Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Another Aviating Post

Here I go with another “I’m offline and frustrated” post. I’m starting this as I wait to board my flight from Detroit back to Halifax, annoyed that DTW still doesn’t have free wifi for customers like most decent airports. Of course I wouldn’t really care if I was in Canada because I would have 3G, but here, I don’t.

Instead, DTW has a Boingo hotspot. With a two hour layover I figured I would sign up and I could fritter away time twittering as I do. I filled the form out with my credit card info, hit go, and nothing. So I tried calling the customer service number only to sit on hold for ten minutes and get disconnected. Now we are close enough to boarding that it seems not to matter anymore.

DC turned out to be overall a great trip. I met some pretty interesting people, saw some great sights, and lamentably enjoyed some decent weather which wasn’t what they promised and thus I cancelled my original plans to rent a Harley-Davidson and roam around Virginia. In the end, it was actually a good thing because I would likely have missed a lot of neat stuff, including the Newseum, and meeting the legendary @DCDebbie who didn’t make the tweetup I was going to because she was sick.

It’s interesting to meet people you’ve only been acquainted with via Twitter. So far they’ve been basically exactly what I expected them to be like – not personas, not fake at all. That’s pretty awesome. I was disappointed that some people I expected to meet weren’t there, but that’s how things go

I got in some great conversations as well, about politics, about careers, about ambition, about all sorts of things. There is a networking aspect to social media that’s there for those who wish to avail themselves of it, and it’s fantastic. I cannot help but wonder what will come out of some of the discussions that took place this weekend.

It got me thinking about my own directions for the next little while too, actually. This week, hopefully, I’ll know what’s about to be my life when I find out whether my tour is happening. Given the need to make nice with my day job, I have to make a call soon. I don’t want to be in a position of having a bunch of new enemies on account of things coming apart last minute. I know exactly what that is like: it happened to me in 2009. It’s what actually spurred my move to Nova Scotia in the first place. I had to get away from some people I had basically pissed off.

I had a slight epiphany this weekend that I have a concrete, real life example in my life of exactly what my unit wants to prevent. A friend of mine took a Class B callout (basically, a full-time Reserve gig) he was unqualified for. He was promised all sorts of support to make it work, none of which materialized, and the resulting toll on his sanity was severe. Create a situation like that in a place like Afghanistan where there is a lot more pressure – and ready access to weapons – and potentially you have a recipe for real disaster. There have been suicides among people put in jobs they simply couldn’t handle – one in particular jumps out. It was a tragic example of the Army failing someone.

I remain not terribly worried – but I understand the apprehension.

The wonderful thing about the last few days is that I haven’t really had to worry about any of that stuff, I’ve just unwound mostly, admiring the sights of a city I’ve only really been to once before, when I was only 9. I did go to DC in 2006 as well, but really, it was a brief stop for a few hours, on someone else’s schedule. There is so much to appreciate there being older, and wiser, and all that. I particularly liked the FDR Memorial, given the state of affairs particularly stateside economically, and a common refrain that something as bold as The New Deal is what is really needed to spur a Renaissance of sorts.

The FDR Monument is particularly striking as it’s a staged process using fountains to illustrate watershed events in his Presidency (pardon the pun). The fountain in his third term section appears broken, chaotic, like the world at war. The second is a more elaborate, stepped fountain evoking the TVA, the massive infrastructure project that helped resuscitate the US economy, spurring massive development potential. One has to wonder what could be a contemporary effort with the same effect. It isn’t enough to just start spending money – filling potholes or building unneeded infrastructure isn’t what will lay groundwork for a solid future, there has to be more thought invested than that!

To me this all ties to arguments I’ve always made: the manufacturing economy in North America is mostly dead. Without some manner of trade policy intervention (i.e. protectionism), manufacturing will largely never return to what it was. Emerging economies can do it cheaper, and that’s really all that matters. Barring shipping costs for low margins soaring, there simply will be no cost incentive not to manufacture widgets in China, or India, or wherever. The costs cannot come down here without a subsequent impact on lifestyles. Given that it seems to me that the middle class even as I knew it growing up is fading into history, that simply won’t go over well. We – my generation – and the ones just behind me, the so-called millenials, have to determine that and push the powers that be toward them. I guess that’s what I wish I had more answers for.

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What better to do on a plane?

Might as well try to condense the last couple of weeks of thoughts into a blog post. I’m presently somewhere between Halifax and Detroit on a fog-delayed Delta flight on my way to the Fuck It Do It Live Tweetup in Arlington, VA tomorrow night. Why I’m going Halifax-Detroit-DC is a function of the fact that I booked this on SkyMiles I’ve accrued over the last ten or so years.

I’m actually looking forward to meeting so many people I interact with via twitter – I’ve only met one long distance twitter connection so this stands to be quite an experience.

It’s been a crazy month and a bit chez moi. I went into bit of a spin on learning a few weeks ago that I would be deploying to Afghanistan this winter. As soon as I got working on deployment preparations the whole thing came to a grinding halt. Or seemed to. Still not clear what’s happening. I hope to have some firm idea this week.

And there is so much going on in the world. Continued instability in markets and the fiscal mess that is Europe (Greece, specifically) is weighing heavily on economies. The problem, of course, is trying to get some manner of a grip on fiscal realities. No one likes the sound of austerity programs, but the reality is that’s what’s needed to a great extent. I often tell people that being Canadian I have some sense of what these are about. Canada endured the same measures in the 1990’s, slaying a pernicious deficit dragon. It was somewhat painful but we reaped the rewards for years afterward. We ran surpluses for over a decade until the 2008 financial crisis forced some deficit spending.

I’ll often point out that Canada was relatively unscathed by that mess. Note I say relatively, not completely. It wasn’t without impact, but we didn’t see a banking sector meltdown or housing market collapse – all thanks to reasonably prudent regulation that still allowed the business to thrive.

I guess that’s why I can be optimistic that things will, as they always do, work out alright.

I was most recently captivated as well by the effort to spare the life of Troy Davis. I won’t bore you with rehashing the story as I’m sure anyone who happens to read this blog knows it anyhow.

I don’t know if Davis was innocent or guilty. Truth is, there’s a good chance he may well have been guilty. But what matters is that I see no way any reasonable person can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was guilty, and for that reason I like most people was appalled that he was executed.

I don’t understand capital punishment. I don’t see what purpose it serves. I find it particularly troublesome that supposedly pro-life evangelical types are so enthusiastic about the idea of killing people, regardless of what justification they manufacture in their minds for it. Either killing is wrong, or it isn’t. Period.

I appreciate the irony of the fact that one of the two careers I have makes me a student of “kinetic effects” which is a fancy sciency sounding term for killing people. But I understand that the world is full of people who need killing, but only under the most careful and judiciously determined circumstances.

If a state is determined to retain the ability to put people to death, I submit that the standard for doing so must be so high as to be almost unattainable. There must be clear, irrefutable evidence – physical evidence, I’d say. Not subjective witness testimony. Something a CSI episode can turn on, I guess you might say. Every effort must be made to exonerate the accused before the sentence is carried out.

Of course, the smarter thing to do is simply abolish what ultimately is an act of revenge and barbarism as a relic of a past era. But I sense we aren’t really past whatever era that refers to – at least not in some jurisdictions.

My Thoughts On 9/11

I read enough posts of “where were you” and things like that, but I thought I’d put together something simple to explain what the World Trade Center and 9/11 have come to mean to me.

My first time laying eyes on the World Trade Center – the only time I saw them, actually, was on the morning of July 1, 2000. Canada Day. That summer, my friends and I were left wondering what to do to mark the birthday of our wonderful country. Our normal custom was to go to a friend’s cottage, but he was away in Australia that summer. Early in the week leading up to the day, my then girlfriend said “Hey, I heard that The Tragically Hip is playing in Central Park for Canada Day. We should go.” Now, for those of you who don’t know, The Hip is basically a Canadian institution, a rock band that by that point in my life, at age 20, I’d probably seen live at least ten times. We laughed off the idea, however, based on geography. New York City was some ten hours’ drive from our home in the suburbs of Toronto. To drive that far for a concert seemed ridiculous.

Until the Friday night, the 30th. We still had no plans, and so the idea came up again, and we piled, five of us, into my friend’s Hyundai Excel. We loaded up on Jolt Cola and started driving to NYC. Crossing the border in those days took no passports, no hassle. We just went.

My friend Shaun drove the whole way, and I slept a good chunk of the trip. When I woke up, we were in Newark, New Jersey. And horribly lost, because Shaun had jumped off the NJ Turnpike to dodge what we later learned was a $0.35 toll, and we were trying to figure out how the hell to get to the Holland Tunnel, and from there to Central Park. We did find it eventually.

Anyhow, I’m getting into the weeds. When I woke up, the first thing I saw was the Twin Towers. It was the awe-inspiring sight, the symbol of New York City, that told me we were almost there. I remember seeing it, before launching into my compatriots about why we were lost. We did make it, and managed to park on Fifth Avenue at 72nd, right near the stage for the show which also featured Great Big Sea and Jeff Healey. It was rather a serendipitous day, as we had no idea where in the park the stage was, nor how massive Central Park actually was.

I wouldn’t return to New York City until the summer of 2006.

And we all know what happened in between.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was dragged, literally, out of bed by one of my housemates, Carrie. She had been up first, I think because she had class. Making coffee, she had TV on and saw the news reports about the first plane crashing into the WTC. I don’t know how much time had elapsed by the time she got me out of bed, but it wasn’t long, and she just said “You have to see this!” I sat watching for a while and my jaw dropped when I saw the massive explosion of the second hit. I knew – as everyone watching knew – what was happening. And so we watched. All day.

That night, being a Tuesday, was an administration night for the Reserve Force Regiment to which I belonged, having joined a few months before in January. A conference was scheduled for that night about an hour away, and I was slated to attend with my supervisor and some other folks from Peterborough, the city I lived in at the time. We went, and tried to conduct the meeting but it was almost impossible to talk about anything other than what had just occurred – and to wonder about what would happen next. We had no idea, but we all wanted to do something. If we were told we were headed to NYC to help try to find survivors or whatever else, we would have packed up and left that night.

The night ended for me in the Junior Ranks Mess at the Peterborough Armouries, we sat around a large table watching the news, watching video of the attacks over and over again, and feeling different than we ever had – we knew nothing would ever be the same. I remember remarking that it was our Zapruder film, a comment that 10 years on I think remains correct.

Flash forward almost five years to 2006. My wife and I were headed to Georgia to visit her family, and we made two stops. The first was New York City. We went to the WTC site in the evening – late in the evening. Taking the subway down, we passed Cortlandt St. Station, which was under the site and destroyed in the attacks, the first eerie sight of the night. We then headed to the actual site – it was a fenced off site being cleaned up. Simple signs told the story of the buildings, their construction, and their collapse. I remember being struck by a sign, which said something to the effect of, “To preserve the sacred nature of this site, please do not buy anything here” or something like that, which was striking.

More chilling, however, was the sign explaining the ongoing demolition of the Deutsche Bank Tower, which was left unsound. It was being slowly taken down, and remains were being discovered constantly in the wreckage. It was a reminder of the cost of that day, and how it still had not been fully reckoned.

I visited New York City again this summer. I didn’t go to the WTC site. I didn’t feel any need to, I guess.