Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My Sister's Trip To Hawaii

...resulted in this.

This is my older sister and her fiance. They are something else. He's an physicist studying distant galaxies in space. She's a public health researcher. When my fourth sister (not her) was born, I cried. I cried because I thought to myself: "This was my last chance to have a brother, and now you've blown it mom!" I guess it turns out I was wrong, however. Now I'm finally going to get a brother (in law)!

Congratulations Saul and Celine!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On Obama's "Bitter" Comments, and the Bitterness They Have Perpetuated

"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." -Barack Obama

These comments made by Barack Obama at a fundraiser in San Francisco have caused such a stir in his candidacy that the now famous words could easily be considered one of his greater "gaffes" yet. He has had a hard time reexplaining what he meant, trying to defend his "cling(ing) to...religion" statement by saying that "Scripture talks about clinging to what's good". It is a shame what he originally said doesn't seem to have registered with white working class American voters and that the news has put such a negative spin on it. It seems to have done more bad than good for those he was trying to reach.

I think many people are simply looking for something, anything to criticize Obama about to keep the democratic candidates rivalry alive. This "clinging to guns or religion" statement is a good opportunity for that. It's a hot button. But arguing that he is a snob who doesn't deserve the white working class vote is not fair to what he actually said. I think Obama's statements are only vulnerable, precisely because religion, immigration and security happen to be very sensitive issues in the USA today and people are ready to jump into an argument about them before they have even allowed anyone else to finish speaking. I give him credit for talking about them at all. I mean, there are fanatical Christians (of many types) on the one hand and staunch militarists running the White house on the other. Americans are still at war with terror because they still feel terrorized. You can't fight terror if you encourage fear, if you feel disillusioned, burnt out, or seduced by radical "solutions" to problems that have practical ones. What Obama wants to avoid is the same social phenomenon that has echoed throughout history, that whenever experiencing moments of instability, societies tend to react by segregating themselves into smaller groups based on superficial commonalities rather than practical purposes. They spread hatred or racism or classism and it is never productive. It is always destructive. They attack others because they are feeling insecure about themselves. They find a scapegoat and then they torture them to make themselves feel more righteous about their own forms of government. Well here is a newsflash: peace and security don't happen through divine intervention or at gunpoint. You have to relax. Say you consider yourself religious AND patriotic. How are you supposed to compromise the idea of Jesus Christ dying for our sins with the fact that the US army (et al) are at war and are sacrificing others lives for a "democracy" they themselves seem to be unsure of. Did you expect there not to be any cognitive dissonance between those two things? It's a slippery slope when you start agreeing with the "give me democracy or give me death" kind of attitude, because often that leads to some unpredicted forms of both. It is also a desperate and fear-driven mentality. Why does it have to be an ultimatum?

So I disagree that what Obama said about small town Americans should be taken with so much offense and I think his description of small town behaviour (although I will admit I have never been to Pennsylvania) actually rings true in a lot of cases. However, I invite anyone to explain why, if I were a white working class small town American, I should be offended by what Barack Obama said. When you are down on luck, you cling to that which gives you a sense of security. It's natural for us as humans. I don't think he was implying that whatever that is for people is necessarily ineffective. Different strokes for different folks. Why can't we live and let live on this issue? Now we have to crucify Obama? For some people, religion IS their bread and butter and it brings them peace of mind. And? Other people like to sleep with a tech nine under their pillows. That's fine as long as there aren't any missionaries interrupting my dinner or drive by shootings on my street. But I would also wish that for others, too. It's a problem though once everyone starts fighting for their own agenda and giving up on working together. No one gets any sleep. I don't think he was demonizing religion OR firearms at all. He wasn't specifically praising them either. He was just suggesting that sometimes the reasons you gravitate to them aren't always healthy, hence the use of the word "cling". I think what he was criticizing was the fact that if you are "clinging" to those things as a reaction to uncertainties in your life instead of as an act of free will, you may be going towards them for the wrong reasons. To cling to anything too hard, that is to say, to rely on one thing firmly, is like building a house out of sand on a beach right next to the shore. When the tide rolls in, your entire livelihood could be gone. So diversify your portfolio! Speak other people's language! Get to know your neighbors, ESPECIALLY if they have a different lifestyle than you!

People often distort what Barack says, though. Now Hilary is using this as an opportunity to suck up to Pennsylvanians and McCain is using it to argue that Barack Obama is "out of touch" with Americans. People distort what Barack says because they don't like the subtle hint that he might be telling them something they don't already know, or something that they may know, but are too afraid to admit.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Final Farewell to my Grandfather

In loving memory of Steve Benjamin Peta
Born~November 5, 1918
Passed Away~March 28, 2008

Steve Peta: Farmer, Teacher, Principal, father and grandfather, was best described by his boundless generosity.

He was generous with his time, in hospitality and with his stories.

Contrasted with his generosity was a balanced, conservative attitude towards spending. He would always tell us not to waste our money on things that don't last. "Save your money!" He would say. "Put it in a bank today and it will be worth something tomorrow."

He always seemed proud of all his grandchildren. He was ambitious for them to achieve more. He constantly encouraged us and remained interested in what we were doing. He told us: "Study hard so you can get into a good school, so that you can get a good job." Supposedly this made sense merely coming from a retired school Teacher and Principal, but it somehow seemed to come from some place deeper. It was part of his character to be competitive, to strive harder and get farther than anyone would expect of him. And he would go about this in his own consistent, deliberate way.

Because we lived provinces apart, I fondly remember being visited or visiting my grandfather. When I was fourteen, I remember the giddy excitement of flying out to see my grandparents, with no parents! We visited his wheat farm, which was the most desolate landscape I had ever seen. It must be something to be able to bear it out here, I thought, watching the oil pumps eerily moving up and down. But despite farmer suicides being high in the area, presumably because it was so lonely out there, my grandfather told me about how the "chin coulee"* ghost was there to keep him company. He would see him in the mornings, sitting on the fence.

Steve was a man who, because he was generous, enjoyed the company of others. Imaginably, because he had experienced poverty to a greater degree than my generation, we were forced to appreciate what we had more through him. For example, if we were full from eating his food and wanted to throw out the leftovers, he would say "Eat some more! It's good food!"

When we got together, he was always happy to see us. He would walk up and throw his cane against a chair and shake my hand with vigour and ask: "How is Barrett doing?" picking up right where we left off.

We will always remember grandpa's antics. I remember thinking that he was tough because he did push ups into his sixties and stood over six feet tall. He demonstrated to us children the proper way to eat soup in the military: up and across! He joked that while doing target practice, someone shot his belt buckle and his pants fell down. It was lucky that I had a grandfather that I knew. If it wasn't for him tripping and breaking his wrist at just the right time (during the draft), he could have been sent to war and never returned before I had the chance to meet him...

Instead, my childhood was filled with his stories of jackrabbits, chin coulee* ghosts and the classroom.

He would make juice and call it "kickaboy juice" because its sweetness gave you a kick in your mouth. He always had a tiger tail sticking out of the gas tank of his old boat of a New Yorker. When I asked him about the odd appendage, he merely asked "What do you think is powering the engine?"

In more recent years, grandpa Peta's health was fading, though his mind was always tough. (In his mind he was always invincible) but his body was losing strength.

I think he would want us to remember him in the ripeness of life, because he always struck me as someone who was practical, who wanted people to enjoy what they had while they had it, because tomorrow it could be gone. There's an expression: Life is wasted on the living. Not so with him. He wanted everyone to use their abilities and not waste a single moment.

Steve may be gone now but he will be remembered fondly. We should be happy he lived such a rich and colourful life because he recognized it when it was there. In his letters to me, he would chronicle the changing of the seasons, the snow, the crops and the forecast for next season.

Apparently, the promise of spring was not strong enough to make a man in the winter of his life hold on for another season. May Steve Peta rest in peace.

*Although the word "coolie" has taken on the form of a pejorative racial slur today, I always thought my grandfather meant it to refer to the Asian laborers that would have worked with his father (my great grandfather) when he immigrated from Hungary to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. On separate occasions, described the racism that was present in those days, with Asians often having to perform the most dangerous jobs like laying dynamite to blast out the mountains. Sometimes they would lose their lives. I now realize that the name he had for the ghost was the chin coulee ghost, referring to the particular valleys and landscapes of the great Canadian west.

Personal Diegesis

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Hoarse Head

Sorry folks, I haven't been blogging lately...my schedule has been tighter than tetris. But this video pretty much sums everything that has happened recently and brings you right up to speed...or DOES it???
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