Canada has ever produced, I submit that he has had very little to do with The Olympics. True, it was Wayne who guided the Canadian men to gold in 2002, but he didn't play nor did he coach. He managed. Gretzky was never a successful Olympic athlete and in my opinion, that should be the starting point for any discussion as to who should be honoured with the final torch trip. Canada has had several worthy winter athletes who have brought great honour to our country, and while most of them have already participated in the torch relay, that should in no way preclude them from the ultimate honour.

I will suggest three such individuals for the honour. Gaetan Boucher, Catriona Le May Doan, and my personal favourite Nancy Greene. All three of these individuals are multiple Olympic and World Cup medal winners, with Le May Doan actually defending her title at successive winter games. But it is Greene whom I believe is the obvious choice. She is a born and bred British Columbian who was voted Canada's female athlete of the 20th Century. She is still Canada's most decorated skier, male or female, and she is widely credited with breaking European domination in the sport. It is true that I am too young to remember her flying down the Grenoble slopes to victory in 1968, but the mere fact that I am mentioning her in the same breath as Gretzky, should indicate just how famous and beloved she still is in Canada. She serves as a Conservative in the Canadian Senate and many have suggested that her political leanings should disqualify her from the discussion, but I heartily disagree. Her unfortunate alliance with Sweatered Stevie has absolutely nothing to do with her Olympic glory and watching her light the cauldron in her hometown would be a honour befitting her special place in Canadian sport's history.

We Canadians live, breathe, and absorb hockey. It is part of our national fibre and character. The hockey gold medals are truly the only ones that most of my country people care about during these games. There is really no equivalent that I can describe to any of you that haven't experienced our maniacal passion for the game. That said, I believe that the ultimate sports honour that we Canadians can bestow at these hometown Olympic Games should go to an Olympian. An Olympic hero who shone the spotlight beautifully and brightly on her country. With all due respect to Mr. Gretzky, the Olympics are really not his legacy.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Aggravating Travel Experience #165,278

It never ends. Every single time that I think that I have the airport and flying experience nailed, something else arises that throws my entire thought process into a manic whirling dervish of utter chaos. If I hadn't lived through this day I wouldn't have believed it myself, so I will absolutely understand if any of you doubt my veracity, but I swear it upon the lives of those whom I hold most dear that everything that what I am about to relate is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me Great Being. I will attempt to edify the day in an organized timeline so that it is easier to follow.

5:45 am. I never sleep well the night before I fly, probably due to the fact that control freaks like me totally relinquish control when entering the seventh circle of hell also known as the airport. After a mere 20 or so minutes of sleep, I rise in order to shower and prepare for my departure to the world's most poorly managed and most stupidly run airport, also known as Toronto Pearson.

6:50 am. The Husband drops me off at the doors of Terminal 1. I am scheduled to depart for Fort Lauderdale on an Air Canada direct flight leaving at 9:50 am. If you will notice the time differential, I am a full three hours early for my flight, just like all airline personnel and politicians having been suggesting for travel to the States since the infamous Underwear incident. I have web-checked in and pre-printed my boarding pass and my US customs card is already filled out. I have no checked baggage and I am carrying a small backpack with some personal items, my computer, and a small purse. I am ready to brave customs and security, right? Not so fast.

7:00 am. The thousands of waiting passengers at Terminal 1 are informed that nobody is permitted to enter the customs hall until their particular flight number is called. Why? Nobody is really certain. Air Canada employees are as baffled as the rest of us. It seems that the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) in conjunction with the Canadian Air Transportation Safety Association (CATSA) and the American Transportation Safety Association (TSA) are having trouble figuring out these new security measures including the full body scanners, and how to make the entire process work. I guess they figure if they can control the numbers in customs hall, they can better regulate security. Bullshit. There are literally waves and waves of people mingling in the halls of Terminal 1 waiting to be called. The security concerns out there should have been apparent. One crazy person yelling out the wrong thing and hundreds would have been trampled. Not only that, but by not allowing people to enter security on their own schedules, they are creating huge bottlenecks at both the customs windows and at security. I know. I was caught in this jam. I should note that NEXUS card holders are permitted to enter at their leisure. I make a point of whipping myself over my procrastination in procuring mine. The process starts today.

9:30 am. My flight is finally allowed to enter into the customs hall. Note that I have now been waiting in the outer terminal for 2 1/2 hours, doing nothing but fuming. My flight is scheduled to depart in 20 minutes as are the other 3 large flights called to Orlando, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Thousands more of us cattle are herded through the the 5 available agents (out of 20 possible windows???) in relatively painless fashion. My poor overworked civil servant was not at all impressed with me, and kept prodding as to why I needed to return to Fort Lauderdale. He finally deigned to let me pass and that is when the fun really started.

9:40 am. I enter into the labyrinth known as Pearson security. The line snakes around the entire terminal and is not moving at all. Air Canada employees are futilely attempting to keep to their schedules, and they are pulling passengers out of line in order to get them to the already delayed flights. Several people miss flights to Philly and Minneapolis because the efforts are simply not enough. At one point a frazzled AC worker asks who is still in line for the 9:50 to Fort Lauderdale and over 100 of us raise our hands. I note that parents with children in strollers and those unfortunates in wheelchairs make their way to a special line and are herded through without hassle. I decide that next time I am renting a baby for the trip.

10:10 am. My flight was scheduled to depart 20 minutes ago. I am finally at the front of the line and the CATSA worker directs me to a security row. NOBODY SEEMS TO BE WORKING THERE!!! Not only that, but one of the metal detectors is out of order. Finally, Rahema comes to check me out. She takes my boarding pass and states the obvious. "You were supposed to leave 20 minutes ago". ARGHHHHHH! I keep cool, tell her that I am aware of the problem and inform her as to the issues at customs. She has the audacity to ask me what is going on, like I know? She keeps my boarding pass and sends me through the metal detector and tells me that I have been flagged for the body scan and a full customs search. She opens every single thing in my purse and backpack. She sprays my asthma puffers. She checks and opens my Purell. She swabs every single item. She takes every single credit card out of my wallet and she even checks to see if the three pens I had with my wrote ink. I am beside myself. I am certain that I am doomed to reschedule my flight.

10:30 am. I finally leave security and rush downstairs to my gate. We were told at customs that we would be departing from gate 151. I need to pee and I haven't eaten, but there is no time. I rush toward the gate, only to see 10 people running the other direction screaming that Fort Lauderdale has been moved to gate 164 at the other end of the hall. I reverse field and run like hell.

10:45 am. I board the plane only to discover that half of the passengers are still not there. I am sweating, thirsty, (they refuse to give me water until we are airborne) and I need to pee, but I cannot until we takeoff.

10:55 am. My seat mates arrive. They are an elderly couple embarking on a cruise. The man informs me that he wants to sit on the aisle, my seat. I explain to him that I also want the aisle and that is why I booked the seat. He states again loudly and firmly that he fully expects me to take the window. I stated categorically that I will not. He finally sits. I note that his pants are open and his fly unzipped. Lovely!

11:05 am. There are babies in front of me, behind me, and beside me. All are screaming because they are off schedule. Pilot comes on to apologize for the delay and makes it clear how he feels about it. He notes that it isn't Air Canada's fault and encourages us all to write letters to CATSA, GTAA and our MPs in Ottawa to protest an absolutely unacceptable travel experience. I close my eyes and pray for sleep before takeoff.

11:25 am. Finally in the air. 1 1/2 hours late. Babies are miserable, old man still has his fly unzipped and I am thirsty and hungry, but at least I peed.

12:05 pm. Flight attendants come through cabin with sandwiches from Quiznos. I take note of the veggie sandwich and decide that the 7 buck rip-off is worth quelling my hunger. I am told that they don't have anymore. I guess that the flight was teeming with vegetarians. I ask what other veggie options are available and I am told an Egg McMuffin. Pass!

12:15 pm. Flight attendant offers me a drink. Diet Coke? How about Diet Pepsi. I see the Diet Coke on the cart and insist. I ask for the entire can, but I am rebuffed. "We don't do that anymore", I am told.

12:30 pm. Babies still wailing and now walking up and down the aisles so that their parents might have some relief. I decide to watch a movie. Take out my headphones and turn on the Coen Brother's "A Serious Man".

12:35 pm. Old man needs to pee. Considering the fact that his fly is STILL undone, I figure that he is halfway home. As he gets up to get around me, he loses his balance and lands in my lap. EWWW. As he falls, he lands on my headphones, ripping them out of the jack and breaking off the end. I can still listen, but only with one ear. An excursion to Best Buy is in my future.

2:00 pm. We are told that we will be landing in a few minutes. Not soon enough. We circle the area for 35 more minutes before landing.

2:35 pm. Terra Firma. The Fort Lauderdale airport is packed with departing Super Bowl revellers, all looking slightly hungover and stinking from beer. Thank God I do not have to worry about luggage.

4:00 pm. After picking up a few groceries, I stop at an ATM to get some American cash. The f@#*ing machine is out of order. Of course it is. I head home and try and forget the entire day.

I realize that we all live in a new world order since 2001, but I am tired of the airline industry complaining of declining profits, nickel and dimeing us to death, treating us like unimportant irritants in the transportation machine and still expecting us to bail them out when they are in trouble. If I arrive early, I should not be penalized for it, I should be applauded for it and rewarded. I wouldn't have minded the hour long security process, the pat down or full body scan, if I hadn't been so delayed wasting time in terminal for no apparent reason. The true irony is that American airports are functioning as business as usual. The GTAA and CATSA needs to rethink their US security strategy at the airports, otherwise the public will be rethinking air travel altogether.