Saturday, October 24, 2015

Beneath the Willow Trees and Beside the Hill



Update: 
October 24, 2015

I am unable to attend the memorial for Riaz out in B.C. (if you knew him, please sign the guest book), so I decided to go back to the spot that inspired the poem and do a reading of it. Afterwards, I nailed the poem along with a picture of Riaz and a quote to the tree, then recorded a little introduction.

"The fields are green and through blue skies I soar." - The Watchmen

You can take a look here:





Update: 
September 22, 2015

I woke up this morning to find out that the friend for whom this poem was written had passed away. I'm in shock. I hadn't emailed him in a while, but the last contact I had came in the form of a short note asking him if he was doing okay. He didn't reply. The world has lost part of its soul and music will never sound the same. Riaz, I hope you have found peace. Namaste.



I wrote this sometime in the late months of 1994 or the early months of 1995, I'm not quite sure.  I know it was really cold.  It's about a series of times, moments, and memories back in first year University (1993-1994) that I spent with a good friend.

I would just like to say for the record that this has been re-written at least a dozen times, and before publishing this post it was edited again.  The only time I thought it didn't completely suck was in the 15 minutes immediately following the original draft.



Beneath The Willow Trees

There’s a place beneath the willow trees and beside the hill where two friends go to light a fire and escape the day, if only for a minute. To forget about why and not think twice about standing by the lake and watching the sun set at noon.

Beneath the willow trees and beside the hill mysterious clouds blow in the wind upstream from strangers oblivious to everyone and everything. The clouds fade to become insignificant wisps just as the sounds of nature break the silence to reveal a world which is not ours and never has been.
The ducks on the lake swim near but don’t give us the time of day, because in this world beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, time is overpowered by life, and the clock of life does not keep track of such things as hollow measures of time.

One solitary event may capture your heart in an instant, yet the time with which it passes goes unnoticed forever. Strangers in a not-so-foreign land, beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, contemplate the beauty and essence of the imagination, only to find it is time to rekindle the fire so they can wander through the darkness while the sun is still shining.

Prisoners behind walls of freedom laugh and cry but little do they know there is more to life than those walls have to offer. To be at one with your existence, you must do more than just live. You must inhale life and let it fill your lungs with the beauty that surrounds you beneath the willow trees and beside the hill.

There’s a place beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, where two friends once debated the meaning of life and the meaning of friendship, but ended up rediscovering the illusion of happiness. For them time stood still and reality was forgotten, until they extinguished the fire, closed their eyes and walked away in silence as the moon shone brightly at the crack of dawn.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Letter to Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister,

First, let me congratulate you and welcome you home. Millions of Canadians, myself included, knew you were ready and we are all excited to add this new chapter to the chronicles of our nation.

Since I was old enough to vote, I have always been interested in politics. Almost exactly 22 years ago the political science major I would go on to marry drove me from the University of Waterloo to the polling booth in Thornhill so I could cast my first ballot.

I voted Liberal that fateful day, but that wasn't the beginning of a trend. Certainly the Liberals have seen more votes from me than the other parties, but I've always put a great amount of thought into each one regardless of whose name received the "X". In every election at every level, I have learned a great deal about Canadian politics and my role as a voting Canadian in the process.

It wasn't until last year that I made a political donation. It was to the Liberal Party of Canada and I felt quite good about making it. I knew Canada needed change, tangible change, and knew that my small contribution would make a difference. A short time later I made my second donation. I liked what I saw in you as a leader and I liked the changes I was seeing in the Liberal Party.

In spite of your repeated requests for a third donation, I was hesitant to make one. You see, uncertainty set in. Your stance on the controversial Bill C-51 had me quite flummoxed. I could not reconcile your approach with public opinion, with what I had researched, or with my own common sense. I am happy to hear that you've altered your stance on this issue enough that we now have a clearer picture of your intentions.

Then, came Bill C-24. A stance which had me questioning your commitment given that you're only promising to repeal certain measures. I thought about it, though, and if I were to critique that bill in detail, I mean really scrutinize it, I wonder how much of it would I want to keep and how much would I do away with? With this in mind, I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Then came the TPP. Again, vague promises were made. I, along with hundreds of thousands of others, have concerns about what this will do. Not just for trade, but for our digital communications and privacy. Those voices must be heard.  In this regard, the promise of thorough parliamentary evaluation and debate, along with transparent communication to all Canadians is an encouraging sign.

Amidst all of this was the need for change. Real change. It was more than a campaign slogan for millions of Canadians. It was a visceral desire for something better; for a system that worked for us instead of us having to work the system to make the system work. What would our country look like if our electoral system was structured so that every vote mattered? Canadians need a government that represents their demanding needs and diverse interests. We need a government that is elected for reasons other than deep pockets, loud voices, or nice hair.

You made a promise to us, loud and clear, that if the Liberals formed a majority government that this would be the last first-past-the-post election. That was huge. In my mind, the rest of the platform amounted to nitpicking, because without electoral reform there would be no change. Everyone would just keep doing what they are doing and we would just keep getting what we get.

Well, now you've got four years to make that happen. I look forward to donating for a third time when it does.

Make us proud.


Yours Sincerely,

Andrew F. Butters
Kitchener South - Hespeler



Trudeau's Promises:


Electoral Reform:

C-51:

C-24:


TPP:

P.S. Thanks to all the folks who pointed out some minor grammatical errors or typos. It's nice to have another set of eyes looking out for those inevitable flaws.

~ Andrew

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Democracy's Last Stand


Canada votes tomorrow. Today, I'm avoiding the radio and the television. I'm sick and tired of hearing and seeing the attack ads. I'm sick and tired of the last desperateillegaland immoral attempts to sway public opinion. I'm sick and tired of what our government as become over the last decade.

As you know, I have more thoughts on the matter and I have been trying to articulate them in this space over the past few weeks, but I don't think I could write it any better than the Mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, did in his opinion piece to the Globe and Mail.

As mayor of a city that has much to lose, given the state of oil prices and whathaveyou, Naheed doesn't write of economics, or budgets, or trade policy. He writes of what it means to be Canadian. That's the message I've been trying to get through.

Before we start nitpicking about dollars and cents we have to have serious conversations about respect and common sense. Respect for our democracy and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and common sense as well as respect, compassion, and understanding for our neighbours and the millions of disenfranchised souls woven into the fabric of our nation.

Doug Ford, speaking of his brother Rob at a Conservative rally held last night for, and attended by, Stephen Harper had this to say about respect:
"I’ll tell ya, Rob came up with this phrase, but nothing I can remember in a federal election is any more important than respect for taxpayers."

http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/gary-clement-ford-nation-to-the-electoral-rescue

Really, Doug, how exactly is respect being shown? I'll save everyone the Google search and tell you. It's being shown by tax cuts to the very rich and mystery math to the average Canadian that will result in a pennies on the dollar savings - if anything at all.

I am a taxpayer, a big one as it turns out, and I certainly don't feel like I'm being respected. In fact, if feels like quite the opposite, and I don't know about you, but to disrespect me is to disrespect my neighbour. I'm funny like that. I actually give a shit about someone else every now and then.Canadians are tired of the short-sighted, specialized treatment for a select few while the rest of us wander around wondering what has happened to the country we call home. I much prefer the Louis C.K. speech he gave to his daughter:

Louis C.K. gets it, why can't Haper?

It's a telling sign when the former owner of the nation's most conservative newspaper comes out and pens an open letter saying that our Prime Minister has overstayed his welcome. In fact, with the exception of FOX News North (a.k.a Sun Media, a.k.a Quebecor) you will be hard pressed to find a Canadian publication willing to come out in support of Stephen Harper. You know who did, though? Forbes. That they are so far the most vocal supporter speaks volumes, you know, on account of Forbes being somewhat well-known for only giving a shit about money. I am surprised they didn't just come out and say, "If you've got a lot of money and only care about your bottom line then he's your man."

The thing is, something tells me that the 1% will be just fine without him. Just a hunch. I say this because financial success for businesses of all shapes and sizes occurred under previous Liberal rules just as they have under Conservative ones. Plus, both Trudeau and Mulcair are very smart individuals surrounded by other very smart individuals who spend a lot of time figuring this stuff out. To say that either one of them would recklessly march this nation into financial ruin is insulting.

Call this a panicked plea to the masses.
Call this a last stand against the selfish and greedy.
Call this an attempt to appeal to the kind, tolerant, good-natured human we know lives inside of every Canadian.

I don't care what you call it so long as you do the right thing in the end.

And if you do nothing else today, read Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi's words and ask yourself what means the most to you, to your family, and to your neighbour. Then, go out on October 19 and vote accordingly.

~ Andrew

Helpful Links:

Monday, October 12, 2015

If You Keep Doing What You're Doing

It has been said that the definition if insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I prefer, "If you keep doing what you're doing you'll keep getting what you get". Even a child understands that in order to get a different result you have to try something different. If you don't like what Mom has to say what do you do? You go and ask your Dad, of course. Can't get your friend to steal you that cookie? Get your little brother to do it. Ask enough of your friends to lick the flagpole in the dead of winter and one of them will most certainly do it. But for some reason, when it comes to elections Canadians seem content to let the same thing happen over and over again and then raise their hands in disbelief when they keep getting the same result.

Canadians want change. Hell, even in the last election almost 60% voted for a party that didn't end up running the country for the next four years. Now, those numbers are even greater with almost 70% of the country ready to vote for a party other than the Conservatives.

But, with our broken first-past-the-post system we've got the Conservatives on one side, and everyone else on the other, with those 70% of the votes split among three main parties: Liberal, NDP, and Green. Well, guess what? An entirely plausible scenario will see the Conservatives win a minority government with their piddly 31or 32% support.

So, people are trying to organize voters into a strategic collective, the biggest being LeadNow / Vote Together, a popular one called Strategic Voting, and my personal favourite, Anyone But Harper. These sites will tell you who to throw your support behind to upset the Conservative candidate and help guarantee a change in government.



I think this is a stand-up idea. The parties aren't cooperating and forming a coalition so let's force their hands. In order to make the system work, you have to work the system.

Many people are on board with this but for those who aren't I am hearing a lot of, "Vote for what you believe in", "Vote with your conscience", or probably the worst one I've heard so far, "Vote with your heart". Ugh. Give me a break.

Whether your beliefs, your conscience, or your heart, if you're voting for any of these reasons you may feel better about it, but in the majority of cases you're not changing anything. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Thanks to the Conservatives your party of choice doesn't even get the $1.25 or $2.50 or whatever it used to be.

This is the principle reason voter turnout has been so low over the past few years. Only that's changing now because people are realizing that if they vote together they can implement change. Sure, it's not ideal, but if you keep doing what you're doing...




Then there's an oft-quoted phrase, "People get the government they deserve." Only we don't deserve this. A clear majority has spoken and yet none of that matters. Why? Because our system is broken. Well, guess what? All three major parties trying to unseat the Conservatives have come forth saying that if they get into power they'll introduce electoral reform. Can you imagine that? Finally, a system where if you cast a vote it will mean something.

Now, my friend Jim wrote a good post on not voting at all and how that should be a viable option for certain individuals or groups. He made great points but I'm going to counter with this, and it's a little more hopeful outlook: incremental change is better than no change at all (or a violent revolution).

Doing nothing helps maintain the status quo. Even if it means voting against your interests I am proposing that you vote for incremental change and take the first step toward freedom. It reminds me of something that my dad said to me one day when I was complaining about some first world problem. He said, "Play by the rules until you're in a position to change them. But when you are, you'd better well change them."

Mary Angelou said something similar: “What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it. Don't complain.”

Too many of us just accept the lot we're handed and too many of us just sit on Facebook and complain about it. Face it, the game is rigged. Millions are disenfranchised and the only thing we know for sure is that if we stay on this course it is not going to get better. Again, short of taking arms and rising up, which I hope not will not be necessary, what options are there?

Boil the frog.


You could just toss the frog in the pot and be done with it (the revolution option). It's messy but sends a statement to all the other frogs. I think it breeds more hatred between frogs and frog boilers that will not abate for generations. Plus, the frog will likely realize what's going on and jump out. Then you've just got one really pissed off frog and a pot of boiling water that he's pissed in (you can't even use it for tea!)

Or, you could put the frog in cold water and turn the dial up, bit-by-bit. It takes longer, but in the end you've still met your objective and you've done it gradually and without any nasty scars and burns. The frog just dies, quietly, peacefully, thinking it's just having a nice warm soak after a hard day's work catching flies and whatnot.

The best way to turn this country around and start the process of change is to make an incremental one right now. We're never going to have a better chance than October 19, so on voting day cast a ballot and turn that dial up a notch. If we have to, in the next election, turn it up again. And so on. It won't take as long as you think. In fact, with as much support as there is for electoral reform, your chances are good that in the election after this one you will get to cast the vote you want and have it count as well. For this election at least, you're going to have to vote with that end goal in mind.



Sacrifice a bit of what you believe in now for a chance to get what you deserve some time soon.

So, sorry Green supporters. Voting Green will make you feel better, but it won't change a damn thing. You're electing one member of parliament. That's it. You have 5% of the vote nationally though, so why not put it to some use? With a ranked ballot or proportional representation, you stand a chance of having way more than one MP next time around. Small price to pay now considering what you have to gain because if you keep doing what you're doing...

For the Liberal or NDP supporters, the math is easy. If the other party is ahead in your riding then vote for them (assuming you're not leading. If that's the case then everyone vote for them anyway just to make it a sure thing). Otherwise, if you keep doing what you're doing...

To all the Conservative voters out there I only have one thing to say. You're telling almost 70% of the country that they don't matter. You're telling us that the status quo is the way to go. At best, you're telling us that you think that because you'll be okay that we'll be okay too. At worst, you're telling us that you don't give a shit if we'll be okay at all. To you, I'm asking you with as much conviction as I can muster, please stop doing what you're doing. Put your social conscience ahead of your tax breaks. Show us that you're true Canadians.

~ Andrew

(Note: the views expressed here are my own and are in no way affiliated with any other individual or organisation)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Intolerance, Hatred, and Fear

Here we are just two weeks from the election and the Conservatives are pulling ahead. Why? Intolerance, hatred, and fear (also: racism, bigotry, ignorance, prejudice, and xenophobia).

Less than a month ago Stephen Harper hired Lynton Crosby (possibly illegally). Lynton is a political strategist known for identifying "wedge issues" and getting politicians to leverage them  on the road to electoral success. Since he was hired we have heard about:
  • "Old stock" Canadians
  • Niqabs
  • Barbaric cultural practices
And guess what? It's been working. The message is clear: you should be afraid. Fear those who have different skin colour. Fear those who worship differently that you; whose faith you don't understand. Fear those from different parts of the world. Fear those that are new.

Old Stock Canadians

You know, those who have been in Canada since the beginning. No, not the First Nations. Pay no attention to them. Not even 1000+ missing or murdered aboriginal women are worth talking about. What Stephen Harper means by that is old, rich white people.

Niqabs

There has been lots of talk about these. So much that it's erupted into a maelstrom that no one could have predicted. Well, Lynton did. A dozen or so women a year request to be allowed to wear the niqab at the citizenship ceremony. There's an easy solution to this that was looking the Conservatives in the face, but they chose a different tactic.

Barbaric Cultural Practices

There's already a law passed (in November 2014) that makes certain cultural acts illegal (child, forced, or polygamous marriages and gender-based family violence). More illegal? I thought Canada's laws on these sorts of things were already pretty clear. Now we need an entirely separate law just to highlight our collective displeasure of these things? More laws are the answer? Seriously? Further to that, if the Conservatives get elected they'll staff a tip line where Canadians can call in if they see any barbaric cultural practices taking place.

The message is clear: you should be afraid.

You should fear those from afar who will stop at nothing to get into Canada, marry off their daughters, steal your culture, and bomb your church.

Intolerance, hatred, and fear. If you're a Conservative politician these are your most valuable tools. Lynton Crosby knows it, Stephen Harper knows it, and according to the latest polls a large number of Canadian voters have been caught up in it. Hook, line, and sinker.

If you're a Conservative voter, at best, you're accepting of the use of these tools as electoral tactics. At worst, well, you find fear mongering to be an admirable quality instead of something that should be eliminated from this election, every one after that, and from our society as a whole.

If you even have the slightest inclination toward racism, bigotry, ignorance, prejudice, or xenophobia Stephen Harper is playing to your fears and wants you to know that the only protection around is the Conservative Party of Canada.

Here's the truth:

  • The only "old stock" Canadians are the First Nations. 
  • There is a perfectly reasonable solution for the Niqab at citizenship ceremonies. 
  • There are already laws in place for the crime of practicing of something culturally barbaric. 

It's all just a distraction to keep you from realizing that you have nothing to fear and you really don't need Stephen Harper at all.

http://votetogether.ca

Helpful Links:

~ Andrew

(Note: the views expressed here are my own and are in no way affiliated with any other individual or organisation)