Longing for Pawnee Politics

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I wonder what the people in the Parks and Recreation department of the municipal government are up to these days.

Granted, in a much bigger city than Pawnee, Indiana (in population, not per capita waistlines) there’s probably a larger Parks and Rec that is less like a family and more like a bunch of people eagerly watching the clock to get home to their real families. I picture the antithesis of Jerry (Gary? Larry?) Gurgich in the employees not liking their jobs and not having a blonde and beautiful wife with three blonde and beautiful daughters. Unfortunately I would still assume that there are certain employees there treated as the butt of all jokes like Jerry is at work.

But the real drama and excitement in City Hall – which no doubt Amy Poehler could turn into comedy and hilarity – is a strong backlash against a businessman mayor who believes cronyism is the best way to get talented people get into top level public positions. In a recent survey by a local paper, few city councillors were giving passing grades by more than half of their constituents – their own constituents – and yet no incumbent city councillor in the history of this city has ever been elected out of office. Either they have retired from government, switched to provincial or federal politics, or died. In some cases a new district was created but that’s about the best it gets. Well, the best it gets is that as far as I know none of our city councillors also has a dental practice running alongside their political career.

Municipal elections are a year away. It was a big enough surprise/disappointment that our current mayor got re-elected last time. What is particularly disturbing is the not-insignificant chance that nothing will change. Both the mayor and all councillors could be re-elected again despite failing approval ratings because so few people go out and vote. Voter turnout in municipal elections is consistently below fifty percent. Why? Because dissatisfied people are also pessimistic and think their vote won’t count not realizing that most of their compatriots feel the same way and could actually effect change together. Not enough people have the same much-needed town pride and optimism as Leslie Knope.

And I doubt there’s anyone in the Parks and Rec department anything like Tom Haverford. What a shame.

Blinded by the White

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In elementary school I learned a fair bit about prejudice and striving towards harmony and equality. I also went to a progressive school, in a special program that lumped grades 1-3 and 4-6 together that in retrospect seems like classroom socialism. It wasn’t a perfectly enlightening conversation and the classroom wasn’t as diverse as a representation of society would be, which kept the white liberal bias alive and well. After all, other kids of other backgrounds were predominant in other classrooms of other schools, in other parts of the city. But for me, it was an early start to an open ear that I’m always trying to improve upon. Continuing throughout my education and into real life, I’ve grown to appreciate being schooled by other people who weren’t present in my early classrooms.

This requires self-restraint on my own righteous rampages on general issues. The fight against prejudice isn’t a religion one converts to; there is no mandate for me to spread a zealous gospel on the struggles of other people. The struggles come from the colonial history that spans across the world – white people assuming control over other lands and insisting they know best.

That is what has put white people in privileged positions today, including that of wealth and of representation in governments. Beyond the obscenely wealthy, even those of us with middle class incomes have a greater advantage in life, in large part because of circumstances of birth, than non-white people. This is an institutional advantage. To attempt at narrowing the racial divide by extending institutional advantages to non-white people is a paradox. It is keeping power, but adding a splash of colour. The undercoat is still white.

That is just a tiny tip of the giant iceberg of why the solutions thrown about in public dialogue for race-based problems are generally useless. The “just work hard” solutions of going to school and getting a job are spoken from the perspective that society is shaped as it is out of objective truth, and the solution is in individual actions within that. It neglects to see the imperial roots and short history of the current way livings are made, and dismisses the perspectives of these marginalized people that object to it and its outcomes. Multi-culturalism and equality under the law are rugs to sweep things under, and they are blinders on the mainstream population to the perspective that things are not as equal as they seem.

The more aware of this I’m made – the more I see pushes back reacted to – the more on the sidelines I want to be. I don’t mean that in a withdrawing way. That would be staying at home. It would be watching and reading things from the white perspective, the one that insists “Canada is Canada” and “America is America” and “freedom hails from the West”. I want to watch indigenous groups stand up to colonial law enforcement. I want to see self-determination in civil wars, upheavels, and revolutions, not you’re-doing-it-wrong interventionism. I want to see schools built and run by locals to educate their children by their own cirriculum. I want to see women be listened to through what they say and not what they wear.

But this is all going to come with colourless commentary from the lens we don’t know we’re wearing. The way things ought to be will get laced into reporting without being said, because that’s how hegemony works. Being aware of that, and observing the differences between “news” and the individual accounts of non-white people, is at least an opportunity to personally see beyond the bias.

That’s where I’m trying to be.

Ba-dum-bum!

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I’ve written up, and thrown out, a lot of things lately – hence the crickets chirping.

But I suppose that’s still better than writing out and throwing up things, because paper isn’t supposed to be edible and bulimia is bad for the teeth.

Pain from the Past

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I had an insomniac throwback the other night, time passing awake and in pain just like it did over 20 years ago. My legs hurt from time to time in ways that can only be treated by a combination of heating pad, ibuprofen, time, and suffering. I was awake until one o’clock, and much like when I was a child I spent that time overthinking the unimportant.

When I was a kid I had fewer problems, on account of the precious naivete that makes things in compartmentalized colours (children don’t think in black and white because that gets beaten out of them in adolescence). Red was distinct from orange and orange was distinct from yellow, even though I knew colour theory since preschool art class. The digital clock in my room was an endless source of entertainment as I played with the digits in my head and waited to hit the buttons that made the ticking seconds appear so I would be awake to see 12:34:56. Now I’m not so amused by that. Now I have bigger problems to worry about. These bigger problems make the time kept up more stressful, but what hasn’t changed is the pain.

My legs hurt more often back then, in fact, and insomnia was more frequent with or without that pain. I couldn’t just lie still and fall asleep, especially not when there was a throbbing sensation with no rhyme or reason migrating from thigh to knee to shin on predominantly, though not always, my left leg. Sometimes I would have to scoot further down the twin bed to let my knee hang over the cold metal bar on the frame and have my leg autonomously kick out of general twitchiness and, I was told at one point, a very mild form of Tourette’s. Sometimes I would have to sleep on the floor. Sometimes I would have to sleep on the floor outside my bedroom with my face nearly shoved up against a vent. I tried sleeping in the bathtub a few times, or even more strangely on the bathmat or a combination of the two. I frequently tried lifting up the offending leg and propping it up against the cold wall. I don’t think I knew at the time the logic behind doing that, but now I understand the anti-inflammatory benefits of temperature and improved circulation. Every attempt like this to find a way to fall asleep, both in positioning and in counting minutes and seconds like sheep, didn’t actually help aside from brief soothing of the pain. I always had to go back into bed and sleep in a conventional position, for however much of the night was left.

Why this inflammation was happening at that age and why it’s simmered down since has never been a health issue I’ve explored. (There are just so many ahead of it in the queue of all that is wrong with me.) When I do get it now, I wish all that mentally came with extended consciousness into the wee hours was playing with integer numbers and compartmentalized colours (and the synesthesia that mixes it all). But those years built up the understanding of decimals, including the never-ending stream of 142857 in fractions of seven that blew my mind when I figured out why it’s ongoing. The categorical colour coding had to open up to ambiguous shades and the miniscule bothers of how the clothes hanging in my closet can never perfectly be arranged in a full spectrum gradient system. Not being comfortable in conventional sleeping positions has migrated to not being comfortable in conventional living positions. Perhaps these nights have become sparser out of necessity, shutting down conscious mental processes to not overwhelm.

Shutting down conscious mental processes is exactly what sleep is supposed to be. How I survived childhood with relatively little of it and yet still have a functioning adult brain is a curiousity. Was there lost potential in my cognitive growth because of it? What kind of groundbreaking discoveries or revolutionary ideas have been lost by recurring pain in one girl’s left leg?

The Worst Drivers in the World

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I’m pretty sure every place – neighbourhood, city, town, country – has been called by some person as having the worst roads and/or drivers. Without a qualifier to limit the parameters of comparison we can assume they mean in the world. Or in the universe, if they believe there are comparable automobiles and transportation infrastructure in alien worlds. Some people complain about places just being the worst place to drive – maybe an encompassing title for roads, drivers, weather conditions, pedestrian activity, and parking, or any combination of them.

If you make that claim about somewhere, consider a few things.

First – it’s probably you. It’s probably the mood you were in when you were driving through there, or if it’s outside of your everyday realm of home, work, school, family, friends, and commerce you aren’t familiar enough with it and don’t have an intuitive sense of direction. Admit it. There may be cultural customs you aren’t aware of, or heard about and think are bullshit because you are stuck in your ways and don’t see your own bias. You may just be an angry person with an irrational hatred for things (and a lot of drivers are) so wherever you are at any point of inconvenience is “the worst”. If that’s the case, please shut up.

Second – we are all limited in our scope of experience. You have driven in your country. Perhaps you’ve driven in neighbouring countries. Perhaps you’ve flown across the world and rented a car. In that case, add to the first point that you may not be accustomed to a particular side of the road. (This is culturally relative – the Brits and most of their colonial conquests have kept on the left because that’s how jousters ride their horses towards each other as most people are right handed; for the same reason, Napoleon spread through continental Europe and influenced other places because coaches that whipped their horses were liable to hit other coaches in the face.) Different settings – urban and rural, city to city, country to country – have different histories based on different needs. 20th century cities were built believing that cars were king. Isolated rural areas don’t need to be as navigable as locations with diverse traffic. Different timing and speeds of population growth versus economic development puts different cities, countries, parts of the world in different circumstances that affect infrastructure.

Third – the very act of driving, especially for personal efficiency, is a privilege. This makes it easier to drive at a cautious and leisurely pace in richer countries, especially ones like the United States and Canada that were developed alongside the personal automobile. Other countries have most of their traffic a matter of competitive business for scarcer resources. They are in bigger hurries to get the most out of their vehicles in order to feed their families. Watch shows that travel the world and see how roads in urban India differ from Michigan expressways. Safety standards aren’t observed or enforced in economic circumstances where they will cut the subsistence income of the people driving them. The people who live in these societies drive with different motivations and cultural understandings than those of us who have always taken seat belts, airbags, traffic lights, and turning signals for granted. Those handful of drivers here and there who speed and swerve recklessly are the exception. In other places, out of necessity, that style is the rule.

And finally – using hyperbolic adjectives like “worst” is blind to all of what isn’t particularly bad about the drivers in whatever area’s labeled that. There’s a shared mentality among drivers, something that’s taught to everyone who learns to drive in a particular way based on local customs and laws, that leaves things unspoken and underappreciated. I don’t drive. I don’t see things from the perspective of the driver’s seat, in motion, inside the vehicle.  I don’t extend my corporeal essence to the machinery around me when I do sit inside a car, like drivers do in order to change lanes, turn, and parallel park without catastrophe. One of these mistakes makes people terrible drivers. Not yielding properly that one time makes someone a complete asshole for the rest of your drive. These are matters of etiquette more than skill. That’s what, through my anecdotal observation, angers drivers the most. It’s not that they feel endangered – they feel offended. That often ties in with the first point – what prompts this harsh judgment is a tick in the character of the driver. The offending motorists/pedestrians/city planners/civic governments are probably not even half of the problem.

I was inspired to write this after jaywalking through stalling rush hour traffic. Maybe I make people think my city, part of town, or particular intersection is the worst. But I don’t just prance onto the street and make people slam their breaks to save me from a much deserved doom. I look at jammed traffic and the light up ahead to determine if my crossing will get in the way of any car actually moving. In taking these considerations I see how other pedestrians and cars around me misbehave, and what puzzles me the most in seeing these examples people complain about if they think these driving conditions are an injustice is that I rarely hear horns being honked. As Canadians, we are too polite.

Except me, I suppose. When someone’s driving does affect my safety, or my right-of-way, or my value as a human being on account of not being encased within a ton of metal, I will let that person know. Believe me, I’m doing this with the good intention of making my fellow citizens better drivers. There’s valuable perspective outside that shell.

Covering 20-Something Tracks

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I just deleted my LiveJournal account. That thing was a thing for over ten years. The bulk of it was in university when I had a lot more to procrastinate without immediate financial consequences, and I was immature and posted several times a day, whatever I was thinking. I was looking for attention and answers and relatable people/experiences, but it was mostly the first one. In hindsight it wasn’t a very wise way of doing things. I don’t even want myself to know what I had on my mind when I was twenty. I certainly don’t want the rest of the world to be able to find that too.

I think I have everything from there backed up, on one of my computers. The positive creations of that are not lost. I may go through it some day like old family photos and be embarrassed at how bad most of it was yet find a precious gem here and there. We can pick and choose our memories to look at the past through rose coloured glasses. Most of us, barring some kind of cognitive disorder, do and we need to acknowledge that to separate it from fact. High school wasn’t that fun (or was more fun than we pretentiously groan about) and we weren’t that smart in university. The 1950s were a social experiment in synthetic reality through central planning even in the capitalist west and on the micro level they were filled with systemic injustices, violence, and misinformation. I feel like I have to make that last point as often as I can, so one day we remember the 1950s like the 1850s and shake our heads at it as if we’ve ascended the prejudices of that era (which we haven’t).

In five years I’ll shut down my Twitter account. I’m reluctant with Facebook and not because I’m worried what family or employers will see – I’m worried about becoming that person on Facebook. Nothing I do online anymore reaffirms my existence like it used to and I can’t make up for that again. The time has come and gone.

The decision to delete my LJ account came with haste and frustration in the middle of the night, but even with a calmer mind I decided to make that move. There are spirals of complex problems and affairs in my life and mind that I could journalize endlessly but there’s nothing to gain from putting it out to the public. I’ve exhausted my confidantes so they’re bottled up inside me, and that’s the danger in keeping dead accounts open.

The responsible thing to do is to erase your past.

Hey There, Sports Fan

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I’m a moderate fan of certain sports. It’s quite stereotypically Canadian, even though the nationalism that defines “Canadian” is an increasingly vile concept as I ponder it further periodically. Yet I still insist that only the Canadian Football League is worth following; the American counterpart the National Football League has slightly different rules that I do not approve of. It also has more teams to keep track of and a following of much more obnoxious proportions and behaviours. I loyally stand by my home team in the CFL despite how horrendous they’ve been for the past few seasons and that they haven’t won the ultimate trophy called the Grey Cup in 23 years. (There are 8 total teams. It shouldn’t be that long of a dry spell.)

I play – amateurly, immaturely, and overall poorly – curling, and occasionally follow the bigger national championships for both men (the Brier) and women (the Tournament of Hearts). But as much of a treasure as this ice sport is, inspiring plays like “The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon” (which I haven’t seen but read, and it’s horrible) and movies like “Men with Brooms” and its short-lived spinoff TV show (filmed at the same curling club I played at), it’s not hockey. Hockey is to Canada what global football (what we insist on calling “soccer”) is to the rest of the world. It is crazy.

The National Hockey League is a misleading title and it has been from the beginning since there have always been both Canadian and American teams playing in it. A couple of years ago, fifteen years after the sad departure of our original NHL franchise skated south, we brought another franchise team back up north and gave it the same name as our old one. We’re that big of hockey fans – it’s all nostalgic and we would only accept the name of the team we thought should forever be rightfully ours.

The season tickets for the new team sold out in minutes. A few minutes. No one in my family managed to get any and they were all calling the number and clicking the website right at noon when the sale was open. Fans are very dedicated here. That our population increased by about 100,000 since the original Winnipeg Jets departed for Phoenix and the new Winnipeg Jets migrated from Atlanta made the market more viable. There was a more modern arena to play in since one was built for a minor league team years back, and that arena happens to be down the street from where I live. I’m quite happy it’s in my neighbourhood.

I don’t go to games, since nobody in my family got season tickets and all the friends who banded together to share had full groups of more intense fans. I’ve come across opportunities to see two games that I dared not turn down – one was against our stolen team now called the Phoenix Coyotes and the other against the most hated team in the league who don’t know proper pluralization, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Those were both in the inaugural season. Last year a work stoppage cut the season in half and I didn’t go to any games. That none of the games in the 2012-2013 season were played in 2012 left the neighbourhood that was so lively the season prior quiet until well into January earlier this year. The 2013-2014 season has officially started and our first home game is tonight. I hope we win, and I hope the fans are cheering all the way to their cars, parked in all the highway robbery surface lots I can see out my window.

I listen to the games on the radio, as I don’t get TV and wouldn’t pay $10 a month for the exclusively Jets games channel, but even if I didn’t listen I would know whether they win or lose based on the noise I hear around 10 o’clock after the game has ended and the crowd ventures home. Dudes screaming with half their torso out the passenger window of their buddy’s car, versus meek conversations about any other part of life than hockey (which for some isn’t much). Certain types who don’t care for the sport might cheer against the team just for peace and quiet (but why would you live downtown if you couldn’t handle a little bit of activity?). I like urban noise, I like hockey, and I like it when they’re connected.

Welcome back to the SHED, hockey lovers. I know a lot of you have already returned for the pre-season exhibition games, but I’ll be seeing more of you over the next six months and hopefully with a better record than what went on in September. Stick around for a drink at the pubs. Come early for a bite at the restaurants. If you’re good looking, loiter in the back alley out my window so I can join you for a chat.