Am I my brother’s keeper? I hope so. He has certainly been mine over the years.

Photograph (3)

I just finished a telephone conversation with my younger brother. Hadn’t spoken to him in much too long so it was an agreeable thing. It’s always an agreeable thing, mainly because I both love and like my brother.

All things considered I should have been a seething mass of sibling rivalry when my brother was born. I was five then and I’d had the world all to myself for half a decade. My parents were mine and my grandparents were mine and in the manner of children, I did believe I owned those people. And then this mewling, puking, pooping little wretch came upon the scene and disrupted everything.

Yet, I don’t remember feeling in any way Freudian about the matter. When you are five a crying baby doesn’t cause you too much angst. And since my mother wasn’t particularly doting I don’t recall feeling a dearth of her presence or any sort of divided affection. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I simply don’t remember such a thing.

I think I was maybe a strange child, but when adults oohed and aahed about how cute my baby brother was, I kind of agreed with them. I thought he was kinda cute, too.

Anyway, as years went by nothing much changed between the two of us. In the photo you can see me looking at my dorky best at about age 11. Of course we fought. Fought like hellions. We were siblings. And we were left with no residual hard feelings. We also found a certain amount of unity was to be valued in dealing with the parental units. It’s invaluable to have an ally.

We both went in different directions as time went by. I was much more academic and in that I tapped into my artsy-fartsy mother’s gene pool in terms of talents. She too wrote and painted. My brother was like the old man, mechanical and creative in the realms of dirty fingernails. No surprise he ended up in the automotive industry.

But, in so saying, it doesn’t mean it was ever a contest of intellects. My brother is a bright guy and in some realms I cannot hold a candle to him. That shows in the way we discuss.

We discuss all and everything: newsworthy stuff, TV, films, music – he is immensely knowledgeable about music of all genres from virtually every generation – people, family members, and we can go on for hours and hours.

As years went by we grew closer and found we had much more in common than we had thought, and indeed that we had in common when we were younger. Added to which, and I must add, I found out what a truly cherished brother he was when I went through a bad patch after the breakup of my 2nd marriage. I called him and my sister-in-law often and they both rallied with amazing amounts of moral support for me. I think it was the first time I had ever reached out to family in such a manner and their stalwart help was invaluable to me. They aided me in making it through a rough time, and I will never forget what they did.

So that’s it. My testament to my bro.

Just because you’re not treated as a professional doesn’t mean you’re being demeaned so get over yourself

schoolmaster

I am very happy to learn that the protracted and highly unpleasant teachers’ strike is over. Now the kiddies can return to the classroom, moms can again clutter up the roads with their vehicles as they drive little Conrad and Natasha the three blocks they couldn’t manage to navigate on their own, and union boss Jim Iker can again afford to get himself a decent haircut.

I jest, of course. Truly, it has been a truly disruptive state-of-affairs and to have permitted the debacle to continue for so long casts some mighty big aspersions on both sides of an imbroglio that left the public, especially parents who had to adjust their lives due to the labor dispute of somebody else. Credibilities were lost on both sides of the issue and I’ll suggest it will take the Clark government a long time to bring back to the affections of most of the parents in the province.

As I have said before, I am not about to take sides. I have value friends who are, or were teachers and while some of my opinions might clash with theirs, it’s their fight, not directly mine. And it’s an old story. Conflicts between governments in this province and the BCTF are as old as, like, forever. Governments hate that union (duh!) and that union essentially hates whatever government is in power at a time of dispute, and that includes the NDP.

There is one aspect of teacherdom that comes up with every labor dispute, and it is one that is often vouchsafed as an argument, and that is that the employer (ie the government of the day) does not treat teachers with the respect that they as ‘professionals’ should receive.

Well, part of this argument that is troublesome to me is that teachers are ‘not’ professionals in the true sense of that word. They are, like it or not, ‘employees’ and subject to the controls most employees have to deal with. That’s not to quibble with the point the calling is referred to as the ‘teaching profession’, but truly it is the ‘teaching occupation’. And I can say this as a person who is a fully qualified teacher who did all his assignments and has the certification to go with it. Even though I haven’t taught in decades, they cannot take that away from me.

In calling teachers not professional in the true sense of the word is mainly a matter of semantics, but possibly an important one.

In medieval times in Europe scholars were forced to go out and find students and to establish themselves as academics and build their reputations on what they gave their students. It was a tough calling and there were a few incidents in which students actually murdered incompetent masters. At the same time, those masters were genuine professionals in our understanding of the word. That is, if teachers want to see themselves in that context, they would have to be plying the streets and coffee bars to find students who would make up their practices, as other professionals must do.

Doctors or lawyers have to get patient loads and case loads in order to survive. They must equip clinics and dental offices and law offices with expensive equipment and materials in order to give their patients and clients what they are seeking. And they will rise and fall on their reputations, not to mention their high-priced gear.

Teachers, on the other hand, are ‘hired’ by a school district and then are paid a salary if they perform as they are expected to. In other words, they are employees. Yet there is no shame in that, nor is ‘occupation’ a demeaning term. I have a number of professional creds, but have always been an employee either by my employing school district or newspapers at which I toiled. Somebody else had to cough up, at the newspaper for example, for the presses and the guys to run those presses.

So, if teachers want to be treated as true ‘professionals’ they had better go out and find their own students and set up a private teaching practice. Indeed, in that context, it might be fair to suggest that home tutors of good reputation and with a lot of clients are truly teaching professionals.

Well, Nixon once said we wouldn’t have him to kick around any more, but look what happened

ford

I suppose we are meant to feel bad for Rob Ford. And I shall reiterate what I mentioned on Facebook and that is that I do not wish illness on anybody regardless of how loathsome I might find the individual.

Of course, if the individual is genuinely evil I’ll willingly make an exception. But in the case of the once (and future?) Mayor of Toronto (the good and tiresome) I do not find him evil. I find him rather pathetic. But most addicts are a bit pathetic, even though their state of being is of their own choosing.

Now, I don’t know if the tumour thing is true, or an affliction of his own devising in order to glean sympathy from the public in his quest to be returned to the mayoralty. But I’ll assume that perhaps it is true since he has dropped out of the race in favor of his brother, Doug. Hence, the Fords seem to believe that their dynasty, kind of like the Kennedy clan in the White House is a given.

Or, as one of my favorite columnists, Christie Blatchford queried about the Ford Dynasty thing, “what is this, North Korea?”

Anyway, like Schrodinger’s Cat, Ford may or may not be sick with a tumour that may or may not be carcinogenic. But the one thing we know for certain and that is that he’s an addict. And sorry, me pudgy bucko, a stint in rehab doesn’t stop you from being an addict. It doesn’t remove that reality from who you are. It’s a state-of-being. If you are an addict, you are one even if you have changed your behavior and your relationship with your substance of choice.

Ford’s behaviors a priori were classic addict behaviors. Lots of denial, lots of belligerence, lots of appallingly inappropriate behavior, and a seeming inability to cease all, a practice that was so obviously ruining his life and destroying every ounce of credibility he might once have had.

Anyway, from one perspective re the fortunes of Mr. Ford I, frankly, don’t give a damn, since I don’t live anywhere near Toronto, and remain quite happy about that. I will also confess to not a small bit of amusement about it all as it served to wipe that great big smirk off Hogtown’s civic face. “Mock Vancouver, will ya? How are you doing, TO? Oh, and your hockey team really sucks, too, and you’ve got one of the ugliest air terminals in the country. And finally, you’ve got the Ford Brothers.”

I mean, I could think that, but of course I will refrain.

God speed, Rob.

Wanna see me naked? It’ll cost you.

nude

There has been a great deal of foofrah of late about naked photos of actresses and the like ending up in the public domain so that their junk can be slathered over by perverts here, there and everywhere. One who seems very upset is the actress Jennifer Lawrence (I know I should know who she is, but I got lost back with Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and Michele Pfieffer.)

A couple of things struck me about all of this. The first one is if you are male and past puberty and remain in doubt about what girly parts look like, well, you need to get out more. Secondly, the ones doing the complaining are so-called ‘serious’ actresses, not just sluttish bimbos like Paris Hilton who welcomes all and sundry to have a perusal. Thirdly, you people are public performers and your lives are devoted to laying bare who you are.

jennifer-lawrenceAnd finally, and most importantly, if you are concerned about having intimate gynaecological shots posted on the Internet, why are you having such photos taken? In other words, if you are female (especially, but not always) don’t trust anybody who wants to take a picture of you in all your glory. You never know where that ol’ photo is going to turn up. So, if a camera-bug, or a guy aiming his phone at you enters your life, keep your panties (at least) on no matter how warmly you feel about this guy or how such disrobing seemed to suit the “mood” of the moment.

I mean, how many of you have scandalous photos of yourself floating around? You do? Wanna share? But seriously, back in Polaroid days there were folks (I’ve heard) who snapped a few naughty pics, but they then sequestered them in a drawer so that the kids, the in-laws or a house sitter might not happen upon them on a spying expedition when you were away from the house.

But, seriously, the pictures in question that are causing a stir are strictly nudies, not pictures of coition or other intimate acts. It’s nudity. We all get naked when we bathe or visit the loo, and some even go for a swim minus a costume. I have swum starkers a number of times and in mixed gender company and it didn’t disconcert me at all.

And I will also be candid enough to say that there are people I’d have no aversion to seeing en dishabille. I mean, some people are pretty darned attractive.

Maybe it’s just me. While not a naturist, I have no problem with the baring of bodies, either mine or that of another. I think such shyness is silliness.

We have a world fraught with ghastly tumult and I think the privacy of naked entertainers is absolutely the least of my concerns.

Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled and all the rest of that stuff in an ominous time

scots independence

wallace sirYears ago we were as a family watching the film Braveheart in which Mel Gibson as Sir William Wallace thwarted his foes left, right, and centre in the bloodiest ways possible. I mentioned at the time that I was part of that clan.

“You’re related to Mel Gibson?” questioned my stepdaughter, all agog.

I explained that, according to family lore, I was descended from that same Wallace of the film via clan name. She was a bit disappointed. But yes indeed my second name is Wallace, taken from my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. As in “Scots wha hae wi Wallace bled.“

We had a whole slew o’ Scots around when I was growing up and the Scottish burr was a familiar accent, especially at the home of my grandmother, when her sister and brothers were around.

My problem with the matter is that the other three-quarters of me is occupied by the genes of the English and I confess I gravitate a bit more to the land south of Hadrian’s Wall. In other words, and in the view of my Edinburgh-born Auntie Nan, my main composition was that of the dreaded Sassenach, much as was my grandfather who married her sister and started the English blood flowing in our veins.

And I, frankly, have no problem with that. I deeply value my English heritage but nod respectfully to the Scots bit, too. But, sorry Auntie Nan, I do not ‘feel’ Scottish. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have huge respect for the accomplishments of assorted people from a country with a relatively minuscule population and a bad climate.

I have traveled in Scotland and find some parts immensely beautiful. I have even stood on the gory battlefield of Culloden Moor, and have walked the parapets of Edinburgh Castle and seen the room in which Rizzio was murdered in Holyrood.

And the Scots have contributed a lot to the world in the fields of science and technology especially and, in Canada’s case, exploration and the opening of the west. Meanwhile Scottish natives have also given us some wonderful literature and not just Robbie Burns, but also Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and more.

And in single malt they virtually invented the ‘wee dram’, not to mention the ‘wee deoch and dorius’ and Auld Lang Syne and haggis and much much more. Bloody dynamic people and not to be trifled with, especially as warriors. The Germans in North Africa in World War Two used to refer to the Highland pipers who strode into battle, unarmed, kilted and droning on their pipes as the “Ladies from Hell” mainly because they scared the crap out of Rommel’s boys.

Yep. Pretty amazing people and much to be respected.

Yet, next week the Scots are to hold a national plebiscite in which the question is whether they should secede from the age-old union that ties them to England. Right now the signs are not looking good and members of the Cameron government stand in jeopardy of soiling their Eton-pedigree silk knickers in anticipation of a possible severing of all that they hold holy.

Well, about Scotland’s drive for autonomy, I hope the vote fails. To separate would be so much damned foolishness. Scotland’s population is too small – about 5 1/2 million, much like that of the Irish Republic – their economy, despite North Sea Oil, isn’t brilliant.

I’ll harken to the words of London Mayor Boris Johnson (one of those old Eton sorts), who wrote in his newspaper column what such a ‘decapitation’ (his word) would mean.

“We are told that if Scotland votes to cut its ties with England, that will be a disaster on a par with the loss of the American colonies in 1776; but it is far worse than that. Scotland isn’t a colony, for heaven’s sake. It’s part of our being, of what makes us ‘us’.”

Truly, I do hope cooler heads prevail. Well, at least three-quarters of me does.

If the kids are so cherished then the time has come to call it a day and get back to it

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Summer has gone and so has summer vacation and in the best of all worlds rugrats and surly teens would be back at their studies.

Except in British Columbia. This has been since back in the spring the land of the never-ending teacher strike. And as I drive by I see them out there. Their numbers have waned since the early onslaught months ago, but the stalwarts seem to be carrying on. I don’t smile and wave particularly because I choose to keep a certain impartiality.

I’m not about to get into the issues and am reminded of the words of Franklin Roosevelt at the time of steel strike in World War Two in which he stated, re the union and the owners: “A plague on both your houses.” This one is a bit like that.

The union (the BC Teacher’s Federation) has basically gone broke (and is being baled out by other unions) and the provincial government is carrying on carrying on and saving shitloads of money. And the kids keep losing and losing and every day they lose a bit more. It’s definitely no longer “all about the kids.” It’s about fucking politics, folks. A reactionary government helmed by a premier who regularly invokes the spirit of Margaret Thatcher is determined to break the balls of its most loathed public sector union. The teachers union, equally political, but on the other side is determined to carry on regardless.

I am not about to take sides in this. This doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings about it – strong ones – but I have friends on both sides of the issue and retaining friendships is more valuable to me than coming down on any side. And I’m conflicted at many levels.

Also, I am a former teacher and there were aspects of the calling I loved, and aspects that I hated. Primarily I detested the politicizing of what should have been an enlightened role in life. I will never fall into the claptrap that suggests teachers have an easy role, or be sucked in by bullshit that suggests, you know, vacations coming out the yin-yang, no understanding of the lives of ‘real’ working people, and so forth. I mean, depending on the teacher such criticisms can be apt, but mostly they’re not. Those who put their hearts and souls into what they do, and lots do, know it is an exhausting calling that is rarely appreciated. Yeah, I know all of that. I was one such, and so was my ex-wife.

But, I have a huge problem with this ongoing dispute in which those ostensibly cherished kids are being victimized. Strikes are ugly things and should always only be a last resort. They disrupt everybody. Personally, I have only once served on a picket line. That was back in university days when I was a mill-hand. Fortunately we were only out for a week – thank God, because I needed every cent my summer earnings could glean for me.

Far worse was when I was on the ‘management’ side in a newspaper dispute and was forced, by the nature of my role, to cross a picket line. A picket line populated by former colleagues, many of whom I counted as friends. They did not regard me in a friendly manner when I (and the other management folks went across), not appreciating the fact we were doing so because we ‘had’ to, and further not appreciating the fact that many of us in management (including me) were actually paid at a lower level than a lot of the line workers who were picketing. Fortunately, time heals some wounds and erstwhile friendships have been re-established and I value that a lot.

My point about that, however, is that such a labor dispute causes ill-feelings that can last for a long time. And there is no doubt that this teacher situation is producing wounds that will never be fully healed over. Everyone in the calling will remember the Summer of 2014.

Surely there must be another way.

There is too much evil spewed out by politics.

And yeah, if this is not resolved and a bit of good will is not shown by both sides, then indeed a plague on both your houses.

Enchanting interludes at the bank. Sort of a love story

I’m a bit like humorist Stephen Leacock in that banks rattle me.

They may not rattle me for exactly the same reasons they rattled him way back then, but regardless of where you are in history banks have the power to ‘rattle’.

That’s because they handle money. Either your money or their money, of which you want some and they really don’t want you to have any. And if you apply to get some of theirs it is a bank’s bounden duty to make you feel really small and needy before (perhaps) grudgingly agreeing to let you have just a li’l bit of their money. That’s despite the fact it’s not really ‘their’ money at all but an accumulation of money taken from schmucks like you and me.

You see, banks don’t really have any money of their own, they just have proprietorship of money and governments encourage them to do that mainly because banks own most governments.

There was once a time in which banks strove to serve the communities in which they were situated and the local bank manager was a man (always a man) of import in the same vein as the mayor, high school principal, pastor/priest, or local rag proprietor. Everybody knew who he was and most accorded him the respect you had to accord a guy who could either help you out in times of duress, or ruin you, as the case might be. He was in the community for years, even decades, as a fixture.

It was the same with staff in your particular bank. You had your ‘person’ at the bank. The person who handled your investments and gave you advice as to where you might sink that $12.75 a month you sunk into your retirement fund. Mutual funds? GICs? Didn’t matter since whatever you contributed wasn’t really going to keep the wolf from the door. But, you were playing the game and old Miss Marblethorp was the person you relied on to keep you on the straight-and-narrow. She would always be there for you. For heaven’s sake, she had even served your parents and it was on their advice you linked up with her.

Effie Marblethorp, son. She knows her onions. Don’t be put off by the little moustache and food-stains on the blouse, you wanna get a mortgage? Well, treat her nice.”

And then it all changed. Banks evolved into being all about the banks’ well being, not yours. Branches closed and staffs and management shifted with the winds. If you found somebody good, don’t count on him/her continuing to be there to aid you with the lifeblood of your survival. That’s especially so if you are not a big bucks contributor to their coffers.

In this I don’t indict any particular banking operation for losing sight of the little bozo. I indict them all. Ever wonder what happened to ‘savings accounts?’ Exactly. You know what I mean.

Now, for a few years I had a wonderful investment advisor. Every time I saw her I always said: “I like dealing with you and I want to always deal with you, so don’t move away somewhere.” She always reassured with “don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.”

I hoped not. She was bright, and pretty, and smart, and caring, and I, had circumstances been different, would have liked to marry her and have her bear my babies. I mean, that’s how much I treasured this lady.

And then they effing moved her. Not so much as a by-your-leave. They shifted her to another branch and positioned her to serve the big players and high-flyers in money realms, not schmucks like me. The bank assured me it was a big promotion for her when they broke the news to me about her.

And I thought, well screw you. In other words, I don’t count. The good one is slated to only serve the big guys.

I miss her and feel like one does when one has lost a love. I don’t yet have sobbing dreams about her, but who knows. It could happen. Banks have no idea that their callous actions can break hearts, too.

Now like Leacock I have to be rattled once again when I have to deal with my bank. No more conjuring up of blissful domestic fantasies with the lady on the other side of the desk who is talking about annuities but only in the way ‘she’ could. She was talking about ‘my’ annuities because she cared about me. I know she did and just ended up being a victim of the system herself.