NAFTA: People need to chill…

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TL/DR version:

I wish Canadians would stop freaking out about Trump’s NAFTA threats, because that’s exactly what he wants us to do and it’s embarrassing. Let the American industries that will be most affected, like Agriculture, do the handwringing and pressuring, because those are the only voices Trump will pay attention to anyway. As Canadians, we need to ignore the bait and follow our government’s lead of listening with calm dignity, nodding politely, and then quietly, diligently working towards finding new trading partners while keeping the olive branch extended should this prove to be yet another blustering bluff.

Yes, I get that the livelihoods of millions of people will be affected if these trade wars get nastier. Hopefully, it won’t come to that, but if it does, Canada will survive just fine if its citizens work together. One way or another, we’re all dependent on an industry that relies on trade, and I’d rather make the sacrifices necessary to diversify our interests, than bend over for a bad deal because of fear. In the meantime, let’s keep calm and carry on, the Canadian way—I believe a Timmies coffee and some Timbits would be the best way to facilitate this process.

Long Rant version:

OFFS. What’s with the sudden deluge of doomsday predictions in every corner of Canada’s media today, when we knew this was coming? Did the pundits miss that Trump won because he promised to take immediate, drastic action to put American interests first, and pull out NAFTA immediately if Canada and Mexico refuse to give America more? If they did, then they’re idiots. His supporters have been pressing the US government for years to scrap NAFTA, so he’s doing what they elected him to do and nobody, least of all Canada, should be surprised.

That said, even Trump knows that the shock of just up and cancelling such a huge trade agreement would be disastrous, from an administrative point of view if nothing else, which is why I think it’s just a tactic to pressure Congress to open negotiations. NAFTA is long overdue for some modernizing to the mutual benefit of all three countries, but I vehemently disagree with his unilateral declarations that NAFTA does far more harm than good. The other accusation that the USA has given away more advantages than it’s taken, is equally preposterous. There is too much evidence to the contrary. While it is undeniable that some industries and communities have suffered, many others have thrived to the point it’s been a net positive overall, but if a majority of Americans don’t believe the economic data, then all this kneejerk panic in Canada and Mexico isn’t going to change anything, so why bother? It merely feeds into the perception by some that Canada needs the USA more than they need us, which is in no way true.

Ultimately, if the trust and good will between our two nations keeps eroding, and trade negotiations fail, then we’ll need to cut our losses and move on—sooner rather than later. Drafting a new Canada/Mexico FTA could be a positive first step, but whatever we choose to do, I have faith in our country. Our collective ability to compromise is an asset that’s too often underrated, and it is this that will allow us to quickly pivot and implement solutions to mitigate any damage from a failed NAFTA agreement, while we look to negotiate new agreements that will increase our exports to emerging world markets.

No matter what happens, I have a feeling that history will remember these years as the era when diplomacy went off the rails and rhetoric took the world on a nauseating ride. Like it or not, Trump DOES have the executive powers to withdraw the USA from NAFTA at any time provided he gives adequate notice—Congress is not required. So, for now, our government is doing the right thing by keeping Canada’s opinions to itself while vigorously defending our rights and communicating our position. But, if all this turns out not to be some kind bullying tactic (I think it is) and Trump follows through on his threat (unlikely), then take comfort in the fact that NAFTA hating Americans will feel the consequences as much as Canadians—trade is never a zero-sum game.

Book Review- Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama

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*WARNING: A couple of small spoilers are included in this review.

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I’m a huge fan of the Alien films and the Alien: Isolation video game, so I am happy to say that Tim Lebbon and Audible have created a more than worthy addition to the franchise with Alien: Out of the Shadows. As far as I’m concerned, it is leaps and bounds better than Alien Resurrection, though I’m glad they decided to do this as a dramatization rather than a movie. While it is official canon, it includes Ellen Ripley and takes place in between Alien and Aliens, which I feel would be too complicated to get right on film.

That said, Alien: Out of the Shadows, does require fans be open minded about Ripley, re: how she’s incorporated into the story, but it works and doesn’t feel too contrived (which I was worried about when I first read the summary). This is a fun, well-written novel with several new and interesting characters, though only a couple of them were fleshed out enough to be memorable. Hooper (voiced by Corey Johnson), the central character, is a likeable Hicks type hero whose story could easily be expanded, and I’d love to see him included in further novelizations (the ending is open enough that it’s plausible he could survive).

The entire voice cast was top notch, with special mention given to Laurel Lefkow as Ripley. I quickly forgot I wasn’t wasn’t listening to Sigourney Weaver—she was that spot-on fantastic. Ash also makes an appearance, voiced by the talented Rutger Hauer who brings a darker, more sinister, and yet more sympathetic feel to the character. I was skeptical at first, but his Ash turned out to be one of the best parts of the entire dramatization.

The sound effects and music were also excellent, and faithful to the movies and video game. Of course, for me the best parts were several moments of feel-good nostalgia for fans—moments that harken back to the first two films and the more recent Alien: Isolation.

From beginning to end, I loved how it felt like I was listening to a new Alien movie. As someone who logged dozens of hours playing the video game, I loved the sounds and references incorporated from Isolation’s Sevastopol Station. Basically, I enjoyed every nostalgic minute of this story, and didn’t want it to finish. The only thing I can complain about is that the two sequels to Alien: Out of the Shadows haven’t yet been given the dramatization treatment. Get on with it, Audible!

If you can’t already guess, I love this audiobook and should have written this review last year. Listening to it again the other day just reinforced that I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who likes Sci-Fi thrillers, but I especially recommend it to Alien fans.

Sometimes you just have to laugh…

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I love technology, but sometimes the stupid is just too much. Who knew that buying a ten-dollar video game online from a tech giant like Microsoft, could be so complicated? Well, today I found out the hard way.

Me, chatting with Microsoft Live Support:

Hi there, I just used my Visa to put a $15 credit on my son’s child account, so he can buy the Minecraft Windows 10 edition, but the store keeps asking for a credit card. There’s no option to pay with his account balance.

MS: Some games don’t allow you to use gift cards to purchase.

Me: Yes, but this isn’t a gift card, it’s an account credit paid for with a credit card.

MS: The system treats it as the same thing.

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Me: So, you’re telling me that Microsoft doesn’t allow people to use their Microsoft Online Store account balance, to purchase a Microsoft owned game in the Microsoft Online Store?

MS: Yes, that is correct.

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Me: Oh, my…the irony. Then, I guess we’ll need a refund. You guys might want to rethink your strategy, because while I appreciate this made me laugh, with today’s technology, it really shouldn’t take this long to purchase a $10 game. Ridiculous, really.

MS: Thank you for choosing Microsoft, is there anything else I can help you with?

Me:  Unless you can give me the last thirty minutes of my life back, nope.

Live Chat Ended

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Music from our Ancient Past

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I’m an ancient history junkie, so I was thrilled when recently introduced to ‘Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal – No. 6’, the oldest known melody circa 1400 B.C.

It was discovered in Ugarit, Syria. Michael Levy does a wonderful rendition using a replica ancient Lyre, but this modern arrangement by Malek Jandali is so evocative and beautiful that I keep going back to listen. I never could have imagined that a piece written 3400 years ago would end up in my iTunes top 10.

 

A more historically faithful version can be heard here:

Enjoy!

Tomorrow’s Mirror Today

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I’ve followed Chuck Wendig’s blog at http://www.terribleminds.com for a couple of years now, and I’ve enjoyed reading what people come up with for his Friday Flash Fiction Challenges. I don’t write much flash fiction, but when I saw the great title in Chuck’s list, I decided to rework a backstory segment I had to cut from a longer piece. It was hard to keep it at ~1500 words, but it was fun trying!

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A late afternoon breeze scattered leaves across the forest floor, and carried with it the inviting scent of a campfire smoke. Next to an old Trapper’s cabin, a loud, crackling snap sent shooting sparks towards the sky and a two-year-old squealed with delight. Chubby fingers reached out to grab a fallen marshmallow, but her father chuckled and scooped her into his arms before she could eat it.

“Oh no, not that one! It’s all dirty.” He said and kissed her cheek.

She felt her face turn white-hot red and she wailed. A startled squirrel jumped from one tree to another to get away, and it brought a shower of fluffy debris spiraling down on her head.

With a deep, baritone laugh, her father plucked leaves and twigs from her hair and sat beside the fire, placing her on his lap. Little Katherine sniffled while he slid another marshmallow onto a long, charred stick and held it over the flames, as soft cooing calls echoed from the direction of the lake.

“Do you hear that?” He whispered.

She did, and it sounded like a bird. She gazed up at the trees painted gold by the fire’s dancing light.

“No, sweeting. They’re calling from over there.” He pointed to a path leading through the forest. “That’s the call of the Loons. They’re very special creatures…masters of both land and water, and they don’t sing for just anyone.” He smiled and tapped a fingertip to her nose. “This means they like us. They’re giving us a precious gift, their song of eternal, soulful peace. Come, I’ll show you.”

Together they walked towards to the lake and she laughed every time her father grabbed her arms to swing her over the boulders and tree roots that shared their path. They arrived at the water’s edge just in time to see a family of Loons surface and swim in tight formation before disappearing again. Katherine giggled and splashed her hands in the cold water, distorting her reflection that shimmered on the surface.

The wind picked up and her father crouched down, pulling her close. “Shhh,” he said, and pointed to a ripple on the surface. “Look, see there? They’ve returned to their world under water, but if we stay very, very quiet, they might come back and sing for us again.”

~~~

 “Why do you have to marry that woman, Dad? Don’t you love me anymore?”

“Sweetheart, you know I love you more than anything in the whole wide world. That doesn’t mean I can’t love her too.”

 “What if Mom comes back? You loved her, you told me so.”

“Yes, I did. Of course I did. She loved us too, but remember how I told you it wasn’t anyone’s fault? She’s sick, and I don’t think it’s good for you to keep hoping for something that can never be.”

“What if that woman doesn’t like me?”

“Impossible. Your stepmother will love you as much as I do. How can she not?”

“Where is it?” Katherine shouted to no one as she followed the familiar forest trail. The full moon provided just enough light to look for the old Trapper’s cabin, the one that marked the path down to the Lake. It was cold, colder than she expected. She shivered and kept walking, shoving one hand in her pocket. With the other, she grabbed the lapels of her raincoat, clenching the smooth fabric so tight the skin around her knuckles burned. It was almost midnight and she’d been walking for over an hour—she should have reached it by now.

No, she should be studying for finals. It had been her father’s dream that she be the first in the family to earn a degree.

“Daddy, I’m sorry that I didn’t get the scholarship. I tried, but…”

He’d taken her for dinner at an expensive French restaurant, to celebrate her first week of college.

“Don’t be silly. I’ve been saving for this day since you were born and I’m so proud of you.”

“Yeah, but SHE’s not happy. She wanted that Mediterranean cruise, and now it’s my fault you can’t afford to go.”

“No, you misunderstood. She—”

Katherine cut him off. “She’s been telling lies about me again, hasn’t she? You’re the only person in the whole wide world that I love. How can you believe her?”

Her father put down his fork, and stared at the table. His shoulders sank as though broken by an invisible weight, and his voice was quieter when he said, “I thought you said you’d been taking your medication.”

“You’re  calling me a liar? I can’t believe this, Daddy. SHE blames me for losing out on a fancy vacation and I’m the bad one? I’m the who needs a shrink?”

“No, I’m sorry. We don’t have to do this, sweetheart. Please.”

“What? Do what?” She seethed with a sputtering whisper. “Point out you married a gold digger bitch who hates me? Maybe YOU should see a shrink, so he can explain that SHE’s the reason I ran away and found shooting up preferable to spending one more minute living in HER hell.”

  “Shhh…I’m sorry. You’re right…shhh…you’re right. I know you had a hard time and I wish I could go back and make it better.”

At least he no longer tried to argue it was Katherine’s fault she never gave her stepmother a chance. Every time he took that witch’s side, it stabbed her heart with the white-hot knife of betrayal. No, NO. He wouldn’t do that. She took a deep breath and clenched both fists until her nails dug into the flesh while she counted to ten. “Okay, then we just won’t talk about her anymore. Ever. agreed?”

“Agreed. Now, let’s go shopping after dinner. How about we get you one of those fancy new laptop computers?”

“And some new clothes? Oh, and what about a car! Then I wouldn’t have to take the bus, and…”

Her father laughed, the hearty baritone sound that always made her feel like his special little girl. “We’ll see, sweetheart. We’ll see.”

If only he’d never bought that horrible car. If only the greedy step-bitch had prevented it like Katherine expected her to, everything would be fine like it was before—but now it wasn’t and never would be again.

Icy winds drove a heavy mist deeper through the forest, where it curled around the cedar trees like phantoms. A sudden gust forced a sharp intake of breath, but she pressed forward—the forest was the only home she had now.

From the time she learned to walk, she’d hiked those woods with her father every September, just the two of them. He knew every dip, every rock, every twist and turn along the maze of hidden footpaths, but he couldn’t help her now—he was dead.

Hot tears stung at a cut on her lips pressed tight to hold onto the pain. It was her fault that he was gone, and it was her fault that he was taken away by a smoldering, twisted pile of red and chrome wrapped around a pole. It was her fault because he’d been on his way home from the car lot with a surprise for his only child.

“Katherine, I want you to consider checking into the hospital again. Just for a little while.” Dr. Bowman didn’t look up from the notes he was taking.

The last time, it had been her father signing the papers to have her committed. He’d done it out of love, but she hadn’t understood that until years later. “Do I have to?”

The doctor looked up now, and studied her for a few seconds before answering. “Your father would want you to. He always wanted what was best for you, and so do I.”

Manipulative bastard…it wouldn’t help, not this time and he knew it.

The trees thinned into a clearing, and she saw the withered branches of her favorite oak tree, drowning under a bramble thicket’s twisted vines—another casualty of Destiny’s malice.

Tears flowed faster and she picked up the pace, and then—finally—she heard them. The Loons. They were calling, speaking to her as they always did through their special song.

The exposed roots of a giant, rotting Pacific cedar at the forest’s edge reached out with crooked hands desperate to snatch her back, but she laughed at them. They couldn’t stop her—they couldn’t even make her stumble.

When she reached the grassy hill leading down to the lake, she ran. At the shoreline, pale rays of moonlight had drawn an incandescent path and she followed it. A new, softer gust of wind blurred her reflection shimmering on the surface, and when a heavy blanket of frozen needles enveloped her body, it made her smile—its embrace held the promise she would be with her father again, forever.

Silvery puffs of warm breath vanished as she slipped beneath the surface, and she knew the Loons would come to guide her home. Katherine merged with the last silent ripple that faded into the darkness, and at that moment she heard it—her song of soulful peace.

New life challenge: Homeschool Part 1

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Homeschool…yikes! Now there’s a word that used to make me shudder. The very idea of being chained to a desk beside The Boy all day seemed a guaranteed path to misery. Anticipating the inevitable hours of arguing, outbursts, and power struggles, had me fantasizing about grabbing the nearest bottle of anything 40 proof to guzzle in the safety of my bathroom, while belting out some good ol’ Gloria Gaynor…

 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love The Boy to pieces and think he’s an amazing kid. He’s brilliant, funny, loving, and kind, but he’s also a stubborn and moody know-it-all-soon-to-be-teenager. Maybe it’s because he’s an emotional and sensitive Pisces, which by all astrological accounts means he’s prone to extremes. I translated that to mean he’s got an equal shot at ending up as the next Steve Jobs or Charles Ponzi—both famous Pisces, for very different reasons.

Let’s root for the former.

No matter what he ends up being when he grows up, right now trying to teach him anything is like banging my head against a brick wall, and I cringe thinking about the months and years ahead. What is it with teenagers, anyway? It’s like they’re born with the ability to say “I know!” with the perfect intonation of snark, condescension, and arrogance. They sound like Kanye—except, coherent and smart.

So, it probably won’t be a surprise to learn that The Boy has ADHD of the impulsive, hyperactive type—with ODD tendencies thrown in for good measure. It’s a lovely combination that’s like looking into my Karma mirror—one with a dark reflection that’s obscured with the floaty, foreboding ghosts of bad behaviours past. Oh yes, I was every parent’s nightmare, and I can hear my mom and dad cackling with glee over this glorious turn of payback (don’t begrudge them, they earned this prize).

Needless to say, school didn’t work for me, and after six years of trying, it’s clearly not working for The Boy either. It started with a phone call from the Principal the first week of Kindergarten, and it’s been a roller coaster of meltdowns, disruptive behaviour, and phone calls home, ever since. Yes, there’s been some amazing highs and positive achievements, but there’s also been a whole lot of bumps and anxiety. At some point, I’ll probably write a separate post about how The Boy was diagnosed and the journey we’ve been on since then, but for now, suffice to say that it’s not been a smooth ride. However, I wouldn’t change a minute of it for the world—I’ve learned more than I could have possibly imagined, and I’m a better mother because of it.

All that said, I want to clarify that both of The Boy’s schools (in Quebec and BC), have been nothing short of fantastic, and I think the staff can probably walk on water—they have all been amazing. We’re beyond grateful that we’ve been able to interact with so many awesome people in the education system, and we’re beyond lucky that we happen to live in a province that has an equally fantastic homeschool program. I’ll write more about that once I’ve had time to learn what I like/don’t like about it. I hope to God it works out and The Boy thrives, because he deserves to have every opportunity for success.

In Part II, I’ll add some specifics about how the homeschooling works here in BC and how we were able to switch mid-year. Until then, please wish me luck! I think I’m gonna need it…

Yeah, about that Muslim ban…

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Skeptical = what people should be when a leader promises quick fixes to complex problems, and he/she promises to do it without any negative consequences.

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Welcome to the age of intolerance. Fuck. How does one even begin to describe what we all just witnessed today? The level of hubris is just stunning. I was also dead wrong about the number of Americans who believe that this kind of unilateral action is necessary to bring their country back to a Utopian 1950, an era that they seem (by their rhetoric and actions) to idolize.

All I can say is that these people who dream of “America First” and believe they can force it on the rest of the world with American power and authority, need to be prepared for a harsh reality check, because it ain’t 1950 anymore.

The world has grown up since WWII, and while many countries continue to rely on the USA for the bulk of their trade and military protection, it’s partly because the United States cultivated these partnerships during those years when everyone had to rebuild. Americans have since worked hard to keep their dominance and protection an attractive choice, because they benefit from having a strong, defining presence around the world. The risk America faces now is that countries have more options in a modern global economy, options that didn’t exist sixty, or even thirty years ago.

But I digress…an argument that America is no longer a superpower and a debate about the dangers of protectionist politics, are well beyond the scope of this rant.

Back to the travesty of the day, about which I can say that the only positive in the past twenty-four hours, was seeing the equal or greater number of people who are fighting for human rights against this backwards slide. They earned an important victory today when a judge overturned the ban, albeit temporarily, and I can only hope that they will continue to triumph in the months and years ahead.

Now, do I believe that we should let anyone waltz into North America? Of course not, there are people who would do us harm. Vetting is necessary, and I have confidence that the current system works. But, some believe the application process for refugees should more stringent. Fine. I disagree, but I also understand the value of compromise—small steps are better than none. However, refusing re-entry to already vetted law-abiding people who have earned green cards, visas, homes, jobs, families, and productive lives, simply because they have the misfortune of dual citizenship with one of the countries Trump doesn’t like, is totally unacceptable. Period.

How can so many people in a country that holds itself up as the shining example of freedom and liberty, not see how disturbing today’s images were of US residents being handcuffed and detained like criminals?

I’ve read countless comments on social media that laughed and sneered at the detainees, some going so far as to label them all murderers and rapists. I don’t care what your ideologies are, these are human beings who were confused and scared that they were being prohibited indefinitely, through the use of force, from going home. Can you imagine how that must feel?

Think about that for a minute. Look at your partner, your children, your comfy home…soak it all in. Now, try to imagine how it would feel to go on vacation or a business trip, as you have many times before, only this time you’re suddenly not allowed to return to your house, school, job, or family? Imagine suddenly having no due process, no clear explanation of why this is happening, no process of appeal, no empathy from authorities, and nowhere to go. Imagine the shock of finding nothing but contempt from the country you call home, the same country that had welcomed and supported you for months or years before this day, a country now separated from you by determined officers demanding you leave or get arrested?

Disgust doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, because my God, these people have DONE NOTHING WRONG. Instead, they have built happy lives and raise their families in the USA. They’ve bought homes, gone to school, and paid their taxes. How can anyone not see that what happened today is a frightening parallel to how the Nazi’s began their persecution of the Jews in the 1930s? Have we learned NOTHING from history?

To anyone who supports what happened today, I say this: The world is evolving exponentially, and as history repeatedly shows, progress is immune to ideological roadblocks thrown in its path. Being a leader means blazing new trails into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory, not hiding behind the walls of your safe zone. If you’re making leadership decisions based on fear of change, then you’re doing it wrong.

 

 

I wish…

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…that more people would remember:

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*Photo credit: Jon Coller https://flic.kr/p/8ZEKqd

I admire people who are passionate about their beliefs. Passion motivates us to keep moving forward so that we can become wiser, more compassionate, and use that knowledge to make the world a better place. Being passionate about something means investing all our time, energy, and focus on achieving what we want most, which is why being wrong can feel like failure instead of what it really is—progress.

Truth is personal. Truth evolves. Wanting to be right is understandable. Refusing to accept that you might not be, isn’t. So, to my fellow keyboard warriors I say, practice tolerance and listen with respect.

Indulging in Pessimism

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Last week we celebrated the legacy of the Greatest Generation, and today I can’t help feeling that we’re destined to be known as the Selfish Generation. I’m usually optimistic about the future, but tonight, the shallow definition of humanity that I see seeping out from every corner of the world, is disheartening. Life is an ever shifting spectrum of light and dark, one can’t exist without the other and each is necessary for growth. So, when did blaming others for our own circumstances and personal demons, become preferable to doing the work necessary to evolve as individuals and as a group?
 
Progress is hard and requires compassion, patience, and compromise, but it seems more evident everyday that we live in a world where we have the attention span of goldfish, and personal validation comes wrapped in a box with a price tag. Until we’re willing to look beyond our own egos and take responsibility for the choices we’re making for our collective future, greed will continue to be a potent aphrodisiac—one that lowers the barriers of altruism and ethics in order to enable the abuse of power.
 
Truth is ugly sometimes, but it’s unavoidable—it’s always there, in the deepest part of who we are and who we will be. Embrace it, all of it, and there will be nothing left to fear.
#mysoapbox