Learn from this, Canada.

It’s an 82 kilometer drive from Peace River, Alberta to Fairview, and there’s not a whole lot to see along the way. Fewer than 10,000 people live in the two towns combined, but I still managed to get stuck in traffic driving from one to the other.

We sat there, my friends and I, waiting for the road to clear so we could get to a company Christmas party. We were listening to CBC Radio 1; Randy Bachman, of BTO fame, was outlining the history of reggae, playing songs that were perfectly juxtaposed with the snow-covered canola fields outside.

Eventually the cops motioned us forward, and we could see what the holdup was. The face of a Ford F350 was completely flattened, like an accordion. It hit a moose, apparently, though the moose itself was no where to be seen. The cops told us it walked away. Apparently that’s not uncommon.

This is the most Canadian story I could possibly tell, but that truck also nicely outlines my mental state the day after the election of Donald J. Trump. I was utterly flattened by something I really should have seen coming.

I didn’t sleep the night of the election. I wept multiple times on Wednesday. I spent the weekend on the coast with my wife, entirely offline, doing everything I could to avoid reading the news.

What I’m feeling, dear reader, is this: I want to love America, but I can’t. I just can’t.

I live outside Portland, Oregon, a city aflame with protests last week. When I go home to rural Ontario, people call me “the American.” I’ve lived stateside for over a decade. I own a house. And I’ve been known to spout dangerous foreign ideas, like “putting an NHL team in Hamilton isn’t a great idea.”

But I don’t consider myself American. I’m not an American citizen. Maybe someday, I’ve always told myself, but then something always happens. Sometimes a small thing, like the US facing Canada in Olympic hockey, makes me realize I’m completely incapable of self-identifying as American. And sometimes….well, sometimes it’s big things. Seeing Canada embrace Syrian refugees makes me feel deeply patriotic, and so does the way Canadian voters soundly rejected anti-Muslim rhetoric in the 2015 election.

Which brings me to the 2016 US election. I have never felt less American than now. This is not my native land, but I hesitate to even call it home. Don’t get me wrong: I’m very grateful to live here. I have many great friends here. I love these people. I love my wife.

But when I think of “America”, writ large, I now think of a country that elects a know-nothing demagogue spouting unambiguous racism and hatred. The thought of ever pledging allegiance to its flag makes me sick in my stomach.

I know this, on some level, is a defense mechanism. I’m a straight white Christian male, but playing the “Canada” card gets me off the hook for Trump entirely. Knowing the psychological reasons behind my sudden surge of Canadian nationalism doesn’t lessen its potency.

I’m going to feel like this for a while, and I’m going to be venting a lot. I’m hoping to put some of my energy toward making my local community a better place for the people Trump wants to hurt.

But in the meantime, I want to say something to my compatriots back home.

Canada: you’re the shining city on the hill now. America has lost faith with its own ideals, and Europe is descending into darkness. Canada is the only Western power that believes in multiculturalism, and the world needs Canada to live up to that belief.

So what I ask of you, fellow Canadians, is this: don’t fuck this up.

Last year the Conservative Party tried to play up anti-Muslim fear in an attempt to save its election hopes. The backlash was immediate, and Canada wound up electing Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in an unprecedented wave. The third-place party ended up with a majority government.

I know many of you don’t like Trudeau, or the Liberals, when it comes to policy. That’s fine. But please: no matter how you feel, do not let the hatred of minority groups drive the discussion. If politicians try to use suspicion of minority groups as a rallying cry, fight back, regardless of the partisan implications. Ethnic hatred unleashes forces that can’t be tamed, and will outlast any election victory. It’s not worth it.

The world is watching, Canada. Stand on guard.

Oh, and Trudeau: keep your damn voting reform promises.

The First Canadian President!

I bought into part of the birther narrative, and didn’t even realize it. You probably did too.

We all knew the birthers were crazy, because Obama wasn’t born in Kenya. But not one of us questioned the premise – that to be president, you need to be born on American soil. Now that the Canadian-born Ted Cruz announced his candidacy, legal scholars are saying the “natural-born citizen” requirement outlined in the constitution includes people born abroad to American parents. Legal scholars apparently aren’t particularly divided on this point.

This means that, even if Obama was born in Kenya, his American mother means he’s eligible for the presidency. This was true the entire time. In all the years of the bullshit birther narrative distracting us from actual issues, I don’t remember this coming up – not even once. We were all too busy being amused by the craziness to question the premise.

The web is a pinball machine of outrage, perpetually stuck in multiball mode. We do everything we can to juggle our silver balls of superiority, and the birther narrative stayed in play longer than most. It felt like the kind of thing that liberals would make up just to prove that conservatives are stupid and/or racist, but apparently some people actually did – and still do – think Obama was born outside the country. Hilarious! We kept a lot of bullshit in play for through the years – death panels, Benghazi, “Keep Your Goddamn Government Hands Off My Medicare” – but the birther movement is the one ball that just wouldn’t stop bouncing around, racking up more combos and missions than anyone thought possible (and making us feel oh-so-smug in the process).

There was never, so far as I knew, any reason to believe Obama was born in Kenya, but the sort of people who still read email forwards thought otherwise…because the Internet. And left-wing publications happily pointed this out, repeatedly, because aren’t those fucking right wingers just batshit crazy? Isn’t it funny?

And that whole time, not one person asked what in retrospect is the most obvious question: would Obama being born in Kenya make him ineligible for the presidency? Apparently not.

Of course, nonsensical focus on points that don’t matter is not unique to right-wingers. Lefties have been bitching about the Keystone pipeline for years. It’s as though Obama could convince the nation of Canada and every oil company on earth that the tar sands aren’t worth pursuing just by preventing a pipeline from being built. Apparently there’s no other way to move the oil, and everyone will just pack up shop if the pipeline is blocked, because the US President can control LITERALLY EVERYTHING regardless of what State Department reports say.

Seriously, following US politics in 2015 is like being a fan of a TV show that the writers stopped caring about ages ago. Nothing makes sense, no one is even trying to tie up the lose ends and the performers are just phoning it in at this point. Why not just introduce a bunch of irrelevant plot points (senators writing a letter to Iran) or re-hash old ideas (Bush versus Clinton). It’s just lazy at this point; no wonder fewer people are tuning in.

Oh well, whatever. There might be a Canadian president! That’s good news right? Peace, order, and good government would be a nice change of pace…

Oh. Never mind.

On the shutdown: call out bullshit, then question your own.

As you know by now the US government’s been held hostage by right-wing extremists. These people thought Romney was going to win in a landslide, so reality isn’t their forte. We should absolutely call them out on their bullshit, especially when the result of it is a government shutdown that’s going to cost the American people billions of dollars.

But while you do that, question what bullshit you might hold dear. Because there is some. All of our brains want, more than anything, to be told that we’re right. To be told that our ideas are legitimate, and that anyone who disagrees is immoral, misinformed or somehow inferior to our superior selves.

And we’ve all got personal internet bubbles set up. Facebook filters out people we don’t interact with, you only follow people you like on Twitter and even your Google searches are determined by what Google thinks you like. Our stupid brains love this, but reality becomes increasingly subjective as our filters grow to service them.

Again: only one party decided to use a basic government protocol to hold hostage a law passed years ago by a democratically elected congress and supported by a recently re-elected president. They absolutely deserve the blame here.

But the deeper problem is a cultural inability to agree on what is and isn’t true. This nonsense is only a symptom – albeit a batshit crazy one.

Who Are You? Thoughts On Identity

Identity is a complex thing. People who know me know I’m from Canada, despite living in the USA now. People here, in Boulder, know me as the Canadian if they can’t remember my name.

When I go home, however, people call me the American. Live in any country other than your own long enough and this will happen to you – it’s basically inevitable. My identity – like yours – can’t be boiled down to a nation, a religion, a TV show or anything else.

diever

My Oma’s childhood home in Diever, Drenthe, The Netherlands

Last week I, and my family, visited the Netherlands. As I said: identity is complex, and that was true even before I moved to the USA. All my life my grandparents have spoken of The Netherlands as the proverbial Old Country. I grew up calling them Oma and Opa, and Dutch baked goods were always plentiful. The church we attended was full of other immigrant families much like ours, and as a kid it just all just seemed normal. At one point I actually thought all old people had a Dutch accent, because just about every old person I knew did.

I’m Canadian. I’m also, at this point, kind of American (though not if you check my passport). And while visiting The Netherlands, I also felt strangely at home.

Don’t get me wrong – there were ways in which it was foriegn. The language isn’t one I speak – beyond what three months of Rosetta Stone can do, anyway – and almost all the traffic signs I saw meant nothing to me. We didn’t know what a red X through a blue circle meant until checking Wikipedia at home (it means no stopping).

diever-horses

But in other ways, however, I felt right at home. We visited my grandparent’s home town (Diever, in Drenthe) and almost all the last names we saw there were shared with people from home – an effect, I was told, of immigrants tending to cluster with people from their home towns. The baked goods, of course, were familiar – albeit much less stale than we were used to (seriously, Stroopwaffles are so much better than I thought as a kid…and I freaking loved them). And the general atmosphere was simply comfortable.

Identity is complex. I’m Canadian, I’m American, but my ancestry is entirely Dutch. I’m glad I took this trip, because now I know just a little more about what that means – and find myself wanting to know more.

Mom and Dad: thanks for flying us all out there. It was one of the best weeks Kathy and I have ever had, and I’m sure my siblings feel the same. I’ll do all I can to get more video out there in the weeks to come – I’ve got a lot of footage to sort through now.

Everyone else, I’m wondering: do you know where your family comes from? What does that mean to you? Comments, below: you know what to do.

Keep Your Stick On The Ice: 4 Hockey Idioms And What They Mean

Sports metaphors are all over the English language, especially in North America. Here in the USA, most everyone knows what means to strike out, for example, or to score a touchdown – and people use those phrases regardless of whether they actually enjoy the sport they’re from.

Being obsessed with hockey I make a mental note every time I hear an idiom from that sport. Like most sports idioms they’ve taken on a meaning of their own, often disconnected from the game that created them in the first place. With that in mind, here are those idioms in context – both in their sport and life in general.

Keep Your Stick On The Ice

Many people don’t even realize this is a hockey phrase – they know it only as Red Green’s life-affirming sign off. But anyone who’s ever played hockey has heard this a lot: it’s a favorite of coaches, dads and even teammates. Visit any rink, in any small town, and you’ll hear it multiple times: “Keep your stick on the ice!”

The idea here is simple: when playing hockey you never know when the puck might come your way, so you should be ready for it at all times. Keeping your stick on the ice means you can shoot at a moments notice, important when you’re on the receiving end of a lucky bounce or a great pass.

stick_on_the_ice

Hockey’s a fast game, so it’s important to always be ready – where your stick is when the puck comes could easily be the difference between a win and a loss. So “keep your stick on the ice” is advice every young hockey player needs to hear.

But there’s a reason Green ends his show with this phrase, even though he rarely mentions hockey itself. You never know when an opportunity is going to come up, so you might as well be ready all the time just in case.

Keep Your Head Up

It’s easy – in hockey as well as life – to only focus on one thing. In hockey this means looking down at the puck while you skate, and doing has disastrous consequences.

keep_your_head_up

“Keep your head up” is another common phrase in small-town rinks, and for good reason: if you’re looking down at the puck, instead of up at the play, you’re going to get blindsided eventually. You’ll probably even get hurt. There’s a lot going on at once on the ice, so it’s important to learn to handle the puck by feel so you can use your eyes to keep track of the other players on the ice – fail to do that and you’ll end up on your ass.

Tunnel vision is dangerous in any context: if you’re only paying attention to one thing you can bet some other thing is going to eventually sneak up on you. Keep your head up.

Skate To Where The Puck Is Going To Be

This one’s just basic physics: both you and the puck are quickly moving around on the ice, so if you constantly skate toward where the puck is right now you’ll probably never be near it. Don’t skate to where the puck is: skate to where the puck is going to be.

goingtobe

Of course, this isn’t unique to hockey: anyone who’s played the classic arcade game Space Invaders can understand the meaning easily. In that game the aliens move quickly, so you need to aim not at where they are but where they will be by the time your bullet gets there.

Whatever the context, this phrase is a good reminder that the world changes. If you’re always chasing, and never anticipating, you’ll find it hard to achieve much of anything.

Drop The Gloves

Everyone’s heard this one, even if they’ve never watched hockey in their life: drop the gloves. When hockey players are about to fight they first drop their gloves. It’s a declaration of intent, a signal that you want to fight.

gloves-drop-o

There’s nothing too deep here: it’s just people hitting the crap out of each other to make a point, commonly to inspire their team. Sometimes, in order to rally people, you need to do something that has absolutely nothing to do with the goal at hand. To win a moral victory. It’s silly, but it works.

What Did I Miss?

This list isn’t suppose to be complete, so let me know what other common hockey idioms are out there in the broader culture, and what they mean to you. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

I’m So Angry At The NHL That I’ll Watch Every Freaking Game

Hockey’s back! To most of you this sentence means nothing, but for this Canadian living in Colorado it means life is more worth living than it was two weeks ago.

I shouldn’t watch. The season was delayed – and an outdoor game between my two favorite teams cancelled – because millionaires and billionaires couldn’t decide how to properly distribute my money. The last thing I should do after such an inexcusable event is watch NHL hockey, because it tells the owners and players I’ll keep watching no matter what stupid crap they do.

But….but….

I will keep watching hockey no matter what stupid crap they do. I’m stuck in an abusive relationship, but at least I admit it. That’s something, right?

Anyway…hockey’s back! So excited. I gave the league 50 of my dollars so I can watch every game. Tip: use the XBMC Gamecenter plugin and you can bypass every blackout, and get a better interface for watching to boot. HD picture, occasional buffering, no cable required.

Anyway, I hate myself for supporting the league. And am so happy the game is back. And angry. And happy.

Whatever.

Resolutions are arbitrary. I hope they work.

This is supposed to be my year. All of December I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to hit the ground running in 2013, how I’m going to finally accomplish all the things I want to do. I’m going to make videos regularly, actually write things for Technophilia in advance and I’m going to do more of the sorts of things I need to if I want a long-term career in journalism.

In 2013 I will finally become the person I want to be.

Bullshit. I drove home from Michigan on Saturday, slept the better part of Sunday and today, one week into my resolutions, I’m freaking out. I have a nasty cold that made it impossible to write Monday Tuesday and most of Thursday, meaning most the things I want to accomplish this week aren’t even started. I spent most of yesterday feeling just tired enough to not write, and now I’ve got a giftbasket full of deadlines that are starting to go bad.

We do this to ourselves every year: pretend that an arbitrary point in the calendar means something, that switching from one year to another is more meaningful than switching from one day to another, from one hour to another or from one second to the next. It’s not, but we’re humans and humans will assign meaning to anything.

Look at the Mayan calendar. Here we have a system for measuring time used by a civilization that disappeared long ago, and enough people interpreted the transition from one era to another as meaning the end of the world that there was panic. Actual Mayan descendants didn’t care in the slightest, because they actually understood the calendar, but that didn’t matter: all across Europe people we’re freaking out about earth ending, because humans assign enough value to time to believe that the end of a man-made calendar can influence reality itself.

The truth is that time is a construct we created to give the world meaning, to track things that otherwise just happen. Days are pretty consistent but years are so bothersome for us to measure that we’ve devised a complex system of leap days, leap years and even the occasionally leap second just to keep everything in balance. It’s a different time for me right now than it is for James, because we’ve set a number of imaginary lines that determine what time it is where. Time varies depending on space.

There are no time zones in China – it’s the same time in Beijing as it is in Tibet. The Chinese citizens I’ve talked to about this think it’s a great idea, but almost all of them lived on the east coast and probably never had to deal with getting up at 3 every morning because that’s when it’s light outside. Reality doesn’t care what time we say it is, just like reality doesn’t care what year it now is.

So when I tell myself I’m going to do something in 2013, I’m fooling myself on some level. I’m pretending that an arbitrary point in a man-made system can somehow shape my destiny, can somehow make me more likely to do the things I already know I need to do.

Will it? Probably not. But I’ve got to try something, right?

America’s other national religion

Americans lined up outside stores last week for deals on technology ranging from tablets to TVs. Many spent all of Thanksgiving, a day intended for reflection on the many blessings we already have, camping outside Best Buy to get a good deal on a laptop.

Black Friday, that national holiday celebrating consumerism in America, is ironically placed one day after Thanksgiving. We’re thankful for the things we have, briefly, right before we run to the store in order to trample other Americans to get a deal on an iPad.

And now Black Friday is actually invading Thanksgiving: some stores opened during the day itself, meaning you could start shopping before you’ve even digested your turkey.

I know many of you who will read this aren’t American, or even Western. You’re from India, or China, or Mars. But all of you are familiar with the idea that Christmas is becoming too commercial. It’s a cliche that transcends borders, thanks in no small part to Snoopy and Charlie Brown.

The talk is that America is a Christian nation, but it’s not the complete reality. We have a second major religion, which I’ll get to later.

For now lets talk about the universe. Some night this week I want you to hold a tennis ball in front of your face and look at the night sky. That ball is blocking light, however feint, from thousands of galaxies further away than you can contemplate. All of those galaxies contain hundreds of billions of stars, many of which have planets orbiting around them.

And that’s just the one’s we’ve managed to see.

If the odds of life arising spontaneously are one in a trillion, your tennis ball covers up more than enough galaxies for it to happen multiple times.

I point this because some of us believe that a single entity created all of this, and is in control of it. That’s power beyond contemplation, and it might sound silly, but it’s what some of us in the West believe.

Some of us also believe that, two thousand years ago, this entity became human. That he was born an infant and had a relatively normal childhood in Roman-controlled Palestine.

Weird, right? But it gets even better: we believe that entity, while human, gave up the things most of us value most: wealth and power. He lived without possessions, preferring to travel light. And when people tried to make him king he turned them down.

But not only did the most powerful being in the universe scorn power and comfort for himself; he questioned the morality of having it. He said it was easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven, and told the rich without ambiguity to sell everything they own and give it to the poor.

We killed him, the story goes. Humanity couldn’t let someone say things like that, so we killed him.

Anyway, this is the month that entity was born in human form, some believe. And we celebrate the birthday of this man, who could have had everything but instead lived simply, by buying shit we don’t need and giving it to people who probably don’t want it.

Because like I said, there’s a second national religion in America: consumerism.

Christianity, in its early days, took over pagan festivals and turned them into Christian holidays. The winter solstice became Christmas, easter displaced a fertility festival. Consumerism is doing the same thing today and most people don’t notice.

So this year, during December, try to do something good. Help the poor. Give money to worthwhile causes. Make our planet better, because you really don’t need another tablet.

Originally part of Technophilia 46: Sexiest Man Alive 

Going green. Literally.

I’m not a graphic designer. I can throw a bunch of stuff together and make something that looks halfway decent, but  don’t think of that as design.

I try to notice good design when I see it, though, and in this age of history it’s all over the place. Not everywhere, mind you – there will always be people with no use for designers, who think they can throw something together using Microsoft’s word art and save themselves some money. But it seems like designers have far more work now than they did 20 years ago, because aesthetics matter in this age.

Even if you’re a small business, a poorly designed sign drives away customers. Having an appealing logo matters much like having an appealing name  – both are abstract representations of an actual thing, and as such influence people’s perception of the thing itself.

Big companies realize this, and as such use their logo to change people’s perception about them. Think of BP. Here’s a company that makes billions extracting carbon from the ground to sell to consumers, who in turn burn it. If global warming is real they – and their customers, which is all of us – profit by causing the environment harm. But we’d rather not believe that.

BP realized this, so they went green. Literally. They changed their logo to a green and yellow flower. To look at that logo you’d think BP exclusively made windmills, solar panels and kittens who adorably gather static electricity.

Most of us know, on some level, that our fossil-fuel-based lifestyle is unsustainable. Even if we don’t destroy the environment – which we probably will – at some point we will run out of oil. That’s just the reality of any finite resource.

So when we see BP’s flower logo we trust it. It’s not conscious, but something about that logo makes us think BP has a plan, that they’ll eventually move on from oil so we don’t need to worry about anything.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico did that logo some damage, but BP sticks with it. It’s on screen during commercials about their efforts to help people in the gulf, commercials that feature windmills and fishing boats and animals not drenched in oil.

It’s cheaper to buy the perception of caring than it is to actually care, but that’s not my point. My point is that design is powerful, and it is. Take it seriously, and think about it critically.