Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The Blackout of 2003 will probably go down in history as one of the new millennium’s most eye-opening events. Economically, it will be disastrous. The direct economic repercussions are huge, and the follow-on repairs will be even bigger. The political fall-out will kill some careers.

To me, however, this was one of the single best things to happen to the society around me. We were given a gift; we were allowed to see what we've forgotten; to find what we didn't know we had lost.

It couldn't have happened at a better time. The heat of summer was tolerable, and a cool breeze prevailed all evening, allowing for the loss of air conditioning to be ignored. It happened on a Thursday evening, allowing people to enjoy a long weekend without feeling guilty, or without hurting their businesses too badly.

As the magnitude of the blackout began to be known, people started to work their way home. Failed traffic lights provided the biggest problem, but in general, people co-operated. Some even abandoned their journeys to direct traffic through these lights. Drivers co-operated by obeying these leaders and handing out praise and bottled water.

At their homes, people opened their doors and windows and moved outside. Neighbours who hadn't talked in months (or ever) became acquainted. Impromptu barbecue parties sprang up, everyone providing the food and drink they could. Conversation replaced television.

As darkness descended, the pleasure of outdoor candlelight or lantern light replaced the halogen security spots. The sounds of crickets replaced the thrum of air conditioning and the noise of traffic. People talked and listened. And they laughed!

And then the stars came out! The city and its suburbs had not seen its stars in decades; probably not since the blackout of '65. Many had never seen a starry sky. Calmness prevailed as people looked skyward. Many lay with their backs on the soft grass, feeling the coolness of the earth and looked into the skies to see nature’s best show.

It was a marvelous gift. We were given back ourselves. We were given back nature. We were given back community. We were reminded what it means to be part of a society that needs each other. We were forced out of our personal fortresses and became a family and remembered what it is to be human.

A good friend of mine suggested we figure out a way to do this monthly. While I think that would be nice, I don’t hold out much hope for it to happen on the scale necessary to see the stars. But, it shouldn’t stop us from having our own power-outages, and enjoying all the other effects.

Friday, June 20, 2003

I went to my two older boys' grade five graduation yesterday. They're twins.

They do this graduation because our primary schools stop at grade five and then you go to a pre-high-school for six, seven and eight. I thought it would be kind of lame, but actually, it was well done. You could see a lot of pride in the kids, and they really felt like they were the top of the world for a while.

During this ceremony, they hand out special awards. I'm not completely sure how they determine who gets them; they sound academic, but as I'm repeatedly reminded by our teachers, we don't keep marks anymore. I guess its completely subjective.

Anyway, my second son got an award first - for langauge arts (a writer!). Immediatly after, the first one got the same award (different classes - two writers!). The first one then proceeded to get three more awards, including music, social studies and french. It was hard not to be proud, until I looked up at my second son. There he was, trying his best to keep his composure, but you could see he was quite upset. He obviously felt as low as you could.

Its hard to imagine what it must be like to compete with a sibling at the same level. Most of us have had to deal with the "I remember your brother/sister" scenarios, but to be actively in the same grade? Anyway, I tried to capture the moment with a haiku:

        His parents' faces glow.
        Receiving the next award
            his brother's heart breaks.

As a footnote, my second son eventually received two more awards - one for music and one for phys-ed. So all ended okay. Still, the moment was there.

Friday, June 13, 2003

I find myself concerned about the human condition; how we seem to be deteriorating rapidly; growing further apart; not co-operating. Then I pass a huge housing complex and I wonder at the amount of peaceful co-existence required to keep this going. This is not just hive mentality; this is something way beyond that. We have multiple, complex layers of society, that work in spite of government, laws, and rules. They work by pure human will. We want it, so it is. Can this really break down? Or is this a matter of human nature? Like the universe, we tend towards order. We abhor chaos.


How much great writing (thoughts) have we lost due to immature technology (laziness)?

I'm writing on a Palm. Out of sheer convenience. This device has allowed me to capture thoughts otherwise lost – especially on the road. Without it, some great wisdom would be lost.

Before you accuse me of being arrogant, I believe all thoughts to be wisdom if they can be used. Humans are a huge workgroup, requiring large numbers and lots of time. Some are catalysts and some are engines. We need to be able to rapidly share this information to make it useful. Nothing is truly original; everything grows from something.

Now we just need to use this technology to expand the workgroup and shrink the divide.


I find it ironic that I write these thoughts on Easter - the anniversary of the death of one of Earth's greatest philosophers - the greatest cheerleader of humanity. A man who believed that we truly could be great if we just quit hating.

I believe him. I share his dream.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Wow. Where have we gone now?

This war is getting more and more frightening. The motives are looking more and more suspect.

I just finished reading reports that indicate many lucrative contracts have been awarded to US firms to manage various resources in Iraq after the war. These contracts were awarded by the US to US corporations. Many of these were awarded even before war had been declared. This paints the US as true invaders and conquerers rather than liberators. They took Iraq, so "to the victors go the spoils".

Last night, in a baseball park in my city, in Canada (not the US), we were "ordered" to pay respect to the US military activities by quietly acknowledging the playing of "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch. This decree was placed by Major League Baseball and was apparently non-negotiable. A woman who planned ahead brought a sign declaring "Sing Oh Canada". She was asked to surrender her sign or leave the ballpark.

I've seen old newsreels of an infamous regime where stadiums full of people were obligated to stand, with arms thrust out and heads turned, to pay homage to their leader, their fuhrer. I'm hoping were not heading that way again.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

The modern media portrayal of heroes is going awry. Winning has become the number one trait that heroes require. Whether it be serious athletes, performer athletes or action heroes, winning is what defines them.

The cause has become secondary. A hero doesn't win for the greater good; a hero wins for themselves. What the hell happened to honour?

Our athletes have become arrogant, selfish and rich. Once considered "unsportsmanlike conduct", and penalized as such, "in your face" celebrations have become the rule in many sports.

Nike started pushing this type of athlete a few years ago. I don't blame Nike; they were only reflecting the times. Professional athleticism is probably a key culprit – there is simply too much money to be made.

Movie and comic book heroes kill almost indiscriminately. Wrestlers no longer differentiate themselves by good and bad labels. The good guys act as bad as the bad guys. Although usually fighting for some other good, their methods are often more brutal than the enemies they face.

This is being represented in all media.

I took my boys and two of their friends to Medieval Times. The concept is simple; professional stunt men portray medieval knights and battle each other throughout the evening. The audience sits in a setting resembling a jousting arena, and cheer on the knight assigned to their section.

As the night progresses, some of the battles get serious. A black knight is introduced and the king commands his knights to vanquish him. As luck would have it, the knight representing our section won the tournament and the right to battle the evil black knight. After a furious battle, our knight was on the verge of finally dispatching the black knight when the king commanded him to stop. Instead of killing him, the black knight was to be imprisoned. As a man of honour and duty, our knight complied. From beside me, the boys started chanting, "Do it! Kill him!" I pointed out that his king had commanded him not to. "Do it anyway", they replied. I told them that would be dishonourable and would get him in trouble with the king. "Then he should kill the king too", they snarled.

As frightening as this sounds, when I began to analyze this comment, I realized it came from the environment. We have been teaching that winning at all costs is important.

There are exceptions in popular media, although sometimes its a stretch to find them. I'm not one to want to educate my kids through the media, but they will be exposed to it. I have sought out examples that have the necessary excitement value while providing what I think are good examples of honour and self-sacrifice. Movies such as "Independence Day" and "Armageddon" contain heroes who step up to provide the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. New movies such as "Lord of the Rings" are full of heroes who reluctantly become so.

This is the honour that I want my kids to understand. Winning isn't always about being the toughest, strongest and fastest; mostly its about being responsible, brave and noble.

Monday, February 03, 2003

We sit here on the brink of war -- a war that nobody seems to understand.

The U.S. President, George W. Bush seems determined to attack Iraq. His reasons remain unclear.

His recent State of the Union address was full of comic book references and childlike explanations. Statements such as, "Whatever the duration of this struggle and whatever the difficulties, we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men. Free people will set the course of history" are not aimed at intelligent people. You can't prevent "the triumph of violence in the affairs of men" by waging violence. Similarly, by saying "free people will set the course of history" uses a strange definition of "free". Terrorists consider themselves free, except for US control.

Worse still, was the reaction of all attending. After every paragraph, everyone stood up to applaud. Every paragraph! This made the whole thing look like a totalitarian government, where everyone feared repercussions if they didn't appropriately "butter-up the boss". This is not what I expect of the US. This is what I expect of North Korea.

My biggest fear is that Bush is right, but hasn't been able to communicate it. I only wish he would talk plainly and intelligently; the way I think a Texan should. Most of us our confused. We were attacked by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network. Why are we attacking Iraq?

In two days, Colin Powell will address the UN. I only hope some form of clarity is introduced to this situation.

Right now, I remain scared.