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Captain North America, the Worst Superhero

Three years ago, we moved to Warsaw, Poland.

Then there was a global pandemic.

Then our neighbours in Ukraine were invaded by our neighbours in Russia.

Russia says the Ukrainian identity is not valid. I haven’t heard anything like that since what happened in China, Myanmar, Rwanda and Bosnia. Of course there are others; the list of modern horrors is long.

As Canadians, we have heard of these stories for decades, but they’ve never really affected us. Some refugees show up in Canada as a result of these conflicts, but for the most part we’re shielded from real conflicts outside of what people think about vaccine mandates. (See also: Wohlstandsverwahrlosung). It’s a measure of Canada’s relatively good quality of life if I pretend that wages, the cost of living, housing, and pending economic collapse aren’t critical issues.

Lately I’ve been faced with my own Wohlstandsverwahrlosung. In the past month, we have accepted two families and a student who left Ukraine due to the conflict. The two families are Ukrainian, and the student was from Nigeria (he’s home and safe now). The first family went on to the U.S. for six months or longer, and the second family that is here now are hoping that they will be able to go back to Ukraine at some point, because that’s their home.

Poland so far has accepted 2.5 million refugees. For a country with the population the same as Canada, it is like increasing the entire population rapidly by 7%. Some will want to go home at some point, some are accepting that their old lives are lost and accept relocating. Those who return one day will find everything changed or that there is nothing left. 

Why the Russian argument doesn’t work

Ukrainians are being told by Russia that this invasion is for their own good. They’re told that they’re being saved from a Nazi leader who is Jewish. (I will not digress on the anti-semitism that I hear commonly from Russian mouths.) I’ve been told that Russian nationalists support the invasion because Ukraine is essentially Russian if you go back 800 years. (If you want to go back in time to justify your invasion, then we can talk about who really “owns” Kaliningrad, too.) The thing is, when you talk to Ukrainians, they just don’t see the “one Russian” identity thing that Russians claim. They believe they are their own people and wish to be their own sovereign nation. This is fairly consistent with Ukrainians both on public record and in our house. If Russians learn the “one identity” claim is bullshit, they’ll seize the land anyway to justify that it’s needed strategically because they can’t have NATO on their doorstep. I’m not sure how much the West ultimately cares because they’re on their doorstep in the Baltic states anyway, and they have their own problems (gas prices, am I right?) so I would not be surprised if Putin gets to fulfill at least part of his dream of invading and reviving the old Soviet states, which would mean we’d be out of here faster than a Russian soldier abandoning Chernobyl. He got away with taking Crimea, which was the test he put to the world before becoming emboldened to make this decision.

Today I overheard the boy in our house talking to his father on speakerphone. I don’t know what they were saying, but listening to their normalized father-and-son talk brought tears to my eyes. I imagined if it was my son and I was having that talk whilst serving against an invasion of my country. I think of all of the families that are torn apart, all of the bodies laying in Ukrainian suburbs, and the rapes that are largely underreported as the Russians terrorize as they go. I am in awe that Russian people continue to eat up the Russian news without balancing their information elsewhere (especially Russians not even in Russia!) This is not a global conspiracy against Russia. These are war crimes that are being committed and justified by Russians who have dehumanized the Ukrainian identity.

The UN and NATO. WTF.

According to the UN and NATO, these things aren’t supposed to happen anymore. They came together with feel-good self-righteousness (and budgets) after World War II, and mandated that these kinds of war crimes could not be allowed to happen again. What an absolute load of bullshit that’s been for the past several decades. And now, as Ukrainians plead for help, the Canadian prime minister can’t even make his mind up about whether or not to expel Russian diplomats when even those in much closer proximity realize they must do something. No surprise. Trudeau’s entire legacy has been spineless stammering and inaction except for matters that financially benefit his circle.

I have lived nearly fifty years in relative comfort while I heard stories about Myanmar, China, Syria, and a very long list of atrocities that goes back to Reagan. I’ve heard Americans milk their global and cultural capital for “saving the world” in WWII, while they continue to plunder nations and suppress democracy for resource extraction (after all, they were founded on that principle with slavery. Taking other people’s resources is their founding national identity). I see them waging their fingers and talking tough at Putin. But I also see people’s homes, neighborhoods, schools, cities, towns, lives and families torn apart by an army who tells them that they are being saved.

There is a nine year old boy in my house who will have his tenth birthday here, without his father, who is fighting to stop a foreign army from invading his country. This is not what they want.

BUT HE HAS NUKES

To those who think that nothing can be done because Putin has nuclear weapons: Do you really think his decision to use them will be based on whatever actions the West takes? If Putin wants to use nukes, he’s going to. He knows that if he says the word, the West will largely sit back and watch him take Ukraine, as they did with Crimea. Putin is a chess player, and mentioning nuclear capabilities preemptively tells the West. “We’re taking Ukraine. Stay out.” I’m not going to invoke Godwin’s Law here, (unless mentioning it automatically invokes it) but taking the “wait and see” approach to fanatical dictators in the past has never, ever worked out. It just means the inevitable conflict down the road gets messier, costlier, and most importantly, lives are lost while people find ways to stay out of the conflict. In the meantime, the news migrates to think pieces about men slapping each other at awards ceremonies because the proud tradition of awards and self-congratulation lives on.

I just wonder, fifty years down the road when all this is done, which people will take credit for saving Ukraine? Will drunken fools at at pubs misquote history by talking about how Russia tried to invade Ukraine, but Americans saved the day? 

Probably not, because that future will have meant that someone actually intervened.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2022 in Life Abroad

 

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Overview of things in Poland: We are fine. Others are not.

Some of you have asked about how we’re doing in Poland with the conflict raging in next door Ukraine. Here is a quick idea of what it’s like over here for those who have questions:

-Poland is very supportive of the Ukrainians. You see it everywhere in signs, in the media, and even on the receipts in shops. They are very wonderful at helping the Ukrainians as they haven’t forgotten about being bullied and occupied by Russia themselves. Russia is a common threat to both countries. Ukrainians have allies in Poland, for now.

-Ukrainians have been flooding across the border and as far as I know, are currently being received and sheltered. 

-My main concern is that people of Indian and African backgrounds (let me be clear: people with brown skin) are being treated poorly by Ukrainian border officials, and from what I can tell, Polish border officials as well. The news stories vary, but it seems consistent that brown people are being treated as second class citizens. I have not been able to connect with anyone at embassies to offer a place to stay. I imagine they are busy but I will keep trying.

-I’ve been told many donations are being delivered to the border and dumped there because there is no real systematic organization to distribute things. This is anecdotal based on the stories of some who are delivering goods to the border.

-Our neighbors have been hosting a Ukrainian family (a woman and two girls whose father is being held back in Ukraine). They are mostly missing their usual activities, like swimming, piano lessons, and all of their other usual activities. We have a music room at our house that we are allowing them to use, and I will take them wherever they want to go this week (since I am funemployed currently and working on a new novel which can miss a few days of work.)

-Things in Poland are operating somewhat normally. I went to get USD in case we need to depart quickly, but the banks all have lines and anxious customers. This feels reminiscent of the stories I heard about Poland from the 80s, and these older people waiting have those same anxieties. Monday morning I will go bank to bank and wait in lines until I can find USD.

-We are not panicked but remaining cautious. I am still going to see a movie this week.

-I personally am shocked that the West is sitting back and waiting to see what happens. I get the urgent need to de-escalate, but they would be good go remember this game is not played on their terms and that they are merely reacting to things that are too late to undo. Buildings can be rebuilt (Warsaw is an excellent example of sticking it to the Nazis and rebuilding one’s identity) but lives cannot. Lives lost as the West decides what to do are lives that will forever change the landscape of Ukraine more than any lost building.

Putin will do what he wants, as usual, and the West seems to be finding further concessions for that. Therefore, Putin has no real reason to stop right now. And that is why we have to remain on alert over here.

If you want to help, please consider refugees of African nations as well as Indians who are overwhelmingly being treated like shit. Racism doesn’t simmer in times of great conflict like this. It tends to boil over.

EDIT: We are currently hosting a mom and two teenage sons, and a student from Nigeria who was studying abroad.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2022 in Life Abroad

 

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13 Reasons Why Not:

The infuriating irony of the anti-vaccination crowd

1. Regarding the media

The logic:

The mainstream media is accused of being complicit in aiding with the “human rights atrocities” of being pro-vaccine. Therefore, the mainstream media is evil, not to be trusted, and anyone who believes the mainstream media is “a cuck for Trudeau.”

The irony:

The “evidence” they post are screen caps (not links that can be read and considered) of headlines from the mainstream media that they feel will fit their narrative. The information is nearly always cherry picked to fit their own confirmation bias.

2. Understanding scientific evidence

The logic:

The medical community is burying the truth because they stand to make a lot of money.

The irony:

Anti-vaxxers do not believe that government and medicine are capable of coming up with an effective treatment, but somehow are capable of a massive global conspiracy for which nobody can find evidence. So they’re bad at what they are trained to do, but excellent at cover ups.

3. Understanding how scientific consensus works

The logic:

Despite standard safety protocols, testing, and peer review, the mainstream medical community is wrong about the virus and vaccines.

 The irony:

They will trust a fringe medical minority without really looking into their backgrounds, happy instead that the narrative they found aligns with their own (again,) confirmation bias.

4. Insisting this is a fight about freedom

The logic:

People should have a choice about whether or not they want to participate in public health measures.

The irony:

They feel their choices come above the choices and safety of others. They feel their personal views on freedom and medicine should be considered above the interests of the majority of the public. This is a fight for their own entrenched beliefs, not freedom. It is a selfish fight, not a selfless one, as they do not represent the majority.

An analogy: A smoker is upset that their rights are violated because they are not allowed to smoke inside a restaurant. They do not consider that the other 29 people in the restaurant are not smokers and do not want to breathe second hand smoke. “Freedom” to them is their own freedom, not the freedom of the others in the same space. Their freedom to choose has an impact on 29 other people who have not been free to choose. The smoker might say “well they can leave, it’s my right”. Sounds pretty compassionate, right?

5. Aligning themselves with the cause of veterans and soldiers

The logic:

They too are fighting for freedom, just as men and women have in past wars.

The irony:

They have parked on memorials and refuse to participate in the society for which these soldiers fought to protect by ensuring the safety of the people around them. That shows what this is really about. It’s hypocritical and disgusting to think you are aligned with fallen soldiers. They took a bullet for their people and you won’t even take a needle. You’re not the same. Not even close.

6. Efficacy of vaccinations or boosters:

The logic: The vaccinations (or the booster shots) are not really effective, so you’re rolling the dice with your health and should not take them. Often, an article might be posted without any explanation as to how what they have posted “proves” their argument.

The irony: The vaccinations and boosters have undergone testing and approval before they are distributed. They have been proven time and time again with science to work effectively, which is why we have them available and we have seen actual evidence that it works in the numbers of hospitalizations.

When you present the anti-vaccination lot with an actual thorough explanation of how that data works, or how it is well proven that the vaccines are highly effective, or how their information is only partial, misunderstood, or from a dubious source, you are automatically called a derogatory name or are accused of being a flag waver of the Trudeau government. They refuse to acknowledge evidence that refutes their entrenched beliefs (once again, confirmation bias).

7. Profiteering = proof of conspiracy

The logic: Because big Pharma has made some kind of money from the pandemic, this is proof that they are involved in a a global scam.

The irony: The daily medications we all take are made by the same companies. If they don’t work, why do so many people take them? We know that truckers often have back pain and take medication for it. What makes that different from a vaccine that is proven to work? Correlation does not equal causation. Just because big pharma sometimes does unsavory things, it does not imply everything they do is evil. That’s a huge jump in logic. Did you take any Tylenol this week?

8. Name calling and demand for respect

The logic: People are bullying the anti-vaxxers by calling them names etc. and should be more respectful of people’s rights.

The irony: Nobody does it more than these people. Calling people “cuck” or “Trudeau’s _______” and so on; the list is long and not worthy of sharing. When they are presented with facts, the majority of anti-vaxxer responses are not thoughtful, but resort to insults because of an inability to effectively communicate and use critical thought in the process.

9. Freedom Convoy

The logic: They’re fighting for freedom

The irony: They’re not. They’re fighting for their own narrow perspective and try to validate it by saying it’s “for freedom”. The majority of people do not agree with their views. In a free democracy, if you actually believe in freedom, the majority wins. (Sometimes, in only the very worse examples, those members of a democracy who did not get their way might believe they are living a life as horrible as a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp. They have the memes to prove it.)

10. I don’t like this government, therefore I am not taking the vaccine

The logic: Since I hate this government so much, their policies are trying to victimize me.

The irony: Mandates get put into place because people refuse to act in the best interest of the safety of the general public. See also smoking laws, seatbelt laws, traffic lights, etc. It’s the government’s job to protect people. You leave them no choice so ironically, you do it to yourself in the end. Countries and populaces who widely accept expert advice and have high vaccination rates do not have the same mortality rates and healthcare emergencies as countries like Poland are facing, where vaccinations and mask wearing are optional. Just a coincidence?

11. Demanding freedom and a return to normalcy

The logic: Everyone is tired of (crap) government policies and restrictions. These are more tiresome than the death toll to some people.

The irony: the only way we’re going to get something like a normal life back is by working together. By having temper tantrums instead of cooperating, this demographic actually prolongs the very thing they purport to hate. Lockdowns, mandates, etc. And guess what? We all hate those things too. We want normalcy back too, but we understand the relationship between safety measures and policy.

Speaking of freedom – did you notice how nobody is stopping your temper tantrums in Ottawa? Seems pretty free to me. And protest away, but understand you are a minority who selectively clings to partial information and truths to fit a narrative that you feel more than you see.

12. Government effectiveness

The logic: The government’s messy politics are proof that there is a conspiracy and that people are being forced to take experimental drugs.

The irony: Governments are always fools and idiots, and one does not have anything to do with the other. If any one of us was leading the country during a pandemic, we also would not be experts in how to handle every situation while trying not to ruin the economy (jk, Trudeau has actually done quite a lot to ruin the economy outside of a mandate. That’s another subject.) Again, correlation does not equal causation.

13. Comparing vaccination mandates to human rights atrocities

The logic: The anti-vaccination movement is on par with the suffering of the holocaust, communism, gulags, China and so on.

The irony: These people do not understand the subjects to which they are likening themselves. At all. Getting into a truck convoy to confront the government was not a right Jewish people had during the holocaust. Stop saying this, it’s just gross. This is not the face of oppression. This is the sound entitled people make when they don’t get what they want. The proof is in the self-righteousness of likening your suffering to genocide. It’s not even close. Stop it. Right now. It shoots down your credibility and empathy for your cause faster than anything else on this list.


In conclusion, the “freedom convoy” is a disaster of their own making. There are 302,000 truckers in Canada. How many of them are shouting at parliament right now? Pick your number, but 1% is my generous estimation. (Estimation. I do not outrightly claim it to be verified fact.)

And why are Americans (apparently) up here, or think they have any right to comment on Canadian safety mandates? These proud Canadians that are arm in arms with them are okay with Americans telling our government what to do? Okay then, patriots! True North Strong and Free!

If you must debate with an anti-vaxxer, ask them “what level of evidence will change your mind?” Their answer will tell you all you need to know: that their beliefs are rooted in feelings and hate for government, and others, not scientific logic.

Edited afterthought: A possible contributor to how people feel about the Trudeau government is his passion for serving the corporatocracy. He has absolutely served them well: even when times have been increasingly bad for nearly everyone, and corporate profits are higher than ever, and real estate remains unfixed, he can’t seem to keep himself out of scandals with corporations. He hasn’t fixed the problems that we all know need fixing. The sight of his face can cause irritation. For these reasons, I could understand why people might believe there is a conspiracy. But without evidence, I’m not going to just assume it. Real evidence, not a screencap that gives little information.

About me:

I am a Canadian teacher (sometimes) and writer currently living in Poland, where cases are presently approaching 100k cases a day. This is the result of being led by a government who agrees that vaccination should be a personal choice. So use Poland as an example of what would happen if the anti-vax movement were calling the shots. The vaccination rate in Poland has been stuck at 54% for a long time. 46% of Poles are “not putting that in their body”.

In a population of 38 million (nearly identical to Canada’s), 105,000 people have already died of the virus. That’s three times the rate of Canada (if you want the links I am happy to present them. I’m just not sure people will use them.) Presently, Poland is reporting over 50,000 new cases a day, and is expected to hit 100,000 a day by next week. All day long I hear ambulance sirens going back and forth to collect these vaccine skeptics who now seek forgiveness and redemption in hospital beds. “Letting it rip” does not work. The health care system here is suffering, as are the doctors and nurses who have to treat these people. Doctors and other medical professionals are actually the ones fighting for our freedom (and lives) here. Imagine being put at risk by someone who insists it’s their right to put you at risk? It takes a hero to treat that person.

Be thankful that Canada does not have these numbers, because I assure you it would be the people who are protesting in Ottawa right now who would be three times (or more if you want to consider probability and non-vaccination factors) less in their numbers because they’d be dead. The reason the numbers in Canada are not as fatal in Poland is because of policies that have worked better than just “let ‘er rip!”

This anti-mandate debate is self-serving and short-sighted. There is no “freedom” being fought for here. It’s simply people who are unhappy about what we’ve all been through, and just don’t know what else they can do about it. I can understand that.

But I cannot understand people who will willingly put others (including health care workers, the elderly, and children) into danger. It’s just not acceptable. Neither is spreading disinformation once it has been identified as misinformation. I am becoming far less tolerant of that.

I have a four year old son who is not vaccinated yet. If he was in the presence of anti-vaxxers, he would have a much higher chance of getting sick. Maybe he would recover and maybe he would have no long term disabilities. Maybe he wouldn’t. It’s a gamble, and I don’t gamble. If there was a one in a million chance my son would die, I would not take that chance. What gives someone else the right to take that chance and gamble with the health of the public based simply on their beliefs? Entitlement. Anyone who thinks they have a selfish right to do that has already played their cards, and that’s why no one believes this is a selfless fight for freedom.

The irony is how this is not a fight for freedom, but a fight because they don’t like the Prime Minister.

For the record, I’ve never voted for Justin Trudeau.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2022 in Oh Canada

 

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Why I’m Not Celebrating Canada Day – Part III

Part III: Canadian Real Estate and a complete lack of transparency

Fact: non-resident citizens of Canada pay a 35% down payment on a house in Canada. That puts my family in the same category as non-citizen money launderers who are buying up properties in Canada without ever having to step foot inside the country. So for the government’s sake, two Canadian citizens and their kid with intent to use their property as a home base to one day live there full-time are treated the same on paper as international gangsters who park their money in Canadian real estate. That means that legitimate citizens have to work harder and save longer to have property, whereas international money just swoops in and grabs it or builds it in such abundance that it keeps driving up prices across the country, thus consistently keeping that carrot dangling further and further way for people who are not international criminals.

You’re probably thinking “wait a second, there is a lot to unpack there. You can’t possibly just imply Canada’s entire economy is afloat on international criminal money.” But I can, and I did. Because it is*.

Supply and demand, right? People working in the real estate industry or adjacent to it have been defending soaring costs for years. Maybe because it results in increasingly higher commissions for them, because they think everyone in the world wants to live in Vancouver or Toronto. Not to be confused with investing in. It might also have something to do with these real estate talking heads hiding their hands under the table as they deal.

It was easy to justify the numbers in the years leading up to the great grinding halt of Covid-19. Immigration was the first reason; supply simply couldn’t keep up with the demand that immigrants were putting on the system. Oh, those immigrants! Takin’ all of our properties. Yet during Covid-19, immigration took a nose-dive and still, somehow, the prices of real estate kept shooting up. Oh, it was all that demand to get out of the city for more space since people were working at home. That’s right, people leaving the city were causing condo prices in the city to continue climbing. Perfectly logical. There are a list of asinine explanations as to why real estate kept climbing, but let’s get to the meat: property flipping, real estate agents flipping pre-constructions, and money laundering. On the honest, side, it was Canadians trying to take advantage of low interest rates in a market that would otherwise exclude them. Hard to blame them for just wanting a place to live. This is a system which has greatly benefited those working within the real estate industry (look at the links, the braggarts are shameless!), but has completely screwed over regular families. Canada’s real estate industry has completely priced them out in the interest of the commodification of places we need to live. That’s how bad the corporatocracy has gotten.

Endless articles are being written about it, and many families are now overextending themselves in debt just for a shot at having a home. To quote Bill Pullman from David Lynch’s Lost Highway“that’s fuckin’ crazy, man.”

So while real estate will continue in on some completely non-predictable direction, eventually Canadians will be tapped-out but at least the empty houses and condos around them will mean lower population density, right? Great! Maybe our next single-source economy can be built on debt collection. Oh wait, we’re already headed in that direction.

And so we come back to exploitation. From Canada’s Indigenous people to living within a corporatocracy to families who just want to buy a home, Canada has a long history of exploiting the people who actually live there. The question is, do I want to return there and sign up for that, or do I want to look around the world and buy somewhere else? Maybe somewhere where the food tastes real and isn’t modified to just look good on the supermarket shelf, and I don’t have to pay a premium on everything just for the privilege of amassing debt.

My family currently lives debt-free, so let me think about how badly I want to change that.

Happy Canada Day!

*Try to read Sam Cooper’s Willful Blindness and try to hold any sense of pride in what Canada is doing. It’s absolutely disgusting. And enraging.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2021 in Oh Canada

 

Why I’m Not Celebrating Canada Day – Part II

Part II: Canada the Corporatocracy

Now there is a new Canada. I like to call it Corporate-Canada. It is a Canada run by governments (and be clear – I favour no party here) who consistently sell its people and its resources out for short-term political life and to empower the corporations that really run things. In shortly, Canada is a Corporatocracy. Canadians have been seeing it for years. Just mention overcharging (funny how telecom company’s oopsies in incorrect billing never, ever favours the customer,) or the telecommunications market’s chokehold and collusion on internet prices and you’ve only begun to scratch the surface of how every day Canadians are being treated every day. Internet prices in Canada are among the highest of anywhere in the world, because they “need to pay for the infrastructure”. They’ve been working on that infrastructure for decades now. A look at stocks and CEO salaries tell a different story.

Canada has a history of putting all of its eggs into one basket. For years it was the energy sector, more specifically, oil and gas. Years back, Prime Minister Stephen Harper doubled down on that industry (as that is where his father worked) while doing nothing to diversify Canada’s interests at a time when it was clear those interests needed to be diversified. The industry has received decades worth of subsides and amazing profits. Profits that were once so great that Alberta Premier Ralph Klein sent out “prosperity bonus” cheques to every Albertan to celebrate their wealth. There was no investing that money in the future because the corporations banked on the fact that they would always be treated like Canada’s darlings. Now they sound like a bunch of babies kicking and screaming because the world is changing. Because it HAS to change. Currently, Canada is cooking and burning.

Or how about the banking industry? Ask Canadians about banking fees. Every quarter it seems that Canadian banks keep making record profits, and it’s not surprising with the amount of nickel-and-diming loonying-and-twonying (toonying?) that is so frequently done for transactions. And good luck doing anything about it. For years Canadian banking practices have abused Canadians, and just wait until those pandemic-era interest rates start to rise… but hey. It makes a healthy economy, doesn’t it? In the short term.

Speaking of putting one’s eggs all in one basket – real estate. Canada has become a world leader in expensive real estate. It makes the economy look strong in short-term election cycles. Full disclosure here: my wife and I have been living abroad for a decade now, because the employment options for teachers were far better overseas. We have been saving to repatriate to Canada for some time, and have a reasonable amount of money to buy a house in a rural area. But Canada’s real estate market has become horrifically unreasonable in the past decade. Let’s find out why.

Next – Part III: Canadian Real Estate and a complete lack of transparency

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2021 in Oh Canada

 

Why I’m Not Celebrating Canada Day – Part I

Part I: Not Celebrating Colonialism

First, the obvious reason. Currently in Canada, the graves of over a thousand children have so far been recovered and the number is likely to continue growing. When settlers came to Canada, they inconveniently discovered that their new land was already inhabited by a wealth of people and cultures. That was an inconvenient fact, so they started to wipe them off the map. My home province of Newfoundland Labrador has the distinction of having completely wiped out its Indigenous people, the Beothuk. (Though lately evidence has arisen that there may be some descendants.)

In other provinces, stretching through Saskatchewan to British Columbia, new government systems forced Indigenous children from their parents and put them into schools largely run by the Catholic church. In those schools their hair was cut, their language was beaten out of them, their culture removed at all costs, and they were made to assimilate to the colonising culture. Further to that, they were sexually, physically and emotionally abused for a hundred years, poisoning their lives and the lives of their descendants. As we know, many were murdered.

In my time growing up in Canada, I have repeatedly heard settlers blaming Aboriginal people for their own problems with alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, and overwhelming despair. I often heard things like “we have given them so much money,” without any sense of irony how “money” was a system that was also imposed upon them. They are still being blamed for not assimilating to a culture that has completely taken over their home and native land. Can you imagine if someone removed your children from you, forced them to abandon their own identities, murdered and abused those around you, and STILL won’t apologise for what they did for fear of lawsuits? If you can’t, it’s because it didn’t happen to you. Modern Indigenous people are still dealing with a theft of cultural identity and over a hundred years of abuse that is still ongoing. Some continue to struggle to find their place in our modern settler’s world, and suffer generational trauma that all success in Canada has been built upon. So if you’re pointing a finger at Indigenous people who are still suffering, you are pointing that finger in the wrong direction.

My evaluation here is superficial and doesn’t even begin to capture the individualized experiences of every Indigenous family’s trauma. I am not an Aboriginal person and my observances come only from listening to them, studying their history in university, and working within their communities in a limited capacity. So I do not speak for them, but if you are willing to listen, they are speaking for themselves. Accusing them of being freeloaders is really a sad and ironic projection of settling culture mindset.

Next – Part II: Canada the Corporatocracy

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2021 in Oh Canada

 

We Had a Kid. Here’s Why You Might Not Know About It.

Some people were surprised that my wife and I decided 3 years ago to keep the birth of our son, Lex, a private affair. In an age when so many details of our lives are broadcast online, it might seem out of place that anyone would choose not to make public “the most momentous moment of one’s life”.

Along the way, a couple of friends have heard about it through other friends, or heard my wife mention it on her Youtube channel, or they actually met the kid. The question usually is “why didn’t I hear about it?”

For those who care enough to read about why we didn’t make this a big deal, here is why you might not have heard about it. (Now don’t go taking my reasons here as a personal attack on you or anything you might have posted on social media. If anything, you have helped us make this informed decision. Thanks for that.)

1. People who post ultrasounds on social media. You know who they are. Most people are quietly sick of these grainy photos that looked exactly like the photo those other pregnant people posted last week. The people who want to see these images from inside your body are your mom, your auntie, and that nosy lady from work who probably secretly wishes you harm anyway. So just email them directly.

ultrasound

Every ultrasound image, ever.

2. The Experts. People always want to give you advice on everything, even when you didn’t ask for it. They want to tell you how you’ll feel, what you’ll do, how you’ll do it, and ultimately how they did it. They make it about themselves and assume you are going to have the exact same experience they had because you’re exactly the same, of course. (This is why so many teenagers hate their parents).

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Expert mom seen here, experting.

3. “Congratulations!” Ugh, seriously. How many times do you think you’ll hear that? I heard it a thousand fucking times. Or maybe it was slightly less and it was just echoing through a cavern of meaninglessness. We didn’t cure cancer. We had a biological transaction that resulted in the formation of a child. “Any dick can make a baby” said Jason ‘Furious’ Styles from Boyz n The Hood. People around the world are having babies every day, it’s not exactly a miracle, nor a cure for anything (unless you have experienced difficulty having a child, “congratulations” might be a more considerate word choice. But even then, don’t make that assumption about people. Mind your business.) When you say “congratulations” don’t forget that the baby isn’t quite here yet. There’s still a long, difficult road to go. You don’t want to be the one to jinx a baby, do you? If you have to say something, at least show the sincerity to try and think of something more original than “congratulations”.

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Congratulations on fixing Iraq, George!

4. The belly photo updates. Cool, you’ve got something growing inside you. It’s fun when you imagine that it’s an alien growing, and that fun lasts about 1 second. Otherwise it’s probably not something most people in your social media circle care about. If you don’t believe me, ask them. Also, see #1.

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How terribly interesting

5. Birth announcements. Okay you got me. Those are cool. Announcements. Pictures of purple newborns? Not so much. You’re seeing your child in the flesh for the first time ever. Is the first thing you’re going to do really be to take out your phone and throw your child’s image out to the general public? You can wait a bit, Anne Geddes. (Also not cool: Birthing photos.)

6. Respect for the child’s privacy. This above all other reasons is why you haven’t seen an image of Lex in your feed. We are in an age where the youngest generation has lived their entire existence online. Their entire existence is catalogued by social media corporations. I am so eternally grateful that social media did not exist when I was born because I know my mom, and I would have hated it. Do you want your child to hate you? Think twice about their online privacy and who should own that.

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OMG why the fuck did yo post these, mom?

7. Photos of babies with food on their face. Why people, why do you post these? Nobody likes them because they’re disgusting! I know because I’ve asked people. Ask around. They’re the same people who actually then try to tell people how great it is to have a child. Don’t take a job in marketing because you’re terrible at it.

Not posting a pic of that one.

8. Minutiae updates. Oh you changed a diaper and it was gross? How nice. Double points if it has a related hash tag.

9. The simple reality that not everything needs to be shared online. What validation are you looking for, and why is it important that you have an audience for your life? Your life is valid, so just go live it.

So to answer the question of ‘why’ we didn’t make our child a public, drawn-out affair, it was because years of seeing it shared in real time online made us sick of the entire narrative. We wanted to try to have this experience without making it public. Most importantly, we wanted the child to enjoy the same, offline early childhood that we enjoyed, and to respect his right to privacy in the coming years.

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Update: I wrote this post a while ago but didn’t share it. Since I’ve written it, I have noticed that there are a lot less ultrasound photos, pics of babies with food on their faces, and general updates that no one really cares about. Perhaps people have become more conscious about what they post on social media now. Or perhaps I’ve just blocked them all from my news feed.

Image sources:

1. http://i.huffpost.com/gen/3850838/thumbs/o-CREEPY-ULTRASOUND-570.jpg?3
2. http://www.myfolsom.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/mariakang_kids.jpg
3.http://p.fod4.com/p/media/6ef622fd23/owsc6D4nQfeGrCMCqY2E_george%20bush%20mission%20accomplished.jpg
4. https://tribzap2it.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/amber-rose-pregnant-belly.jpg
5. http://tech4kids.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/1.jpg
6. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/news/2016/09/14/FJXC64-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqZgEkZX3M936N5BQK4Va8RWtT0gK_6EfZT336f62EI5U.jpg
 
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Posted by on March 23, 2020 in Life Abroad

 

Prague, Czech Republic

Note: due to the amount of photos on this page, it might take a minute or two to load (depending on your connection speed.) Of course I hold the copyright to these images and you shouldn’t use them without permission. Also, if you’re religious and easily get offended, back away now.

Everyone has either been to Prague, or is currently still in it. There is no down season for tourism there. You can select the crappiest time of year to go and there will still be hordes of people trying to get that selfie in front of Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge so they can show their friends “LOOK, I WAS THERE”. There is no winning. You will be drowned by the hordes.

Unless you’re an early riser.

We live in Warsaw now. (I haven’t written about that yet, because I want to get a fair sense of the city before I do from a ‘living there’ point of view.) This was our first chance to travel outward, and so we chose Prague because I had never been there and I’ve only ever heard good things about it. Mostly about the beer. So in our ongoing pursuit to be more eco-conscious, we booked the train, a 9-hour journey from Warsaw. We bought first class. We were going to live it up sipping champagne and laughing about how fabulous we are all the way to Prague. That didn’t happen.

It turns out first class on the Polish train system means you get… I’m not sure what you get for that. Second class was a bunch of slightly shoddier compartments, but at least they had compartments and were semi-private (even if they smelled a bit like cattle cars). In hindsight, I can’t actually pinpoint in any way why first class was better than second class, so if you ever go this route, save your money. There was no champagne. There wasn’t even a food car on the way back – for the nine hour journey we were able to buy a bag of potato chips from a cart. This was confusing because on the way down we’d had full meals in the restaurant car. I guess it’s karma that we expected to go down by train to Bohemia in first class and be totally awesome wayfarers, only to end up eating a bag of potato chips and drinking instant coffee (instant!) on the way back. It would be annoying if it wasn’t funny.

So we went to Prague and we stayed at the Four Trees which ended up being amazing. They advertise themselves as eco-friendly accommodation, and you can read more about that here. As one would hope, the bed was incredibly comfortable and the location was close to everything. There was a kitchenette with plates, cookware and silverware too, which is handy. I’m not getting anything for saying these things, it was just a very nice stay.

As expected, the city was rammed with tourists. I had been hoping that the cooling weather would keep some people away, but it didn’t seem to have an affect on anyone’s travel plans. Any place that can be instagrammed is crammed with people, and the craziest of all was the Old Town Square. It was stupid busy, especially at that astrological clock that people obsess over. I soon tried to avoid that town square but I always seemed to end up there when trying to get from one point to another.

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You’ll see a lot of this in any part of the old city.

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This is what they’re all going mental about. Sometimes those little figures move.

Prague Castle

I get that if your’e going to go to Prague that you’re probably going to want to go to the castle. Unless you are really dying to, I would say just don’t.

I’m not bothered by the incline to get up there, unless it’s for nothing. The first day we went, I bought tickets to get into some of the sites. We visited St. Vitus Cathedral and the Golden Lane, but the Palace was closed. They didn’t mention that when I bought the ticket. There was actually more they didn’t mention, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The cathedral was packed, but not so much beyond the paid ticket area where you are treated to the spoils of Christian iconography. The architecture is the most impressive feature of all (which is viewed for free), though I couldn’t help but feel I saw a very similar cathedral in Cologne, Germany (which is *ahem* free).

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You see that group of people… they didn’t have to pay to stand where they are standing.

I’m going to be totally honest. Walking through that church was one part awesome, and a lot of parts ridiculous. I still can’t get over the amount of wealth the church holds, and how it’s flaunted as though it was ordained by God. I wondered how much historical wealth was taken to build these places, and who exactly had to make the sacrifices to ensure the church got as wealthy as it has.

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We got to the Golden Lane (a row of tiny historical houses) and were told we had five minutes to see it. It was 3:20 in the afternoon. We didn’t think anything of it and went in and could barely see anything through the hordes of people before we were told we had to leave. The tickets were good for two days, so I thought I would come back early the next day to get a proper look.

Nope.

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This is what I managed to see in the five minutes they gave us.

I got up early and hustled up the hill to the castle, only to be told upon my arrival that my ticket was good for one entry. The ticket itself was good for two days, but you only get to see each site once. I had paid for three sites, but only got to see two. (Don’t forget the Palace was closed for uncertain reasons). I went back to the ticket office and asked why the ticket is good for two days if it’s only valid for one visit. I also explained how I was hustled through the Golden Lane in five minutes the day before, and was quickly moved out before I could see anything. The ticket attendance took my ticket and looked on his computer. “You went into the cathedral at ___ time yesterday”. He was correct, I went into the cathedral for twenty minutes. “You entered the Golden Lane at 3:20 yesterday” Correct again. Five minutes later they told us we had to leave because closing time was 3:30. He used the computer to validate what I’d already told him, so he could shrug and say  “you can only enter once.”

I asked “why doesn’t it say it on the ticket?” He said “it’s posted everywhere.” It in fact was not posted anywhere on the grounds except for the ticket counter, where none of these details were explained. They want to sell you a ticket quickly and get you out of the line. (The signage at the site was actually non-existent otherwise).  So I said to the happy clerk “the ticket is what I am carrying around with me. It says it’s good for two days and nowhere does it say that it’s for a single admission to these areas. This information would have been helpful on the ticket.” He shrugged apathetically as you might expect someone who works in customer service to do.

So I was kind of pissed off that I had just hustled an hour across town and up the hill at a pace to find out that I was out of luck. I guess that’s how they manage the throngs of people that go through there every day, but in hindsight, I can’t see how any of this was worth the money. It was a total grab on their part. 10 euros to see very little, and you’re stuck in there with thousands of other tourists. So if you must see the castle, go early. However my recommendation is don’t bother. The best view is from across the river. The staff is unhelpful (borderline rude) and your money doesn’t show you much of anything that you can’t see on the grounds for free outside of a gate anyway. The cathedral is accessible for free, and all you are paying for is to witness the excess the church has hidden in its corners. I left feeling pretty gross about it. Clearly they are not short of wealth, and there I was, paying to observe it. Live and learn. Make your own decision but I’m going to go ahead and call it a tourist trap.

Food and Drink

I’m more of the ‘drink’ of the ‘food and drink’ kind of guy, though in recent years my wife has had an effect on me and I’m starting to look at what I eat before I inhale it. She hasn’t quite convinced me why a giant plate is necessary for a sprinkle of food, but I guess I’m getting there. I do enjoy good spirits, however. Not in great volume, but like food, it’s about quality over quantity (isn’t it?)

I’m also a huge fan of art deco, so I was mainly searching for places that met both of these aesthetics. I went on the recommendations of a colleague, and of course “the Google”. Here’s what we came up with:

Café Imperial

Just around the corner from where we stayed. Definitely worth checking out, though I felt a bit blinded by all of the ceramic. When the Nazis occupied, they claimed this hangout as their own. We had breakfast, which was great.

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Café Slavia

If you leave the madness of Charles Bridge behind and head south along the river, you will be rewarded by finding Café Slavia, this place has a great art deco diner feel to it. Apparently it was a little fancier than my first impression – the food took quite some time but when it came it was top notch. Highly recommended.

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I figured I should try the absinthe while in the Czech Republic. The server heated the sugar to caramelise it, then put it into the drink. This stuff is strong at 80%. Watered down it’s much nicer.

Francouzska restaurant Art Nouveau

We walked by this place a dozen times before I realized I should go inside. What a mistake it was to not go sooner. I found the decor to be the most impressive on the trip (the only place that I think could top it is Café Central in Vienna). I didn’t eat here but enjoyed a nice dram. Not at all a busy place, and absolutely worth the visit. The decor is stunning.

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Café Louvre

We went here for lunch but it was overcrowded. We took a pass until next time. Clearly they’re doing something right.

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Grande Café Orient (House of the Black Madonna)

A great diner/café at the first floor of the Cubist Museum. Nice place if not a bit pricey (it’s right in tourist central). I would recommend a coffee and one of their beautiful desserts.

No images of the interior, but check out this sweet dessert:

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and otherwise:

U Fleků

Traditional Czech restaurant. Charming place, a bit loud when the place is full. I’m pretty sure we didn’t ask for that second beer but we didn’t complain when it came either. Accordionists floating around the room, murals on the walls… don’t kill me for saying it but it reminded me a bit of Bavaria. Same region! Just as lovely.

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Las Adelitas

This place is also in tourist central but damn it was good. There seemed to be mostly Mexican people on staff (because it’s a Mexican restaurant), and everything we ordered was perfect. I found myself thinking about it still the next day. This place is the real deal and the frozen margaritas are legit.

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Radost FX

Fun interior. Made me want to play a French Funk House set on a Saturday night. Lunch special was great (if not a bit slow – they weren’t even that busy) and the decor was somewhere between David Lynch and John Waters. Apparently there’s a club but I didn’t see that.

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Bro.

It would only be fair to mention the place where I snuck away at night to work on my novel. The Banker’s Bar had very nice and helpful staff, and a great selection of whisky. Not busy. (I didn’t take any images, I was there to write).

Photos

I get that everyone has seen a million photos of Prague. My wife asked me “why are you taking photos of this stuff? Everyone has seen these before”. Because they’re MY photos! I wasn’t just going to go to Prague and not take the photo. At least I didn’t stick my stupid face in front of Prague Castle so I could say “LOOK I WAS THERE IT’S MY FACE AND THAT’S THE CASTLE.”

Anyway here’s the pics.

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A lot of people hate the communist-era TV tower in the background because it clashes with the look of the skyline, but just look at it. It’s a slice of dystopian dreamscape.

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There it is, Charles Bridge. Might as well photograph the damned thing. Five times.

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Trdlo. Delicious cinnamon roll.

Some images from the Cubist Museum at the House of the Black Madonna:

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Admittedly we weren’t quite sure what this was supposed to work out…

Final Word

DAMMIT I WISH I HAD WENT TO PRAGUE TWENTY YEARS AGO. (Or even just after 1989 revolution). I can only imagine what it might have been like then. Now it’s overrun by group tours and pub crawls, so you know how that goes. But the city is so damned beautiful it is still worth it. I recommend that if you go, spend one day doing the same things everyone else is doing. The Old Town Square, the clock everyone obsesses over, the castle (only if you must but good luck not getting clotheslined by a selfie stick.) It’s nice but the hordes really make it less enjoyable. The city has enough that if you just wander away from where everyone is standing, you’re going to find many incredible things. Burn your Lonely Planet book, everyone is reading that and doing the same damned things. Get lost. Wander. Step into restaurants and bars that look interesting. They are and no one will be in them. Walk south along the river away from Charles Bridge. You’ll find things.

If you want to see the popular sites, get up early (before dawn) and go there. You’ll enjoy the square, the bridges, the streets almost nearly to yourself. It feels like a much different city, and is definitely more enjoyable.

Touristy Prague at night (when it’s easier to blur the hordes).

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Oh look, a perfectly lovely place and it’s empty.

And in the early morning hours, when you should really see Prague. I didn’t take many images then, as I was trying to just see as much as possible.

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Posted by on November 2, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

A Good-bye to Dar es Salaam

“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”
-Thomas Fuller

The wheelbarrow was filled with scattered papers of all sizes. I lit a match and threw it to the upper right corner. I lit a second and threw it to the lower left. The small orange flames caught the edges of various receipts and spread quickly, curling and browning the corners of the last three years of our lives. A faded receipt from the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club folded over to reveal a car rental receipt from South Africa. With the metal handle of a rusted rake I stirred the mess of papers to ensure more caught the flame. Receipts for bank withdrawals, luku (electricity) and groceries caught the spreading flame and browned, then blackened. I watched the last three years of our lives burn away and with it, all of the frustrations I had accumulated since arriving there. Overhead, the crows who had come to know me as their adversary cawed and told their brethren of my presence. The multitude of their cries no longer frustrated me and no longer reminded of the raw garbage strewn about beyond our gate. I was letting go of it all.

I looked up to smile at the flying pests and watched the smoke from the wheelbarrow waft into the branches of the palm and acacia trees that lined the property. Through their leaves the sun poured down, their separated rays defined by the smoke that rose through. With the smoke, my troubles were carried away.

When the burning was done, a breeze came and swirled the ash away over the dirt ground. I looked to my left behind the garbage bins. I once saw the tail of a green mamba disappear behind these bins, but nothing was there then except some chopped bits of bamboo that grew aggressively in a corner of the property and had to be cut back from time to time.

For the first time in a long time, I felt peace.

Three years of working in Dar es Salaam taught me a lot about neo-colonialism. Living in a house with an electrified fence and guards at the gate was standard. Watching certain elderly South Africans point and scream at Tanzanians like they were imbeciles wasn’t an everyday occurrence, but it was common enough to notice the consistency. Working in an environment where parents and children were accustomed to having others do things for them created an entitled mentality that spilled into the school culture.

On a more positive note, the Tanzanian people were some of the kindest and warmest people I have met in my travels. It wasn’t always easy to get things done efficiently or well, but you adapt to that or you don’t. Many of the expats I met have been in Tanzania for many, many years, and seem perfectly happy with the laid-back attitude that prevails. Some were just lazy fools without standards. Roads sometimes get repaired. Groceries sometimes get stocked. Mail sometimes makes it through the system and to your hands. Unfortunately, I am too used to my comforts and found that these things were not consistent enough for me. The container bars and trash that built up outside of our gate became too much, and despite the ridiculously high amount of taxes we paid for the pleasure of living there, the manager of our property and local politicians refused to do anything about it. We were given an ultimatum – “if you don’t like it, leave.” Eventually, all of these things added up to too much and we decided it was time to try something new. Perhaps with our expectation of standards we were also neo-colonialists. Perhaps we just never belonged there.

So now as I sit in a cafe in Germany I look forward to our new life. No malaria, no dengue fever. Parks, sidewalks, modern transportation systems. I guess after three years I realize that I am not as laid-back as those who can stay for twenty years. And I’m fine with that.

And to be totally honest, the beer is way better here.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

A final set at the DYC

For the past three years I have been playing a semi-monthly gig at the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club. Watching the sun set over the bay while playing a variation of chill music was a great way to unwind from other stresses. It is one of my favourite memories of living here.

Now we are moving on and I’m not sure I’ll pursue DJing further at this point, as my other interests are also very time consuming and one is forced to make these kinds of choices in their mortality.

This set was recorded live on May 31, 2019.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2019 in Life Abroad