Thursday, February 16, 2006

Quote of the Day

From a skit on The Daily Show:

"The vice president is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Whittington. According to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the bush."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Saturday, February 11, 2006

State of the Groundhog Union

From long-time reader Elizabeth....

This year both Groundhog Day & the State of the Union Address fell within 32 hours of each other. It was an ironic juxtaposition: One involved a meaningless ritual in which we looked to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication, and the other involved a groundhog.

Conversation Cafe

I work at UVic--in Undergraduate Admissions & Records which recently hired a new Administrative Registrar and a woman to boot. Our new "leader" is trying to be innovative with allowing staff to contribute to the overall running of what we call the OAR (Office of the Administrative Registrar). We talk in code at UVic alot. Anyway the first Conversation Cafe is about being a great boss and what makes a great boss. There are two sessions -- Feb 7 and Feb 16; I'm scheduled for the Feb 16 one and since I don't like going in cold I've been doing a bit of research. And then it occurred to me with the Harper latest fiasco and being off to a bad start that what I'm reading applies to him as well. Here is how to be a great boss (the following doesn't not include all great boss points):

Definitely Define -- know where you are going, you team also needs to know where they are and where they are going. Your mission and goals should always be clear to all your team members. If you team doesn't know where they are or where they are going how can they get anywhere?

Be a True Leader -- leading people does not mean telling them what to do. Guiding them, helping them and teaching your team and setting an example to follow are part of being a leader. You must be a positive role model and practice what you preach, otherwise the quality of your team's work as individuals and consequently that of the team will suffer not to mention your credibility.

Motivation -- this is one of the hardest tasks but one of the most important. Motivation is key when it comes to the quality of work and dedication. Pay attention to what uniquely motivates different people. Recognition, praise on a job well done, promotions, increase in responsibilities and financial incentives are also very important.

Hmmm....well Mr. Harper you've obviously been brushing up on the motivation side of being a leader. Credibility is starting to suffer though.

I'm getting ready to vote again.....

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Irony: It's a Difficult Concept

(Bugs Bunny vs. Bush ... that's one fight I'd like to see!)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dry Run

My daughter Lila's cat, Shadow is dying. You might think that this shouldn't have that great an impact on me, but for the last five years Paula and I have been the primary caregivers for this animal. We kind of knew this would happen when Lila got the cat some fourteen years ago, so it hasn't been a surprise, but nonetheless, now that the cat is dying the primary responsibility for decisions about its care has fallen on us.
Shadow was born in Victoria, but truly only came into her own with the move to the farm over a decade ago. Paula very quickly gave her the sobriquet “Danger Cat,” which seemed quite suitable if you watched her prowl the acreage giving full rein to her desire to hunt. She chased down gophers (Richardson's Ground Squirrels), hunted birds both on the ground and in the Manitoba maple trees and poplars that ring our farm. She slaughtered untold numbers of mice (the past few years leaving nothing but noses behind to mark their passing) and on at least two occasions took on full-grown weasels. She survived coyotes—mostly by learning to climb metal siding with nothing but claws and fear—and quite sensibly left the badger,deer and moose alone. Though to look at her, you know she thought about what it would be like to bring a large ungulate down....

When Lila moved out, quite naturally she moved into an apartment complex that didn't allow pets. We didn't mind too much. Shadow was far too effective at rodent control to really have been happy living inside a bachelor suite 24/7.
When she and I left the farm last winter, she was very upset with me. The weather turned awful as we drove into a blizzard with wind chill of -40°C (or F, for that matter), and when we washed up for a couple of weeks in Nelson, Monica's house not only had another cat, but also a dog that lived indoors. Shadow thought that I was doing all this to torment her. But when she finally could go outside and explore the barn, even though there was snow everywhere, she was emotionally ready to forgive me for the trip. Particularly since it was beginning to look like she was going to be able to co-exist with Monica's dog.
So when I uprooted her again and we drove out to the coast, she was seriously pissed. She'd lived in one place for over a decade, and here I'd moved her twice in less than a month. When we got out of the car and she found not only that I'd brought her to Paula (good, she at least is familiar), but also seemed to somehow have discovered the doorway into spring (Victoria in February is most certainly not -40°C...or even the -10°C of Nelson), she was much quicker to forgive me for uprooting her.
She mellowed into a Victoria lifestyle quite quickly. When she discovered the cat door, she knew she could live here. Her home territory had shrunk—the yard isn't anywhere near as big as the farm, but then raccoons aren't quite as big a problem as coyotes either. And there were two other adults who really didn't mind being cat toys either, so that was good. So Shadow seemed to slip into retirement with grace and an attitude that involved sleeping 22 hours a day—much like the rest of the retirement community in Victoria.
But two weeks ago we noticed that she was drooling a little bit and that the shape of her face had changed slightly. When we finally convinced her to open her mouth, we discovered that she was in fact missing one of her big teeth. Paula took her to the vet a couple of days later to ensure that there was no problem with infection, and the vet told her that Shadow had a very fast-growing cancer in her jawbone. The only question was whether the cancer was the fast-growing one or the really fast-growing one. It was not really a question that needed answering—either way it was going to kill her—so it wasn't answered. And a couple of days back, she lost another tooth, so even if it's not the really fast-growing one, it's growing plenty fast for her.
A couple of months ago when John told me his cat was ill, I mentioned that on the farm we had a very inexpensive .22 calibre solution for sick animals. He—quite rightly—suggested that I'd been on the farm too long.
But our family knew right from the beginning that vet bills were something we weren't going to be saddled with; there was an upper limit and it was very low. Thankfully my sister-in-law being a small-animal vet helped keep visits to a minimum. She would answer questions and do quick exams to let us know if there was anything to be worried about. And there never was. Shadow has been a most healthy cat, with the occasional incident of mouse-bait-eating excepted.
The vet question is still moot—Shadow has just now exceeded what we had set as her upper level of health care benefits, and we know that the cancer is 100% guaranteed fatal, so there is no point in medical intervention.
The question now is only when does she die. Euthanasia is not an option in this case, but a necessity. Shadow has difficulty eating and is losing both fur and weight. And better a day early than a day late.
But we don't want to impose the final solution too early. Lila is planing to come out mid-month—not just to visit the cat, but relatives and parents and such as well. Will Shadow be in reasonable shape in ten days? Are we pushing to extend her life for our emotional ends? Shadow doesn't appear to either us or the vet to be in any great pain, except perhaps immediately after eating. But she's been shifted from her normal hard, crunchy cat food over to meat paté (which she doesn't seem to like as much as the old crappy food. Or maybe it's just that the new food hurts to eat also). You can stroke her neck and chin, including the tumour, without causing her any distress. All she wants is to curl up someplace warm and sleep—and if that warm place is on or next to you, so much the better. And so far her breathing doesn't seem to be affected, so we let her carry on. But she isn't consuming enough calories, so she gets thinner and weaker every day, and we go through the dry run of decision-making for when our parents, children, or friends will rely on us to make the same decision for them: when is enough actually enough?
With people it can be easier; my mother remained lucid up to the end, and so could decide for herself when enough was enough. But Shadow can't talk, so the ethics of it, the hard decision of it rests completely with us. Hit by a car? Easy. Get a chunk of firewood and the cat is out of its misery. But this uncertainty, the indefiniteness of it is what is hard. Lila is happy to leave the problem in our laps (often quite literally). So I throw her questions like “what do we do with her body?” Mass cremation/disposal? Individual cremation? Or do we just freeze her and send her out to Lila's freezer to wait for the ground on the farm to thaw enough to bury her there? (Yeah, that one didn't go over too well. “I don't think that's the way I want to do it” was the polite answer). Bury her in Victoria? It was where she was born, but, like people, is it where her roots are? Where do we want to think of the cat being? Because, after all, most of this is about the survivors. So I get my daughter thinking about the questions that one day will have to be answered about me, that I have to answer about my parents, and I look at a cat we've loved slowly decline, preparing to go off and hunt the Great Perhaps.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

With his first act as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper demonstrated that he can play the political game as well as anyone, and his high-minded campaign of integrity, honest government and accountably were as worthless as Chretien's promise to remove the GST.
In other words, he said anything to be elected, and now that's he won, the real Harper agenda will now be revealed.

First, MP David Emerson, re-elected a scant two weeks ago as a Liberal, crossed the floor to join the Conservative cabinet as the Minister of International Trade, with responsibilities for the Vancouver Olympics. Emerson, who had vowed on election night to become the new prime minister's "worst nightmare", does not understand what the fuss is about. His Conservative opponent finished a distant third in his riding; clearly his constituents what wanted a Liberal representing them.
And after all the Tory's boo-hooing when Belinda Stronach crossed the floor, and the cries of anger and outrage when the Liberals were apparently caught trolling for other Tory MPs in the last house, one would have thought Harper would heeded the calls from his party and enacted legislation requiring members that cross the floor to win their seats back in a by-election, rather than trolling for Liberals who value bigger pay cheques over serving their constituents. And he want after a Liberal! You remember them, those corrupt and decadent crooks that Harper just spent the last eight weeks telling us we couldn't trust.

Harper also appointed Michael Fortier to the position of Minister of Public Works and government Services. Fortier was the Conservative campaign co-chair in 2004 and 2006, and co-chair of Harper's leadership campaign in 2006. He lost a bid for the Conservative leadership in the 1990s, and lost a bid to win a seat in the 2000 federal election. While the PM has the right to name anyone he wants to cabinet, traditionally it has been a sitting MP, and if the person chosen is not an MP (as in Fortier's case), the new cabinet member usually runs in a by-election at the earliest opportunity. This will not happen this time; Fortier is being appointed to the Senate, where he will sit until the next election, when he will run.
In other words, Harper's first political appointee is a Conservative party hack who will sit in the Senate and Cabinet. Patronage lives! Worse, Fortier won't have to take questions in The House because he's not a member -- so much for accountability!
And finally, Stockwell Day was given the Public Safety portfolio. While giving Day any form of responsibility is a disaster waiting to happen, surely Day would have preferred some sort of Recreation portfolio. He's clearly a man who loves water sports.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Face of Fear

This week one of the young ladies, hired to be as assistant to my Admissions area at UVic, drew the alien face--the one we all know--the one with blue eyes that light up that I gave to Karl Johanson as a gift--and promplty told me this scares her alot. My reply was "That's the face of terrorism from space." Now its something both of us had never considered....but its true! And thus a conversation on the face of terrorism was launched. Only I noted that all of it was based on the face of terrorism Americans view....

For example we figured that most young people growing up in America today will consider the face of terrorism to be Arabic. How will this effect these young people as they grow into adults? Will immigration be restricted? Will there always be a feeling of not being safe around Arabics?

During the 1950s it was communists and Russians. Americans built bomb shelters and kids in school were made to practice over and over again what to do in the event of an attack. I've met Americans who now live in Canada who had fathers who went to Vietnam and were in the military. These men are afraid of Asians, one even sent me a site to purchase medication to protect me from fallout from THE bomb something he lives in fear of seeing in his lifetime. In the end I had to stop receiving his emails and going for coffee with him because his panic was starting to scare me. I hope he got some very needed help.

And on it goes....there seems to have always been some terror threating American in one form or another. Here is a nation that keeps its population in constant fear. Which then leads to my observation that Americans suffer from this fear--ever notice all the ads for antacid, headahces, stomach aches, sleepnessless and weight problems on American TV? These are all cases of stress! And the way I see it Americans are one stressed out society.

Did I make my coworker feel better -- it helped to talk. I think she realized that she doesn't have to be afraid of an invasion from space, she has to be more concerned that our neighbours to the south might buy us up more and more; that we could become more that scares me almost as much as Harper and Day.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Iceland Expedition

(Cross-posted from Kayak yak yak)

So, spent the evening yesterday (01 February) at the University of Victoria, listening to a couple present the slide how of their trip around Iceland in the summer of 2003. After receiving an unexpected invitation from another paddler, they spent five months away from their business on Orca Island—Body Boat Blade—with three of those months dedicated to the actual circumnavigation of Iceland. The talk is fascinating, believe me. From the volcanic black sand beaches to the basalt columns, from the trolls to the fjords, it is clear that they are having a hard time keeping their talk to under thirty-two hours long. The people and culture of Iceland alone seemed suitable for a(nother) book; here is a very small population (some towns they visited were as small as fourteen people) yet everyone was tightly wired together with cell phones and internet access, and surrounded by fabulous public art. But there were also what I saw as personal contradictions: heads of local kayak paddle clubs who had never been out of their home fjord being one significant example.

But the one incident that stuck out for me happened only fifteen days out. The three of them decided to paddle the worst section of the circumnavigation first—the southern coast. The south coast of Iceland is fully exposed to the major storm tracks of the North Atlantic, with steady daily winds that are regularly in the hundred kilometre/hour and up class. This builds seas that quite frankly are seriously frightening to a newbie like me. Paddling to James Island solo, I was having a bit of a time with waves that were only sixty to eighty centimetres high. Here, the seas were regularly running six to eight metres high.

Tuesday (31 January) here in Victoria we had a storm blow through that saw winds blowing 100+ km/hr, winds that snapped trees, knocked out power to 50,000 homes, and shut down ferry traffic due to high seas. Shawna and Leon went out paddling around Victoria. Just another day for paddling (their motto being; if you can walk against the wind, you can paddle against it).

But, as they said, being fifteen days out everything has shaken down, your body is responding to the increased demands of regular seven to ten hour paddles, and you're starting to think you know what you're doing. Because launches and landings are so difficult (massive surf, steep beaches), you only launch in the morning and land only in the evening unless something really important arises. Lunch, snacks, urination, all take place on the ocean.

Leon had been having a less than perfect day—he'd been taking a whizz earlier when a wave caught him and filled his cockpit. Not the end of the world, but chilling and frustrating. When a particularly large wave was approaching one or the other of them would call “wave!” and they would turn into the wave, trying to cut up the front and beat the curl over to the back of the wave. As they said, this was standard operating procedure for them. They've spent years training and practising to make this as normal as breathing.

These waves were quite steep, and when Shawna sliced up and over, the kayak almost launched off the water—only the stern stayed in the water, and the whole boat would then come crashing down flat on the back of the wave. Again, normal, everyday activity (okay, normal for them, and repeated over and over all day long). Leon was running a bit behind Shawna, and when his boat reached the apex of its climb the stern of the boat caught in the face of the wave—essentially anchoring him in place while the wave continued to move. So yes, microseconds later the boat was standing on its stern and then the fully-loaded boat was falling backwards onto Leon, burying him in the face of the wave. For me, this is beyond scary. For Leon, just another day at the office.

As he told the eighty or so of us in the audience, this is something he practises, knowing that it's going to happen frequently enough that recovery should be automatic. Except that this wave was having none of it. He began his recovery and the wave flipped him back over. And again. And again. And again. At this point, he says, he was burning for air and realized that he was would have to wet exit. As an instructor, he teaches his students not only how to safely get out of a boat, but also the safe way to be in a boat so that you can both get out of it and back into it. And, among other things, that involves not having a lot of crap in and around the cockpit. And yes, he had violated that rule, and so had a tougher time getting out, but also couldn't get back in once he'd righted himself. He had to call for help.

Shawna had turned to check up on him, but wasn't worried; Leon always rolled back upright. She says that it wasn't until he called for help that she realized what she was seeing: Leon was out of his boat. Ultimately she had to get a line on his boat and tow him out while he cleared the cockpit so that he could get back in the boat. A process that left him in the water much longer than it should have.

And then the “fight of the day” erupted. Shawna said “land and warm up.” Leon said “no.” Ultimately he lost that fight—and a good thing too. By the time they landed and got him into dry clothes, he was shaking so hard he couldn't hold a cup of tea.

But as Leon said, they had gotten cocky. One of their sponsors was Kōkatat, so they had state-of-the-art drysuits with them. But for some reason, they weren't wearing them.

So what impressed me was that here was a couple of pro paddlers who were extensively trained for exactly the conditions they were going in to, who had all the experience necessary to handle whatever the ocean would throw at them, and they still got cocky, still made a number of small errors of judgement that added up to a major problem. And even then, Leon, an experienced paddler, wanted to compound the problem by not dealing with its results. And that, my friends, is human nature.

Leon and Shawna will be reprising their presentation tonight (02 February '06) at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel in the Oak Room following a paddle club meeting. Admission will be by donation and is open to the public.