Confused in 2010

I didn’t want to have the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. I wish we had spent the money on something else (or, perhaps, accepted that we didn’t actually have the money to spend). But, living in North Vancouver, I didn’t get a vote.

Here are some of the things I don’t like:

  • The mixed-up priorities. I am concerned about hospital and police services being unavailable for the needs of residents for the duration of the Games. I don’t like it when public officials and others fail to understand conflict of interest. I don’t like the water-cooler conversations on how much money people can make renting accommodation to visitors, as though money is the only thing that matters and gouging is the only sensible thing to do when the opportunity occurs.
  • The inconvenience. Yes, perhaps this seems small-minded. And I could probably tolerate the road closures and the expected traffic chaos if it were not for the Vancouver 2010 organizing committee (Vanoc) and the media constantly exhorting me to bike, walk, or take transit during February. Those are simply not options for me; they are not options for much of the population.
  • The completely false notion that the Games are about some pure ideals. They are about sport and about business:
    • The sporting aspect is at a level that I don’t understand. When the winning score in speed-based competitions is measured in fractions of a second, the whole thing becomes meaningless to me — not that I have ever understood the emphasis on winning. My idea of sporting competition is a friendly rivalry where people can say “good game” to their opponents afterwards and where an athlete doesn’t have to live with a lifetime of feeling like a failure if he or she doesn’t win.
    • The business aspect is also at a level that I don’t understand. I am offended by the fact that small businesses have been put out of work without compensation as a result of Olympic-related construction, while big businesses will be making making more-than-usually-enormous profits. I am offended by the tight controls on advertising by anyone other than those who have paid a premium to be a sponsor. Of course, since corporate sponsorship is worth about a billion dollars to Vanoc, perhaps it’s not surprising that they control it tightly (with the help of city inspectors — more confused priorities).
  • The threat to free speech. Initially, the city announced that there would be “no-go” areas during the games where protests would not be allowed. Then they announced that there would be designated protest areas. Fortunately, the public outcry seems to have resulted in a softening of the initial approaches and a coalescing around one more consistent with our national belief that we live in a country where we are free to protest anything we like. We will now be allowed to protest in any public place outside of the Olympic fences — probably: the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department are continuing to give rather confusing messages.

Here are some of the things I like:

  • Our party outfits. The design of the Olympic materials is striking (and I appreciate them more from having looked into the process behind the design). The clothing to be worn by the athletes and the volunteers looks great. The Games-branded clothing that we can all buy is kind of fun. The street banners and even the building wraps are gorgeous (now that I have relaxed after getting all uptight upon hearing the rumour that our downtown public library would be wrapped as a giant McDonald’s hamburger).
  • The torch relay. Seeing pictures of small and large communities across Canada as the torch passes through gives me a sense of a large country united by, well, something mostly intangible but something that is a part of feeling Canadian.
  • The sense of occasion and festivity. Even with all my conflicting feelings, I am going to watch the opening ceremonies (on screen) and watch one or two of the races (in person), reasoning that it’s not likely Vancouver will see anything like this again in my lifetime.

Perhaps I will have to design my own t-shirt. Those that say “CANADA,” or “With glowing hearts,” or “We will own the podium” don’t work for me. Mine will need to have all kinds of explanatory subheadings, accepting that winning is not really all that important and that good sportsmanship is a greater thing; that we will try our best to be fair to everyone and respect all their individual belief systems while gently pointing out that we kind of like a polite, free and tolerant society; that Canada is really happy to have you all here but that we will heave a sigh of relief when the party is over and we can put our feet up while reviewing our credit card bills; that we are mildly patriotic after a few beers (oh dear: apparently we must drink Molson beers, as they are an official supplier) but really we are all citizens of the world.

Ambivalent? Grey area? Maybe Confused will have to do.

Were you ready for Street View?

Cove

Now that the Google car has been to our neighbourhood, we can — almost — see our house on Google Street View. For some reason, the view switches over half a block when you get to our cross street. But all these little glitches will get worked out eventually.

The whole thing is sort of cool and sort of worrying at the same time. Fortunately, our provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner, David Loukidelis, is on it.

My daughter and her friends have been captured walking down a nearby road,  their faces obscured; our car has been spotted, with the licence plate ditto. But people are clearly identifiable to their friends and families: it takes more than blurring features to make people unrecognizable. I am taking a wait and see approach before I decide whether I like it or hate it.

I know that I really like the sentiments expressed by letter writer Roger Barany in the weekend Vancouver Sun:

How was I supposed to know Google’s sneaky street crew would come unannounced to sweep my block, snap my filthy car sitting outside my residence and post the image on its planet-wide social mapping site? When picture day is coming, can’t they send an advance note, the way my kid’s school does, so I can jazz up my crate a bit? When’s retake day?

One hundred and four

mapleleavesWe’re up to 104 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2002. Each death is reported and details of the individual’s life are provided. This seems to be the way we do things — in this century, in this country. I have mixed feelings: I’m glad that each person is given the dignity of individual recognition, but deeply saddened at their lives’ early and violent ends. Each time, I think of the family and friends who get the call that they must have feared ever since the soldier was posted to Afghanistan (or maybe ever since the soldier joined up).

Perhaps my empathy gene is overdeveloped: I can cry for days over a news story about the tragedies of strangers.

The CBC website has a list of all the dead with names and links to the stories about the fatal incidents. There are pictures: just head and shoulders, ID-card style. You can scroll down the page and see the names and what part of the country they are from.

The 104 is made up of 103 men and one woman. War is still primarily a man’s world where the role of women is to wait, worry and grieve.

Black and white in 2008

barackobamaAs a close neighbour, I am delighted that the US has elected Barack Obama. It’s a great day for the US — hey, it’s a great day for the world — when the electorate has clearly decided against George W. Bush. Never was Bush’s paucity of vision more obvious than in his speech congratulating Obama on his election victory. Yes, I know his speech was written for him, but leaders get to make sure their ideas are captured. This speech was about nothing other than the novel sight of a black guy in the White House.

  • “It will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House …”
  • ” … all Americans can be proud of the history that was made …”
  • “[Voters showed] the strides we have made towards a more perfect union”
  • “[Obama’s] journey represents a triumph of the American story …”
  • “This moment is especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes.”

And, of course, Condoleezza Rice is “especially proud.”

Am I the only one who finds the emphasis on skin colour repugnant? Yes, of course, it is a great day that American has finally, officially turned its back on decades of shameful, evil racism. But is that symbolism all Obama is? I hope not, and I don’t think so.

It reminds me of growing up female in the sixties. All my life, I’ve celebrated the first woman to do this, the first woman to do that. But along with the celebration comes the flip side: why in the twentieth century and now in the twenty-first is the human race still so obsessively focused on gender and race in situations where they just aren’t relevant?