Monday, February 27, 2012

Democracy must learn to defend itself.

The Cold War ended when the Berlin Wall fell down. The tensions, confusion, hostility and mistrust that came with forty years of conflict, however, did not dissolve in November of 1989. It lingered. It still lingers. This was shown when Russian exile Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with polonium-210 in London in 2006 and, as a final act of dissidence, fingered Putin as the mastermind behind his murder. The murder of Litvinenko sparked a regeneration of the atmosphere of distrust, suspicion, and tension between Great Britain and Russia that hadn’t been seen since the Cold War. Since the summer of 2007, the relations between Britain and Russia have failed to mend, if anything, they have deteriorated further.

More recently than that, and closer to home in Canada, was the spy scandal in Ottawa when many Russian diplomats returned to Moscow after it was revealed a Canadian Intelligence officer had been leaking security information to a “foreign entity”. These are two incidents that have pitted western democracy against post-Soviet Russia. Despite the symbolism of the fall of the Berlin wall, and despite the collapse of the dictatorial communist regime, the Russian government and Russian democracy has failed to gain the trust of western democratic nations. In fact the West has come to view the Kremlin in Russia as a decadent regime, falling ever backwards towards the Soviet government that reigned over Russia for the better part of the twentieth century.

While it might feel like this suspicion is warranted, especially with Russian citizens flooding the streets of Moscow to protest what they feel is a corrupt government and a corrupted electoral process, crying dictator may be much like crying wolf. Creating a stable, functioning democracy is a time-consuming process. Expecting a nation whose political system shifted from monarchy to military rule to dictatorship over the span of a century to be able to shift yet again to a fully functioning democracy that meets the standards of the Western world in the span of two decades is asking a bit much. Especially considering that the Russian oligarchy ruled after the fall of the Soviet Union for a spell before the Duma was able to take control of Russia’s political process.

Amid the allegations that Putin is corrupt, that he is attempting to return Russia to a Soviet-style dictatorship, one must remember that he was first elected to the Russian presidency in 1999. A mere eight years after the fall of the Soviet Union. That is to suggest that even if he is not a perfect example of democracy in practice, he is at least a step in the right direction.

Fully functioning democracy is not going to be accomplished overnight, and considering the political and societal system Vladimir Putin grew up in, it is hardly surprising that the transition to fully functioning, stable democracy has been made in baby steps. Yes, Putin’s continued time in office can be considered questionable. He served two terms as president before nominating Dmitry Medvedev to replace him as his final term came to an end. Upon Medvedev’s appointment to the presidential office Putin was appointed to the prime minister’s office with every intention to return to the head of his party once he was able to through Russia’s electoral legislation.

Since the process of elections began, Russian citizens have taken notice of the tendencies and practices of their government like they never have before. They have noticed questionable practices and questionable election results. More importantly, they have questioned these practices and results. The Russian people are no longer passive about the country’s political process. They are taking notice and standing up for what they feel is their democratic right. The people of Russia have been politically active and vocal en masse in a way they haven’t been since they demanded change in 1991. They are aware, they are empowered, and they want to be listened to. This is the next big step in Russia’s democracy, not the actions or intentions of Vladimir Putin.

The legitimacy of Putin’s role in Russian democracy is questionable, the timing of the revelation that an assassination plot on his life has been foiled suspicious, and the integrity of his democratic ambitions uncertain. However, he is not the key to functional, stable democracy in Russia. He is nothing more than a political head, a representation of society’s mood and beliefs. It is the people of Russia that are key. They are the ones that will bring democracy to their country as they see fit. The thousands of people flooding the streets of Moscow in political protest are proof of this.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain Wisdom.

There is no doubt, or rather there ought not to be doubt, that the events that took place in Norway one week ago are a terrible and tragic example of the inhumanity and brutality man is capable of. Nigh on a hundred innocent people were callously and remorselessly slaughtered in defense of bigotry and hate. How any person can believe it acceptable to take so many lives, to sacrifice so many innocent people, just for the sole purpose of spreading such a hateful message and to preach a vile and vitriolic manifesto is vastly beyond my own comprehension. My heart aches for Norway.

Sadly, these tragic events are demonstrative of the sheer ignorance inherent in Western cultures, especially as embodied by the mainstream attitude toward terrorism. When news of these attacks first broke, many news stations speculated that the destruction was carried out by the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. Even as eyewitness reports identifying the culprit as a tall, blond Nordic male, even after it was officially confirmed that the terrorist was a tall, blond Nordic male, media outlets such as the New York Times, still held to the speculation about Islamic fundamentalist backing; their suppositions were displayed prominently on the homepages of their websites. Most appallingly, however, was the media’s abrupt about- face when it was officially confirmed that a tall, blond Nordic male, Anders Behring Breivik, was the man behind the devestation. No longer was the attack a stunning and evil terrorist plot. No, what had formerly been branded terrorism was no longer such, because its author had been revealed to be a white, Christian male --- a madman, said the media, to be sure, but not a terrorist. Because terrorists cannot be white, and nor can they be Christian. Of course not. The members of the IRA weren’t terrorists, they were mad men. Well- organised mad men with a heavy political message, and agenda, and a heavy-handed method of implementing said agenda.

Never mind that Breivik did indeed have a heavy political agenda, as illustrated by his anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant, Right-wing extremist manifesto. With the War on Terror still raging onward, the mainstream media, especially in the United States, is afraid to admit that terrorism does not have a single identifiable face. But it doesn’t. It clearly doesn’t. Breivik proves this now, just as Timothy McVeigh proved it in 1995. Just because it is their own country they attack, this does not make them a disgruntled citizen. They have evoked terror, just as Al Qaeda evoked terror on 9/11. They are terrorists.

Transnational terrorism happens far less frequently than internal terrorism. In fact, between 1998 and 2005, terrorism has claimed 26, 445 victims. Of that number, only 6, 447 were taken by transnational terror attacks, half of which were claimed by 9/11 deaths. There are far more Breiviks out there than there are Al Qaedas.

Let me make something clear: Extremism in any direction is a dangerous beast. Extremism to the Right, such as the Tea Party, produces a bigoted, closed-minded society inundated with ignorance, hate, and fear, which gives birth to dangerous, overly- ambitious characters such as Breivik. Extremism to the Left is just as dangerous because it creates exclusionism under the facade of inclusionism--your opinion will not be tolerated, because you disagree. In blunt terms, if everyone else is shitting rainbows and riding unicorns and you're saying “you can't do that!” they shut you up. This runs the risk of creating a society of assimilation; while it seems utopian in its ideals, it's almost full-circle to the right wing. Cultural, religious, ethnic, regional, and even national differences are supposed to just fall away in the face of humanitarianism. It isn’t just political extremism that creates this environment. Cultural and religious extremism also exists. We have to recognise exactly how multi-faceted extremism can be and by extension, how ambiguous terrorism can be.

This is not meant to be a condemnation of American security tactics, although their encroachment upon civil liberties admittedly scares me, nor is it meant as a set up to offer advice to Norway on how to handle the aftermath of this tragedy. Actually, this has been more a set up to praise Norway. In the face of extremism, terrorism, fear, and uncertainty, the country and its people have shown why it tops so many lists and indexes cataloguing and ranking human development, equality, development, and happiness.

The terrible and shocking events in Oslo stunned not only the country, but also the world. Yet surprisingly, out of the ashes of tragedy and fear, this Scandianavian country has stood strong and noble. In the face of terrorism, Norway hasn’t buckled; it has not fought fear with fear-mongoring, terrorism with terror-tactics. Instead, Norway has responded with dignity, with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg telling the world, “Evil can kill a person, but it cannot kill a people. We will punish the guilty. The punishment will be more generosity, more tolerance, more democracy.” These amazing sentiments have been further echoed by Fabian Stang, Oslo’s mayor, who told CNN that the country will “punish [Breivik] with democracy and love.”

Instead of instigating tighter security measures, racial profiling, or its own Patriot Act, Norway’s prime minister has called for an independent investigation into the emergency response that took place, not to point fingers and lay blame, but to learn from what happened. Stang said in his public address that he doesn’t “think security can solve problems. We need to teach respect.”

It would have, could have, been so easy for Norway to retreat into a shell of fear and paranoia after the events of July 22. The United States did just that after 9/11, the United Kingdom did it after the 7/7 Underground bombings in London. No one would have batted an eye if Norway did the same. Instead, Norway has fought hatred with love, bigotry with tolerance, and ignorance with understanding. In talking with CBC, Stoltenberg summed up Norway’s laudable response to this tragedy, in saying, “I think what happened on Friday has increased the tolerance for Norway being a country consisting of people of different religion, different ethnic background, […] It was a very strong message, when you see all the people in the streets, the big demonstrations that we would like to have an open, tolerant society.”

While it is not my place to dole out advice or scrutiny in the aftermath of Norway’s terrorist attacks, we ought to stand back in awe, scribble down some notes and pointers, and walk away from these events with even just a modicum of enlightenment and understanding in regards to how terrorism can be handled with respect and dignity.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Monster Hunter.

I'm going to leave you with the journey up to Loch Ness. Why end here? Because regalling you with stories of a cancelled train journey to London, lunch at Paddington, and catching an evening flight home are simply boring. So I will leave you with Loch Ness. This fabled body of water is in the highlands of Scotland, quite the drive from Edinburgh by local standards. Thus it was broken up with stops along the way.

The first stop of the Highlands we make is basically in the middle of nowhere. This stop is designed to allow us to meet a very handsome ginger with scruffy hair and gorgeous giant brown eyes. Well, him, his wife, and their child. So off we trot to meet Hamish, Hannah, and little Hanni. These three hairy coos are tame beasts that love to greet tourists. Apparently their wild counterparts, the Highland Cows, are just as tame and just as ginger.

Driving through the Highlands, it feels as though the landscape is fluid, as though it changes within the blink of an eye. It's hard to get bored with that sort of scenery. It feels as though it is always changing, and with every change, it still manages to be the most beautiful landscape you have ever seen.

Our next stop is at Glen Coe, the sight of one of the many tragic Highland slaughters. Thus the atmosphere is sullen and damp as we step off the bus. There is a bagpiper in his full tartan garb, the sound of his music lifting in the air gives the sight an eerie, haunted feeling. The beauty of the place is exaggerated by the tragedy of the history that surrounds it.

Finally, by midday, we reach Loch Ness to do some monster hunting. Which leaves me to wonder, how exactly would one be able to see a dark serpentine shadow swimming just below the surface of a water that is jet black? A curiosity, to be sure, but one that doesn't stop me from watching the surface of the water as a cruise boat takes us on an hour long journey around the loch. Sadly, I don't get to see even a faint hint of the famous, ancient monster.

That is all the time we get for Loch Ness, especially if we are expected back by 8 tonight.  The journey back to Edinburgh is largely uneventful with a couple of photo stops and a quick break in a sleepy little village that offers us ice cream and chips to tide us over until we return to the Royal Mile.

And thus ends our story. As you can see, there was no drama, no running from danger, no running to love. There was no betrayal, no shock, no tragedy. There was a lot of awe. Awe at how familiar, how much like home, everything felt. Awe at how, despite this familiarity, everything could feel so sensational, so beautiful, so new. Awe at the rolling hills and cascading farms, the white horse painted into the hillside headed toward Plymouth. Awe at streets and parks I never knew existed in that city I still so easily call home. There was awe as I stood in a capsule of the London Eye, sipping at champagne and watching as I slowly crept over a cityscape so old, so new, so iconic. There was so much awe in Scotland as my mouth gaped at the beauty, at the ancient home of my ancestors. And now that I am sitting in the airport, waiting for a gate number, for the ability to fly home, I find the emotions swelling, my heart overcome with awe, with happiness, with regret. A week is too short. Too short a time to come home and have to leave again. But it is a week that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. A week I will cherish, a week that will always remind me that there is indeed a place where I belong.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Walk the Royal Mile.

If you ever find yourself needing to travel from London to Edinburgh, do yourself a favour and take the train. The last time I came up this way, I took the bus. At the time it seemed like a convenient and cost-effective travel option. As a result, I arrived in Edinburgh tired, cramped, cranky, and, thanks to my pint-sized travel companion, nursing a bruised rib. Taking the train, on the other hand, I feel comfortable. The seats or soft, there is something resembling leg room, and the scenery takes your breath away. As a result, I will roll into Edinburgh feeling relaxed, refreshed, and excited.

However, after 3 days of walking, drinking, meandering, running and all the rest, my feet are rather swollen. They sort of resemble a pair of very ugly gag balloons. So after catching a taxi and getting dropped off at my new, temporary homestead, my first order of business is to stretch out my legs and throw my feet up for an hour. After all, it is only the first day, and I do have plenty of time. The only problem being that I bore easily. After 1/2 an hour of rest and relaxation, I'm itching to take to the streets. Naturally, my first plan of attack is to hit that touristy mile of old buildings and scour the gift shops for those things that I have been asked to procure for certain people on behalf of certain other people. And if I fancy taking a picture or 3, then so be it.

As a result, this is exactly what I do. I procure gifts, I take pictures, I somehow find myself in a tea shoppe, looking out the window, drinking Scottish tea. As you do. By this time, though, I have made my mind up. No longer is this a leisurely night to keep walking to a minimum. No, I think I would quite like to take one of many many many many ghost tours on the Royal Mile. But dinner first. A nice, relaxing dinner in an old pub with delicious food and even better wine. What better way to refuel and prepare yourself for an over the top, theatrical history lesson? What better way, indeed...

I learned that sometimes, it's okay to lie. Sometimes it's okay to say "I felt it too," or "I do believe in it," or even "of course I didn't step inside the circle." Sometimes it is okay to lie in order to comfort a frightened woman.

The Auld Reekie tour in Edinburgh is a torture/terror tour designed to enlighten tourists about the city's violent past in an entertaining and spooky manner. It allows people the opportunity to scare themselves with a good ghost story. For me, it appeals to my sense of convenience (I happened to be walking by the meeting point just as the tour started). This sense is strengthened quite a bit by the sense given to me by my history degree. More strongly than any 'sense', the walking tour appeals to me as a historian. A historian who took a course on the witch hunts in Early Modern Europe no less. It allows me to put sights to facts, visualise scenes that I had difficulty imagining all those years ago. Of course the ghost stories would be entertaining, and might even make me giggle.

I do get my giggle! It comes from a story the guide tells us in the vaults. A story a out a Wiccan order who use the vaults for their ceremonies, and why they had to change from one room in the vault to another. Why did they change rooms? Because of a spirit of course. A big, bad beastie who seemed to like scratching people and blowing out candles. Naturally, the Wiccans trapped this spirit inside a stone circle. Standing outside, you are safe, but please, please don't stand inside the circle. Unless you're brave. Or, in my case, impatient and finding the circle to be a quick way out of the room and on to the next.

Despite this nice little giggle, I still walk away from the tour disgusted with the guide and disappointed in the tour. In my warped head, ghost stories are a great thing. You exploit the story of one or two people's death, and you twist it into this haunting tale. It tells the story of someone who might otherwise be forgotten by history, it gives us chills, and, if told right, it haunts us long after we leave.

In this case, the tour guide tells us an amazing story of many families who all came down to the vaults during one of many of the city's great fires. In coming down, they thought they were finding refuge. They were protected by the smoke, ash, and flames by the heavy, porous, limestone surrounding them. So they barricaded themselves into the vaults. After a while it started to get hot, and from there it didn't take these families long to figure out what was happening. But they had already barricaded themselves in. So with no escape, they tried to stave off the inevitable by gathering in the largest room. Slowly, painfully, these poor people were burned alive; cooked in a large oven.

And then she screamed. With everyone eating out of her hand, hanging on to every last word of this tragic story, in the pitch black she let out a shrill shriek. And thus (almost) everyone began to shriek in shrill terror. The heartbreaking, haunting story that would have left people spooked in its own merits was sold out in expense of a cheap scream. With adrenaline pumping and excitement roaring, most people forgot the story altogether, remembering only the opening poltergeist gambit, and the loud, echoeous chamber of screams.

Edinburgh isn't ruined by this experience, though. My last day in Edinburgh takes me on a tour of all the hidden cravats of the Royal Mile. Courtyards inhabited by Hume, the old Parliament overrun by lawyers and hidden by Victorian architecture, wynds and closes that serve to highlight the poor living conditions of the old city. It also takes me for a leisurely stroll down Princes Street to admire the Edwardian architecture of the new city and the gardens that hide the filthy site of the Nor Loch.

You should never apologise for being a tourist. Never apologise for popping into a world famous pub and ordering a dish called a "wee taste of Scotland." Or the Scottish coffee. Why? Because it is absolutely delicious. Because it might easily become your highlight of the Royal Mile, surpassing even the statue of Hume and his shiny toe. Also because you might find yourself waited on by a kind, cute Scottish man. Just to make the experience complete.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Plymouth Ho.

This is a story, mind you one without drama. As a story, the narrative is far from linear. It is actually rather wibbly-wobbly. So now that we have left London, let's go to Plymouth. Let's go back to Friday. This is a day for me. A day to return to a place that still feels like home, and to a friend who still feels like family. As such, the day itself isn't packed with adventure and stressful itineraries. It starts with coffee and tea, continues with mouth-watering pasties, and slowly finds its way to the aquarium. Plymouth is the home of Britain's national aquarium, a sight that I never managed to see while living here. With a marine biologist at my side, I am allowed to ask inane questions with obvious answers and peer with child-like awe into the glass-walled waters filled with plants, animals, and corals.

The aquarium is a place that I could spend a full day in and still not want to leave. But all good things come to an end, and often lead to other equally good things. These other good things include proper gin&tonic, fish&chips on the harbour, and tea with video games. All these things end too quickly though, and we hurry to get myself on the train back to London.

For the first time in this holiday, a small swell of hurry grows in my throat as I run toward the furthest platform. A random act of kindness is starting to feel like a punishing doom. As I stumble to the side, I mutter apologies and wipe the beads Coke off my sweater. Damnation is my reward for kindness. I have to watch helplessly as the whistle blows and my train putters away. In Plymouth, the rain always comes to greet you on your walk, and as I make my way back to Drake Circus in order to spend a few extra hours with friendly faces, the rain makes for a faithful companion.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

London Calling.

This is a story of everything going more or less exactly to plan. There is no dramatic betrayal, no ancient love sweeping me off my feet, no unexpected Hollywood twist at the ending. It starts with a very simple drive in a very simple jeep with a very simple goodbye. I am only leaving for a week after all. It continues with a very simple check-in process and a relatively easy shuffle through a security line. The thing about airports that you have to remember is that they are nowhere near as terrible as they are stereotyped to be if you give yourself time. The other thing to remember about airports is that their food is ridiculously expensive.

Boarding takes longer to get underway than I would have liked, but again, being in very little hurry made this mean little more than an experience in prolonged boredom. On the plane, I am seated next to two Scandinavian men who are possibly Finnish. I don't get the chance to ask, as at this point I am in a bit of a hurry. To sleep. And sleep I do. For the entire flight, with an eye to being able to stay awake until a reasonable hour on Thursday.

Entering England is just as simple as leaving Canada, with no hurrying, no theatrics, no drama. The same goes for leaving the supposedly demonic Heathrow airport. Paddington makes for a friendly architectural face as the Express brings me into London. Ticket kiosks and tube lines are just like greeting old, friendly acquaintances. They grow, they change, but they're still that familiar old thing you left behind all those years ago. This makes for a simple journey from Paddington to King's Cross.

While this isn't a story with any drama, hopeless love, or unexpected twists, it does still have struggles. Struggles such as walking from the tube station to the hostel. This isn't a struggle of epic proportions, just one of inconvenience. With a heavy duffel in tow, I walk an area of London I have never walked before, to a destination that I'm not entirely certain of. Once I find it marks the end of the struggle, the end of rereading my directions just for an excuse to set down the duffel, the end of constantly shuffling the thing between hands in order to avoid blistering.

Leaving my bags at the hostel relieves me of a very heavy burden and frees me to return to the Underground and ride the tube until I find the right station to bring me to a long overdue reunion. Being me, however, I arrive a few hours early. It is important to realise that this is not a bad thing. Far from it, in fact. It allows me to take frivolous pictures of things I have seen countless times before. It also gives me the time to sit under the Hungerford Bridge and just watch and listen to the living city. Behind me there are a group of buskers playing jazz-influenced music, to my left is the mighty river Thames, and to my right is a bar on wheels. Tourists, school children, and business men alike walk past as I am reminded why I fell in love with this city in the first place.

The music stops and I can hear the soft, faint 'whish whish whish' of the Thames singing her gentle song in the background. In the foreground, happy children scream a melody of delight while hurried business men walk down the Queen's Way, their dress shoes providing the percussive beat to this amazing experience swirling around me. The wind picks up and the Thames sings louder, joining the children in their melody. This is London's song.

Having lost myself in the music of London, time rushed by me, running a marathon of spite and glee. For now it is time for that long awaited reunion. Smiles shine and sparkle through eyes of fatigue and excitement. Jubilance, friendship, and trust spread across grinning conversations. Long-standing friendship, compassion, and a loving history spread with an eager embrace. It's lunch time and the clang-clang-clink and scraping of plates provide a fitting high-tempo soundtrack to this giddy reunion. Words fill the air, providing a streaming narrative to a picture-perfect lunch. Like in a fairytale, I am welcomed back to London officially by a friendly face and a caring friend.

After being sent on my way, I embark on a hunt for forgotten souvenirs and missed opportunities from when I last lived here. The train jostles and creaks, forcing me to dance to its percussive chug-a-chug beat. Like many others around me, it tries to lull me into a gentle sleep, an unlikely lullaby making my eyelids droop downwards like melting clocks painted on a canvas. But the day is not yet over and I mustn't give in to the DLR's jostling embrace.

I arrive in Greenwich too late for any of my touristy ambitions to come to fruition. Market vendors tiredly pack up their businesses as I meander through the empty market floor. With all of the shops closed I am left to wander this amazing little town. Modernity punctures the historical landscape with deep honking car horns and the wailing scream of an ambulance's siren.

Creeping along the water's edge, the naval college stands proud, stern, and weathered, just like the sailors it has produced. Walking through the grounds, a light rain traces my skin, giving me a small chill as it tries to wake me up. For a moment I am lost in the history of the place, with a woman singing in an operatic voice somewhere above me it becomes easy to imagine this area before cars, before phones, before computers. While I missed out on the museums and the shops, I am still able to leave contented and happy to have made the journey.

On the weekend London is an entirely different beast. It sounds different, it looks different, it breaths differently. As the night blends seamlessly into day I am left to wonder exactly how much sleep I managed to scrape together on the Night Riviera. Since Reading I have been shaking like a leaf in a summer storm. I want a bed, I want a blanket, and I want to be welcomed by some sense of normality. But it is now Saturday, and as I said, on the weekend London is anything but normal.

I manage to make my way back to the old courthouse that I have called home for the short duration of my stay. Crawling into a neglected bed, under the cold covers, I look forward to a quick rest before I begin this, my last day in London. A snooze that was not in fact a snooze has left me hurried for the second time in as many days, forcing me to race in order to put myself together and return to the Underground. Weekends in London means nothing runs as it is supposed to and I will be lucky to find my way into an area of town woefully unfamiliar to my eyes.

With surprising success, I have found the Olympia and the Doctor Who Experience with no fuss and no complications. Walking through the Experience makes me feel giddy as a child. After all, I get to save the Doctor. The Daleks sneak up behind me, making me feel nervous, and for the first time I am properly afraid the these villains. Still, they do not terrify me as much as the Weeping Angels as I am forced to walk  down a dark pathway surrounded by these serene statues, which are the stuff of my nightmares.

The exhibit leaves me confused with a giddy sense of curiosity and excitement, combined with a sense of disappointment. Costumes, props, and monsters surround me, give me a sense of history. Sadly, the artwork behind some of these monsters, which I know to be beautiful, is made to look forgetful and bland by poor lighting. The overall impression of the place is redeemed by smiles and friendly conversation from everyone I encounter throughout the building.

Leaving the Olympia, I make my way back to the familiar area of London. The Tube brings me to the DLR and I am flushed with an overwhelming sense of deja vu as I make my way back to Greenwich. The empty market of Thursday has been replaced by a bristling, busy social environment, one that is nearly impossible to walk in. Mentally, the hunt has begun as I make my way through the market.

In the streets I find success, spotting a little nautical shop on the corner, from which I manage to find a suitable British tankard for the military officer I call a brother. From there I am disappointed to find the park under construction as they try to prepare for the summer olympics. Thankfully the meridian line and the planetarium are left untouched, allowing me to walk through their exhibits, learning the history and the science of the area. The planetarium offers a show, providing a look at asteroids and comets as part of their Impact Season. The plush reclining chairs, dark room, and soothing narration have me struggling to stay awake, and despite my best efforts, I find myself dosing off in the middle of the presentation.

With my last day in London being very nearly over, I have decided to be unapologetically touristy and meander to the London Eye. At first, the long, tangling lines frighten me away, but with a little mental coaxing, I decide to go all out and treat myself to a champagne experience. With this slightly more expensive ticket, I am able to avoid the long, winding line as well as the overcrowded capsules. Instead, I find myself in a capsule with 8 or 9 other people, each treated to a flute of champagne as we go around in a big circle, getting a view of the city that is otherwise impossible to find. Cheers.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Drink, Canada!

Today's the day that we in Canada can go freely and safely do what so many have killed and died for the right to. It is time to vote, people. Don't let this wonderful, mind-boggling freedom go to waste.

Here is a fun and patriotic way to watch the election results tonight, shared with me by the wondrous Kyle Miller, so that I could generously pass it along to you. Whoever you may be.

Take a drink whenever
• anyone uses the phrase "too close to call"
• anyone says "this is the most exciting election since ‘date’"
• anyone mentions the "contempt" scandal
• anyone describes televised leadership debates as a "game changer"
• anyone says "I agree with Jack"
• anyone uses the phrase "vote X, get Y", for some colours X and Y.

Take two drinks in celebration if any of the following happen
• a Minister loses their seat
• a Green MP gets elected
• Linda Duncan retains his her seat
• Brad “defund abortion” Trost gets beaten
• John Baird loses his seat.

Take three drinks every time
• a party leader gets beaten
[This means that you will drink at least twice when Gulf-Saanich Islands is
• a Western Block MP gets elected.

Finish the bottle if
• the Tories can form a majority
• Liberals can form a majority
• a Communist, Pirate, or Rhino MP gets elected.