Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Clock

The promotional still for The Clock
Yesterday Sarah took a holiday from her work and we finally got down to the Power Plant at Harbourfront in Toronto to see Christian Marclay's incredible work of visual and sound art, The Clock. (Sarah had already tried to see it once by herself, hoping to catch what is rumoured to be a pretty spectacular set of clips at midnight a few weekends ago; alas, the lineups were too long and she gave up around 1 a.m.) I can think of several words to describe this amazing piece but the one that does it the most justice, in my mind, is "riveting". We had more than a vague idea of the wonders awaiting us as Sarah's Mom, Evlyn, had been to see it quite a few times while it was on display at the National Gallery in Ottawa. But no matter how well she or, indeed, anyone else attempted to describe the power of Marclay's masterpiece, this is something that one absolutely must experience for one's self. On the subject of those attempts at capturing the essence of The Clock, I have read quite a few of them for myself—including the rather mundane blurb in the Power Plant's own program—but the one I found the closest to accomplishing the feat was one written by Daniel Zalewski which appeared in The New Yorker in March of this year. It's a rather lengthy read but it does not simply focus on this single creation of Marclay's; I feel that the exploration of the man behind The Clock broadens and heightens the entire experience considerably. Despite my concession of the futility of attempting to understand the impact of this artwork, I am stubbornly going to proceed to describe my own experience yesterday afternoon, because this wouldn't be much of a blog piece if I just said, "We went to see The Clock yesterday" and left it at that. That's what Facebook and Twitter are for!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Zoo Volunteer Training, Week Two

Hairy-nosed wombat
credit: Jeff Green/Toronto Star
The training was a little more intensive in our second week as we are starting to get some idea of exactly what is going to be expected of us. We focused on Grade Ones and Twos this time around (more the former than the latter, truth be told) and were taken on a short tour by a veteran Volunteer who stopped us frequently en route and explained the methodology she would use if we were actually six or seven years old. The Grade One curriculum explores "Characteristics and Needs of Living Things" with a special emphasis on the five senses. Grade Two learns about "Growth and Change in Animals", including life cycles and classifications. One especially nice thing about the tour yesterday was it took us through the Australasia Pavilion where we had a chance to meet the newest Zoo additions, two young southern hairy-nosed wombats who have come to join Hamlet, the thirty-year-old wonder already living here who has outlived his life expectancy in the wild by a factor of two. It is hoped that the new pair, Millie and Arthur, will breed when they are ready (likely a full year away, still) because that is something that Zoos up until now haven't had a lot of luck with. There are nine of these creature in captivity in North America; the Toronto Zoo now sports three of them. A let me tell you: these two youngsters are some kind of cute. One was braver than the other (we are not sure who was who), venturing past the wallabies into the outdoor enclosure and watching us from the fence there quite closely. I didn't want to stop and take any pictures of my own while I was "in class" and I didn't go back before I went home. Hopefully they will be just as active the next time I am in that pavilion and I'll capture them for posterity!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rachel Maddow Gives 'em Hell

I don't have a lot to say today, nothing that isn't being said all over the internet by myriad pundits. After the angst of the early part of this week, it felt like a good day to take a step back. Tomorrow I am going to be at the Zoo for my second Volunteer Training day and I should come back refreshed and more or less content for a little while.

But I wanted to be sure I posted this amazing rant by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC here for posterity. If you haven't already seen it, please do give it a watch:

Here is the complete transcript of that video. It's pretty heady and courageous stuff, I think, and it speaks directly to the heart of the polarization issues in both of our countries:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A (Qualified) Sigh of Relief

The most "retweeeted" Tweet in history
America did the right thing last night. For now. It was touch-and-go there for a while, to listen to the pundits, but when it came right down to it everything broke pretty much as expected and Barack Obama was re-elected. Or Mitt Romney was put in his place. It's actually kind of hard to figure out which was the bigger part of the results last night. But I'll take it, no matter what the reasoning was. However, there were many things about the whole process that really don't sit all that well with me. It feels a little more like the States dodged another bullet than there was any tremendous progress made. Still, from my vantage point of having to live with the twin regimes of Rob Ford and Stephen Harper—each terrible and destructive in his own way—dodging a bullet seems pretty good to me right now. I'm a little bit jealous, to tell the truth.

USA's first openly-gay senator
Other than the results at the very top there were other encouraging signs to come out of last night's voting. Wisconsin elected Tammy Baldwin, who becomes the first openly gay Senator in the history of the USA. Hawai'i sent Mazie Hirono to the Senate, a Buddhist woman who was born in Japan. Illinois elected disabled war veteran Tammy Duckworth, who defeated Joe Walsh (not the musician) after his ill-advised comments about rape. More on that running theme later. In total, a record twenty women will join the Senate in 2013 and at least eighty-one are heading for the House of Representatives. In New Hampshire they outdid all the other states, electing women to fill the Governor and both Senator positions, the first time that has ever happened.

Monday, November 5, 2012

You Must Not Vote For Mitt Romney If....

If this is not the first time you are reading something political issued from my keyboard, then you probably know I will be approaching this piece from a position left of centre. I believe in full disclosure in these matters so let's be perfectly clear: I am not a Conservative. But then neither is Mitt Romney. The rise of the Tea Party in the States has led to a far-right Neo-Conservative movement which has so dangerously unbalanced the political arena—and not just in that country—that old-school Conservatives are virtual Centrists in the new ideology. If you live in the States and you vote Republican because all of your ancestors voted Republican back to the very top of your line, you really need to understand that the "Republican" representative on tomorrow's ballot bears almost no resemblance to those that your forebears supported. Therefore, "my family has always voted Republican" is no longer a valid defense for putting an "X" next to the name of a man who I feel may, if elected, be the worst President in the 236-year history of the United States. Bearing this in mind, today I am going to advocate something which ordinarily would go against all of my best instincts: if you absolutely cannot see your way clear to voting for Obama—and your ballot does not offer you a third-party choice—then I urge you to stay at home and not vote or, if you prefer, spoil your ballot. I have subscribed in the past to the "Anyone But X" theory of voting (which did not work particularly well in the last Federal Election up here in Canada) but this time I truly feel that an "Anyone But Obama" position could be potentially ruinous to the USA. I am not a particular fan of the incumbent, either, but he is at least an intelligent, sentient human being who is capable of making well-reasoned decisions. And Romney? Well, as I posted on Facebook over this past weekend, Romney has (or should have) alienated so many different factions of Americans that he should be running at under 10% in the polls right now. I just cannot understand how the math is working out the way it is: no woman, impoverished person or youth, to name but a few "groups", should ever vote for this man and that doesn't even begin to take into consideration non-Caucasians. Well, it begins to take them into consideration, I suppose.

But enough of the preamble. You know where I stand politically; this piece is about far more than that, though. It is about the absolute and utter inability Mitt Romney would have to run a country, completely aside from his political stance. He is one of the most profoundly unenlightened men I have ever seen reach his level of power in the States. Not all that long ago, he would have been running for a fringe party. Now he is neck-and-neck for the position of "Leader of the Free World". This cannot be allowed to happen. So I present to you:

"You Must Not Vote For Romney If......"

Friday, November 2, 2012

My Zoo Volunteer Training Has Begun!

My temporary badge
Today I was at the Toronto Zoo for the first week of my ten-week training program to become a "Weekday Zoo Volunteer". Each session (except the two weeks in the middle where we will be "shadowing" an experienced Volunteer on a walking tour) will be from 10-3 on Fridays, with a break of three weeks over Christmas and New Years. The intake group is very large this year—twenty-eight potential new Volunteers—because in their existing pool there are some members with increasing mobility issues who are unable to take on the task of a two-hour tour any longer. I believe there were a total of five new Volunteers last year (there may have been even fewer); that's quite a jump from one year to the next. It does appear that I came along at just the right time. It was pretty nice to sit in a room full of like-minded people, all eager to share their love of wildlife and conservation with young people, hoping to light that spark within each of them. I am very much looking forward to doing this for a long time.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jill!

Jill at 21, having a drink with her old man
My beautiful daughter, Gillian, turned twenty-one today, meaning both of my children are now old enough to be recognized as "adults" no matter where they travel. It's a bit of an odd feeling, let me tell you. Also, this fall marks the first time ever that both of them, Jill and Tim, have been in Post-Secondary schools at the same time. After a couple of years dabbling in Science programs at each of McGill and Waterloo (and a year off working and rethinking her future), Jill surprised all of us last winter by announcing that she wanted to do a complete about-face and return to school in a field of study almost diametrically opposed to what she had been immersed in up to that point; as a result, she applied to (and was accepted by) the Ryerson Theatre School, in the Performance Production stream. She is loving her time there, as clearly evidenced by the joy she demonstrates whenever she discusses her long hours of work which she has already put in, and it clearly was the right choice for her to make. I think she was worried about my reaction when she told me of her plans, though; however, I merely had to think back to my own transition from high school to university and how I was talked out of my first love, entering the Music program at the University of Toronto, by my Dad and my Guidance Counselor, among others. I entered the Applied Math program instead and hated it; as a result, I never finished and have been held back by that failing ever since. The best advice I could give Jill this past January was to do what made her happy, but follow it through to completion this time. This year has really been one of the very few "difficult" times in our lives together, though, and it hasn't been all that "difficult".

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