Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A year and a bit later

It has indeed been a while since I wrote anything of note. Not because I don't have so much to say. Not because I didn't want to. I just decided that it was better to try and live rather than write about it. 

So what have I learned? Some people are incredible at this life thing. Me, not so much. I am living life well enough. Successes, failures, trial and tribulations. Most of it is fun. I still do what I do, and I enjoy it for the most part.

Now, I am hoping to get back to writing more. Writing all kinds of things that I have somehow given up on doing. Let's see if that really happens.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Pushing our humanity to its limits

If you've followed the news recently, you have seen that picture. The picture of a beach in Turkey. Normally, beaches are things people dream of being on. I've seen pictures of people photoshopped to look like they are on an incredible beach somewhere. Not this one. You know this picture. I heard of it on the radio. I saw it on the television. It was preceded with a warning about it. About how graphic it would be. I saw it. It was a picture of a little boy, lying face down in the sand as the tide lapped his body. This boy was no longer alive. The first thing that came to my mind was of a little boy I know. He looks similar in size. I imagine this little boy liked trains too. I imagine he liked to run around and tell stories of his life and explain how amazing his drawings are or how a bad guy is coming and he is Batman and how, together (I would be Superman), we could take care of the bad guy.

That's what went through my mind.

This little boy will never speak another word. This little boy will never grow up to become a big boy. You see, when you become 1-2-3-4, you are a big boy. At 3 you are a baby, so small. At 4, you are a big boy. Strong. 

This story of this little boy made me sad.

The world is full of little boys and girls who have terrible lives. I remember seeing those little boys and girls, starving in Ethiopia, as a child. I remember being told to feel guilty that I wasn't eating all of my lunch or dinner and wasting bits of it while children in Africa starved. I felt bad about it. I used to wonder what I could do to stop children from starving in Africa so I could not feel guilty about being unable to finish my meal. I still wonder about it sometimes.

If you've watched that movie about human suffering, you will likely remember the children in it. The bit where children try to hide in the false floors in the ghettos of Warsaw, in toilets. And, in the only colour in the historical part of the movie, a little girl, in a red dress wanders through the chaos of the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto. Children. Suffering unimaginable trauma. You may also remember the child throwing stones and screaming 'Goodbye Jews'. Also a child. Going through what trauma, I don't know.

At the end of that story, we as collective humanity told ourselves never again. Not on my watch. Never again. Oskar Schindler was a special man. A flawed one, but he showed us humanity can exist in the middle of hell. I don't know that he would have been so special, had it not been for the hell he was faced with.  Oskar Schindler saved about 1200 human beings from death. They estimate about 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust. About 10% of them were children. Oskar Schindler saved 1200 human beings from that. 

I am not expecting a modern day Oskar Schindler. We are not seeing Belsen. We are not seeing Auschwitz-Birkenau. Nor Sobibor. Nor Buchenwald. Nor many of the many others whose names I don't know. A part of me never wants to know of the horrors there. A part of me wants to know everything that happened there. To understand the depths of humanity's suffering. To understand the extent of how horrible one human being can be towards another.

We are seeing a similar horror. This little boy and his family escaped Syria from who knows what kinds of horrors. This little boy's family tried to immigrate to Vancouver, failed and then decided that it made sense to hop on a rubber dinghy in Turkey to make a trip to Greece. To escape. This was escaping from hell. These people actually did this to escape. To then hopefully trek through Europe, presumably to end up somewhere where they were tolerated perhaps. Where they were safe from the hells they went through. Except, this little boy, his brother, his mother and many others did not make it. 

I feel a lot of things when I think of it. I sit here in a warm apartment, with the TV on, staring at my giant monitors so that I can write about my feelings. I have that luxury. I live in a safe place. I came from a safe place. So many others have not. But they are here now. So many more trying to come here have not made it. And this little boy, he died trying. 

I don't know what the solution to the problem is. I am not about to go join the war against crazies. I am too much of a coward. All I know is, this needs to stop. I don't know how many people have to die to make this stop. I don't want anyone to die. I wish we could just solve our problems over a nice cup of tea. But we don't. Our governments don't. They use various excuses and reasons to do various things. Democratic ones. Autocratic ones. Failing ones. Governments made up of human beings. Many who have said, not on my watch. 

So shed tears with me. Shed them for this little boy. For that little boy. For every human, small and large. Young and old. Who can no longer dream. Whose hopes have been dashed. Whose aim is to get on a rubber dinghy in exotic countries to escape to other exotic countries to escape from other human beings who have tried to kill us. Humanity is a little smaller today. If you are religious, ask your deity of choice why this boy washed up on a usually happy place, lifeless. I have tried for the past day, and I don't have an answer.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Of carpets made of flowers and mythical footsteps

As I write this, I can smell rain. You know that smell. Dig deep into your olfactory memories. It is that smell at the onset of the monsoon season. For those of you who have never experienced a real monsoon, it is that smell when rain falls on parched land. It releases that smell. I don't know if it has a word to describe it, but I know what it is. Well, my nose does. The first time I read the God of Small Things I wanted to get on a plane and go home. Arundhati Roy does a brilliant job of describing the rain and Kerala in general. That home exists only in my mind, but anyway.

In the midst of an unprecedented draught, rain is finally falling on this parched rain forest. I am so happy. Back to the story at hand. Another happy story. As a child, I would have been looking forward to the 10 or so days off at this time of the year (well, it depends on something called a sidereal solar calendar which isn't in sync with the Gregorian calendar we use). People would make these elaborate designs out of rice flour likely and add in flowers to decorate them inside their house, outside their house, wherever. 

I remember one year practising drawing a design on paper and then trying to scale that out to something much larger and failing. Drawing was never quite my forte. Onam is a festival in Kerala to celebrate various things; the rice harvest, the return of the mythical king Mahabali, a reason to get 10 days away from homework. It is something of a homecoming for Kerala's primary export, its people. I remember all kinds of people waiting for their near and dear ones to come home for Onam from Dubai or Madras or wherever they had left for. 

The school I went to used to organise competitions between the 'houses' in school. A house is a sub grouping in school. You got assigned to one and had badges and things. There were all kinds of competitions between houses. Personally, I liked the flower carpet competition. I have no idea how many flowers are used in Kerala during Onam, but suffice to say, it is serious business. Valentine's Day has nothing on it. If you browse an image sharing site like Flickr or something, you will come across some really gorgeous pieces of elaborate art work out there. There is something beautiful about these intricate designs filled up with petals of various colourful flowers. Something peaceful and joyous. 

The story of the footsteps now. The legend goes something like this. Mahabali, or Maveli as he is known in Kerala was an Asura King who seemed to adored by his subjects. Somehow this was an issue for various gods in the Hindu pantheon and they asked lord Vishnu to do something about it. Vishnu came to see him as Vamana, a brahmin boy. The king wanted to offer the brahmin boy something. Vamana asked for enough land that 3 steps or paces would take and Maveli obliged. Except Vamana could take some rather large steps. He took earth and heaven with his first two steps. And, since Maveli didn't have a whole lot left (talk about being generous!), he offered his head for the third step. Vamana stepped on him and sent him to the nether world. But before he went, he asked to be allowed to come visit his people once a year. And so people celebrate Onam to celebrate the return of Maveli. 

I can't remember the last time I was in Kerala for an Onam festival. But I want to go. One day I will see the snake boat races. That was not really a thing where I lived. I want to go see the Nehru Trophy boat race. Think of it as dragon boat racing on steroids. I want to try my hand at filling a flower carpet. And eating some really delicious food. Seriously delicious traditional Kerala food.

And, for all those times when people have asked me what we do in Kerala for Baisakhi or Deepavali... I don't really recall anything special happening. Yes, Kerala is part of India, and yes these things are Indian festivals. But not quite the same in Kerala. As Doug Allan, one of the camera guys who worked with Sir David Attenborough on various ocean related videos (Blue Earth, Frozen Planet) said, Antarctica is rather large place, so asking me what it was like to dive in 'Antarctica' is a bit silly. He was on the BBC yesterday. Kerala is a bit like that. It is part of India. But different. We celebrate the return of benevolent demon kings with flower carpets. And bursting a lot of fireworks for Vishu. I like to think we're the most special, but that's just me. Anyway, for those who celebrate, I hope there is a delicious sadya somewhere and flower carpets to admire. I best go to sleep as I have to work. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Getting back to the blog

I've said this before. Many, many, many times. I'll say it again. I intend to continue blogging at a more realistic pace than I have been in the past little while. Except, reality seems to be stretching to multiple months. 

Recently, someone from a far away land asked me if I have ever thought of blogging. That jarred me from the present reverie into getting back here. I've been blogging since October of 2005. I was fully 10 years younger then. There were no iPhones back then. I had never heard of Facebook thought it did exist as an entity. A lot has happened in those 10 years. I moved countries. I changed jobs, companies, friends. I grew up a little. Just a little, so we are clear. I bought things that I am still paying for. I made decisions that were, on the whole, not bad ones. I learned new skills. I climbed many mountains. Rode many kilometres. Walked even more. 

So, before I go too far down memory lane, listing random things that I keep in my mind, let's get back to the blog. I started this off as a way to blow off some steam, a place for me to ponder on decisions and events. I think I called it a way to find happiness. A scant number of people have read what I have written. Probably, search engine spiders have indexed this better than I have. But I want to, intend to get back to writing once more. I find it relaxing. And time consuming. I have no idea how people commit words to the screen on such a regular basis and still have time to live a somewhat normal life. I guess I need to learn how to live better.

So, thank you far-away-land person for reminding me about ye old neglected blog. Hopefully, I find time to fill it up with stories I find interesting. But first, I need to go find stories!

My thoughts on the farce that is the Duffy trial

Unless you have been living in a cave, or just chosen to be completely out of touch with the news in Canada, and you live in Canada, you will have heard of the on-going saga that is the Mike Duffy trial. Duffy faces 31 charges, some of which are pretty serious: fraudulent expenses, bribery, breach of trust etc. 

The short version of the story is, Senator Mike Duffy claimed expenses associated with travelling on partisan affairs (i.e. he was out at Conservative party election campaigns) and per diems for housing which, by most reasonable people, appear to be incorrect, if not illegal. He asked the Senate, and by extension, the tax payers to foot the bill.

His sordid housing story leads back to his appointment as a Senator from Prince Edward Island. A small detour on this. The Senate rules on housing are a bit vague. It goes something like this. If a senator owns $4000 worth of property in the province, they are deemed to be a "resident" and therefore eligible to be appointed to the Senate of Canada as a representative of the Province.  I am sure there is a bit more detail to that, but that was what Prime Minister Stephen Harper used for residency requirements when he appointed Mr. Duffy as a Senator from PEI. Canada has a provincial quota based Senate, so the Prime Minister of the day can appoint people from the appropriate Province (or Territory) to fill in the vacancies for that province. Duffy fit the hole for PEI. He owns a cottage in Cavendish, PEI. Except, owning a summer cottage that one may or may not use for a week or two a year doesn't quite pass muster as far as residency goes. It might meet the letter of the law, but I doubt anyone buys it.  Duffy spent most of the past 40 or so years in Ottawa, as a journalist in case anyone is wondering how burnished his Islander credentials are.

Back to the trial. So far, we have heard from various people in the Prime Minister's Office. The star witness for the Crown is Nigel Wright, the business man (and then chief of staff of the Prime Minister) who decided to pay back the taxpayers Duffy's inaccurate or incorrect expenses. Mr. Wright is apparently a man of good character, someone who is above reproach. And yet, inexplicably, he thought it made sense to pay off $90,000 of Mike Duffy's inappropriate expenses and casually forgot to mention to his boss, the Prime Minister that he had done so. Instead, somehow, they all cooked up this story that Duffy had taken out a mortgage on his house in Ottawa and paid off the expenses. So, Mr. Wright was doing right by the taxpayers. And participating in a lie. And somehow failing in his duty to his boss. Oh, did he mention that he didn't tell anyone else he worked with? Like his assistant Ray Novak. Who just so happens to be the Prime Minister's current chief of staff. Conveniently forgot.

The Prime Minister himself has said various contradictory statements both inside and outside the House. At first, he was surprised that someone else had paid Duffy's expenses. He had apparently told Duffy he had to pay his own bills. He was full of praise for his chief of staff for doing the right thing and selflessly ensuring the taxpayer wasn't dinged for errant mistakes made by a Senator. When no one bought that story, he accepted his chief of staff's resignation. He then blamed Nigel for lying to him. For misleading him. For deliberately hiding the truth. Bad Nigel. But he had the good sense to resign. Then Nigel was fired. Nigel didn't resign after all. You see, he was such a bad person that the PM had to fire him. So, it went from being good Nigel to bad Nigel to horrid Nigel. 

Along the way, there have been so many other people involved. Senators from the Conservative party who are a majority on various Senate committees tried to doctor independent audits to take Duffy's name out of it (he paid his bills, nothing more to see here right?), called up Deloitte and asked them to change findings in reports etc. 

The Prime Minister's legal advisor at the time, a now tenured professor at UBC, apparently disagreed with much of what Mr. Wright has said. Ben Perrin told the trial that he disagreed on Duffy meeting the residency requirements, and a whole slew of other things. But he stuck around and did the legal work to verify that the t's were crossed and i's dotted in the agreement between Duffy and Wright regarding the secret payment Wright made. And now he is free to be more honest because his livelihood does not depend on the PM. Tenure is a wonderful thing isn't it?

The Conservative party is hiding the PM's current chief of Staff on a bus or plane somewhere, and sticking to its lines: bad Duffy and horrid Nigel. The rest of the actors in and around the PMO who were emailed/cc'ed etc have an excellent defence: your honour, I-did-not-read-my-emails. Your honour, I-was-in-the-room,-but-I-was-not-paying-attention-to-the-discussions. Your honour, 'we-are-good-to-go-from-the-Prime-Minister' means-that-the-Prime-Minister-is-good-to-go-get-some-frozen-yoghurt-from-the-new-shop-down-the-street,-not-that-he-approved-the-repayment-of-Mr. Duffy's-payments-by-Nigel-Wright. Why does your honour not trust me when I say that???

At the end of the day, the case is about a bad Senator paying back the tax payer for illegal expenses he filed. R is trying to nail Duffy for illegal expenses, breach of trust etc. And, these people are Crown witnesses. The R stands for Regina in case anyone is wondering. 

I have no idea why the RCMP have not had a case against all these witnesses in addition to Duffy. The whole lot of them need to be tried, and if they still have wildly divergent stories and nonsense defences like, I-get-about-1000-emails-a-day-and-didn't-read-the-one-you-referred-to-until-2-months-later-when-shit-hit-the-fan, then we need to figure out what a way of finding them in contempt of court or of just being plain stupid. I don't know what is worse, that Duffy may  get away with trying to cheat Canadians or that the Crown is using questionably characters, liars and cheats as witnesses in the hopes of convicting a fraudulent Senator.

I hope Canadians vote in the upcoming election and that politicians, civil servants, partisan activists, whatever, at least live within the rules of the land rather than just make a mockery of our democracy, our government and our courts. I can't wait to see what the judge will find in this trial and what else the public will find out about the people they elected.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Take a bow my dear Republic

I have a fraught relationship with the country of my birth. I love it dearly. Inasmuch as one can love a country. Or rather the idea of a country. I expect better from it. Nearly every time, it lets me down. And yet, I have faith, respect and love for what is, possibly the most amazing idea on earth today. Not to put it above Alexander the Great's empire, or the British empire for that matter. Not to compare it to the Greeks or previous incarnations of a unified nation under various rulers, local, foreign (are any really foreign though?) or a mixture of something in between. No. Just the current and present form of the nation. 

You may wonder why I say that. I am biased. I have spent more time outside of that country now, than I have inside the country. I have spent more time being aware of who I am (or at least watching myself evolve into who I am today) outside of the country rather than inside. I do live in a vast country. In some ways, it is a lot more diverse than the Republic. That such different people can live here in harmony and appreciate the truly great ideas that exist here is fascinating. It is beautiful in fact. To compare this Dominion to that Republic, children of the same empire, but with very different (and traumatic) births is a bit unfair. And yet, somehow, between that Republic of my childhood and this Dominion of my semi-adulthood, I still stand in awe of that Republic.

The Republic recently went through a massive exercise. The scale of this exercise boggles the mind. I speak of course of the federal elections that took place over the past couple of months. It is so large, that they actually take weeks to conduct this activity. That a nation so large, and so diverse can undergo this exercise as a version of democracy is amazing. There is one other Republic larger than this one. It is not a democracy though. In fact, it is a one-party dictatorship. One that seems to thrive and is looked at forlornly by investors and citizens of the Republic with a bit of fondness sometimes because of its economic clout. Between the democratic Republic and the People's Republic, there is no contest. In nearly every measure, the People's Republic is better. Now, better is very much a word that can be debated. But, the fact remains that their economy is vastly better, their military larger and their population, still massive when compared to the sovereign socialist secular democratic Republic.

And yet the exercise yielded something that is so rare in this world that I am amazed that people aren't more astonished that it happens. On a regular basis. In dozens of countries on nearly every continent, thousands of people have died, perhaps misguidedly, for this holy grail of human achievement. To be allowed to choose who represents you in some form of government on a somewhat frequent basis. One large functioning government contested an election, lost to the opposition, resigned, passed over the keys of the country to the winners and went on to become the official opposition. The folks that inherited the keys are in charge of running a country with over a billion people. That is a little over one-sixth of humanity for whom some decisions are made by, at the end of the day, one man. One man. Who represents them all. I don't know that even god, in all his incarnations and versions has that many people her/she/it can lord it over. And what a diverse group of people these are.

So, my dear Republic, take a bow. Pat yourself on the back. You did good. You showed the rest of the world, where people die hoping for this opportunity that not only is it possible for a country this large, this diverse, this unstable and poor to be a democracy, it can do it beautifully. I know it won't be perfect. The path to this election likely involved a lot of violence. I am sure there was voter fraud. I am sure many people feel disenfranchised. I am sure many will give up on democracy because their person did not win, or the new government does not build them all castles made of gold as promised during the elections. 

For the most part though, this Republic accomplished something that so many others have such a hard time doing. You are surrounded by various dictatorships and feeble democracies. Kingdoms are not that far away. Absolute monarchies. Sheiks. Czars. Businesses who run countries. Die-hard dictatorships who send tanks to run over their citizenry. Or ones that drop barrels filled with shrapnel, oil and explosives onto their own citizens. In the middle of all this chaos, all this misery, you stand as a lit candle, one that is shaken by every breeze that goes by, but one that never goes away. Take a bow my dear Republic, I love thee.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Three months into cycling

I've been on a bit of a cycling kick lately. In the three months or so of constant cycling (coincidentally, that is most of Vancouver's summer), I've amassed nearly 1000km in the saddle on three different bikes. I've watched most of the highlights to the grand Tour, and find myself looking up broadcast schedules for the Vuelta which started this weekend. Along the way, I have learned a lot. The hardest bits likely were the things I had to un-learn. 

Probably the hardest of the stuff to adhere to while cycling are the rules. Some of these are funny, but most have at least a grain of truth in them. For years, I thought people who wore spandex and rode their bikes around were, well, similar to what Clarkson calls Audi drivers. Turns out, they are onto something. Ride on your saddle for a couple of hours without those things and try it with them and you will see the difference. They are vastly more comfortable than anything else you could ride in. The same goes for jerseys. I've fixed a couple of flats, got some painful blisters in the process and over all, cannot believe how much fun it is.

Cycling, like my winter sport of choice (skiing), isn't without its expenses. I bought a bike, a fair bit of clothing and gear. I've found a lot of gear online, my favourite retailers being Wiggle and ProBikeKit. They both ship to Canada (usually free at a certain price point), they both charge in Canadian dollars and for the most part, the stuff they sell is a fair bit cheaper than the local cycle shops. I would love to buy more stuff locally, but when you charge me 3 times as much as the online store for clothing, I am not going to buy stuff from you. Having said that, my most expensive purchases have been local; like the pair of Sidis I picked up. Those are really nice shoes. Again, something I thought only idiots wore around. Once you're clipped in, and figure out how not to fall (I fell a fair number of times now, including one where I bruised my rib by slamming quite hard into the handlebar), you will do much better at riding.

What is the lesson in all of this? I suppose the lesson for me is that there were lots of things I thought were not possible. I never thought I would be comfortable riding the drops, I never thought I would be comfy in spandex and I never thought I would look forward to more riding! I'm fairly comfortable riding in traffic, though I have no idea how these guys do it in India! I don't know if it is because I am more involved in riding or if there is a sort of renaissance in the mindset of the public here, but cycling seems to be gaining more mainstream coverage in the city with new dedicated bike lanes and lots of heated debate on the pros and cons of doing so. 

If you haven't been on a saddle for a while, go ahead and get on. Get some exercise while you're at it and enjoy a fun sport. Oh, and this is my ride... say hello if you see me on the road somewhere. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A note on obsessive record keeping and its unintended consequences

On a whim, at the end of last year, I decided to keep track of what time I make it into work on a daily basis. Keeping a record of the time I walk into the door was as far as I got in terms of coming up with a resolution for the new year. The assumption there was that I would try and make it into work prior to 9am. Along the way, I decided to add the time it takes me to get to work. This gave rise to the below graph.

I am not certain what I am to take away from this. I have yet to miss keeping track of one day. I obsessively follow the same routine. I get on the elevator going down from my apartment and by the time I walk out the door, I note down the time I started at. I turn my phone's sound off, then I walk to work. About 20 minutes later, I get to work, depending on the traffic lights and the pattern I take to work. I wish desperately for there to be no line at the office elevator so I can get up as quickly as I can. Around the 9 O’Clock mark, there is a rush of people, so it takes perhaps two minutes, all told, to get up to the 17th floor. 

In that time, I stare at the little screen on the elevator which flashes the news, the weather report and the current state of airports across North America. Why, I don't quite know. Oh and it tells me what the weather is like in Calgary, Toronto, Miami and Los Angeles. The last two typically make me wish for sunshine. 

Finally, I get to the office door, swipe my card to get in and then, I can document my time. And then I go to my desk and write it down on paper for posterity. I don't know that it has made me any better at getting to work earlier though.

If you look at the graph, I have been all over the place with my arrivals. I've walked in as late as 9:27 and as early as 8:45.  On average, I think I do make it in by 9, but that's just a hunch on my part. Anyway, what is the point of all this? At the end of the day, rather than using the data to make myself more punctual, I'm enjoying just generating data.

Now, onto the next story. Well, before the next story, a side story. I'm a bit compulsive with keeping such useless records. I've done so in the past for my hikes. In that case, it has really helped. Well, in the I'd-like-to-improve-my-time sort of way. My times seem to improve towards the end of the season. This could just be because my body is in better shape as the summer but I'd like to think it is because I try harder to beat my previous best time.

So, onto that other story. I've been riding a bicycle for a long time. My co-workers are fairly serious bike riders. One of them is attempting something called the Gran Fondo, a sort of mad race up a mountain on a road bike. Gaining 1700m falls into the crazy category. Take a look for yourself. As part of his training, and because keeping records seems to be fun, he keeps meticulous records of his rides. I started to keep track of my bike rides as well. 

While I am not attempting the race (perhaps next year?), I've noticed that all this record keeping has spurred me to actually take part in more rides than I normally would do. Today for example, I rode up a decent hill for over 2k just so I could get data for next time. While it was no hors cat├ęgorie, I was spurred on by the fact that I could try beating my current best (and single) time on that hill. 

I have a Garmin device that aids me in this endeavour. While strictly not a cycle computer, it gives me a few good data points to track my progress on these tracks. I use a service called Strava to keep track of my rides and I have to say, they make getting these achievements fun. If I do a good ride and I hit some personal records, I am very happy. I have yet to achieve any global records, but one of these days, I hope to break into the top 10 of something. I've gone from barely biking to biking almost every other day. And Strava helps by showing you how badly you are doing compared to others (or yourself in the past). I find it motivating.

The take away here is that sometimes, keeping records can help spur you to improve whatever it is you are doing. As my little garmin device ticks away, I am looking forward to getting in another ride tomorrow, thereby completing my goal of riding 100k in 10 days. Mind you, there seems something wrong with my bike, so who knows whether I will make it by tomorrow. Wish me luck.

About Me

I'm a transplanted Vancouverite that has found his way back home. And I couldn't be happier.