Dissecting Rachel Marsden’s Awful October 29 Column

Rachel Marsden is the master of The Blanket Statement.   Take her October 29th Toronto Sun column, as a recent example.  It’s loaded with them.  But a word of caution.  You might not be able to contain your laughter.  (A persuasive letter writer complained about her piece in today’s Toronto Sun and received a baffling and lame, anonymous retort.  It’s the fifth letter.)
In a piece entitled “Hindsight will help us see through the Bush”, an awkward pun of a headline written by someone else, she opens thusly:
“George Bush is still right. While his critics assume the kiss-your-behind-goodbye position and reach for the barf bag with every bit of turbulence — he remains focused on the ultimate objective of his political journey.”
Reading through the entirety of her column, there isn’t one factual assertion that backs any of this up.  No confirming quotes from like-minded Democrats, Republicans, TV talking heads, print pundits or political experts.  No referencing of any viable news reports.  No comments from either The President himself or any member of his Administration.  Nothing.  Furthermore, her typically sloppy attempt at exaggerated humour reduces legitimate criticism of America’s dangerous and immoral foreign policy to that of doomed cowardice.  But what would you expect from a pretend journalist who claimed that voting for The Democrats last year meant death to all of us?  And she calls herself a “political strategist”?  The Republicans are so lucky to have her.
Moving on.  Marsden, who filed her column from Washington, D.C., mentions Bill Sammon.  He’s written a book about George W. Bush called The Evangelical President.  In paragraph three, she claims with a straight face that he’s “a registered Independent who brings the usually foreign concept of fairness to journalism…”.  That’ll come as a shock to Bob Somerby of Daily Howler and the tireless liberal watchdog group, Media Matters For America.  They’ve documented numerous instances where The Washington Examiner White House Correspondent and Fox News Channel contributor has been dishonest and misleading about progressives both in print and on Television.
Sammon has indeed claimed publicly that he is “a registered Independent” but didn’t Bill O’Reilly do the same thing?  (As Al Franken pointed out, the latter is actually a registered Republican.)  Considering the fact that Sammon has written books with titles like At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried To Steal The Election and Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry, and the Bush Haters, his assertion of political independence, echoed by Marsden, is extremely difficult to swallow.  Where are the examples of him praising Democrats and criticizing Republicans?  Where is the documented proof of his Independent status, for that matter?
The truth is he’s just another drone in The Republican Noise Machine, just like Marsden.  His “reporting” for The Washington Times, his former employer, played a major role in Al Gore losing the 2000 Election, as repeatedly noted by Somerby, who has long established the media’s irrational and phony War On Gore.  The real reason Bush has granted Sammon more interviews than to anybody else working in the public eye isn’t because he’s “fair”.  It’s because he’s a political ally who doesn’t hold him accountable.  That’s not responsible journalism but rather, transparent propaganda.  Ethics is a foreign concept to this crowd, the party of torture, racial & sexual bigotry, religious extremism, rank hypocrisy and endless war-hungry paranoia.
Back to Marsden’s very silly piece.  She spends the next, several paragraphs desperately and laughably trying to rescue the rightfully tattered reputation of President Bush.  Like a number of like-minded conservative pundits, instead of acknowledging the indisputable reality that he’s been a disaster domestically and globally (poor fiscal and foreign policies are but two of his serious, far-reaching blunders), she claims that many, many years from now, he’ll be hailed in hindsight for his political brilliance.  (“Greatness usually appears in the rear-view mirror.”)  As John McEnroe would say, “You cannot be serious!” 
She references Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and, believe it or not, notorious US Senator Joe McCarthy.  (Yes, the guy that was obsessed with communism to the point of lunacy in the 1950s.  Thanks to his alcoholism, he died of acute hepatitis at age 48.)
Let’s go through these one by one, starting with Churchill.  Marsden claims, and she isn’t alone, that the former British Prime Minister was the only one to see the real danger that Hitler posed.  (“Winston Churchill was dismissed as a nut when he first warned the world about Hitler.”)  Despite Churchill later portraying himself in this manner, he was neither a lone voice in the wilderness nor the first to speak out.  There was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cardinal Van Galen, individual Catholics (who demonstrated against T4, the barbaric mass murder of the mentally and physically handicapped), Sir Anthony Eden, (more here), Sir Horace Rumbolt, Duff Cooper, Harold Nicolson, George Lloyd (who briefly served in Churchill’s cabinet before dying on the job in 1940), even The Winnipeg Free Press, whose then-editor-in-chief criticized in print the infamous Munich Pact in 1938.   
Finally, and most importantly, Churchill had contradictory views about Hitler.  In his 1937 book, Great Contemporaries, he actually praises Hitler:
“One may dislike Hitler’s [political] system and yet admire his patriotic achievements. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as admirable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.”
Not so black and white, as Marsden tries to paint it.  
Then, there’s Ronald Reagan.  She notes that in paragraph five that he “hit a 42% approval rating in 1983, as unemployment peaked prior to his visionary Reaganomics policy kicking in.”  More sloppy writing.  The unemployment rate actually peaked at about 10% in 1982, the previous year.  Furthermore, while Reagan did indeed have a 42% approval rating in 1983 (late July), his worst overall rating was 35% (late January).  So, it was even lower than the figure Marsden mentioned in her column.  (Click here to see all of Reagan’s popularity numbers for 1983.  Click “Reagan” and then scroll down.)
As for his economic program being “visionary”, that remains a debatable positionAs noted by Wikipedia, Reagan lowered rich people’s taxes considerably (70% to 26%) while increasing payroll taxes “as well as the effective tax rates on the lower two income quintiles.”  The debt increased from 700 billion to 3 trillion, thanks to relentless deficit spending.  Today, thanks to more fiscal mismanagement and addictive borrowing from other countries (Reagan did the same thing), it’s up to 10 trillion.
Onto Joe McCarthy.  A number of right-wing pundits, like Marsden’s friend, Ann Coulter, have been trying in vain to restore the dead Senator’s reputation in recent years.  Marsden does her part by offering the following:
“Poor GOP Senator Joe McCarthy was persecuted and vilified for audaciously suggesting the U.S. government was rife with communist spies at its highest level. Now that the VENONA Project has successfully decoded encrypted Soviet communications, we know his assessment was bang-on.”
The VENONA Project was a World War II-era secret surveillence program that only became public knowledge long after it was cancelled during President Jimmy Carter’s time in office.  Contrary to Marsden’s trademark Blanket Statement, there remains some criticism regarding its effectiveness, as noted by Wikipedia.  As for McCarthy himself, his overreaching antics got him censured by the Senate.  His anti-Communist witchhunt ruined many lives and prematurely ended many careers.  He’s no hero, by any definition of the word.  Furthermore, it’s not certain how many Soviet sympathizers his actions legitimately exposed, if any.
Then, Marsden takes a shot at President Carter:
“Even president Jimmy Carter — who let American hostages rot in Iran for 444 days and was drop-kicked from office with a 39% approval rating that year — went on to win a Nobel Prize for his, um, efforts.”
Note the words “that year”.  She obviously means 1980, which was the same year The VENONA Project was discontinued, the subject of the earlier paragraph.  Whether it was an editing mistake or simply bad writing, the fact that no actual year is mentioned in either of those passages is embarrassing and a bit confusing for readers.  Also, pay close attention to “president Jimmy Carter” and “Senator Joe McCarthy”.  Does she think so lowly of the Nobel Prize Winner that she can’t even be bothered to capitalize the “p” in “President”?
At any event, it’s simply not true that he let the hostages “rot” for over a year.  She’s obviously trying to make it sound like he sat on his hands the whole time, which is deeply unfair.  There were economic sanctions, oil stopped being imported from Iran, and, of course, there was the botched rescue attempt in April 1980.  Furthermore, there’s this passage from Wikipedia:
“While Carter kept his promise (all 51 hostages returned home alive), he failed to secure the release of the hostages prior to the election. While Carter ultimately won their release, Iran did not technically release the hostages until minutes after Reagan took office. In recognition of the fact that Carter was responsible for bringing the hostages home, President Reagan asked Carter to go to Germany to greet them upon their release.”
So much for letting them “rot”.
Furthermore, while Carter was indeed soundly defeated by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, his approval rating wasn’t 39% just before the vote.  According to Gallup, it was actually 31% (paragraph three, line two under second heading, “Bush’s Free-fall Best Known”).  According to The Roper Center (click “Carter”), it was only 39% in late March and early April, half a year before the electorate went to the polls.  (They also note that it remained at 31% three weeks after Reagan’s electoral landslide.  Carter had a couple more months left before the official transition of power.)
As for Marsden’s rather immature and transparently idiotic sneering of Carter’s much deserved Nobel Peace Prize, it speaks for itself.  Carter won the award in 2002 “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”  His work with Habitat For Humanity and the fact that every single American hostage “returned home alive” as he promised during the Iran crisis speaks volumes about his character.  Until stalking, making false accusations and using a fake name to get a job with a Conservative MP become established criteria for the award, Marsden will have to settle for writing toothless cheap shots in a declining tabloid.
Meanwhile, let’s continue.  In paragraph eight, she complains about the media making President Bush look like “a dolt” to the point where they don’t notice that his Iraq strategy is “a play ripped from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War'”, something “any political strategist ought to recognize”.  Firstly, as anyone who’s watched Bush speak in public has long known, the media doesn’t have to do a damn thing to make him look stupid.  He does it all on his own.  (“Childrens do learn”, anyone?)  As for The Art of War, what “play” has this Administration been using from that book?  She doesn’t specify.  Whatever strategy they’re using, it’s not working.
She further notes Bill Sammon’s assertion that if Hillary Clinton is elected President, there will be a continuation of Bush’s Iraq policy.  Once again, no evidence is provided to strengthen that position.
The next paragraph is perplexing:
“Bush’s policies even preclude recent major political changes in Europe, despite an article in this week’s New York Observer saying of European conservative victories: ‘…a moribund economy and a general sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo fuelled the victories of candidates whose pro-free market reform credentials were more important than [candidates] pro-Americanism.'”
She’s referring to The Fantasy Of A Pro-America Europe.  (According to my Cage Canadian Dictionary, the word preclude means “shut out; make impossible; prevent”. )  Again, she doesn’t bother to back up what she says and one wonders why she threw in that quote without really disproving it.
Then, we come to the end where she makes up a quote falsely attributed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.  (A Google search in quotation marks produced exactly one hit.  Yep, Marsden’s column.)  Guess she’s trying to be funny again.  Yawn.  There’s a hint of anti-Muslim rhetoric when she says the following:
“In countries like France, these changes in government centred largely on immigration and culture…And there couldn’t possibly be a connection between Bush’s war on terrorism and conservative victories in Switzerland and Germany amid public opposition to the emergence of certain places of worship.”
As always, an empty statement backed with no evidence.  (What would you expect from a columnist who calls Islam “the dynamite religion”?)
But she saves the biggest moment of hilarity for the end:
“For Bush’s critics to have to admit that his vision has even caught on in France would likely be too much to take.
George W. Bush is the Winston Churchill of our time. Don’t see it? Keep an eye on that rear-view mirror.”
That’s funny.  I thought President Sarkozy was against the War in Iraq.
As for Bush being this generation’s Churchill at some point in the future, I think I hear someone rolling in their grave.  I also hear uncontrollable laughter.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
4:45 p.m.
Published in: on October 31, 2007 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Open Water

Are you tired of bad horror movies that aren’t scary?  Are you fed up with all the needless gore, the cheap "scares" and the thoroughly predictable storylines?  Have you just had enough of all those randy teenagers getting brutally offed for no good reason?
If you’re like me and answered in the affirmative for all three questions, then you need to see Open Water.  Here’s a spooky little thriller, released by Lions Gate, that is more riveting and effective than all the Friday The 13ths and Nightmare On Elm Streets put together.
Released in the summer of 2004, the movie stars the very beautiful Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis as a stressed out couple in desperate need of a vacation.  When we first meet them they’re both on the phone trying to quickly solve some work-related problems on the day they leave for the Caribbean.  He’s a plumber, she works in TV Sports.  Once everything is settled, they drive off to the airport.
After arriving on this stunning island paradise, they take it easy, catch a little sun and for the most part, leave their busy American lives back home.  But it’s not entirely idyllic.  Because the air conditioning in their hotel room is busted and Ryan is too exhausted to fool around beyond making out, sadly, vacation sex is out of the question.  (On the plus side, Ryan does get topless, at least.)
The next day, they’re on a scuba diving boat with about two dozen other people.  Davis (Michael E. Williamson), an affable but untrustworthy guide, informs his passengers of the great wonders they’ll probably see during their half-hour dive underwater.  He also quickly goes through some important safety information (hand signals, diving with a buddy, etc.).  Someone is worried about sharks.  Davis assures everyone that the kind they might see are not attracted to human flesh.  As everyone saddles up, he does a head count.  In just a few, short minutes, we learn that math isn’t his strongest subject.
The first quarter of Open Water does an effective job of showcasing scenes from a typical vacation.  The acting is so naturalistic you feel like you’re watching a travel documentary.  There’s even some Altmanesque dialogue (overlapping words) thrown in for good measure.  It’s a patient film that nicely sets the tone for the last hour.
As the divers go in and then out of the water, Davis, who believes there are 20 divers to keep track of, starts a new count with his pad and pen that will hopefully match his earlier number.  Meanwhile, Ryan and Travis remain fascinated by what they see down below.  Sticking close together, they make the most of their dive, going very close to the time limit, and even snap the occasional photo for posterity.  The filmmakers capture some wonderful shots of nature during this sequence.  I would’ve liked to have seen more.
Unfortunately, they’re enjoying the experience a little too much.  By the time they rise to the surface, Davis has already counted 20 divers and the boat has long since left the scene.  It’s a shocking moment, even though it is a little contrived.  (Wouldn’t someone have noticed the missing tanks?  Couldn’t he have counted more than twice?  I know I would’ve.)  Nevertheless, our heroes soon realize their dilemma and go into survival mode.  There are moments of dark humour that work well here in the midst of tremendous tension.  And trust me, there is tension.  The idea of two solitary, defenseless divers (who only have a measly knife for protection) essentially drifting along for many hours without nourishment in a large body of water full of unknown predators is a scary one.  Because Travis has been watching Shark Week on The Discovery Channel, though, there is some reassurance.  He seems to know what he’s talking about.
But the longer they’re stranded out there, the more worried and freaked out they both become (although there are times when one tries to soothe the hysteria percolating in the other).  They get hungry and thirsty, but aside from some candies Ryan finds later on, they’re shit out of luck.  They have to pee so bad they end up going in their wet suits.  They go from laughing about their misfortune to outright sniping.  Blame is smacked back and forth like a ping pong.  And then, the biting starts.
Open Water played the festival circuit, including Sundance and Cannes, for nearly a year before Lions Gate threw it into theatres in August 2004.  Spending two and a half million dollars for distribution rights, it was money well spent.  The film made 30 million domestically, a third of which was made the first week it went into wide release.
Ryan and Travis are believable and sympathetic as the couple.  You feel for them and wonder what they did to deserve this.  No showy overacting here.  Just straightforward performances that get more engrossing as the dangers increase and the sun slowly sets.  I like their dialogue, too.  It feels authentic, like you’re watching a scary documentary.  The use of handheld digital cameras throughout the production adds to the gloomy atmosphere.  You wish The Blair Witch Project was this good.
Open Water is far from perfect, though.  Even though the story is based on a real-life incident in 1988 (at one point, Travis notes the startlingly common phenomenon of stranded and forgotten divers, information he gleamed from a diving magazine), their predicament could’ve easily been avoided if Davis, the hapless guide, or even any of the other passengers, had been more obsessive about counting.  (Surely, someone would’ve remembered that hot Ryan, at the very least.  She’s not exactly forgettable.)  Some of the music is quite annoying and unnecessary and, without giving anything away, the movie probably foreshadows the fates of these characters a little too much upon reflection.  Then again, maybe that was the point.  Regardless, it’s a beautiful looking film and those scenes are eerie.
So, when you’re looking for a scary movie to watch this Halloween, or on any day, for that matter, stay away from mainstream, big studio trash.  Watch Open Water instead.  If you have any curiosity about scuba diving, prepare to have your mind changed.  Permanently.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
2:54 a.m.
Published in: on October 30, 2007 at 2:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions Of Nine Inch Nails

Can Trent Reznor put your little ones to sleep?  Musician Alex Gibson and his record label, Baby Rock Records, believe so.  On Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions Of Nine Inch Nails, which was released earlier this February, ten songs from the band’s catalogue have been reworked into exactly 42 minutes of sleepy time music.  Loud, heavily distorted, electric guitars, pounding drums, and screaming vocals have been replaced with quieter vibraphones, mellotrons and glockenspiels, plus a dash of piano and bass.  Not a single tortured lyric is heard here.  It’s an all instrumental album.
But how do you assess a project like this when you’re not the target audience?  How can you possibly be fair when these covers are not meant for your ears?  The short answer to both questions is you can’t, which hasn’t prevented me from developing an opinion after one complete listen.  (A second go-round is unlikely to change my mind.)  The only reason for its existence is to give parents a break when it comes to putting their babies to bed.  However, this might not be the kind of music they should be listening to.
It’s been argued that you shouldn’t try to be so quiet around your children when they’re trying to sleep.  It’s impossible to maintain complete silence for long stretches of time in your house, so the sooner you expose your babies to noise while they’re resting the better their sleeping habits will be in the long run.  My mom liked to turn the TV on and run the vacuum when I was really young.  Dad had the stereo blasting constantly.  As a result, I’ve been able to sleep through thunderstorms, sirens, crashes and all sorts of loud disruptions throughout my life.
Putting on soft music for a young baby to doze off to, naturally, is a great idea.  You can’t really sleep very well if you’re not reasonably relaxed and the youngest of the young are no different than the rest of us in that regard.  Some nights, you’re just not tired.  That’s why the right background music at the right level can be extremely helpful.  Concentrate long enough and before you know it, you’re out cold.
But is the music of Trent Reznor really translatable to this growing genre of baby rock lullabies?  Again, I don’t know how many people have bought this album and successfully used it to put their babies in a nightly, routine slumber.
What I do know is that it is very strange.  Imagine The Velvet Underground, minus John Cale, doing a warped version of Pet Sounds heavily influenced by the opening of U2’s Electrical Storm and you have an idea of what it sounds like.  It opens with three big singles from The Downward Spiral:  Hurt, Closer and Piggy.  The latter two don’t really work as ballads.  You can somewhat recognize the melodies even though these are not photocopied covers.  The originals are edgy and dark, and it’s hard not to think of Reznor’s intensely personal and depraved lyrics as you hear the tinkling melody of the vibraphone.
Hurt, on the other hand, is quite effective.  After Johnny Cash’s famous version, you wouldn’t think anybody else could find an interesting interpretation.  But Alex Gibson does.  I’m just not sure it’s the kind of song you want a young baby to hear.  It’s not a happy tune.
The rest of the CD features selections from With Teeth (The Hand That Feeds which doesn’t work at a slower pace), Broken (Wish), The Fragile (La Mer which also features a bit of Into The Void and Fragile which incorporates The Frail into the mix) and Pretty Hate Machine (Sin, Head Like A Hole and Something I Can Never Have).  Besides Hurt, Sin and Something I Can Never Have are the only other songs I enjoyed listening to.  That last song, which concludes the album, goes on for six minutes and is remarkably unsettling for a lullaby.  You can imagine it being used in a horror film, not unlike the original.  In fact, the second half of the record makes you question the judgment of the people responsible for this project in the first place.  Now I’m no Dr. Spock, but these ten instrumentals don’t strike me as the kind of music that would put you to sleep or even put you at ease.  Even though they’re all considerably less forthright than Trent Reznor’s originals, it’s more than a little weird to expose a young baby to sounds that don’t evoke images of happy, purple dinosaurs and cheerful, underwater sponges.  This isn’t sweet, wholesome family fare we’re talking about here, and no matter what instruments you use to cover this material and how low the volume is when you play it back, the creepy tone of those original melodies is unmistakable.  Could this music possibly do the job of a good bedtime story?  I’m not sure, nor will I ever know.
Reznor’s talent as a songwriter was pretty much established nearly 20 years ago with that first album, Pretty Hate Machine.  One wonders what he thinks of these interpretations of some of his best and most familiar material.  All I know is Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions Of Nine Inch Nails didn’t put me to sleep.  It’s an inconsistent entertainment that makes you appreciate the originals that much more.  If I was a parent with a young child, this would be the last record I would expose them to.  It’s far too early to introduce them to one of our best performers.  His music is the stuff of nightmares, not the sweet dreams of an innocent babe.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
6:50 p.m.
Published in: on October 24, 2007 at 6:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

U2 Re-releasing The Joshua Tree

Their next studio album won’t be ready until sometime next year but that won’t stop U2 from putting out something this year.  According to their official website, the Irish foursome is re-releasing the album that made them global superstars in the late 1980s. 
Hard to believe but The Joshua Tree is now 20 years old.  Originally issued in March 1987, it spawned two number one singles in America and went on to win the Grammy for Album Of The Year.  It has sold tens of millions of copies in multiple formats worldwide.  (In fact, it was the first full-length release to be issued simultaneously on vinyl, cassette and CD.  Prior to that, CD versions always followed the distribution of vinyl and cassette copies to record stores weeks later.)
For its 20th Anniversary, the album is being reissued in four different versions.  There’s the standard, single disc, remastered edition which features the original 11 songs in the same order as they appeared on the initial release.  Author Bill Flanagan, who wrote the definitive book about the Zoo TV period, U2 At The End Of The World – It’s on my book list.  Buy it and enjoy it.  It’s a great read. – has written new liner notes.  Previously unreleased photos by respected Dutch lensman Anton Corbijn, who’s been working with the band for 25 years, will be included in the package.
For diehard vinyl fans, there’s also a remastered double 12" package.  No bonus material, unfortunately.
Speaking of that, it appears Bono’s original concept of The Joshua Tree will happen after all.  He wanted the record to be a double album and now it is, thanks to the special deluxe edition that’s coming out.  Disc one is the spruced up version of the original album and disc two features all the B-sides from that period as well as much sought after rarities like the original version of Silver And Gold from the hard-to-find Artists United Against Apartheid album.  (As an aside, where’s Woman Fish?)  That one features Bono with a couple members of The Rolling Stones.  (It was recorded during a break from the band’s Dirty Work sessions in 1985.)  Even the less impressive single edit of Where The Streets Have No Name makes an appearance, the third time it’s appeared on CD.  It should be noted, though, that many of those B-sides, like Spanish Eyes and Walk To The Water, were already included on the bonus disc of the first pressing of The Best Of 1980-1990. 
The deluxe edition will include "a 36-page bound book" which features Flanagan’s notes, commentary from The Edge and Bono’s handwritten lyric sheets.
Finally, there’s the three-disc box set which features the two-CD deluxe edition and a bonus DVD which will include the Outside It’s America documentary, videos (a different cut of With Or Without You and the never-before-seen Red Hill Mining Town) and a full-length concert from a fourth of July appearance at The Hippodrome in Paris, France from the 1987 Joshua Tree tour.
According to Billboard, you can expect all of these releases on November 20.  Start making your Christmas lists.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 19, 2007
1:39 p.m.
Published in: on October 19, 2007 at 1:40 pm  Comments (1)  

She’s Love

She’s love
Feminine beyond the definition
My greatest muse
The only one I choose
She’s love
Oozing with sweetness
Stronger than she knows
Adorable nose
She’s love
Hard to resist
Easy to miss
Wanting to kiss
She’s love
Thoughtful and understanding
Stands out from the pack
Never looks back
She’s love
Natural, vulnerable beauty
Daddy’s little princess
Embodies success
She’s love
Excitement in and out of tight clothing
A megawatt smile
But living in denial
She’s love
On her way to freedom
Dependable and caring
Can’t help staring
She’s love
Healthy and happy
Warm and giving
Makes life worth living
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 19, 2007
12:15 p.m.
Published in: on October 19, 2007 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Going Back To Move Forward

It’s not over.  Just when you think you’ll never have another opportunity to talk to someone who meant so much to you, the opportunity presents itself in a most public and dramatic way.
If you’ve visited this site in the last few weeks, you may have noticed a couple of short, sweet comments in my Guestbook.  The first one was posted on the last day of September.  I knew immediately who wrote it.  All kinds of feelings and thoughts flowed through me to the point of rumination.  The words leapt off the screen and buried themselves deep within my conscience.  There were times where thinking of a different subject was difficult, if not downright impossible.  Those four, heartfelt sentences were read again and again and again.  One glance was never enough.
It was my ex-girlfriend making an attempt to reach out to me.  We had a terrible break-up earlier this Spring.  Anger, confusion and disappointment arose out of a surprising change of heart, unexpected emotions that killed the idea of immediately continuing on as just friends.  Were it not for my long lost buddies on Facebook, especially my old college pal, Rob, whose home is a warm and funny refuge from any and all ugly emotional realities, and the supportive messages I received from fellow bloggers, this past summer would’ve been completely unbearable and empty.
Living in denial about your hurt feelings is typical guy behaviour.  You don’t really believe you’re that affected by the change.  You basically carry on like you did before the relationship started, which in my case meant a return to reading, rocking out and screening movies, among other activities.  In other words, it was back to my Costanza period.
I even tried a new strategy for meeting women:  Facebook.  A extensive search through profiles of potential dates proved mostly frustrating but there were a couple of good leads.  First, there was a slightly older woman who, it turned out, was just a few blocks away from me in the city.  That was a big selling point.  After sending her a message on Facebook, much to my delight, she replied.  She was attractive, intelligent and seemed very nice.  We continued to exchange messages, although, early on, because I hadn’t heard from her in a few days, I wondered if she had second thoughts about me and lost interest.  Thankfully, she hadn’t.  When she got back in touch with me, she wanted to know if I had MSN Messenger.  Shortly thereafter, we were chatting in real time and she even went on webcam.  I was still interested.
After another delay, she gave me her phone number.  The first time I called, one of her roommates answered.  He told me she wasn’t there.  In actuality, she was standing right next to him but he wouldn’t give her the receiver or acknowledge her presence.  (He had a very good reason for doing this.  Someone in his family had been involved in a serious accident and he wanted to keep the line free in order to hear the latest news.  He was losing sleep over it.)
Eventually, on a different day, I got her on the line.  After she wondered why I didn’t call her back, we began our chat.  Within seconds, I stopped being interested in her.  It was abundantly clear she was a smoker.  Huge turn-off.  She went outside and in between those annoying moments where the nearby traffic was at its loudest, you could hear her puffing away.  It was unmistakable.
At some point, she had to go but she wanted to continue the conversation later on that day.  In our second call, she had gone back inside the house she shared with several roommates to pick up where we left off.  It was sweltering up in the attic where she watched Seinfeld reruns so she turned the fan on.  I could barely hear her, which ultimately didn’t matter.  I learned she wasn’t going to quit smoking and when she rattled off a number of her interests, I also realized we couldn’t even be platonic friends.  It was an enormous disappointment.  We had been talking about going for a walk and talk as our first date online but after these two conversations, I knew that date would never happen.
Feeling badly that I misled her into thinking we were going to do this, I wrote her a message on Facebook to let her know that I didn’t think we were compatible.  After laying out my reasons for baling out on the date, I wished her well.  There was no reply and after several weeks, she had deleted me from MSN Messenger.  It was too bad.  She’s a nice lady but not for me.
There was another potentially good lead.  Another attractive older woman, too.  This one, in her late 40s.  She’s a Wiccan so before messaging her on Facebook, I did a Google search to investigate her religion.  It was pretty interesting and surprisingly tolerant, if bewildering.  Some of what I learned was thrown into my message.  She wrote back suggesting we go out for a coffee.  She even offered to further explain her beliefs.  I wrote back and never heard from her again.
Sometime after that, I began to miss my ex.  I went back and forth emotionally.  Some days were less trying than others.  Then, in late September, she posted that typically sweet message in my Guestbook and the range of emotions intensified.  Elation, relief, anger, frustration, confusion, curiosity.  You name it, I felt it.  I knew she wanted to make peace with me.  She obviously wanted to start over as friends.  The important thing was she still cared.  And deep down, I did, too.
I thought about what to do.  Should she receive an immediate reply?  There were still hurt feelings and a strong possibility that something stupid or cruel would be written, which would ruin everything.  Despite what broke us apart, neither of us wanted to harm the other.  Circumstances beyond our control interfered with what was building between us.  Of all the bad options available, ignoring her was the only one that made any sense.  It was just easier to avoid the pain, something I learned from her back in the Spring.
Two weeks later, she posted a second message.  This one was more direct but still endearing.  The bottom line was she wanted to hear from me.  Knowing that we both shared a sense of stubbornness, it became clear that I couldn’t ignore her anymore.  We needed to deal with what we both were feeling.
Long, gutwrenching emails were exchanged and I learned the real reason why I was dumped.  The fear of being loved by a nice guy who really cared for her, insecurities about herself and the relationship, feeling internal pressure, not to mention the guilt she felt over her brutal ex unwantedly coming back into the picture all led to a pivotal conversation with a close girlfriend who advised her to end it. 
Reading her impassioned plea for forgiveness and understanding got to me.  It was moving to discover that she never got over me, still had feelings for me and didn’t find a replacement.  (She didn’t even go on a single date!)  She was profoundly regretful for what happened. 
This was all heavy stuff for what was essentially an Internet relationship (sprinkled with a number of disappointingly short phone calls).  At first, I was overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings.  A thorough examination of my options was in order. 
Trying again seemed like repeating failed history.  Or would things be much different this time?  Would we actually meet and finally learn if we had something special?  Was he out of her life for good? 
Her offer of friendship was still on the table.  But, you know, I’ve always felt that it’s impossible to be friends with someone you used to date.  It’s like a demotion in a way.  You can only get so close because of the new boundaries.  Resentment can build rather quickly over time for obvious reasons.
But losing her again seemed like the worst option.  She is the sweetest girl you could ever meet.  Despite living through some of the worst things you can imagine, she is terminally upbeat and positive.  It’s an incredible attitude to have.  She’s a brilliant, hardworking student.  (A highly decorated high school grad, she’s doing well in her first year of university now.)  She cares about people.  She has many friends and you get the sense that she’s deeply loved by her family (who should really let her be more independent, but I digress).  She’s also a lot of fun to talk to.
And now, having seen a photo of her, I know that she’s incredibly beautiful.  How lovely is she?  She doesn’t need make-up.  She’s naturally stunning.  (She strongly disagrees, of course.  She’s a girly girl to the end, that one.)
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe starting over with her was a real possibility.  And just maybe, being friends with her should be the new starting point.  I wasn’t angry with her anymore and so I forgave her for what happened.  Looking back, she was not ready at all to be in a relationship so soon after escaping that menace who came between us.  I always sensed fear and a compulsive urge to change the subject whenever she was uncomfortable back then, a common occurrence during the tougher days.  It was frustrating.  I wanted to help her through all that and always encouraged her to seek out professional help.  I just wanted her to heal so we could be together.  Again, fear got in the way and it’s no wonder the relationship ended when it did.  But she did the right thing and I’ve moved on.
Now that we’ve made peace with each other and have started this friendship, both of us feel a sense of relief.  It sucks not talking to someone you always admired in more ways than one.  She seems to be a lot happier in university these days than she ever did in high school.  She’s learned to let loose in between long bouts of studying.  Maybe she’s not hiding so much anymore, which is a good thing.  Ever since her devoted brother called up her nasty ex to make sure he left her alone, he has indeed left her alone.  He’s a good brother.
But those feelings we developed for each other are still there lingering in the atmosphere.  It’s undeniable.  Interestingly, she’s toned down her affections for me (they were a lot more pronounced and passionate when we were a couple) which makes me wonder if that’s because of a fear of acknowledging her true feelings (which she admits have never really gone away) or because she’s purposefully slowing things down in order to avoid feeling pressured again.  (That’s an internalized thing on her part.  I never ever coerced her to do anything she didn’t freely want to do.  She’s her own woman.)  She’s made it clear she just wants us to be friends at the moment.  And I’m cool with that.  It’s better than nothing.  But she also made it clear that she would like try again in the future.  Me too.
When will that happen?  It’s uncertain.  Try as I did, it was impossible to let her go emotionally after our break-up, although initally, there was a grace period that cloaked my denial.  I’m relieved I didn’t find another girlfriend, though.  That would’ve needlessly complicated things and I think her feelings would’ve been really hurt.  After all she’s been through that’s the last thing I would want to do.  Besides, I never did find anyone as interesting as her.  She’s a special lady.  Even though she’s a babe, a sweetheart and smart, there’s something else about her that draws me to her that I can’t quite explain.  I just feel this need to protect her and care for her, to look after her, to make sure she’s happy, has her freedom and that she’s healthy.
That’s why I hope down the road, if she’s still interested and available, she’ll want to go out on a proper date with me, just one to see if there are any real romantic sparks, small or big, between us.  It would be really casual, maybe a walk or the chance to have a drink and a snack somewhere.  The whole point would be to let nature take its course and make conversation the central focus.  No expectations, no promises, no guarantees, no pressure to be intimate.  Just two people having a nice time slowly learning if there’s something special there.
If we can try this, a different strategy, in this case, old-fashioned offline dating one outing at a time, and delay possible intimacy for as long as humanly possible (until she gets comfortable with the idea and is genuinely interested), maybe the results would be more satisfying and long lasting.  But I worry when she asks me "hypothetical" questions like if I was to find myself seriously interested in another woman while we’re still friends, would I "go for it"?  (Why I would start up something with another woman when I have unresolved feelings about her remains a mystery.)  It makes me wonder if she’s already given up on the idea of a second chance with me.  She felt that since we’re just friends, if either of us were offered dates by other people, we should go out with them.  I’m just not thinking like that and that worries me.  But I understand and respect where she’s coming from.
She’s very insistent on sticking with the friendship and I respect that and want that.  She’s the barometer.  How she feels matters more than anything.  I always go by how she’s feeling even if I still doubt that she’s always completely honest with me.  That fear of hers is a cancer I want to cure.  When we were dating, she expressed a hatred for South Park (I’m a fan, by the way) and there was this odd sense of relief when she mentioned that.  I’m not saying I want her to be more negative with me.  No way.  I love her enthusiasm for life.  It’s just nice to know that she has strong dislikes as well as a great passion for the things she does enjoy.  She’s a real human being despite her secretive tendencies.  I accept her, flaws and all, even if she doesn’t believe it.
But after all is said and done, how long can we prolong discovering the honest answers to our deepest questions about a possible romantic future together?  Right now, I feel like sticking by her as a friend and hope, regardless of what’s to come in the future, to keep her in my life in that regard as long as we both want that.  Besides, I’m in no rush to take things further since I know that’s not what she wants right now.  There’s no sense pushing the issue.  I respect her too much to force her to make a choice right now.  In the future, either she will want to go on that date with me, and possibly many more, or she will want to remain friends.  All I know is someday I hope to finally learn how we really feel about each other in person.  Deep down, I know she’s really curious, too.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 19, 2007
12:46 a.m.
Published in: on October 19, 2007 at 12:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Some Words Of Advice For Voters On Election Day

107 seats to fill in Queen’s Park and a democratic system to settle on.  That’s what’s at stake in the upcoming Provincial Election in Ontario tomorrow, the 39th in this province’s history.  Already, it’s been an unusual campaign.
As promised after the 2003 election, The ruling Liberal Party made it provincial law to have fixed election dates starting with the 2007 vote.  Previously, it was up to the Premier of whichever party was running things to decide when the next contest should take place.  It could happen at any time within a five-year span.  No longer.  Starting with the vote on Wednesday, we’ll be having elections in this province every four years in October.  No exceptions.  Incumbents will no longer have the advantage of catching their opponents off-guard with a snap election announcement.
Also differing from the past were the number of days voters in this province could make their decisions well before voting day at advance polling stations, which was always a great idea for those who, for whatever reason, couldn’t vote on the actual day of the election or just wanted to get it over with.  Before, there were six days set aside for this.  This year, thanks to changes to electoral law, voters in this province got an extra week to vote early.  And yes, all of the advance polls are now closed, in case you were wondering.
Speaking of that, according to the official Elections Ontario website, nearly half a million Ontarians have already cast their ballots.  Almost 100,000 more people have voted in advance this year compared to the 2003 election.  That’s an interesting statistic for far more experienced and capable political writers to assess.  They can also debate who the most qualified candidates are and what will happen Wednesday night.  God knows they’ve got plenty of material to work with.
Instead of talking about the campaign and making predictions about the results here, let’s focus on the people who will be maintaining the polls throughout the election and how you, the voters, can help us make everything go smoothly.  I’m talking about the Poll Clerks and Deputy Returning Officers, the Information Assistants and the Polling Day Revision Assistants, and the Supervising Deputy Returning Officers.  We’re the people essentially running things tomorrow and we’re here to make your voting experience quick and easy.
This is my fourth election as a paid worker, my third as a Poll Clerk, and the voting procedure is a little different this time out.  Sometime last month, you should have received your Notice of Registration card in the mail, as you do for every election in this country.  This is a very important document.  It has your name and address, the location where you’ll be voting and what your poll number is.  (In other words, which table you’ll be directed to by either an Information Assistant or a Polling Day Revision Assistant in order to vote properly.)
The card is the final third of the page and can be easily detached.  Note the following line on the card:
“Take your ID and this card to the Poll.”
That’s right.  We will also need to see some Identification that confirms your identity so that the person holding that card is who they say they are.  In past elections, having that card was all you needed.  Not anymore.  By law, we’re required to ask for some form of ID as well as that Notice of Registration card, the latter of which we keep (and is later shredded).
So, what ID is acceptable, I hear you asking?  Good question.  According to Elections Ontario, you must show something that reveals your name and signature.  (Click here to see the list.  It’s List B.)  By the way, although you can use your Health Card as proper ID, we’re not allowed to ask for it.  Not sure why that is the case but there you have it.
Remembering to bring your card with you, which we hope has all your correct personal information on it, and your ID will help us make your voting experience a breeze.  However, we’re prepared to handle exceptions to the straightforward procedure, when necessary.
For instance, if you’ve changed addresses since the last election but remain in the same voting district, let us know and we’ll get you to fill out a form that will note the change.  If your surname has changed, you’ll need to fill out that same form.  But if there’s just a simple spelling mistake, please make the needed correction(s) on your Notice of Registration card and be sure to sign the back.  Please note that if everything is correct no signature is necessary.  In the past, voters have innocently made this mistake thinking it’s a requirement.  It’s not so don’t sweat it.
If you didn’t receive a Notice of Registration card but you have acceptable ID and are on the List of Electors, you’ll be able to vote.  If you’re not on the list, we’ll need you to fill out a form so we can add you to the list of names before you can vote.  If you bring a Voting Certificate along with proper ID, you’ll be able to vote.  And if you don’t have your Notice of Registration card or ID, as long as you complete and sign a Statutory Declaration at the Poll form, you can vote.  If you don’t sign it, you can’t.
Once we establish your identity, you’ll get two folded ballots and some instructions.  One will have a list of candidates competing for a seat representing your riding at Queen’s Park.  The other is a referendum ballot where you’ll be asked to decide on which voting system you would prefer.  The choices are First Past The Post (the current system) and Mixed Member Proportional (one vote for a candidate and one vote for a political party).  Regarding the referendum ballot, please don’t ask us to explain what each system means on Election Day.  We’re not allowed to.  Check out this for more information, or better still, read the case for MMP here and the case for FPTP here.  And asking us about the parties and candidates involved in this election is a no-no, as well.  We’re non-partisan election workers and we can’t help you decide who to vote for.  Before you vote tomorrow, check out the official websites for all the parties to learn about their policy promises and their representatives in the race.
After you make your choices by using an “X” once on each ballot next to the candidate and electoral system you prefer, you’ll return to your poll table with your ballots folded in the exact same manner they were given to you and be asked to recite your name again.  Immediately afterwards, you can put your two ballots inside the voting box.  Don’t mind the yellow clipboard thingy that’s resting on the top.  For some needlessly paranoid reason, we have to put that on there in between votes being cast to avoid the highly unlikely possibility of a wrong ballot going into the wrong box.  (Each ballot is signed on the back by a Deputy Returning Officer.  If a ballot from a different poll somehow someway got into the wrong voting box by mistake, the unrecognizable signature would be the dead giveaway.)
Please note that you can’t take a ballot and leave.  Why anyone would do this is a mystery but it has actually happened, believe it or not.  Follow the instructions you’re given and everything will go smoothly.  The ballots, once cast, are supposed to stay with us until we do the official count and finish off all our paperwork.  Remember, if you arrive at your poll table and don’t want to vote, you can decline your ballots.  And yes, that has happened, too.
Also, if you have a complaint for whatever reason, please be polite and patient so we can help you.  Any problems you may have will be solved faster when everyone is calm and rational.  If you’ve had any difficulty finding your polling location due to a lack of signage, please let us know right away so we can add more signs and don’t take it out on us.  We’re doing the best we can.  I was a Traffic Director in the 2004 Federal Election (I was the person who directed voters to the right polling station) and fairly early on, I faced a barrage of complaints from grumpy electors who had some trouble directing themselves to the right poll.  There was one old guy who was really agitated about it.  After I wished him a nice day following the completion of his voting experience, he responded in an increasingly loud, old codger voice, “You have a nice day, too.  And put up some more signs!”  He was well out of my eyesight by the time he got in that last complaint.  Needless to say, that was one reason I stopped working at elections for three years.  It should be noted, though, that that guy in no way represents the vast majority of voters we see on Election Day.  Most people are either quite personable or are all business and just want to vote and leave.
Which reminds me, unless you’re waiting for someone to finish voting, please don’t hang around the poll.  We need to keep that area clear for the next batch of voters who haven’t cast their ballots yet.  Set your cell phones to vibrate and don’t wear anything that references any candidates or political parties running in the election.  We don’t want any undue, partisan influence passed on to the voters.
If you’re in a wheelchair or a scooter, no problem.  Every polling station in the province should be accessible to your needs.  There will always be someone there to help you get in and out ok.  If you can’t vote inside the building, we will temporarily close our poll and come to you so you can cast your ballots outside.  Then, when you finish, we’ll go back inside and re-open the poll, and you can go back to your daily life.  If you don’t speak English, you can have an interpreter with you who will translate our instructions to you before voting.  If you’re blind or have less-than-perfect eyesight, we can accommodate that, as well.
The polls open at 9 a.m. sharp and close at 9 p.m.  You have literally half a day to make these important decisions about the future of Ontario.  If you’re waiting in line to vote and it’s 9 p.m., you’ll be able to cast your ballot.  But if you arrive at 9 p.m. or later, we can’t let you in.  The polls will be officially closed.
Then, the real fun begins for those of us who will get an early taste of what the overall results will be.  By the time we’re finished, if all goes well, it should be after 10 p.m. and we can go home and chill.  
It’s a long day filled with starts and stops.  A batch of voters here, a period of inactivity there.  Nevertheless, they’re always memorable experiences.  The results of this election will certainly be interesting.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
5:45 p.m.
Published in: on October 9, 2007 at 5:46 pm  Leave a Comment