to Atlanta

John and I will be travelling to Atlanta on Monday, where we will spend approximately 6 days visiting various members of John's family and our friend Mike, who formerly resided in Chicago. This will be our first trip to Atlanta since we visited the city in October/November 2010.

We're likely to visit these sites:
The Delta Museum
Martin Luther King, Jr National Historic Site
Georgia Aquarium

We plan to dine at these locations:
Mary Mac's
Barbecue Kitchen

And I'll likely browse the shelves at Bound to Be Read Books east of downtown. :)

Indy & the Super Bowl

Indianapolis is receiving a lot of media attention this weekend as the Super Bowl will take place in the city's Lucas Oil Stadium tomorrow. This facility, which is grotesquely out-of-scale with its immediate surroundings, was primarily financed by the state of Indiana and local governments through the sale of bonds, sales tax increases, and the sale of Colts licence plates. The $620 million government contribution (out of a $720 million dollar construction total) could have easily financed a number of other projects which would have been better public investments, such as a starter light rail system, commuter train service between downtown Indy and several suburbs, the redevelopment of historic but financially-troubled inner city neighbourhoods, and additional facilities for IUPUI (the city's main public university).

I imagine that this backstory will be far from the public consciousness during the game and halftime show tomorrow, but I hope that the city and state will make better choices in the future.

2011: Reading review

I read 75 books in 2011. Of this total, 16 books were penned by Canadian authors, 27 were works of fiction, and 10 were published by university presses.

I've never read that many books in a single year, and I hope to match that total this year. One of my bookcase shelves is reserved for books that I have bought but have not yet read. This shelf includes 5 university press books and an unusually large group of essay collections. It also includes a large number of titles published by small presses, such as Gaspereau, Dundurn, Talon Books, and Anvil Press (all headquartered in Canada) and Magnus Books, Greywolf Press, and Sarabande Books (from the United States).

Perhaps someday I'll be an author too. ;)

post-holiday thoughts

The holidays are over and I’m back to my normal work “routine”. But I’d still like to post a few thoughts about the season…
*****

I wouldn’t object to the abolition of Christmas and Boxing Week sales. Instead of selling products for a “regular” price for most of the year and then selling them at a “steeply discounted” price in December, why not simply sell items at the same price, perhaps at a slight discount, all year long? There could be some obvious exceptions to this rule (especially for discontinued/obsolete items that need to be ‘cleared out’) but, in general, I suspect many people would welcome the opportunity to shop for things at any time of the year without worrying about whether or not they are receiving the best price from a retailer.

Several local stores have a “no sales” policy and I am happy to support them (in fact, the majority of the Christmas gifts I bought last month were purchased from stores with these policies).

*****

I was disturbed to discover that mainstream American news organizations were reporting on the American Family Association’s recent efforts to cajole various retailers into incorporating the word “Christmas” into their advertising campaigns. The group is opposed to the use of more inclusive sentiments like “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings”.

Unlike the AFA, I support the use of terms like “holidays”, especially because I am well aware of the fact that not everyone celebrates Christmas. While I understand that my position is not universally acknowledged, any coverage of the issue- including coverage of views opposing my own- should probably refrain from soliciting the opinions of hate groups. The AFA has been considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a leading civil rights organization, since 2005, and I don’t think that hate groups should be granted legitimacy by seeking their opinions.

I assume that, on a deeper level, the AFA wants retailers to use the word “Christmas” for religious reasons. But that would be highly ironic as the practice of giving gifts at Christmas is actually secular in nature and it originated in the 19th century as a non-religious custom to accompany the religious holiday.

SA trip

I almost missed my flight to Dallas last week when I woke up just over one hour prior to my departure. Miraculously, my friend David delivered me to the Vancouver International Airport 35 minutes before departure; despite initial scepticism from the ticket agent (who reluctantly handed me a boarding card that did not guarantee a seat on the flight) I made it to the gate 20 minutes before departure and picked up my actual boarding pass.

Despite my fatigue, I worked my way through most of Jonathan Franzen’s collection of autobiographical essays (The Discomfort Zone). I briefly flipped through the airline’s in-flight magazine, which was notable – as always- for its collection of advertisements promoting steakhouses. And I purchased a sandwich from the flight attendant; while it was decent, I couldn’t help but think of the time in 1998 when this same airline offered a complimentary hot meal to all economy-class passengers on an Indianapolis-Dallas flight, which was of significantly shorter duration. But I had a painless connection upon landing in Dallas and I was able to procure a tasty lunch and strong coffee before my flight to San Antonio.

My stay in San Antonio was primarily notable for the quality time I spent with family members and with my friends Glenna and Scott. I certainly dislike San Antonio, which features miles of featureless highways lined with strip malls, billboards, and oversized business signage. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to partake of one of the city’s positive features – excellent Mexican cuisine- but I did enjoy multiple home-cooked meals. I received thoughtful gifts, including an ‘art glass’ bear sculpture, but I also acquired a fairly nasty cold that I am still recovering from.

I enjoyed an incident-free return to BC on January 1 and I can only hope that the coming year will consist of similarly “smooth sailing”. : )

Xmas 2011

It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees...

And I don't have a river to skate away on (and the same holds true for much of the country, which is undergoing an unusually warm December).

Tonight I'm spending time with John and listening to some of my favourite old and new music (the "new" music consists of the Fleet Foxes and Destroyer; Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert CD is currently playing on the stereo). Later this evening I'll start reading Julian Barnes' novel *The Sense of an Ending*, which has an unintentionally appropriate title as the end of 2011 is approaching quickly.

I wish my friends and readers a Happy Holiday.

PS: I will be writing my next blog post in San Antonio...

Best albums of 2011

Several good albums were released this year; here are my favourites (in no particular order):

Destroyer - "Kaputt"
Paul Simon - "So Beautiful or So What"
Fleet Foxes - "Helplessness Blues"
Bon Iver - "Bon Iver"
Ron Sexsmith - "Long Player Late Bloomer"
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Belong"

back

I’ve been increasingly absent from this journal and I would like to rectify that situation with a commitment to publishing at least once per week.

In the meantime, I’d like to offer my friends the opportunity to read my new (fictional) short story, “Leaving the Office”; please let me know if you’d like to read it and I will send you a copy in Microsoft Word format.

John and I will be spending Christmas and Boxing Day in Vancouver; we don’t really “observe” Christmas amongst ourselves, so a major motivation for our trip is the opportunity to be in public spaces (like coffee shops) that will be open on Christmas Day. Long-time readers of this journal will recall that downtown Vancouver- with the exception of banks and retail stores- is largely “open” on Christmas day, owing in part to its substantial community of immigrants. Unfortunately (for me), Christmas in Victoria tends to be a quiet affair, so we’ll seek solace in the sights and sounds of the city. I’ll then depart on a flight to San Antonio on the morning of December 27 from Vancouver International Airport.

Regarding the oil sands

I don’t want this blog to be seen as an exclusively political outlet, but I feel compelled to speak out about something of vital importance. The current and ongoing development of the ‘oil sands’ in Alberta is a national disgrace for many reasons, not least of which is its massive and disproportionately large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. I strongly favour a moratorium on oil sands development until technological advances can reduce the carbon footprint involved in the extraction and conversion of this resource into crude oil. In the meantime, if a moratorium cannot be achieved, I support efforts to block construction of pipelines that would carry oil (in any form) extracted from the tar sands region of northern Alberta.

One of the loudest arguments made in favour of oil sands development is the economic spinoff produced by related activities, including the creation of well-paying jobs. While I am obviously supportive of jobs that pay a living wage, especially in the current economic climate, I do not believe that job creation trumps the moral responsibility of societies. The ending of the slave trade, the closure of factories producing chemical weapons, and recent restrictions on the sale and marketing of tobacco have all resulted in job losses, but few would argue against the moral correctness of these policy decisions. As climate change will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on humanity (the flooding of heavily populated low-lying areas, decreased agricultural productivity in certain areas, etc.), our government should respond in the only ethical way: enacting policies to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the country, which can only be achieved via restrictions on oil sands development.

More information about this issue is available from the David Suzuki foundation:
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/climate-blog/2011/09/no-to-tar-sands-yes-to-hope/

I support OWS

Vancouver's Adbusters Foundation, which publishes Adbusters, is arguably one of the most influential Canadian publishers in the U.S. market. Though produced here, 60% of the magazine's sales are in the United States, which is an impressive feat; the only Canadian publisher with greater penetration is Harlequin Enterprises, which relies on American readers for 90% of its romance fiction sales. But the Adbusters Foundation arguably weilds greater influence, and it has now secured a place in history as the progenitor of the Occupy Wall Street movement with its famous photograph of a dancer atop the Charging Bull that accompanied a call to protest.

Like many Americans and Canadians, I also support the Occupy Wall Street movement. I am strongly opposed to growing income inequality, which has allowed the top 1% of the American population to control 40% (or more) of the country's wealth (income inequality, while much lower in Canada, is growing at a fast rate and needs to be addressed too). Income inequality should be addressed through increases in estate taxes and policy changes which favour wealth redistribution.

And I am strongly in favour of reforming the U.S. corporate system in the following ways:

* Increased regulation of all corporations doing business in the US in areas including (but not limited to) executive compensation, public accountablity (especially for companies that receive government contracts or taxpayer-financed bailouts), worker treatment (including the right to paid time off), and environmental stewardship;
* An end to the favoured legal status that entitles corporations to be treated as persons;
* Greater protections for unions and collective bargaining rights;
* An imposition of an Alternative Minimum Tax for corporations (many U.S. companies pay little or no income tax); and
* The nationalization of certain companies and/or industries in instances where nationalization would serve the public interest.

These proposals do not call for the elimination of corporations but they do envision much tighter control of these entities to ensure that they serve society (one could easily argue that U.S. society, in its current state, serves corporations). The wealth generated by the private sector should be taxed to provide the financial resources necessary to fund the programs associated with a social democratic paradigm (health care, retirement pensions, child care, etc.).

Large corporations have a pervasive presence in modern life; a small example is the fact that I am writing this on a Hewlett Packard computer running software made by Microsoft that can be viewed in a browser developed by Google, and you might have read about this short essay on Facebook (where the link may have been displayed alongside an advertisement for a major international bank). Corporations obviously have a place in modern life, but some of the issues raised by the OWS protesters are aggrivated by the fact these large organizations occupy an enormous place in American society. So I think it is important for the non-corporate sector to be supported as a 'counterweight'; this sector (broadly) includes non-profit organizations, public sector organizations, small businesses, and cooperatively-owned enterprises.