Why we love Toronto

I can add a few to the list.  And some things on the list, I’ll have to Google to understand.  But I’m just glad someone listed the reasons we love Toronto.  Happy 175th birthday my dear centre-of-Canada!

http://www.thestar.com/article/596779

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Reality-craft

What do The Matrix, mass media, a glass-bottle-base, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and our brains’ way of functioning have in common?  They all relate to and raise the question: what’s distorted, and what truly is reality?

Hence, reality-craft… as in crafting something and thinking it is a reality.  Apparently our brains are experts at it, using processes of generalization (“You never listen to me!!“), deletion (“That pedestrian came out of nowhere!“), and distortion (“S/he hates me!“).  These are survival skills, so even if we could stop them, we shouldn’t (anyone thinking otherwise should see “It’s a wonderful life“), but without being aware of what’s happening, we jump to conclusions of what the “TRUTH” is, and decide/ act/ behave accordingly, often to our own and others’ detriment. 

So once in a while, perhaps as we party into the new year (as some suspect this humble writer to be doing, which I am happy to leave unconfirmed and undenied – a silent homage to the popular response used in any topic of potential controversy), it might be at the very least interesting to catch some of our reality-crafting in progress.

And if we notice ourselves going “Of course it was a deliberate snub – how rude! I’m SO not talking to them ever again“, we can:

a) finally take up that salsa-dancing class we’ve been drooling over to fill up the extra time we now have, since there’s one less relationship to manage;

or…

b) remember this anecdote from Stephen Covey about “The Power of a Paradigm Shift” in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (reproduced here for the work-shy that still might not get there, from a chapter provided on Amazon for the patient few who scroll down far enough):
I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly — some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.

Salsa, anyone?

Age is wasted on the not-so-young

An homage to Bernard Shaw’s “Youth is wasted on the young”, there’s something to think about when a nine year old boy is giving advice on relationships, which is selling AND being made into a movie.  Points to note:

  • It’s a boy
  • … talking about relationships
  • … giving advice
  • … about stuff that continues to be out there (that is, it’s not new or ground breaking knowledge)
  • … which adults continue to ignore!

Hmmm.

The kid observed other kids and provided advice for kids.  I observe adults.  Now of course I generalize and hypothesize (so much fun and entirely liberating), but I’d say I wouldn’t give my pet fish (if I had one) juggling sticks to keep itself amused.  Or take a 5 yr old child to see a political commentary monologue on stage (unless s/he was truly interested, in which case I’d say a special prayer for their well-being and take them to a psychologist instead).  And yet I see in relationships people speaking different love languages; in essence, not giving the other what is important to them, rather what is convenient for us.  And we then are surprised, baffled and upset that things don’t work out.

Apparently we tried to do it to pandas too (i.e. give them something they didn’t need or want) – hoping to increase their population by feeding them viagra or showing panda adult videos (not kidding).  Didn’t prove effective there either.  Eventually the pandas worked it out themselves and therefore haven’t become extinct yet.

The moral of the story?  Humans also have to stop watching adult videos to save themselves from becoming extinct.

Burden of choice

As if the gajillion choices we have to make every day weren’t bad enough.  Assuming the faint of heart (who like yours truly cry at a mere hint of the cheesiest emotional moments in Bollywood movies) are ready to witness the plight of an average Torontonian/ big-city-North-American, and have their embroidered hankies handy (yes this bad pun was intended), allow me to provide a sample:

  • There are 100+ brands of cereals starting with the letters A-C alone…. I stopped counting beyond 3 digits
  • At any given moment, about 50+ movies are playing in Toronto mainstream movie theatres
  • Within a 10 minute walk in a busy downtown area, one encounters at least 30 places to eat
  • A mid-sized shopping mall has 150+ stores to visit

… and this isn’t even beginning to tell the story.  We haven’t even talked about the tv channels and programs yet.

Amidst all this, we Canadians have our federal elections.  A blip of an event compared to our “glamourous big brother” down South, with a total time of a month and change for election ramp up to October 14th, compared to the years of effort spent elsewhere (e.g. Southern Republican Leadership Conference Hotline Straw Poll was held in 2006 for the 2008 US presidential elections).

Gone are the comforts of non-democracy, where we had one (or a few million) less decisions to make.  We have, by choice, take on the burden of choice.  Our decisions might have an impact.  (The purists who believe democratic govts do exactly as their citizens want, and therefore voting alone will have an impact, can write their own blog.)  Voting is a big responsibility.  I know because they told me so when I was studying for the citizenship exam.

I need comfort food to help me deal with this.  Sleep deprivation due to indecision (or any other less honourable reason) is best remedied with freedom fries.  And what one reads in the free newspapers while walking to work or standing squished in the rush hour subway traffic, does not really help reduce the confusion or indecision.

So I decided to read up on how the wise predecessors have dealt with the unique challenges of democracy and the responsibility of running for office, to reinstill in myself the faith in political leadership and abilities.  A subset of the fruits of my efforts (which involved simultaneous internet surfing, typing and slurping veggie soup), follows:

  • One day while campaigning against Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election, Adlai Stevenson was approached by a female admirer. “Governor,” she enthused, “every thinking person will be voting for you.” “Madam, that is not enough,” Stevenson replied. “I need a majority!”  Needless to say, despite his popularity among intellectuals, Stevenson lost the election.
  • In 1858, Abraham Lincoln campaigned against Stephen Douglas for an Illinois Senate seat. (Lincoln once described an argument made by Douglas as “thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death.”)  Following Lincoln’s loss, he was asked how he felt (by a sympathetic friend). “Like the boy who stubbed his toe,” Lincoln replied, “I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.”
    [Adlai Stevenson recalled this story following his loss to Dwight Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election.]
  • In 1974, Richard Nixon, not noted for his social graces, visited Paris to attend the funeral of French president Georges Pompidou. “This,” Nixon remarked during the ceremony, “is a great day for France!”
  • During the 2000 presidential campaign, Al Gore’s daughter Kristin praised his role as a mentor. “He was… the guy who helped me study for my third-grade state-capital quiz,” she explained. “Seattle – I got it down.”  Sadly, the record does not indicate who broke the embarrassing news to the Gores: the capital of Washington state is in fact… Olympia.
  • In October 2002, Arnold Schwarzenegger returned the Ferrari Spider which he had recently purchased, explaining that it did not fit his new image. The flashy car, he told the dealership’s president, might give potential voters the wrong idea: “I feel I need a car that would better telegraph my image as a candidate for California governor – a car that says I’m a man of the people.”  In March 2003, Schwarzenegger bought… an Austrian tank (called a Pinskower) modified to render it legal to drive on city streets.

Hmm…. eeny meeny miny moe

Dis-art-ed

Nuit blanche this year (or what I saw of it) was for the most part disappointing.  Of course with contemporary art, one always expects that some displays (or installations as they’re ‘artfully’ called) may not resonate with every person.  However, if it were that the statements were too broad or abstract or not meaningful to some, execution would still have gotten some marks.  Just like one can admire a well-presented point of view while disagreeing with it, so can one appreciate an artist’s creativity and expression even if the message isn’t aligned with one’s own opinion or passion.  The artist’s effort respects the others’ (audience’s or viewers’) time and intellect, which in turn begets respect.

A small number of installations, such as Stereoscope at Toronto’s city hall or A dream of pastures near OCAD merited such respect (at least from the tired owners of feet-about-to-fall-off after a few hours of walking with little to show for it).  Conversation # 2 was another such noteworthy piece.  The genius of simplicity and creativity in these displays, not to mention the considerable effort (e.g. installing lights behind each of the 960 windows in city hall building, or crafting the intricately timed and positioned interplay of lights, gears, bicycle, and participants) drew the few moments of excitement and admiration in the night.

That is, if we don’t count the people who were just happy that for one Saturday night the city of Toronto wasn’t entirely asleep by 10 pm!  It seemed “people on the road” was more of a mentionable this time around on Nuit Blanche.

Or the other “happy” crowd (which yours truly is still trying to figure out) was the kind that arrived at a bar before they started the tour and were anticipating drinking so much (and made good on that expectation) that they handed a credit card to the bar tender before they started drinking, in case they later were not in full control of their signing hands (or remember which one was the signing hand!)  Last I heard it was still legal to drink on any night (not just Nuit Blanche) so no reason to go “all out” on the booze, and how ‘interesting’ did they expect the art to be, to have to be drunk to appreciate it! Or maybe…. this was actually an interactive art installation, and I totally didn’t get it (this lack of comprehension has been known to happen – or at least admitted to – about as frequently as the planets of our solar system coming in a straight line, sending fears of doomsday rippling through the faint-hearted!)

Since the next similar planetary alignment is not until 2438 (CNN and NASA say so, and I trust this time the measurement / calculation was in the correct units), I can continue to “get it” as I see fit and therefore hold firm on my pedestrian (pun totally intended) opinions on this year’s “art” displays in Nuit Blanche, both on and off the streets of Toronto.

Spaced out

Toronto covers approx. 1,655 square kilometres, earning it the 36th place by land (and 97th by density).  So in short, we’re doing OK for space.  Yet the city for some reason extended its land on the east-ish end.  And they called it Leslie Spit.  No joke.  While for the most part, the road/ paved trail is fairly consistent in its landscape, the view of the city is quite enchanting, especially on a cloudy day!

View from Leslie Spit

View from Leslie Spit

The chains of convenience

Before I moved to Canada, I didn’t realize how prominent the problem of slavery still is in North America.  No, this use of present tense is not a grammatical error on my part.  Yes of course some of the principles and laws that governed the old style slavery have been changed, but slavery (or lack thereof) is hardly in the physical chains; it truly exists in the minds and attitudes.

For one thing, prejudice lurks just beneath the easily visible surface.  The US presidential elections are not only good showbiz, for the keen eyes they also highlight the behaviours and thoughts that otherwise might not be noticeable in the daily humdrum of life.  And we’re not even going to go into the whole debate of inter-racial love-hate relationships.

And for another, slavery takes many forms and continues to be amoeboid.  The movie “Amazing Grace“, which chronicles the life and times of William Wilberforce, at its end and in the dvd special features, describes the many forms of slavery, and its so-undeniable presence today.  Anyone doubting that has only to try and adopt a child from the less prosperous South American or Asian countries; the red tape, making loving would-be parents jump through hoops of torture, is trying to humbly prevent some human trafficking.  Sex slaves being brought to other countries from Russia is pointed out in “Eastern Promises“.  Child labour in various developing and third world countries has been talked about.  And many more examples exist.

But it doesn’t really touch the lives of us everyday folks busy abiding the law, being kind to our neighbours, recycling our garbage, does it?  Well, depends on what “it” is.  Even if we ignore Gandhi’s cautionary note that life is one indivisible whole and therefore these seemingly remote phenomena do have a butterfly effect on our lives, one such practice is so prevelant in today’s society that it’s a fait accompli that no other way of life is even worth contemplating.  This practice is the complete and wholehearted participation in the entirely monopolistic debt-based economy.  That attitude of accepting (and on many occasions defending) the status quo persists, because:

  • one, it makes (short term) economic sense (to some),
  • two, because our economy would collapse otherwise and we wouldn’t know how else to function, and
  • three, if we didn’t do it, someone else will and they’ll reap the “benefits”.

Yet funnily enough, when Wilberforce argued in the parliament to abolish slavery, the very same arguments were offered to him.  It wasn’t convenient to change.  And people weren’t complaining, so what’s the problem?

Interesting how with all our creativity, we as humans keep echoing the same excuses.

And even in the times of today, where large financial institutions are collapsing and the only people really suffering the effects are us, the law abiding public, we continue to defend a debt-based economy and practices that enslave with the promises of riches and threats of “being left behind”.

“But even if this was undesirable, what can one do?”, we ask ourselves.  “This is too big to beat, right?”

“When there is a war raging, it is very difficult to stay out of it.  One day the war will get to you.”

The New Yorker says about a book on the British abolishionist movement: “Hochschild’s history of British abolitionism notes that ending slavery would have seemed as unlikely in eighteenth-century England as banning automobiles does today.”  But that it happened, means it can happen.  And for the still-doubtful (about debt being slavery and its impacts), here are some interesting statistics (courtesy the movie “Summer 2007” following 5 med students through landlord-infested rural India – a movie which, while not the best executed, still makes several points):

  • Since 1997, over 150,000 farmers have committed suicide (due to unpayable debts and resulting creditor cruelty) in 7 states of India, according to government figures
  • While governments came and changed, in one of the states the suicide rate kept increasing at 105%
  • Eventually the federal government announced a loan waiver of Rs. 600,000,000,000 in 2008, for institutional credit only
  • Millions of farmers continue to suffer at the hands of money lenders

But it’s SO inconvenient to not use credit, to actually save up to buy things at a time when I can perhaps afford them.  Isn’t it?  At least I’m not buying sugar made by slaves.  Oh wait, that’s because slavery has been abolished.  Now I can have all the sugar I want.  Yippee!