Saturday, December 11, 2010

Not So Dry, Not So Cold

I'm just at the end of a few days visiting family in Toronto, the city where I was born and raised. I've now spent almost as many years living in Edmonton as I did in Toronto. It's always a jarring experience to go back to where you grew up, familiar and strange all at the same time. Some things have most definitely changed, others are the same as always.

It was about minus twelve when I left Edmonton (and yes, it was dry), but I found the airplane warm and was glad to get outside when I arrived. Minus eight, brutally cold for December in Toronto. It stayed cold for another day or two, but my tough-guy attitude toward the temperature wore off as I acclimatized; after 24 hours I found it as cold as everyone else. Today got up to about plus four, which in Edmonton at this time of year would mean a bunch of people wearing shorts (I'm not kidding about this) and bars opening their patios.

Some things I really like about Toronto. There are thousands of little shops and restaurants on every main street, and very few chain stores or big box outlets. At least where I am, in central Toronto and Leslieville. We were looking for a specific Ethiopian restaurant on Bloor east tonight, found a different Ethiopian one which was too full, so we walked across the street to a Nicaraguan place and had a pretty good meal. This diversity and street-level vibrancy is amazing, and not found in too many other cities.

But there is - and I'm generalizing greatly - an attitude here, a mild cynicism or nonchalance that I now notice when I come back. Those aren't exactly the right words, but it contrasts a simpler directness and, well, happiness I get from Edmontonians. Relax, smile, enjoy the moment, don't take things so seriously.

And, it needs to be said, while neither NHL team is in danger of winning the Stanley Cup this year, at least there is some genuine hope and excitement in oil country. Toronto: not so much. Being a Leafs fan for most of my life, it was very liberating to renounce it and get behind a team that works hard and cares. And doesn't whine.

Good to be back, but looking forward to going home.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

You Can't Handle the Truth

Tom Flanagan is a University of Calgary professor and a longtime friend, advisor and former campaign manager of Stephen Harper. I don't know what his current relationship is to Harper, but I think his philosophy is similar to that of the Conservative party.

A few days ago on CBC he called for the assassination of Wikileaks director Julian Assange. Two things stuck me: the obvious is that this clearly crosses the line. Here is a somewhat prominent intellectual from a civilized, reasonable country saying a man needs to be killed because he allowed some material to be posted on a website.

But it's the reasoning behind the comment that should be more concerning. The Wikileaks information is a huge collection of classified US State Department diplomatic cables. Flanagan asserts that this type of information is dangerous and should never become public. "This is really not stuff that should be out," he says. Apparently, only a small circle of smarter-than-us political leaders should be allowed to know such things, the rest of the world can't handle it. I find a parallel with our current government, who seem to want to do most of their business in secret with less and less transparency. And with the same contempt of the general public.

The internet and modern communication in general is opening things up. Information of all sorts is more available now than ever. And this is a good thing. There's always the risk of misinformation or over-reaction, but that's hardly a justification to keep secrets. Or to order a hit on someone who runs a website.