March 3, 2010

true patriot love

Posted in shit happening tagged , , , at 4:28 am by ben

The patriotism is running high here in the great not-so-white north.   From sea to shining sea we are celebrating.  We love our country and without being gauche or in your face we’ve become a nation of red and white wearing, flag wavers.  I’m really digging it.

Canada tends to be a bit like the wallflower at a high school dance.  She is content to watch others in the spotlight, she applauds the prom queen without malice or petty jealousy and she’s pretty happy to be at the party even if her dance card isn’t full.  (“Dance card” is me showing my age… not that I am quite old enough to have ever had one.) When she does dance, she doesn’t need a partner (or she can choose one of the same sex) and she bops to her own beat even if it’s not quite as popular as what the other kids are doing.  These Olympics have made her the belle of the ball, it’s given her a little taste of the limelight and I think she likes it.

The furor is over the 2010 Winter Olympics.  We had high hopes of finally winning a gold medal on home soil and instead we broke the record for the most gold medals ever won in a winter Olympics.  This is huge for Canada, though in all sincerity we’re the kind of people who take pride in effort as well as achievements.  Our athletes and all of the people involved with the games did us proud.  It’s not just about winning, we’re not the type to brag (most of us anyway) but finally we are more than just a cold weather joke.  We’ve shown the world that we have what it takes to win and throw a wicked shindig.

It’s been said that we have no culture, that because we are a melting pot we don’t really know who we are.  I disagree.  We know exactly who we are, we are everyone from everywhere.  This is why we are tolerant.  This is why we don’t discriminate.  We aren’t a melting pot, we are multicultural and there is a difference.  Melting pot infers that we all must blend into one.  The only people who have been here forever are the First Nations, the rest of us came from somewhere else.  It would be hypocritical to expect immigrants to become us when we’re not exactly living in teepees and eating pemmican ourselves.  What makes us special is that in this country blending is not necessary, we don’t just appreciate individuality we embrace it.  From one end of this land to the other are entire communities and communities within communities celebrating their culture.  Vancouver has the largest Chinatown in North America after San Francisco, the east coast is a bizarre and wonderful Celtic mix and there are little Italy’s, India’s, Poland’s, Ukraine’s etc. all over the place and my own town was founded by Swiss guides.  Our culture, our heritage is that of the immigrant.  We all strive to give our children a better life than we had, we share with our neighbors and help them out whenever they need a hand whether it’s building a barn or rebuilding Haiti.  We preach and practice compassion and a “live and let live” philosophy.  I am proud to live in a country where my freedom really means something, where my voice is heard and no religion or religious ideology (or idiocy) is forced down my throat.  I can choose my faith as I can choose to have an abortion, marry another woman and smoke weed… all at the same time if I want!

What ties us all together?  It’s a shared experience in a land where we can live free of persecution, full of hope and opportunity.

We believe that health care is a right not a privilege.  Our system (like our country and indeed those of us in it) is not without flaws but we’ll keep working on it until we get it right.  We are of hardy stock up here, perseverance is something we’ve gotten pretty good at.

Something is different in this country today, we might be walking a little taller, we might even be strutting a little, and dammit, we should be!  We rocked it, on and off the podium.  I think Canadians have always been proud of who and what we are, this whole Olympic thing just gives us a reason to shout it out.

February 16, 2010

herculean efforts

Posted in shit happening tagged , , at 5:06 am by ben

I have always been somewhat anti-Olympics.  For as long as I can remember (and at my age it’s a miracle that I can recall anything) there has been arbitrary and unfair judging, the professional vs amateur debate, bribery allegations, corruption and scandals within the IOC and numerous inconsistencies in the games themselves.  The IOC is not accountable for it’s actions and without accountability there is no justice.  If there is no fair play in the biggest competition in the world how can we expect kids to behave on the playgrounds?

My biggest beef with the Olympics is the amount of money spent on the event.  In our current financial situation we should be reserving our resources for healthcare, infrastructure (beyond the lower mainland) education and the betterment of or country in general.  The dough that’s been divvied for these games could have done some really positive things for this country.  Some would argue that hosting the Olympics are positive and that they offer us the opportunity to showcase Canada and to let the world know who we are and what we’re about.  That all sounds lovely and kumbaya and shit but I am pretty certain that the entire planet is already well aware that Canada is peaceful, gentle and polite and the only thing harsh about us is our winters… although this year ironically is quite the exception to that rule.

As of the beginning of February, the total cost of the Games, including all the improvements for the region is estimated to be about $6 billion.  About 580 million was allocated from the taxpayer budget (in a country of 33 million people) and I am not convinced that we’ll see a return but I know we’ll feel the deficit.  Projected revenues to the city and province are expected to be in the range of $10 billion.  Whether or not that comes to fruition remains to be seen.  It’s a big risk.

Was all of this spending necessary?  I think not.  The Torch relay, for example, that was intended to get the country fired up (pun intended) about the event began in Victoria and spent five days on Vancouver Island before flying to the Yukon, crossed the northern region of the country to the Atlantic coast, then proceeded west through the provinces to arrive in Vancouver for the opening ceremony.  The relay lasted 106 days and covered 45,000 km, it passed through 1,000 communities and grand celebrations were held in 200 towns and cities.  The cost of the entire trip was $30 million, with two thirds of this funded by the federal government.

The torch traveled to within 50 km of every town in the country.  Sounds nice, yes?  Necessary?  Not so much.  I will admit that when it arrived in my village we attended the event as did the majority of our populace.  It was undoubtedly the greatest turnout this town has seen for anything.  It was exciting and full of fanfare and entertainment and I couldn’t help but get sucked into the mob induced enthusiasm.  That said and upon closer scrutiny it was really little more than a smokescreen so we wouldn’t notice the real spending and an advertising opportunity for the corporate sponsors.  Maybe I am just a negative Nelly, maybe the relay did bring the country together.  If my cynicism is unjustified it wouldn’t be the first time but I couldn’t help but feel we’d been sold some colas and some banking and snowed (pun intended again) on this whole Olympic deal.

Further on the financial note I also think that some countries have taken to buying and building Olympic athletes and the purity of the sports are marred by the fact that those who can afford it get better training/coaches/facilities etc. than the countries who simply don’t have the funds.  I find it ironic that what began as a pure competition where buff, naked, young, naked men ran naked and tossed things has now become a penis measuring contest and everybody wears clothes.  And it’s all done in the name of bragging rights because a gold medal and a buck (or four at Starbucks) will buy you a cup of coffee… and for the athlete a longshot at the front of a Wheaties box.

All of my issues aside I watched the opening ceremony on Friday night.  At first I did so with the intent to mock and belittle the extravaganza but I became so engrossed and impressed that the urge to scoff left me completely.  Well, almost completely, I did think what they did to our anthem was ridiculous, I can’t stand Nelly Furtaco and I don’t think she belonged on that stage and the whole Foxy Cleopatra opera chick singing the Olympic hymn was just odd.

I have watched other Olympic ceremonies and maybe I am biased but I think this was by far the most impressive and way beyond spectacular.  Certainly it would be tough to beat the show in Beijing but at 10% of the cost I still count us as the win.  I was awed by the pageantry, impressed with the use of technology (both simple and complex) and goosebumps rose on my flesh as the whales appeared to cross the floor of the stadium.  I rolled my eyes when the poet was introduced and then had to wipe tears from them as he spoke.  Shane Koyczan captured Canada in words as eloquently as anyone could, he took our national pride to a whole new level.  So brilliant.  If you haven’t hear/seen it I highly suggest you check it out on YouTube or read the transcript.  Koyczan really does define Canada as much as one can define a country that is so diverse.

I was blown away that we had the talent and the capability to pull off something of this magnitude.  Of course there was the glitch when the forth pillar of the indoor torch stubbornly refused to rise.  Shit happens.  They made it work.  That is also the Canadian way, we deal and move on, no point crying over faulty mechanics and the inability to get it up.

Something happened after the ceremony, something I didn’t expect at all.  I got a dose of Olympic fever and now I can’t get enough of the games.  I’ve watched all of the coverage from NBC as well as the Canadian reports and I actually find myself cheering aloud… they’re 500 miles away but they hear me.  I am watching sports that I couldn’t give two shits about a week ago and I am doubly excited to see the ones I had some interest in already.  The figure skating is always worth watching no matter who wins the medals.  The other is curling, I love curling.  I know to the untrained eye it’s about as exciting as watching people throw rocks on ice but the game is far more intricate and skillful than it appears… and it helps that I am in love with the third from the Canadian team.  John Morris is my boyfriend, he just doesn’t know it yet.

I fully expect to see the Kevin Martin team take the gold.  I also guarantee that I won’t miss a single game.  If ever there was a time that we should revert to the purity of the original games that had the men competing naked, this would be it.  Then again there is that cold weather shrinkage factor to consider.  I guess the tight black pants will suffice after all.

If there is anything I would like non-Canadians to take away from watching my country, my province, I would hope they see that we truly are kind and generous hosts, that we rejoice in the effort not just the win and that there are far worse ways to be defined than as polite.

I also hope the world finally realizes we don’t live in igloos.