Thursday, March 26, 2015

My First Two Jobs

My mother-in-law likes to say "if I knew then what I know now things would be different."  Although some people claim they wouldn't change a thing, I think as we get older my mother-in-law is right.  Life is a continuing educational experience and what I know now is because of what I did then.  Most of my career has been told in my blogs, but my first two jobs  have been avoided partly because neither of them lasted very long, but any first experience is important to what happens next.

Out of university I was pretty naive.  Thinking I was smart enough that anyone would benefit from hiring me.  I didn't really have the marks to prove it and would now agree marks definitely prove you have discipline and focus.  Really I didn't understand the process of getting a job.

After a number of applications and interviews I slowly became aware that there was not a great demand for my services.  I was based in Haliburton, a rural area and spent a lot of time at my Grandmother's in Oshawa (near Toronto) whenever an interview seemed likely.

With no car I often hitch-hiked including for job interviews.  On one of my hitch-hiking trips I heard about the concept of a social worker.  I had majored in sociology, done a small amount of volunteering in a boys reformatory plus I had even been given a short trial at a home for emotionally disturbed children so this sounded feasible.

This social worker idea focused my efforts and resulted in writing to over 100 agencies in Ontario.   I decided to say that I wanted to further my education in their field and that turned out to be the right thing to say

An appointment in Belleville that I hitch-hiked to gave me a better idea of what to expect.  Shortly after I had an interview in Barrie where my best friend, Bob Stone's girl friend Adrianne lived.  Everything went smoothly.  My father arranged for me to get a car and insurance and I was able to board with Adrianne's parents.  Ironically she was taking a summer job and staying with Bob's parents in Oshawa.

Social work was a very new experience to me.  I had had little awareness that Children's Aid existed or needed to exist. A lot of the job was routine and I went with other workers as they visited clients and for awhile an experienced worker would accompany me when I visited my clients.  Mostly it was to talk with adoption applicants and foster parents.

I was responsible for a few young children and one I remember because he ran away from his foster parents.  In the short time I had talked with him, he was very quiet and he was put in a foster home (not my choice) with a couple who had mostly fostered babies.  Well they were hockey parents and did everything they could to get my young boy involved despite an obvious lack of interest.  After bringing him back from Toronto we found another home for him.  He was so quiet I didn't really empathize very well with him until after a court session when he was rejected by a step father (his mother had died).

A lot of my time was spent dealing with adoptions and I remember reading lots of confidential information about babies up for adoption and prospective parents.  Simcoe County was where there were more people wanting to adopt than we had babies, so a lot of the babies came from further away.  I was struck with the variety of situations that led to a baby being available.  Often the description of the father was very vague, although not always.

The most difficult responsibility was advising on family relationships.   At one time I was expected to try to bring back together a couple that had separated after having a child and then each married other partners, although both claiming to love each other and their child.  What I thought was a routine call to another social worker in another city led to an unannounced meeting with the father.  The situation was unresolved when I left, as there were legal complications.

On another occasion  it was suggested to me to separate a wife from her abusive husband.  It seemed straight forward, but she was reluctant.  An appointment was made to talk with her husband and I was greeted by a very drunk man who threatened to throw me into a snowbank.  I was rescued by a police officer who ironically I had previously approved as a foster parent.  The next day the abusive husband after an overnight jail stay visited me in my office to apologize.

I was not really involved with physical abuse, although my imagination could stir lots to fear.  It was amazing how some people felt intimidated by me, but I gradually realized they were fearful of losing contact with their children or in other cases they were anxious to adopt or become foster parents and needed my approval.  Trying to be fair was sometimes stressful.

As part of my agreement I took a night course in psychology at York University.  The long range goal was to get a social work degree  Enjoyed the course and got a good mark  Drove with another young worker Bruce and enjoyed his company, even going on a double date at one time.

After about 6 months  I was told I was not working out.  I sometimes didn't feel comfortable on the job and no doubt my supervisors could spot some of my deficiencies.  I was given time to look for another job and assured they would give a good reference (confirmed by one employment agency).  On the whole I enjoyed working there and my fellow workers.  Looking back I think my naiveté was a big factor.  Telling other people how to deal with their marriage seems incredible from a guy who at this stage couldn't hold onto a girl friend for very long.  With a different supervisor who knows what might have happened, but I don't regret working there or leaving although the rejection hurt.  I came to appreciate a greater variety of humans and learned some of the basics of living on my own.

Another frustrating six months of unemployment mostly living with my parents who had thought I had flown the nest.  I learned to appreciate how many unemployed people must feel; humiliated, insecure and a mooch, in my case, off my parents. All sorts of applications and interviews and then ironically getting a job I had applied for near the beginning of my unemployment.

I had applied for a job from a classified ad that was perhaps a bit misleading, but heard nothing for close to 6 months.  Told later they didn't like university grads who thought they knew it all, but were indecisive.  Ironically what got their attention was that I was from a small town and most of their successful employees were as well.  They seemed to like me and while listening to half a typing test they announced that was good enough.  Later I appreciated they weren't concerned about accuracy, but speed was important.

The head office was in Toronto, but within a very few days an opening happened in Hamilton and because I had no loyalties to Toronto they thought I could fill an urgent need.  As it happened my  sister Pat and her husband lived in nearby Burlington and I ended up living with them for several months.  This decision changed my life in a big way.

Mapping was one of the skills to learn.  They had maps for different cities and over time I collected my own maps.   Brewer's Retail surprisingly had one of the most useful maps.  Our office was responsible for Hamilton, Burlington, Brantford and the Niagara Peninsula, but often I would go further if some other office needed help.   I got to love maps and prided myself on finding my way around places I had never been to before.

It took me awhile to learn the job, but I got better over time.  I was encouraged to hire part timers to write up reports so I could make more inspection calls.  I hired my sister  and my girl friend (who I married a bit later).  My girlfriend was surprised to do a report on one of her closest friends, Judy who I had not met, but later became our maid of honour (and the source for my blog title).  Another report was on a house across from my future grandmother in law and one block from where I now live--the house had been involved in two fires (but none since).  Meeting my future wife in an odd set of circumstances obviously changed my life.  You can read more:

Reports had two important factors--incriminating things and speed.  Some insurance employee wanted the information to make a decision.  Some reports were not looking for bad things, but to confirm a customer deserved a discount.

A lot of what I learned came by accident.  Part of the routine was asking an insurance customer  details such as if they drove to work   The form given to me told what they were insured for and soon found that many people said they didn't drive to work or that they only drove a short distance.  I got confused somehow and one day skipped the first part and asked instead how far they drove to work.  Amazingly many people incriminated themselves by giving me the distance, even though they were not insured to do so.  Later I came to appreciate that in many cases an insurance rep had given them a lower rate by encouraging them to fudge some details.  As a salesman years later I appreciated that how you word a question and how you sequence them can make a lot of difference.

One experience that left a lasting impression was with an irate insurance holder.  He owned a business on a highway in a rural area.  Right off the bat I knew he was not insured properly and he resisted my questions.  I thought I was doing him a favour and pressed him for routine answers.  But he became angry and I left without most of my questions being answered.  I was so upset that without realizing it I spun my tires so that a rock flew out and broke a window.  He contacted the police, but he was so distraught he gave a very poor description of me.  I found out about the window when my head office complained to me and then investigated.  It turned out that he just couldn't accept that an important insurance company would send someone so casually dressed that he thought I was not legitimate.  I was ordered to get some new more professional clothes which I did.  This taught me the importance of first impression appearance and although no one would mistake me for a fashion expert I have mostly dressed relatively formally compared to other staff wherever I worked.

Another negative experience I had was when I was sent to an address where I learned the subject had died.  His widow assured me that it was not a problem and I left after apologizing.  Later she complained about me to the insurance office whose fault it really was.  Over the years I have had  similar experiences, but perhaps have handled them better.

We were evaluated on incriminating information, but also by how many inspections we could turn in how quickly. This often meant taking short cuts if someone was difficult to contact.  At one point I felt too intrusive and unhappy that I was causing many people to pay more.  It was pointed out that honest people pay for dishonest people and I could see a few examples of that.  But then in other ways I felt dishonest, particularly where we took short cuts and just finished a report, (almost always non incriminating) just to get rid of it and get our pay.

I was offered a promotion to my home town of Oshawa, but had already decided I wanted out.  On one of my inspections I had learned about newspaper circulation jobs and felt that was more in line with my interests and talents.  I stalled and a few months later I got a job that led to a career with newspapers.  I had admired my boss who told me I should do what is best for me, but when I gave my notice he was very quick to dismiss me although I had told my new employer I needed two weeks.

There was more interaction with people on this job than when I was a social worker.  I traveled a lot more and developed a liking for it.  I developed a love for Hamilton that previously was at the bottom of my list.  I reinforced my interest in basketball with an opportunity to see  N.B.A. game in Buffalo.  Most importantly I met my wife.

A start on my newspaper circulation is at:

Getting a job depends on a lot of things--what you have to offer and what is needed.  Finding the right or at least an acceptable opportunity.  Making an impression.  Experience is respected, but it only comes from doing things.  The interviewer is trying to read your character and if they don't like it they won't give much credit to your qualifications.  If they like your character that might make up for a lack of ideal qualifications.

During my unemployment I had been accepted at two different teacher's colleges and at a community college, but in the end walked away from them.  I was definitely interested in teaching and had even done about three days of supply teaching.  About 30 years later the Teacher's Pension Fund tracked me down after several moves on my part to send me a cheque for my pension contributions plus interest amounting to about $40.  I might have been better off becoming a teacher, but I felt I had been too big a drag on my parents and opted for a job when one finally became available.

The photo is my home and where my decisions led me.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


The Japanese have invaded North America for years; we buy their cars, their electronics and enjoy sushi, but we haven't necessarily understood the culture that helped produce what we like.  Movies provided another avenue towards understanding.  "Godzilla" marked an early success, after the devastations suffered by Japan in World War II but there are many other examples that stand up well.

As a fairly young boy I watched Aldo Ray in "Three Stripes in the Sun" about an American soldier during the Japanese occupation where he starts out hating the enemy, but soon falls in love with his Japanese translator and helps orphans.  Prior to this I had seen plenty of Hollywood war movies where the Japanese were always portrayed as blood thirsty and cold hearted.

Several years ago stumbled on "Shall We Dance" on a Sunday evening at TVO.   My readers might be more familiar with the Richard Gere version where the plot follows fairly closely. They were both supposed to show a quiet man happy in his marriage, but looking for more excitement.  The Japanese version felt closer to that goal, perhaps because we are used to Richard Gere being a very charming, active guy already.  I did not set out to watch the Japanese story from 1996, but was soon captivated.  Perhaps in part it was stereotypical in that we in the West think of the Japanese (at least I plead guilty) as pretty strait-laced and in this movie you see a yearning not to be that way.  The hero is tempted with a dance instructor spotted from a train and then slowly becomes infatuated with ballroom dancing.  He hides his new love (of dancing) from his wife and daughter but eventually it comes out and everyone is relieved.  The Japanese director/writer, Masayuki Suo also co-wrote the Richard Gere version in 2004.

More recently when "Departures" won the best foreign Language Oscar in 2009  I was struck that a Japanese movie could rise to this level.  My first viewing was not enough.  It is about a cellist who is laid off because the orchestra lost financial backing and after being a little misled ended up working for a funeral preparation company.  Two relationships stand out.  The former musician and his new boss who allowed him to overcome his squeamishness over a period of time.  At first the protagonist misleads his wife about his new job and when she finds out she is horrified, but eventually forgives him and even to admire him.  The movie starts with his emotional breakthrough on his new job and then goes back and then later picks up--very slick.  I enjoyed the music by Joe Hsiashi, best known for his background music of well known Japanese animated films.  These two movies elevated my appreciation for Japanese cinema, but opportunities to explore were limited.

Japanese films did crash mainstream North American cinema with animated films aimed at families and horror films that hit an important niche.  From my viewpoint I wasn't very interested in either one and neither were most of my anglophone peers.  Making the effort uncovered some very interesting movies and an opportunity to understand a culture that affects us in so many other ways.

I decided to explore some earlier Japanese classics.  Akira Kurasawa is revered by movie historians and came into his own after World War II when Japan was suffering.  Akira has been both writer and director and got his start in the early 1940's.  "One Wonderful Sunday" was released in 1947 and paints a bleak picture of a young couple not able to plan for their future.  Rain adds to the bleakness, but the woman is optimistic with a few downcast turns where you can sense the despair.  They only see each other on Sundays.with limited opportunities to enjoy their time together.  At one point the heroine asks the audience to clap which is not considered very well by today's critics, but was daring for its time.   "Roshomon" came out in 1950 and is often referred to as it showed 7 different perspectives of a murder.  "Seven Samurai" in 1954, although black and white, is considered a classic.  Many North Americans might not make it through this 3 1/2 hour epic, but if they did they would be rewarded with an excellent character study and plot .  They might notice Toshira Mifune who made it to several Hollywood movies, usually portraying a Japanese military leader losing to the Amerians.   One reviewer pointed out this movie had the first use of "wipes" to transition between scenes.  Later used by George Lucas.  This movie along with Godzilla done over the same time period nearly bankrupted one Japanese production house.

"The Burmese Harp" was another early movie, from 1956 and gave an anti war viewpoint. At one point it is very brutal showing dead and decaying bodies.  It focuses on  Japanese soldiers stranded in Burma at end of war.   The director/writer Kon Ichikawa went on to to film the Tokyo Olympics  of 1964  and "The Makioka Sisters."
"Hula Girls" released in 2006 is a film about a coal mining town that is facing massive layoffs while someone gets the novel idea to open up an Hawaiian themed tourist attraction.  They bring in an instructor with credit problems from Tokyo and there is a lot of resistance to recruiting young girls to be hula dancers.  We have all seen a lot of sports movies based on real events (and sometimes not) where the underdogs eventually win.  This is also based on a true story and has a happy inspiring ending.  The hula show at end of movie is very impressive (especially if you recall the first clumsy efforts).  One detail that surprised me was that the music was composed mostly for the ukulele.  Jake Shimabakuro who has carved out a musical career based on the ukulele.  I was impressed enough to watch a documentary "Jake Shimabakuro:  Life on Four Strings," surprisingly enjoyable.  Another note was that star Yasuko Matsuyuki was also in "Suspect X"  one of the best mystery books I ever read, but not seen the movie.  

"Norwegian Wood" got my attention after reading the book by Haruki Murakami.  I had found the book difficult to read and hesitated to watch the movie.  It is a complex story involving sexual inadequacies, death obsession and obligation.  Perhaps because the movie at about two hours compressed the complications I actually recalled the book better.  It had a Vietnamese director, Tiran Auh Hung.

I did investigate some of the animated favourites such as   "Spirited Away" (which won an Oscar in 2001) and  "Wolf Child"  written and directed by Haya Miyazaki.  They are good family entertainment with a story adults can enjoy, but might like the cover of watching with their children.  Originally in Japanese they are dubbed with Hollywood actors in English for North America.

"Like father, Like son"  took on a sensitive topic.--What happens after you learn your son had been switched at birth.  Is blood more important than nurture?  One father was richer than the other.  One family has a brother and sister.  Reminded me of similar idea in "Born in Absurdistan," an Austrian movie involving a Turkish couple as well as the native born Austrian.  In "Like Father, Like Son," the professional father has been negligent through ambitious  work and expects high standards.  Both mothers are more sympathetic  The one father is a workaholic with high expectations for his son--pushes, and is disappointed--the other father is very family oriented--offered to bring up both sons--insulted, but later on roles are reversed--both boys seem to prefer the lower class father--in the end it is not totally resolved, but you can see the rich father wants to keep up a relationship with both boys-Director/writer  Kore-eda Hirokazu -also did "Still Walking"  which captures a lot of family tension over a weekend.  One son died in an accident trying to rescue another man (father thinks a terrible waste) and another son married a woman already with a child.  More of a happy ending."Nobody Knows" is about a family of 4 children abandoned by their mother (each child had a different father).  This does not have a happy ending.

"Key of Life" with an award winning screenplay by Kenji Uchida is an enjoyable comedy. It pairs Teruyaki Kagawa (who I also saw in "Tokyo Sonata") and Ryoko Hirosue (who was immensely enjoyable in "Departures").

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi"  is a documentary by American director--world famous 85 year old  sushi maker--passionate sushi maker--ingredients and preparations--details--reservations one month+highprice--no special atmosphere.  Released in  2011.

As you might guess I am now a Japanese film fan and hoping to see "Suspect X"

Friday, March 20, 2015

"PK", a religious satire

If you are wondering what PK means it is a common Hindi reference to someone who is drunk.  We tend to dismiss the babblings of inebriated individuals, but the movie is trying to point out that wisdom can come from strange places--a young innocent child, an alien or maybe even someone intoxicated.

Bollywood has produced a masterpiece of satire.  If Aamir Khan is in it you know it has to have a serious point made more pointed with humour.  When he is paired up with director-writer Rajkumar Hirani you can be sure of some clever dialogue.

Many people look down upon fantasy and science fiction because they are not "real."  However by exaggerating something or changing the context it is possible to appreciate something deeper.

India, more than anywhere else is the ideal country to make points about religion  They have more Hindus, more Muslims, more Sikhs, more Parsis and even more Christians than many whole nations. They also have a multitude of sects and other religions.  It is easy to offend, but also normal to tolerate.

An alien, played by Aamir Khan (with some supernatural ability to read minds through physical contact) is stranded on earth and at first understands very little, but eventually comes to believe he needs to find God to get back home.  Of course this leads to a lot of confusion.  He learns of deception and corruption.  At one point he contends that people are getting the "wrong number."  A later conclusion is that there are really two Gods--the real one who created us and the false one conjured by men, often for their own benefit.

There is a little romance in the story, but it doesn't turn out quite the way you might suppose, however it does tie in well with the story.  The music is appropriate and pleasant, by Atul Gogavale and Shantanu Moitra.

Aamir Khan is renowned as a perfectionist and that is on full display.  Anushka Sharma is earning more respect after many roles as bubbly young girls.  In a more recent film, "NH10" she plays a different type of demanding role.  Sanjay Dutt has a small supporting role and I understand that he saw the film while serving time in jail.  Boman Irani plays another supporting role and adds as usual to the credibility.  Sushant Singh Rajput plays a significant cameo while Ranbir Kapoor is just a flash near the end.

More on Anushka Sharma:

Rajkumar Hirani, the director and writer has put out a number of top notch films.  "3 Idiots" is another masterpiece and one of my favorite Bollywood comedies, "Lage Raho Munna" where he uses the ghost of Gandhi to make some points.

Produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra who produced and helped write nother masterpiece, " 3 Idiots" (2003)
This is my second movie of the year with a religious theme.  The other one was perhaps better, only because it was simpler and not so pointed.  "Spring, summer, fall, winter...and spring" from Korea.  Together I would have to say they are my two favorite movies of the year so far.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Thirteen Days in September

The news brings us updates of international conflict every day.  Sometimes the situation seems hopeless.  With this book, "Thirteen Days in September" author Lawrence Wright brings us to a time when three men were able to deal with great difficulties to fashion an agreement that has had a positive effect ever since.  The author argues the timing was wrong, the personalities not conducive, however in the end Jimmy Carter's determination was critical.

Lawrence provides a lot of background information that really sets the stage for why the Middle East is such a tense place.  Also a lot of in depth personal history of not only the main characters but also many of the supporting cast.

The three men, Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat had conflicting personalities  and viewpoints with one shared trait.  They all had religious beliefs, but they were in some ways counter productive.  Menachem Begin felt that the Jews deserved more land than they were originally given.  Jimmy Carter, a Sunday school teacher, then as now felt settlements on occupied lands were a provocation.  Anwar Sadat felt Egypt should represent the Arab and Muslim grievances.

Jimmy Carter wanted to be a facilitator letting the other two work out differences, but that failed.  Originally thought the process required 3 or 4 days, but dragged on.  Jimmy and his American team (Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cyrus Vance were key) then made proposals and looked for some sign of bending which occurred only after a lot of stress.

Tempers flare as there is a lot of obstinacy.  Each leader had his flaws--in the end political realities played a role. Once they had invested some effort they each needed something to show for the effort. Egypt wanted land, Israel wanted better relations--Jimmy Carter needed something to make him look good.

A few oddities included that Sadat was descended from a slave and had negro blood.  Boutros Boutros-Ghalli who later became prominent at the Untied Nations was a Coptic Christian, and married a Jew.  Zbigniew Brzezinski and Menachim Begin both shared a Polish heritage and enjoyed playing each other in chess.

In the end diplomatic relations were established between Israel and Egypt that also facilitated trade benefits.  The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt including oil resources.  The Suez Canal is accessible to everyone.  A surprising detail is that since 1979 there has not been a single violation of the terms.

The Palestinians were abandoned as their inclusion would have negated the rest of the treaty that could be worked out.  Originally they were an important component, but Begin would not budge and both Egypt and United States desperately wanted something to be agreed upon.

There was quite a political risk for Jimmy and in the end it wasn't enough.  The Iran crisis and a stagnant economy did him in.  Nobody since has made as much progress and the agreements were not enough of a building block to stop violence.  Jimmy Carter has said (and I agree) that the biggest obstacle is Jewish settlements on occupied land.  That is such an emotional issue on both sides that nothing will go forward until it is resolved.

Another step towards peace was taken under Bill Clinton, another Democrat president when he facilitated an agreement between Jordan and Israel in 1994.  Still no real impact on the Palestinians.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Thrive" a new look on success by Adrianna Huffington

Adrianna Huffington is admired by many people.  I enjoy reading her "Huffington Post" daily and have found many of her tv appearances and earlier books enlightening.  She succeeded with hard work.  At one point she realized success is more than money and power and she was persuaded to share her pursuit of real happiness with "Thrive".

If you are a reader of self improvement books you have undoubtedly read many of the ideas presented, but for many of us it takes a lot of repetition and perhaps a different perspective to help us make the changes that make our lives better.  The self improvement is not aimed at making you richer or more powerful.  Adrianna shares her own experiences and not all of them were positive.

Stress is a universal disease.  We all seem to feel a hurry-ness.  It is a competitive world that seems to require exploiting our fellow humans.  You can succeed against odds, but material success comes only after a lot of stress and may seem empty.  One remedy Adrianna suggests is simply to get more sleep and she found getting a half hour more each night made a difference.  For those who can't, naps are a semi solution.  Other serious ways of dealing with stress include meditation, mindfulness and yoga.  You have heard all this before, but she has her own spin worth the trouble to read.

Technology can make things worse or not.  Social media has become very effective at determining what anyone likes and will serve it up as often as practical.  On the other hand social media can not determine what you don't know that you might like.  The inter net has turned work into a 24/365 burden for too many. and the rest of us are being dragged along.

A concept usually avoided is the awareness of death.  Death is one universal  fact of life shared by all, but a thought that is almost taboo.  Adrianna suggests an awareness of the inevitable makes us more conscious of how precious life is.

Viktor Frankl's story has been recounted in many books and talks, but is one we need to grasp.  He survived a death camp with the Nazis.  He learned that none of us can control what happens outside ourselves, but our last human freedom is the freedom to choose our own attitude.  No question the world can be a cruel place, but most of us do not have to endure the hardships Frankl went through.

Another good example comes from Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison before his oppressors released him to help with a delicate political transformation.  He puts it this way, "if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind I'd still be in prison."  Nelson set an example that helped South Africa move forward.  When we carry bitterness it holds us back.

Adrianna is an advocate for volunteering, but she doesn't just talk about it.  At Huffington Post she allows employees to have 3 voluntary days per year plus they match up to $250 any charitable donations employees care to make.

She makes her points in the main body of the book, but provides appendixes that give more specific instructions and directions for more information.  Her ideas cannot be written enough, but as she is someone to admire her words might carry more weight or because she is perceptive the words might just hit the right nerve.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

the annual meltdown begins

Canadians get a bit antsy waiting for winter to finally end. In the last day or so it seems in my neighbourhood (Hamilton, Ontario at the far west end of Lake Ontario) winter is breaking.  Perhaps some of us are bit too optimistic as one notable thing about weather is how unpredictable it is.

This winter started with two big dumps of snow that impeded traffic, but both just about completely melted down within days.  I felt a bit smug that climate deniers would have to shut up, but in reality we hit a cold snap, lower temperatures for a longer time than we have experienced in a few years.  Some more snow and it stayed.  Parking problems especially for those of us who park on the streets was very awkward even after taking the trouble to carve out a spot with a shovel.

Earlier I wrote about how winter can help build community spirit.

A few more thoughts.  As snow melts during the warm days it may well freeze at night and create slippery conditions for both pedestrians and drivers.  The melt has to go somewhere and it seems a lot of sewers and drains are blocked up.  To speed up the process we should do all we can to unblock sewers and drains.

In some ways the melting snow brings the little boy out in me.  As many people enjoy popping bubbles on packing material I love squishing snow and ice.  The more ice and snow is broken up the faster it melts.

I know a lot of salt is more environmentally safe than what it used to be, but I don't feel comfortable shovelling it on my lawn.  I do confess that I have used more salt that usual these past weeks.  Another notable things is that there has been more ice than usual.  I am not sure why, but it is not a trend welcomed by many.

Getting back to my Climate Deniers.  It is true that the term Global Warming has been lost as Climate Change seems more accurate and admittedly more politically correct.  It also seems the eastern half of North America was colder than usual while the western half was warmer and drier in most spots.  The average person (including myself) feels most comfortable with what they see and feel and can rationalize anything that fits their worldview.  Scientists have proved they are more concerned about truth and mankind's welfare than politicians and corporations.  We do need to be open minded, but the evidence is there.

The winter is a challenge for Canadians.  Snow really impedes traffic flow which means it impedes business.  Part of me wants to see it as an opportunity to give work to people who need it.  Another part of me feels we need to provide incentives to appeal to civic good will so that people are willing to do what needs to be done.  Still as a collective unit the city should be responsible for roads and step in where help is genuinely needed.  I still find shovelling natural and perhaps good for me, but at some stage I will be happy to pay someone else to make sure my sidewalk is passable.  Maybe there is an opportunity for someone and maybe it has been going on.

We have been pretty lucky in southern Ontario compared to Boston as one example.  How about you?

Top photo is melting snow going down sewer.  Note the yellow fish which points out responsibility to keep sewers clear for drainage.

The bottom photo shows another overlooked concern.  Ice melting off roof and eavestrough also has to have a place to go.  This particular instance the pipe is stuffed with snow, but eventually it will clear.

Friday, March 6, 2015

My Basketball Projects Part Two

Basketball was such a big part of my life that I have had to split my memories of it so that it wouldn't be too much for one post.

Wanting to sell more basketball tickets and for Maple Leaf Gardens to make a more permanent arrangement with an NBA team one obstacle seemed to be ignorance.  Canadians were so tied to hockey they looked down on many other sports dismissing their importance.  A book could at least give some ammunition to existing basketball fans and gradually win over non fans.

The focus of my early book research was to find out as many Canadian connections to basketball. as possible.  Not only was it invented in 1892  by a Canadian, James Naismith, most of the first participants were Canadians studying at the YMCA school in Springfield Massachusetts.  The game spread across Canada through the YMCA, railways, military regiments and churches.

Women crept into the game. Naismith originally invited women to watch the men in the early stages, but before too long he encouraged them to play the game amongst themselves.  Basketball for women  was adapted for women who supposedly were the gentler sex, but over time evolved into the game played by men's rules.  Many Canadian men took the attitude that as a women's game it was too sissy for them and it took quite a long time to bury that notion.  In Canada, one of the greatest teams was the Edmonton Grads.  Today Canadian women compete for American basketball scholarships and play professionally.  Just like to add that women's hockey took quite awhile to evolve as a competitive sport, but we are better off for the results.

Originally as an indoor game basketball was more common in cities.  In rural areas ice hockey and curling were outdoors.  As it happened I played basketball in a small town, Haliburton and decided to research it a bit.  Basketball came to Haliburton in the 1950's when a new high school was built to cover a large area.  Part of that research took me to Fenelon Falls and a rival coach who mentioned the importance of cable tv.   My last two years of high school restricted me and my family to one tv station with limited schedule that included little if any basketball.  Urbanization is not as critical as it once was for the popularity of basketball as cable television made basketball more accessible to greater parts of the country.

Canadians helped to spread the game to other countries. T. Duncan Patton, a participant in the original game introduced the game to India in 1894.  Lyman Archibald brought the game to St Stephen, New Brunswick which was the site of the first international game on Canadian soil against a neighboring team from Calais, Maine in 1892.  On  a sales trip several years ago I went out of my way to visit St Stephen. and learned many friendships crossed the border and the two towns even shared fire protection.  In 1893 Archibald brought basketball to Hamilton, Ontario my new home town.

Canada won a Silver medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the first to accept basketball as an official sport.  The first NBA game was in Toronto in 1946.  Another pro team was started in Vancouver in 1947 and lasted two years nurturing Norm Baker who went on to play professionally in the United States.,

I was able to get the attention of publisher Bob Nielsen who opened a lot of doors for me.  At one point he asked me to write a short story for his Canadian Children's Annual  and I was able to get a drawing by Lorne Miller, an artist friend from university.  At a reception at Hamilton City Hall I was approached by Victor Copps, the mayor who directed me to the  organizer of the Olympic qualifying tournament at McMaster University.

The Pre Olympic tournament at McMaster was a new experience for me--I watched several games and took part in a number of press meetings.  I remember talking with players/coaches from Bulgaria, Iceland, Yugoslavia, Israel and elsewhere.  At McMaster I once watched Canada play Yugoslavia but was surprised to see the visitors were very definitely treated as the home team.  This apparently was not uncommon that the ethnic communities supported their teams whilst Canadians mostly ignored our national team

Bob got me a government grant and suggested I travel to Springfield, Mass. to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame.  I decided we could turn it into a vacation and added on Cape Cod and a short drive through Boston.  A few years later my family tree took up a lot of my time and I learned that one branch of my mother's family had lived in the Springfield area for a few generations. Unfortunately I could find no connection between my ancestors and basketball.  I also traveled to Montreal and Ottawa to talk to basketball officials.  The rest of my driving was within two hours of my home.

After 1936 Canadians were overshadowed by other countries in basketball, but one area we did well was refereeing.  I was able to talk to Kitch McPherson who told me about Al Rae.  They had both done prominent international games.  At the time, Ron Foxcroft had followed in their footsteps and not only did big international matches, but also major American College basketball and later some NBA games.  During one of his international games his whistle failed him in a riotous atmosphere.  He set about inventing a more reliable whistle which came to be known as the Fox40 and was adapted for many sports.  More on Ron later.

Ethnic connections did turn out to be critical for basketball as Canada was multi national.  I was vaguely aware of the Baltic countries, but became more aware of Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians that helped produce Leo Rautins and prominent Canadian university players.  I learned Japanese played in British Columbia and after their internment many came to Toronto and organized teams.  For me one of the most interesting experiences was when I was invited to a match between Montreal and Toronto in the Filipino community.  I was one of only three European people in a packed gym and the other two were referees.  I was introduced to one key Montreal player and learned he had left the Philippines to avoid gamblers.

Other important ethnic groups who helped develop basketball were the Mormons, Hungarians, Chinese and natives.  Basketball as an economical game was popular in other countries and when they came to Canada was something they were familiar with.  A Sioux Indian tribe in South Dakota had been introduced to basketball in 1892 and helped to spread the sport amongst fellow natives and in particular to Canada's west coast.

Another thrill was talking to people I considered celebrities.  Garney Henley was a very famous football player (Bob Nielsen had written a book about him) and a basketball coach at my alma mater. University of Guelph  He coached a team that won a CIAU championship.  I met Jack Donohue numerous times plus several team members, Jamie Russell,  Bill Robinson.  Norm Vickery, the women's coach had dinner in my little apartment.  Gus MaFarlane, a Member of Parliament.  Lew Hayman, who helped organize the first NBA team in Toronto and also involved with the Toronto Argonauts.

A note from Bill Bradley of the New York Knicks and later the United States Senate was a thrill.

Professional football players, mostly American gave a little prestige to the game.  Bobby Simpson, Vince Mazza, Garney Henley and Canadian Russ Jackson were good examples of famous athletes who played basketball while in Canada to keep in shape, but also because they loved the game.    Wally Gabler played basketball in one of my recreational games.  Sal Maglie, a famous baseball pitcher helped win a Canadian basketball championship.

One of the strangest events was a wedding on a basketball court.  Richie Spears had been a successful coach at Dawson College in Montreal and organized basketball clinics and festivals.  He met Norma Dudgeon at a basketball clinic, learned their basketball philosophies were compatible and found even more commonalities.  They agreed to get married at the basketball gymnasium at Dawson College with "Sweet Georgia Brown" replacing the traditional wedding march.  After the ceremony Richie coached his team to clinch league title and a week later coached the Quebec women's team at the Canada Winter Games.

As a short person I was always conscious that basketball gave a lot of advantages to taller people. Other people were aware of this limitation and sought solutions.  One response came from the wheelchair community who had discovered basketball a relatively cheap, healthy activity that helped boost morale.  The problem was that people were handicapped to different degrees.  They worked out a system grading each player by their disability and then requiring each team to balance the grades so that there was a reasonable competitive equality.  For a short time there was a league that tried to make a team have a total height requirement.  This meant that if you had one exceptionally tall player he would be balanced with shorter players.  Speed played a role.  Ron Foxcroft bought into this and brought the Hamilton Skyhawks to Copps Coliseum where I was able to enjoy a few games before the league folded with the owners all losing money to fraud by the organizers..

Coaches and managers and organizers make all the difference  Niagara Falls produced a number of successful coaches--Paul Thomas at University of Windsor and Jay Triano with both the national team and the Raptors.  Another coach who sparked some hotspots in Alberni (where Bill Robinson came from) and Victoria (home of Steve Nash) was Geroge Andrews who had played with the Vancouver Hornets.  Marvin Pearl organized basketball tournaments in Toronto that attracted top teams from the United States.  Ruby Richman who had played in the Olympics campaigned for NBA basketball against a lot of obstacles, but planted the seed that resulted in the Raptors.  We don't always realize the difference an individual can make.  This insight, although far from original opened my eyes to its truth in all fields.  Without a spark many possibilities lie dormant.

One semi original idea I had was to do a map of basketball.  People joke or brag about some places being the unofficial capital of some endeavor and there is some truth to it.  I wanted to include a national capital, provincial capital, historical sites.  Some of the choices may not be household names:  Almonte, Tillsonburg, Port Alberni,  St. Stephen all played important roles in the history of basketball in Canada.

At one time I was assigned an editor to work with me, but I admit I found it frustrating; as I wanted to add more stuff in and she wanted to streamline it.  Another publisher expressed interest, but apparently had their own financial stresses.  The truth is there wasn't enough confidence in the topic at that time (or perhaps in my writing).  Although I had devoted countless hours to the project I had other things to worry about, like a job and a family.  I often wonder what would have happened if I had stuck it out.

My manuscript ended up being used for a Masters thesis, part made it to a Shopper's Drug Mart serial and there was a children's story that actually led to writing a basketball story and then a book review for a local newspaper.  Although it was never accepted in the form I wanted, looking back it served me well.  I learned lots of interesting things, met lots of interesting people, but perhaps the greatest benefit was understanding the process.  As Bob Nielsen explained, lots of people think they can write a book, but I at least learned there is much more to it than outsiders realize.  I respect writers and understand there are a lot of hoops to jump through.  I should also add that I enjoyed myself most of the time.

What do I love about basketball?   As a marginal writer one can respect his betters; as a marginal athlete I can also respect the skills involved.  As a spectator basketball can be dramatic.   At one time a jump ball after every score tended towards lopsided action, but alternating possession has a tendency to keep scores close. Basketball is noted for having many exciting last second finishes.  The NBA well behind hockey, even in some American cities adopted the strategy of making a game an entertainment spectacle that would appeal to many non fans.  Definitely a part of success of the Toronto franchise where the Maple Leafs rely on the game itself.

A few years later the NBA became very popular in Canada  and I am glad if my efforts helped in any small way.  American colleges realized Canadian high schools could provide talent and many Canadians saw American scholarships as an opportunity to get an education.  Canadians are doing better than ever and more youngsters are finding an outlet for their energy and talent.  A few Leaf fans have discovered winning is a nice feeling that is more often provided by the Raptors.  And the NBA does provide entertainment for all ages.

Nowadays I don't watch as many sports, but have enjoyed the Raptors on tv, radio and in person. When my son visits we both enjoy a trip to the Rogers Centre.  May watch the Pan American basketball. March Madness gets my attention and am pleased to see more Canadian content.

If you missed part 1 here it is:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


The recent address by Benjamin Natanyahu to the American Congress illustrates vividly the hypocrisy of the Republican party.  It certainly appealed to deeply felt emotions and to significant fund raisers.  Still it is a step too far.  The Republicans are entitled to their perspective on domestic arguments and should do their best to present their viewpoints on important issues for the American people.  They should also examine foreign issues carefully and do their duty to present alternative strategies to protect their country.

BUT they should not try to undermine the president when dealing with foreigners in very difficult negotiations.

A simplified synopsis of the Iranian negotiation crisis is subject to bias and prejudice, but here goes.  There is doubt in all quarters as to how far one should trust Iran.  Are they just trying to inch their way to having nuclear weapons?  Are they using that fear as leverage to get more of what they really want?  Can outsiders really prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons if they are really determined short of war?  Could the west win a war?  Each question is complex and there is far more to it.  Each side has members who want the negotiations to fail and nobody can really be sure of the consequences.

My suggestion would be that tensions should be turned down.  Israel ought to be exploring steps to relieve the dangers.  A greater danger might be increasing resentment of how they treat the Palestinians.  Iran is potentially an ally in a war against ISIS.  It is not a backward civilization and its citizens do not all hate the West.  There is a lot of history involved and Americans need to acknowledge they were responsible for replacing an elected Iranian with a dictator.  Should Iran develop a nuclear bomb it would likely cause other Middle East powers to do the same.

There are plenty of delicate international issues with plenty of differing views.  At some point someone has to represent the whole nation when confronting these issues.  That person is logically the President.  That does not mean that everyone has to agree, but it should mean efforts to undermine a united front are not acceptable.

The Republicans understood this when they made the decision to invade Iraq.  They ridiculed dissenters and shamed fence sitters to get bi partisan Congressional approval.  Politicians and the media were very strident against any differing views.  Traitorous was a common epithet for people who did not support military efforts or security changes.  It was unpatriotic to question decisions. Anyone else remember that environment?

The Iraq War turned out to be disastrous, not only because of military considerations, but because of the essential dishonesty involved.  Iraq was not involved in the 9/11 disaster, they did not train Al Quaeda terrorists and they did not have weapons of mass destruction.  Although claims are made that intelligence pointed to a guilty Iraq, they were to a significant degree manufactured with plenty of dissenting opinions expressed.  They even revealed a secret agent in an effort to discredit one of the dissenters.

All politicians find it helpful to project a patriotic image and some like to denigrate the opposition's patriotism.  Voters are responsive to this image battle.

To my viewpoint, the Republicans were attempting to undermine delicate negotiations for what they thought would be political advantage.  Paint the Democrats as weak and poor negotiators and stick up for the Israeli victims.  Netnayahu cannot be totally blamed for trying to take advantage of an opportunity to present his undoubtedly sincere concerns, but he too was trying to portray himself as a tough negotiator for an election of his own.  Republicans would have been better advised to avoid seeming to take sides in another nation's election.

Republicans are not alone in their concern about the Iranian negotiations, but at some point they have to stop undermining the president and the voters have to trust the man the majority of voters supported in the last two presidential elections.

A lot of the conservative rhetoric is blatantly unfair and ridiculous.  For instance as a Canadian it is hard to stomach the misinformation that is shouted about Obamacare.  It is noted that once the same plan is identified as the Affordable Care Act it gains greater approval.  There are many difficult issues, but it is hard not to be impressed with how superior Obama's results have been compared to his Republican predecessor.  Republicans have a lot of chutzpah to not owning up not only to their Iraq debacle, but also how they messed up the economy.

As outsiders we can only express our opinions, but have to realize we will never know everything a president has to deal with.  Our judgment and our vote has to be based on what we do know and perhaps the key element is deciding who to trust and then respect the majority.  When difficult decisions have to be made at some point we have to trust and respect elected officials.  I do not believe the Republicans, particularly in the House of Representatives demonstrated that with respect to the recent visit by a foreign leader.

The photo at the top is of muralist Lester Coloma working on a fence painting that unfortunately is no longer there and I thought it should be remembered.