Friday, December 16, 2005

Christmas Tree Cam

This year's tree!
Merry Christmas!

All the talk of election campaigns during Christmas has not stopped us from observing our holiday tradition of putting as many lights as humanly possible on our Christmas tree, and making it available for viewing over the net.

The perpetual cloudiness, the below-freezing temperatures, the snow --- it takes some getting used to. But the Christmas Tree is always stunning, and this year's is beautifully proportioned for the number of lights and ornaments we had available. Check it out.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Watch Out For Falling Governments

I’ve been here almost ten years now, and I am just now starting to figure out elections in this country. It takes some getting used to.

First of all, you don’t vote here for Prime Minister like you would in the United States for President. No. The parties elect a leader, and then voters vote for the party whose leader they think can best lead. Or if they are mad at the party in power, they might vote for another party to punish the incumbent. It’s a game of chicken, really.

When the dust clears, you have a party that “forms the government” led by a leader, and that’s who becomes Prime Minister. But it might not be the party that got the most votes (like in the USA). And the party in power might not hold the majority of seats in Parliament (which is not a brand of cigarettes, but the federal legislative branch). In this case, you have a “minority government.” Some people find this reassuring, because Members of Parliament now have to work with one another and form coalitions to get things done. These people refer to this process as “cooperating.” Others find this alarming, because Members of Parliament now have to work with one another and form coalitions to get things done. These people refer to this process as “backroom deals.”

“So how often do you have elections?” I know you must be wondering. Guess what? It all depends!

An election must be held every five years, although traditionally they are held about every four years. But they can be held sooner. Apparently, if the party in power decides that they have a commanding lead they can call an election early, and then Parliament is dissolved and an election is held. Or, there can be a vote of no confidence, which means Parliament is dissolved and an election is held.

We had a Federal election in June 2004, and it looked as if we were headed for another one, somewhere between a year and a year and a half after the last one.

Moe, Larry, Curly & Shemp
After a long tenure, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien stepped down and the Liberal Party chose his heir apparent, Paul Martin as party leader. Martin became Prime Minister --- but not as the result of an election, he just became Prime Minister.

So eventually, an election was going to have to be called as the five-year mandate would expire.

In June 2004, Canadians elected the Liberals, led by Martin. But the Liberals didn’t win a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, so a minority government was formed. And has been hanging by a thread ever since.

Spring 2005 came and went, then summer. Finally in November the government fell! I had never seen that before. The CBC covered the event live. Everyone seemed remarkably calm.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Everyone seemed irritated that there would be election campaigning at Christmas. All the political parties blamed the other parties for “forcing a Christmas election.” On the news, everyone interviewed complained that there was going to be an election campaign over the Christmas holiday.

Last spring, everyone complained that a summer election would be an inconvenience because voting would interfere, somehow, with summer at the cottage. Last summer, a fall election would have been a mistake because it would interfere with … I can’t remember. The Grey Cup? (In an incredible demonstration of Canadian frugality, “The Grey Cup” is both the name of the Canadian Football League Championship game, AND the name of the trophy awarded to the game winner.) Now, apparently, the holiday plans of all Canadians lie in tatters because on January 23, they will have to go somewhere and vote.

Not MY holiday plans! I have the Christmas lights up outside, and next week we’ll have the Christmas tree up. By the time January 23 rolls around, maybe I’ll have had enough election campaign that I can complain about it interfering with The Superbowl. You know, the football game where the Vince Lombardi Trophy is awarded to the winner.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Times They Are Changing/Les temps changent

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Bob Dylan played Kelowna this summer. It was the only concert at the local converted hockey arena that I’ve even wanted to attend. $65.50 Canadian, in line with his intention of selling $50 tickets.My ticket

The local "arts critic" wrote that she was boycotting the concert because Bob Dylan didn’t make tickets available to the press. Free tickets I suppose she meant. Of course, she also wrote that she enjoyed the Willie Nelson concert and his version of "...the George Thorogood song, Move It On Over." That’s the calibre of the arts critics here. It takes some getting used to.

After the concert she wrote that she heard from some people who hadn’t been there that it wasn’t very good. I guess she really taught Bob Dylan a lesson, huh?

The concert was great. Straight ahead, American Rock ‘n Roll. An updated version of some of the greatest American classics ever written, performed by the guy who wrote them and a kick-ass band. It was the first time in since Bush has been in the White House that I felt proud to be an American. No wonder the Canadians didn’t get it.

Here is the set list, courtesy of

Maggie’s Farm
Straight ahead rock and roll. What a kick-ass band.

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
There was nothing mellow about this arrangement. It bore no resemblance at all to the one on « Nashville Skyline. » I had the impression he’d be staying whether anyone wanted him to or not.

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
Rock and roll. Guitar solos. Not really tender, you know?

Lay, Lady, Lay
Up tempo version. No dobro! No pedal steel guitar!

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
Holy shit. This went on forever with everyone taking a solo. This one brought down the house.

I don’t think I know this one; I don’t think I ever heard it before. The band drifted a little in the middle, but managed to end at the same time.

Highway 61 Revisited
This just kicked ass. No one yelled “Judas!”

Shelter From The Storm
Breakneck tempo, definitive bass line. Not at all mellow, but the story was still there.

Cry Awhile
No idea what this song is about, or how it sounded when it was first released. This arrangement was bluesy. Nice work from the bass player to hold it all together.

Just Like A Woman
He didn’t play it like he’s been playing it for 40 years. But he did play it like he wrote it. Not slow, not soft, but it will tear your heart out.

Honest With Me
I don’t remember this at all. I don’t think I know this song. This might have been the one where the guy next to me asked if Bob Dylan was singing in Spanish.

The Times They Are A-Changin’
Well. This version was so rock and roll that the band was eight bars into it before any of us knew what hit us. It could have been done like the anthem it turned out to be, it was just rock and roll. Works good; lasts a long time.

Floater (Too Much To Ask)
What did this song sound like originally? In this incarnation, it was sort of a Texas swing kind of thing.

Summer Days
The vocals sounded like Ry Cooter, and the band sounded like Ry Cooter’s back up band. Odd way to end the concert. But then there was the encore.

Like A Rolling Stone
This one was sung like the anthem it is. Rhythmically, it was very different from the original. If you can imagine the Eagles backing up Dylan, you’d be close.

All Along The Watchtower
In a strange way, it was Dylan doing Hendrix doing Dylan. Two unbelievable guitar solos from the band, and I thought the drummer was going to levitate above the stage. Whew. Culture clash. Great ending.

Monday, August 15, 2005

think BLUE

thinkBLUE bracelet
Got yours yet?

The website says:

Think Blue bands are a reminder that elections matter every day, and a symbol of the importance of electing candidates who support democratic values.

There are more than 100,000 Think Blue bands on the wrists of people in all 50 states and more than 10 countries around the world. Click here to learn how you can join the ranks of Think Blue supporters.

Canadians don't wear items of clothing that tell you what party or candidate they support. They don't like to be asked how they are going to vote, and they don't like to be asked how they did vote. It takes some getting used to.

Another thing that takes some getting used to is not knowing when the next election will be held. There could never be bands with election dates on them here, because elections are called when the ruling party gets ready to call them. Oh sure, there's a set period of time within which you have to have an election, but you might have one ANY TIME in that period. Canadians think this is preferable to knowing years in advance. I haven't figured out yet why they think that. It's just a different system, modeled on the British system, but without as much intelligent rhetoric, and more singing of Nah Nah Nah Nah Hey Hey Goodbye.

This spring, it looked like the government would fall. As an American, it was hard not to find that alarming. We don't have governments falling. (As much as we'd sometimes like to.) But here, if the party in power can't get their legislation through Parliament, there can be a vote of no confidence, and the government falls, Parliament is dissolved, and an election is called.

Canadians seemed to take this all in stride. Emotions ranged from very blasé to very annoyed. The chief complaint seemed to be how much an election would cost. There had just been a federal election a year before. In the end, the government did not fall, and eventually all the legislators went home for the summer. ("On holiday.") For me, it was an anticlimax. I had been looking forward to the government falling. I've never seen that happen. Maybe next year, if Canadians can shake off the torpor that seems to envelop them whenever federal politics is discussed.

I can't vote here anyway. I CAN vote absentee, and I will. In the meantime, I have a couple of extra bands. Any Americans in Canada want to wear one? Email me.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

100 Bottles

Canadian identity is defined in part by beer, as is America's idea of Canadian identity.

1 of 100 bottles of beer on the wall
Americans cling to the belief that Canadian beer is stronger than American beer. It's not. That is a myth. It's all in how alcohol content is measured.

Two major beer companies each control about 45% of the beer market in Canada. One is Molson, which is in the process of "merging" with Adolph Coors. The other is Labatt, which is owned by a Belgian company called Interbrew. Canadians are now in the throes of an identity crisis about Canadian beer. Molson and Labatt used to be Canadian companies, producing Canadian beer. Now, not so much. It takes some getting used to.

Molson produces a beer called Canadian. In July, 2000, they also produced an ad called "The Rant" with Canadian actor Jeff Douglas as a character called "Joe Canadian". It was a rant about how he is Canadian; he speaks English and French - not American; it's "zed" --- not "zee" --- "zed"; and how he can proudly sew a patch of his country's flag on his backpack. (Like Americans haven't already thought of that...)

Canadians loved this ad. There was a proliferation of "I am Canadian" tee shirts. People quoted parts of the ad. ("The beaver is a truly noble animal…") It inspired an exhibition of what Americans would call patriotism in Canadians.

This being Canada, Jeff Douglas did not become a star, and I heard he moved to Los Angeles so that he could get work in American television.

But what IS Canadian beer? Is it Molson’s Export, beloved by Americans and soon to be made by Coors? Is it Labatt Blue, made by Belgians? Is it Budweiser, brewed in Canada by Labatt?

What about Moosehead, Canada’s largest independent producer of beer? Well, maybe I’ll try that. I keep trying Canadian beer. We have some local breweries here in the Okanagan and in other places in BC. I keep trying to like those. But sometimes, especially late summer evenings, all I want is a big bucket of clams and an Anchor Steam.