Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I Will Vote

Is anyone other than the family and friends of the candidates actually interested in municipal elections? I know that voting is a right and even a privilege. I also believe that it's a choice, not a duty. Having said that, it's a sad fact that the voter turnout at this level of government, depending on where you live, can be anywhere from 17% to 40% although tendencies are usually toward the lower end of this percentage spectrum. Even when people are informed about the candidates by reading newspaper items, door to door literature and so on, voting has not always felt essential or been very simple.

During the last municipal election, I was eligible to vote in Oshawa. I lived in a fairly dense community of townhouses, apartments and quite a few seniors. My little voter postcard arrived so far in advance of polling day, that when the election came, I had already misplaced it. Not only that, I wrongly expected ballot casting to take place in the area's clubhouse. Previous polling stations had been located there. I got home from a typical long day at work. There was about an hour left to vote. I parked the car, grabbed a bite to eat and strolled to the clubhouse. Not a person was in sight. When I finally saw someone, she said, "Oh, people have been coming in here by mistake all day. Voting is at (insert name of distant school here) ." Imagine my shock when I realized that this particular school was not anywhere even remotely close to my neighbourhood. In fact, it was impossible to reach by foot before polls closed without being a marathon runner and I was barely familiar with it's location. I had to make a decision. Would I get into my car and drive 5 km in order to make it on time, or would I give up? I chose the latter option. Then I sent a letter to the mayor's office wishing him luck and my regrets about not being able to vote for him. I received no reply. He won anyhow.

There is another municipal election coming up and I'm in Cobourg now. I have had little interest in voting particularly since I'm not familiar enough with the area or the candidates. I would also be away on election day. I recently saw an article in the paper about the mayoralty prospects. "Hmmm", I thought. "I don't really care for how the one person is presenting himself."

Another article compared the council candidates. I gave it a cursory glance, looked at the political rhetoric and noted that some candidates actually managed to speak plainly and honestly. Five are to be elected. Eight are running. I poured over the info a little more carefully and found that I was instantly able to delete two from the list of people I would consider. I easily found videos of all candidates on the internet thanks to COGECO. Then I happened to be in the library where I saw a bulletin board with answers to library funding questions given by the councillor hopefuls. "I thought there were 5 to be elected. Why do I only see 4 sets of responses?" I mumbled. (see earlier blog about talking to myself).

I walked up to the information desk and asked "Aren't there supposed to be 8 council candidates?"

"Yes" said one of the librarians.

"Did only 4 reply to the library questionnaire?"

"Yes" she answered yet again.

"Well I guess that tells me something doesn't it?" I said, and received a smile in response.

It was becoming easier and easier to decide how to vote if I actually chose to do so. Perhaps I was beginning to change my attitude. Two candidates then came to my door. I appreciated their obvious enthusiasm and desire to win. Now, I just needed to get some information on where voting would take place.

A letter came in the mail. "Municipal Election 2010, Town of Cobourg"..."E-vote now" with instructions on how to vote electronically using only my computer and a PIN number. Not only is this method available, but the option to vote by telephone was also explained. And all this is on the same document that allows me to vote in person and gives me choices of several locations. Computer and telephone voting can be done anytime between today and election day.

Finally, someone has figured it out. There are several methods for voting and no time constraints! E-voting, telephone voting or "in person" voting! I'm looking forward to seeing what the percentage is of voter turnout in my town this year.

I am informed. Voting is simple. I am opting to cast my ballot by computer today.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I'll Really Miss Him

He was a man of extraordinary intelligence, ability, strength and determination. He lived a worthwhile and honourable life. He was kind and he was generous. His sense of humour was wry. He had a quiet nature. When he spoke, people listened. He accomplished much, saw much and appreciated much. He loved his family and his God.

My dad died today.

As with all people living in Germany in the 30's, childhood brought some difficult conditions. He was forced to give up his dream of teaching when he was a young adult. His residential school was turned into a barracks...WWII had begun. Students were immediately put out of the building and those fortunate enough to have names near the beginning of the alphabet received what coats there were to withstand their trek home in the harsh weather. He was out of luck.

He apprenticed at a radio shop in his hometown of Weinheim where he learned his trade. His official title was "radio technologist". These abilities coupled with his willingness to take risks would eventually elevate him into positions of respect in many companies where he would be sought after for his skills.

At the young age of 20, he said a temporary goodbye to his home, his young wife and child, his family. He went west...all the way across the ocean and across the great country of Canada where he knew nothing of the culture or language. He was sent to B.C. and became a lumberjack all the while carrying with him his dream of working in the technological field. Having ventured a bit too far west courtesy of Immigration Canada, he worked his way back to Ontario. Friends set him up in a mining town...McKenzie Island.

After 6 months, his wife and small child joined him. Besides working in a gold mine, he became the guitarist for the community's Saturday night dance band and repaired radios for the islanders. His workshop was a small shed beside the lake...Red Lake. During these years, he made friends. Some friendships lasted throughout his lifetime. Life was better, language skills were improving, but the intense and stressful working conditions, frequent accidents in the mine and desire to pursue his career caused him to pack up and move his family south.

He arrived in Toronto where his skills helped him gain an entry level position at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. He worked, educated himself further and developed vast knowledge of the technical aspect of the television industry. He eventually moved his family to a new subdivision called Bay Ridges. It was during this time, that he became one of the founding members of Peace Lutheran Church. He also became a respected employee who often travelled for work. After many years, further opportunities presented themselves. He worked for a time at TVO and evenually became engineering manager at Sony Canada. This resulted in numerous trips to Japan. He continued to travel, work and teach training courses at various institutions including Ryerson. He was a member of church council and managed the church finances for many years.

He enjoyed his hobbies proudly displaying his train collections and his model railroad set. Home was full of music, electronics, books, Scientific American magazines and star charts next to his telescope. There was always plenty of good food and drink and lots of visiting friends. He saw much of the world. He loved the beauty of nature and camping gave him great joy. He admired people who could speak with anyone on any subject and yet, he himself was one of those people.

My dad died today...and he was smiling.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Please Don't Squeeze the Garmin

Some modern gadgets are so helpful to our daily lives that they have replaced our need, desire and even our ability to figure things out for ourselves. Schools are now required to teach the exact same thinking skills which excessive and mindless use of technology have in some cases taken away.

Having said that, I believe that many of the new inventions are brilliant. I can't imagine how we would have ever located a certain hotel in the suburbs of Chicago by night without our GPS. As with all technology, it needs to be used with some discretion and common sense. And, as with all technology, errors are a definite possibility.

A few years ago, I was riding in my cousin's car in Germany. I'm not certain where we were headed, but I recall that we were driving along side the Rhine River when the vehicle's GPS told the driver to "Make a sharp right NOW! Sharp right immediately." It kept insisting. There was no road turning right. We stared at each other, laughed at the absurdity as we realized it wanted us to drive into the river. We didn't.

Recently, I read an article in the paper. It was about a young woman who was rescued from the roof of her car after getting lost, thus driving into a swamp north of Kingston. She claimed that she was following the directions of her global positioning device. In light of the following personal story, I have no comment on this.

I am reminded of a road trip to visit family last year. There was an "incident" in the morning whereby our GPS device, was placed into the trunk for safekeeping. Also sharing the same tiny space were suitcases, Christmas gifts, an Easter basket, a pool cue, a couple of CPAPs, shoes, duty free refreshments, umbrellas, and more. By the time we remembered and retrieved it, the GPS was not only wedged, but semi permanently buried and squished into a corner.

Later that day, we drove past road signs mentioning the famed "Madison County". "I want to see bridges", I announced, stretching across the dash trying to programme the global position to create a detour toward Madison County. "I can't get this thing to work," I said in a whiney voice. (Whining is a handy skill I've learned from the dog). Sadly, it was quickly too late. We were well past Madison County or any roads likely to lead to this location.

My "nagging" curiosity about bridges resulted in hubby stopping at the next exit where I popped into a hotel to pick up some local attractions brochures. Excitedly, I located a "Bridges of Putnam County" folder. We programmed the GPS with the name of a town on the Putnam Bridge Trail. Despite the bicycle path appearance of the road, we faithfully drove the designated route.

My puzzled expression caused hubby to announce, "It doesn't always send you on the quickest route, often, it's the shortest one".

"Uh huh." I nodded as I looked at him even more quizzically.

The road took a turn, or should I say many turns, winding this way and that. Around it went, past broken down barns, piles of old wood and rusted propane tanks, past pick up trucks sporting gun racks, repossessed turquoise and pink trailers and the occasional horse or cow. Before long, we reached a forest trail which was in fact a continuation of our road. It was getting narrower and narrower and the towering trees were closing in. The GPS stood her ground and urged us on. Then the lightening began. Clouds dropped torrents of rain.

" We have to be getting closer. I see small concrete bridges," I said as we wove over several of these while crossing a small river. Finally, off to the side, a covered bridge! At this time we noticed through the downpour that the "Big Rocky Fork" bridge was not on our route. Besides that, it was shut down, in disrepair and desperate for a drink of paint. Disappointing.

The thunder and lightening cracked and flashed. "Make a right turn", she said in her programmed U.S. accent as we looked at each other skeptically. We did as we were told as the car wipers sloshed the water off the windshield at highest speed. Since we were now risking being washed away, we pulled onto a small abandoned looking trail where there were odd little buildings reminiscent of a resort town/spaghetti western mix...a historic mill, a chapel, fairgrounds, ice cream booths, gondolas but no people. Not a person in sight! There, in the middle of the fake store fronts we noticed it...another covered bridge! It was in a worse state than the earlier one, possibly even condemned.

We were told by "the voice" to take a few more roads we could not locate, so we decided to continue heading south toward our destination, where we finally saw the sun peeking through the clouds. Despite several hours of searching for dozens of bridges in Putnam County, we had managed to see two, just two very disappointing bridges, identical in their states of disrepair.

Shortly after we gave up, I was fairly certain that I heard a faint chuckle eminating from GPS 's suctioned spot on the windshield. I think I was also cured of my covered bridge curiosity...at least for a little while.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Independence Day, October 1, 1960.

As this new month has started, so has my reminiscing.

Fifty years ago today, October 1st, 1960, Nigeria gained its independence from Great Britain. That's one of those pieces of trivia, and I have many, that is firmly etched in my brain. Why do I remember this? I was 10 years old, sitting in Mr. Footit's 7th grade music class at Essex Sr. Public School, not too far from the famed Christie Pits in Toronto.

To commemorate the event our music teacher decided we should learn the Nigerian national anthem. "Nigeria we hail thee, our own dear native land, though tribe and tongue may differ...in brotherhood we stand.." Sorry Mr. Footit, that's all I remember.

I do recall a rather different teacher though. I'm not certain how old he was because he always seemed ancient. But then, all teachers did. I can't even tell you if he was any good as an educator. I do know that he was severly handicapped by arthritis. His back was slightly hunched and his feet shuffled when he walked. His gray suit hung loosely on his ever shrinking body. On good days we could see the pained expression on his face as his gnarled fingers attempted to play a few chords on the piano. Other times, he could barely function and found it challenging to start the record player. Without fail, we ended every music class by listening to and singing along with a scratched up recording of *"Heart of My Heart". I wouldn't be surprised if it had been a 78 rpm. He told us he'd worn out many such vinyls during his teaching career. We wondered why.

I recall how one day, a brave student finally asked. " Sir, why do you always play that record?"

With moist eyes, I recall Mr. Footit's simple answer. "I want you to always remember me".

It worked.

*Excerpt from "Heart of My Heart"
....."too bad we had to part. I know a tear would glisten, if once more I could listen, to that gang that sang heart of my heart."