I was working for the Government of Ontario when we reached 3.5% growth for several consecutive quarters, eliminated the deficit, balanced the budget and created 1,000,000 million new jobs. I remember getting the newspapers from the front door to see the headline that Ontario had created 45,000 jobs the previous month.
I ran upstairs, pounding on Dave and Tom’s bedroom doors and shouting them out of bed:
“WAKE UP! WAKE UP! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER* – YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT!!! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER – GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING!”
I will never forget the feeling of joy and elation, optimism and energy I felt pounding through my veins. I had worked like a dog for my entire life to keep Casa Des Smiths up and running, lights on, food in the fridge, bills paid, in our Greektown house close enough for the boys to take the subway to University of Toronto. When Mike Harris pulled off everything he promised he would – including enough university spaces for the Double Cohort, which included Tom and Dave – and I could see they could have any future they wanted if they were willing to work for it, I honestly felt like all of my dreams had come true.
All three of my kids worked an incredible daily grind for years, going to school full time AND working full time (how did they do that??) and have landed on their feet in good jobs, with wonderful partners and happy lives. The world is indeed their oyster!
““WAKE UP! WAKE UP! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER – YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT!!! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER – GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING!”
*One of my favourite memories from this period was the time I celebrated receiving a large cheque by taking them to Barberian’s Steak House for dinner, where they were allowed to order anything they wanted (“Can we have, like appetizers and dessert too, or just dinner?” they asked me. They were conscious of budget from an early age…)
Looking at the menu, David noted “The ancient Romans used to pay for oysters their weight in gold, because they believed they had an aphrodisiac effect and improved their performance with women.”
“Good God!” Tom exclaimed. “What did they pay for the WOMEN?”
Friday the 13th turned out to be quite a special “Dog Day” here at Rita’s Rest Home for Wayward Dogs.
Forest, Leia, Rosie and I paid our first visit to the Bowmanville Leash-Free dog park, where we met up with Dalmations, Labs, a Bassett Hound and a Mastiff presciently named “Ruckus.” Tiny Maltese Rosie held her own with all of them.
The highlight of the adventure, however, was definitely meeting Nikita, a born-and-bred Alaskan sled dog who is actually one-quarter wolf.
I need to preface the Nikita story – very sad beginning, very happy ending – by offering a belief that I have long shared with my brother Pete about dog souls.
Human beings only think they are the ones in charge when it comes time to find a dog; in fact, somewhere out in the Universe a dog’s soul is looking for YOU. When that soul and the dog in which it resides (albeit, temporarily) locates you, you may persuade yourself that you’ve reached a logical, rational executive decision to acquire a dog.
Meanwhile, that dog soul has been looking for you, has located you, and has no plans to let you get away.
Upon arrival at the dog park, I scanned the perimeters of the field for other dogs; Rosie is very small and sometimes a bit nervous, although that passes quickly. When I spotted Nikita laying in the shade with her owner all the way across the field, I was automatically a bit worried about whether or not she was friendly to other dogs, as not all Husky/Malamutes are.
Wandering along the fence, pre-occupied with picking up dog poos, I did not even notice quiet, stealthy Nikita cross the field; when I looked up, she was sitting in front of Rosie and wagging her bushy tail furiously. With one bright blue eye and one brown, she has an exotic, mysterious look. She seemed to know better than to run or jump around Rosie the way a more obliviously enthusiastic dog would.
Before I had time to get anxious, her owner walked up.
“What a beautiful dog!” I exclaimed sincerely. “She looks like she is part wolf!”
“She is 25 per cent wolf,” he nodded. “I had her DNA tested when we got home. Nikita is from Alaska.”
“How did she get here?” I gasped.
“I stole her,” RJ shrugged philosophically.
Fascinated already by the idea of a wolf/dog from Alaska finding her way to Bowmanville, Ontario, I asked RJ how he came to “steal” her and this is the story he told me:
“I was in Alaska, fishing with a buddy who has a boat there. One day we were sitting high up on a hill, and I could see a fenced-in property below us.
‘What is that?’ I asked.
‘That’s a breeding and training business which raises sled-racing dogs,’ he told me. ‘It’s not a nice place.’”
RJ went on to explain that dogsled racing is a huge business and important part of the economy in Alaska; Nikita had been bred and was being raised to race in the Iditarod, the world-famous race which takes place between Anchorage and Nome every year.
“Humans seem to love it, but it is a cruel and awful life for the dogs,” he said. I could feel the anger starting to rise in his voice.
“They spend the first four months of their lives chained to a post on a chain about 3 feet long…they are not pets. Every so often, the owner walks through the yard with a taser and shocks them, to keep them mean. Dogs die running the Iditarod. Nobody cares.
“Coke and Exxon and other corporate sponsors….they pay money to be part of it. Nobody cares about the dogs.”
I nodded sadly: “I caught about an hour of the finals on TV last year,” I agreed. “It looks just brutal for the dogs. Walt Disney even made a movie about it, ‘Snow Dogs,’ it was so happy and looked like so much fun.” In the real Iditarod in 2017, four dogs died of exhaustion. In 2016, one was run over by a snowmobile.
“The breeder didn’t like Nikita – she is small and too submissive, not mean enough,” RJ continued, obviously upset now. “One day I saw him kick her through the air, right across the yard. That night, I hopped the fence and stole her.
“I’ve never had a dog before,” he noted. “She is the first dog I’ve ever owned. She is the sweetest, quietest, most obedient dog I could ever have wanted. Now, I can’t imagine life without her.”
I shared with RJ the “Pete & Rita Theory of Dog Souls in the Universe.”
“You think you rescued Nikita,” I pointed out. “Actually, she rescued you!”
“That’s very true!” he laughed, ruffling her head and ears as she gazed up at him adoringly.
I read once about the fact that there must have been something very special about wolves, because aeons ago human beings were inspired to share their food and the warmth of their campfires with them as the very first domesticated animals. Not cats, not bears, not birds, not deer. Wolves.
Humans have been providing food and shelter, and the descendants of wolves have been sharing love, loyalty, companionship and protection ever since. Our souls have been entwined for a very long time.
Stop to imagine: every single dog in that dog park, whether sleek Dalmation, jolly Labrador Retriever, massive Mastiff, baying Bassett Hound, or lap-dog Maltese – traces its ancestry back to the wolf. Vastly different in size, in intelligence, in personality and in demeanor, all those dogs came from the same original dog, the wolf.
It was very special, to have Nikita there to remind us of this miraculous fact. In a symbolic way, she represents the Mother of all Dogs.
It was a nice Friday the 13th.
 As far as I know, it is not legal to own a wolf hybrid in Ontario, although they are very common in the north where unsprayed female dogs breed with wolves on a regular basis. They are less common in other areas. In Alberta, owners with a special license are allowed to own wolf hybrids.
Congratulations to the United States for preparing to move to a merit-based immigration system, which Canada and Australia have used for decades.
As an immigrant to Canada myself, I have first-hand experience of the thoroughness of the process. It was stressful and nerve-wracking; but it also makes me appreciate the work that goes into vetting legal immigrants to Canada.
This is not an unkind process: organizing a productive and prosperous society allows Canada to take good care of its citizens. We contribute considerable sums of money to international programs; we take in a lot of refugees.
I’m dismayed to hear media pundits in the US claiming that a merit-based system is racist: it is exactly the opposite of racist. An engineer from India or Africa who speaks English or French and has a relative living here will quickly move to the front of the line ahead of an applicant from England or Ireland with less education and no relative living here.
An applicant from China who plans to start a business and create jobs will be considered before an American simply looking for a job.
Canada’s immigration program is not perfect, but it’s one of the most successful on the globe.
My family moved to Ontario from Michigan when I was 13 years old; I arrived as a Landed Immigrant.
I got married and had three kids, started a business and was hard at work and paying taxes. Imagine my shock when, returning from a trade show in San Francisco, I got pulled out of line at airport Customs and moved to a small room where I was grilled for what seemed an eternity.
Officers wanted to know where I lived, what I did, and most importantly, why I had never applied for Canadian citizenship.
Eventually I was told: “OK. We believe you live in Toronto. But, you should get your citizenship. You have been here for 20 years. Canada expects you to make a commitment.”
I applied, and thus began the most nerve-wracking six months of my life. I almost never slept, wondering what would happen if I failed the test: would Canada make me leave?
The test was 50 questions long, but there were five different tests you could get, so I tried to memorize all 250 possible answers. I kept a copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the bathroom so I could review it on every visit.
I had to do two interviews, one with a bureaucrat and one with a judge. I was so nervous at the first interview that I actually lost my vision, walked off of the curb on St. Clair and stepped directly in front of a car – which fortunately stopped before it hit me.
When I passed and was sworn in as a citizen, we had a giant family celebration.
After the 2008 recession, my American nephew asked me about immigrating to Canada. I went onto the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website to check it out, and was thoroughly impressed: there is actually a pre-questionnaire to fill in, to determine if you should bother applying for the full process.
Why do you want to come to Canada? Which French or English test have you passed? Do you have a relative in Canada? Do you plan to work or start a business?
Canada’s merit-based system has served it well. It is hard but fair, and it works.
On Tuesday April 9th, Mayor John Tory hosted the Mental Health and Cities Summit to discuss the importance of mental health in an urban setting.
The blatant hypocrisy of John Tory speaking on the importance of urban mental health mere months after he brazenly threw 15,000 Toronto taxi drivers and their families under the bus financially, professionally, and emotionally is beyond appalling. His support for Uber’s business model – irresponsible to the point of being criminal – has destroyed the lives of thousands of hard-working drivers and put consumer safety at risk.
As my mother used to say, “I’d hate to have his nerve in a tooth.”
Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance told National Public Radio in February: “I’ve been organizing taxi drivers since 1996, and I’ve never seen the level of desperation. I’ve started to receive so many calls from drivers seeking resources for suicide prevention and talking about homelessness and eviction notices…this is not accidental.”
New York City livery driver Douglas Schifter’s February 5th suicide in front of City Hall (he blew his brains out with a shotgun) was only one of three taxi driver suicides which took place in that city in three short months. Another, 57 year old Danilo Castillo, jumped off the roof of a building after calling his wife to detail for her his financial devastation.
Why does this matter to Torontonians? Because thousands of our taxi drivers are in exactly the same position: indebted to banks, committed to thousands of dollars in commercial insurance payments, bound by an incredible number of city by-laws. They are now competing with approximately 50,000 ride share drivers who are not required to follow these rules.
Toronto drivers may be a year or so behind the curve of the New York drivers, but their day of financial reckoning is coming, and they know it.
Law-abiding taxi owners who believed the City of Toronto when it encouraged them to invest in a taxi plate, a safe car, training, mechanical inspections, security cameras and more are now scrambling to make payments and to support their families. Many simply cannot.
Toronto’s review of By-law 546, which invented an entire new set of dumbed-down rules for Uber and Lyft, was scheduled to be presented to Council in July 2017. Incredibly, Staff have simply and arbitrarily decided not to report until 2019. Apparently, direction from Council doesn’t mean anything anymore, and why should it? Municipal Licensing and Standards staff will continue to pick up a steady pay cheque for the next two years. Taxi drivers? Not so much.
One driver I met had his own apartment in spring of 2014. By summer, he was sleeping on a friend’s couch. By fall, he was homeless. Probably this has had an effect on his “urban mental health.” Hopefully, John Tory’s conference will help him.
Latif Gowher represents the 751 drivers who each invested roughly $80,000 putting an Accessible van on the road. “I won’t replace my van when it ages out, and a lot of other drivers won’t, either. The City wants cab owners to subsidize Accessible service; this has been a total failure.”
At a recent industry meeting, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam fretted to Taxi News “There should be a way to change things…I don’t want to see these 751 drivers homeless.”
That’s a nice thought. Perhaps asking John Tory to demand MLS staff deliver their report less than two years late could be a start.
Feb. 12 Update: My column below ran in Taxi News in November, 2017. I did not post it to my website or Facebook because, as I noted a few times in the piece, nobody cares about the plight of taxi drivers.
However, Douglas Schifter’s suicide in front of New York City Hall last week was so sad and so compelling that I decided perhaps it was worth posting.
Additionally, I have decided that any politician or public person who promotes Uber and Uber’s criminal business model and then hypocritically runs out to support mental health causes and events should be called out and shamed. John Tory, come on down…
New York City taxi driver blows his brains out with a shotgun in front of City Hall
Early Monday morning, Douglas Schifter, a longtime New York City livery driver, posted an emotional 1,700-word note on Facebook.
Later that day, Schifter took his life outside of City Hall in Manhattan. His suicide has underscored the financial and emotional challenges for professional drivers, whose industry has been disrupted by companies such as Uber and Lyft.
Bhairavi Desai, the executive director for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance notes: “I’ve been organizing taxi drivers since 1996, and I’ve never seen the level of desperation. I’ve started to receive so many calls from drivers seeking resources for suicide prevention and talking about homelessness and eviction notices, and so, something has to be done here. This is not accidental, working people have a right to be protected.”
Taxi drivers are owed giant apologies by so many groups, it’s hard to keep track any more.
I have read so many ridiculous, misguided, inaccurate and plain pathetic media articles about Uber in the past 4 years, I am at risk of becoming inured to the lunacy. I’ve lobbied politicians and pleaded with cops. I’ve debated family members and friends. I’ve pestered media members until they ran away from me.
Their minds are impenetrable; people want so desperately to believe you can get something for nothing, you can’t overcome their magical thinking.
We should never give up thinking skeptically, though, and challenging the lunacy; because what happened to taxi drivers could happen to anyone in any industry. The corruption and massive breach of business and political ethics that have infected the vehicle for hire industry can – and will – affect EVERY industry in future. Uber’s business model and philosophy is a cancer that must be removed from commerce.
Cabbies, unfortunately, have been the canaries in the coal mine. I’m so sorry.
First, on behalf of women, I apologize to taxi drivers.
It appears that Uber’s terrible, horrible, very bad year was triggered by a blog post published in February by Susan Fowler, a female engineer at Uber. Her treatment was so egregious that her recounting of it set in motion a chain of events that forced CEO Travis Kalanick to resign.
What, you may ask, could possibly have happened to motivate Uber to send Arianna Huffington off on a fact-finding mission and hire former US Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate its toxic culture?
Well, this woman’s boss sent her an online message saying he would like to sleep with her. Instead of replying “Fuck you,” or even just “No,” or perhaps taking documentary evidence in the form of a printed chat message to a lawyer, she went to Human Resources, which did not help her. She was sad. She did not quit, though.
The next event, in a display of sexual discrimination so breathtakingly cruel I cry just thinking about it, Uber bought leather jackets for a team of male engineers, but they did not buy any for the women.
I contrast these dire circumstances with those of cab drivers whose stories I have heard over the past four years: one driver I met had his own apartment in spring of 2014. By summer, he was sleeping on a friend’s couch. By fall, he was homeless.
I wish the legal, licensed taxi drivers who’ve had their lives decimated by Uber got even the tiniest percentage of the media attention female engineers get when propositioned or deprived of leather jackets – but nobody cares. Not even Susan Fowler, who is clearly completely comfortable with the thought of wrecking the lives of thousands of law-abiding cab drivers and their families, but doesn’t have the guts to say “no” to a lecherous boss. I am sorry for the pain she was content to cause taxi drivers, and I am sorry we are even the same sex.
Second, cab drivers are owed an apology by technology writers at every outlet that covers Uber.
These writers are supposed to be smart and prescient and have their finger on the pulse of all the trends which are going to affect us in the years ahead. In fact, they are so out of touch with business reality that they shouldn’t even be allowed to predict whether VHS VCRs will overtake Betamax, or whether online music shopping might be more popular than vinyl records.
Here’s a quote from a ReCode article on self-driving cars written by Johana Bhuiyan:
“Uber’s future depends greatly on solving self-driving. It’s what will keep the ride-hail company relevant as more automakers produce their own autonomous vehicles. But taking drivers out of the equation would also increase the company’s profits: Self-driving cars give Uber 100 percent of the fare, the company would no longer have to subsidize driver pay and the cars can run nearly 24 hours a day.”
Let’s just skip over the fact that Uber has NEVER turned a profit, and is on track to lose more than $3 billion in 2017.
Uber doesn’t own, or maintain, or insure, ANY cars.
The cars are owned by the drivers, who absorb every dollar of the cost of maintaining them no matter how much or how little revenue they generate.
Imagine what Uber’s bottom line would look like if, in addition to buying leather jackets for female engineers, they also had to purchase, insure and maintain their own cars. And then pay drivers. Uber’s business model is based upon persuading car owners to share their cars with Uber, while those drivers assume 100% of the risk of the business. While this appears to be far too futuristic a concept for a tech writer to grasp, P.T. Barnum was able to sum it up succinctly over 100 years ago: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Third, the mainstream media.
There aren’t enough column inches in Taxi News for me to recount the ways in which the mainstream media missed the boat on Uber.
I’ll just focus my comment on one recurring inaccuracy which is repeated in almost every article I read about Uber around the globe (England, Australia, Canada, the US, India and various Asian and African nations): how fairly or unfairly Uber “pays” its drivers.
“Uber doesn’t pay drivers!” I groan every time. “Drivers pay Uber! The driver does all the work, invests all the time, pays all the vehicle maintenance, and gives Uber 25 per cent of the money he earns. Without drivers, Uber has nothing. The drivers are Uber’s only source of revenue. Uber doesn’t pay drivers; drivers pay Uber!”
If they don’t understand that, they don’t understand anything about Uber. Why would we trust anything else they report? I am sorry we can no longer trust the mainstream media on much of anything.
Where to start? The betrayal of the taxi industry by politicians around the globe has been complete, quick and starkly hypocritical.
From John Tory in Toronto to David Cameron in England to Daniel Andrews in Australia, politicians who are either air-headed or corrupt just rolled over backward for Uber, re-writing or eliminating safety standards that have been decades and millions of dollars in the making and shredding the social contract with drivers that supported consumer protection.
Nobody puts it better than Hamilton taxi driver and writer Hans Wienhold:
“All of the most expensive elements of a secure taxi industry were never about safety at all. Now we see clearly that none of these things ever had anything to do with safety: they were just power grabs and cash grabs. No one will ever buy the politicians’ BS again.”
People like cheap, there’s no arguing that.
When Uber first arrived, there was much ado about cartoon cars on cell phone screens and free ice cream and free puppy cuddles and hot women drivers.
Really, though, what it all comes down to is that Uber is cheaper than taxis, and people like cheap.
For the first two years after Uber arrived we read lots of stories about free water and candies in the car and happy grandmothers driving for extra cash.
When the first stories of sexual assault started showing up, a little dark cloud appeared on the horizon.
When an uninsured Uber driver killed a 6 year old girl in San Francisco, concerns were raised.
When London, England announced they were averaging almost one sexual assault per week and Londoners began referring to Uber as “rape roulette,” things began looking serious.
And then, when a woman in Texas was made a paraplegic in an accident in an uninsured Uber, people sat up and took notice.
Back in the day, when I was reading dozens of articles per day about Uber around the globe as part of my job, I felt some sympathy for these people.
Now, I confess, sympathy has evaporated. Now, when I come across complaints about Uber in my Twitter feed (“My Uber driver refused my service dog! My Uber driver left me at roadside! My Uber driver showed up at my apartment and told me he has feelings for me!”) I tend to reply sarcastically, “But you saved some money, so it’s all good, right?”
I particularly love the fact that there is a campaign underway by some women right now to get security cameras in Uber vehicles….now, consumers want to combine “cheap” with “safe.” They want it all; but as Austin Powers would say, “Some things just aren’t in the cards, baby.”
So on behalf of women, tech writers, media members and politicians, I apologize to all honest, law-abiding taxi drivers. You deserved better from everyone, and we let you down.
I had a good conversation with my brilliant daughter on Sunday. We talked at length about the sexual harassment allegations against Ontario PC Party leader Patrick Brown; party President Rick Dykstra’s horrific story had not even hit the media yet.
An experienced political staffer, she has dozens of her own stories about politicians making inappropriate comments; one Councillor, upon meeting her, announced “You look like my next girlfriend!” (Given that she is an exceedingly happily married lesbian, this is quite the long shot…)
She got me thinking about what was bothering me so much about these media reports. Maclean’s Magazine’s coverage of the Rick Dykstra story, in particular, hurt my heart. It made me worry a lot about the state of young women’s thinking and attitudes today.
The young woman interviewed by Maclean’s seems not to believe she had any power over her situation at all.
According to Maclean’s:
“At about 1:30 a.m., the woman… decided to go home. Dykstra jumped into her cab and gave the driver his address. When they got there, he was ‘very insistent’ that she go upstairs with him, she says, ignoring her repeated refusal.
She eventually relented. When they got to his apartment, she says he pushed her against the wall and starting kissing her. ‘I was saying no, but I didn’t feel there was much that I could do to stop what was happening,’ she says.
‘He brought me into his bedroom and he told me to sit down on his bed…he sat down next to me and was still trying to kiss me… I didn’t feel like I could move.’
‘He pulled down his underwear and forced me to perform oral sex on him.’”
This is an absolutely terrible state of affairs: that a woman in her 20s did not feel she could kick an unwanted man out of her cab? That she had to go to his house? That she had to go to his bedroom? That she could be forced to perform oral sex? Where ever did she get the idea that any job was worth that?
Recently I wrote a column on the concept that Muslims could choose whether or not to be offended by things said by others, because mature human beings get to choose their own thoughts, and Muslims have that power too.
Yet we have raised a generation of young women who believe that they must do what a man tells them to do, or who can be traumatized by the words that come out of a man’s mouth? For goodness sake, accused harasser Liberal MP Kent Hehr is a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair, but women are afraid to ride in an elevator with him. I kind of think, as my son Dave would say, “I could take him.”
I am not in any way condoning the awful behavior of these men, but that is not the point here. In first year psychology you read about having an “internal locus of control” or an “external locus of control.” It’s probably the most important thing anyone learns in life: it has the potential to change every minute of your life, forever after.
If we could give young women the best gift ever, it would not be a world in which she could expect men to behave less like scoundrels and more like gentlemen.
It would be a psyche which gives them the confidence in their own judgement and personal power to kick the scoundrels out of their cab, and the courage to accept the consequences.
We were in Ottawa at the same time, when he was a lacklustre backbencher, never rising above the level of an unassigned MP.
One of my friends worked on his Leadership campaign; she quit a few months in, thoroughly unimpressed.
As leader, his flip-flops on sex education and carbon taxes made me groan, and the apparent meddling in local nomination races were worrisome.
So, I don’t like him.
What occurred this week – the release of information detailing his unsuccessful attempts to “seduce” teen-agers – saw him literally running out of the Ontario Legislature, being chased by a crowd of reporters shouting questions. I expect his political career is now over.
Just to confirm what I believed to be true, I checked the Government of Canada website to read: the legal age for sex in Canada is 16. There are some extenuating circumstances, but generally speaking, 16.
(Full disclosure: I met my husband two weeks after my 17th birthday. I am now grappling with the fact that I should believe I was abused; it didn’t feel that way, though. We had our first baby when I was 21, and I have never looked back.)
While it’s illegal to give anyone under the age of 19 alcohol, one of the young women he met was in a bar, already drunk, at age of 18. Probably he did not ask to see her identification card.
Men have to up their game and re-examine their behaviour to be sure; no one is questioning that. It has become perhaps the biggest issue of 2018.
But young women also have to become more aware, A LOT more aware, of the effects of their behaviour on their physical safety.
An 18 year old who goes to a bar, gets drunk, goes home with a man and agrees to visit his bedroom has to know there is more going on than just a tour of his house. Otherwise, she should not be going to bars and getting drunk.
A 20 year old who visits a man’s bedroom after several drinks to view photos on his tablet – the single most transportable device ever invented – is naïve.
Men should not take advantage of women who are drunk, or who are naïve.
But, women should not be drunk and naïve.
At this year’s Golden Globe Awards, actresses all agreed to dress in black to protest the fact that men have been sexually harassing women.
Some of the black “protest dresses” amounted to little more than fishnet and lace, barely covering their vulvas or their nipples, as they hung off of their male escorts, producers, financiers. It is impossible to look at these photos without believing the women are pursuing, and receiving, something out of these relationships.
I made myself somewhat unpopular earlier this year when I proposed that rather than a #MeToo movement, we needed a #FuckYou movement.
“Any time a man proposes something inappropriate or outlandish just tell him, ‘Fuck you’!” I suggested to young women. I offered this advice in the spirit of believing that women possess enough personal power to control the situations in which they put themselves, like the young woman who told an amorous Patrick Brown, “Stop. I don’t want to do this Take me home.”
So he stopped, and he took her home. That was a good outcome. All women should keep that in mind, especially before they give anonymous media interviews that end mens’ careers.
I’ve been invited to sit on a panel at a conference of the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy to discuss the one year anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The Pearson Centre is not generally the kind of group that would invite a Conservative like me to address their members. I give all kinds of credit and kudos to them for being open to hearing opposing ideas and opinions.
I’ve thought a lot about what I would like to say, and I keep coming back to the difference between politicians and builders.
In politics, we work in the realm of thoughts, ideas, words, messages, and rhetoric. “Words ARE action in politics,” Ronald Reagan once noted. Sometimes, when I hear people speaking harsh or horrible words, it actually causes me to cringe in physical pain: my ears hurt.
Builders work in a different world, the world of concrete reality. “Matter matters,” my brother Paul observes.
I have six brothers and many nephews, and most of them are builders. They communicate using language so completely different than political rhetoric, I am sure it hurts the ears of many listeners.
My brother Jim, a builder for 40 years, is the best example. He has a repertoire of phrases that still make me laugh after decades.
“C’mon, people, we’re burning daylight!” he barks when the crew is not in action at 6am.
“C’mon, people, we’ve got a dime holding up a dollar!” he exclaims when a petty detail is holding up a project.
One day, Jim fired a man. The man returned to the jobsite the next day; he had a sawed-off cane handle tucked into the waistband of his pants, so it looked like he was carrying a gun.
“What did you do?” I gasped when Jim told me.
“What do you think I did?” he exclaimed. “I shit little blue putty balls!”
Oh….that was not the first thing I would have thought of, but I understood what he meant.
Jim was hired for the television show “Extreme Makeover” as Project Manager on the build of a house to be donated to a family in need, which would be featured on a special episode. The show also hired a handsome and charismatic actor to stand in front of the cameras and PRETEND to be the Project Manager, explaining to the audience what was going on.
Ten hours into the build, the show’s producer approached my brother: “We have a problem. Your team is building so fast, we can’t get all the shots we need. We need you to slow down.”
”We can’t slow down. The volunteers already have their modified schedules,” Jim snapped back. “You’ll have to shoot faster.” They did.
While Jim’s words might hurt your ears, I have no doubt that if he was building your house, it would be perfect. If Jim did a walkthrough and the floor was not level or there was a gap around a window frame, the air would be purple with profanities. No amount of words, rhetoric, language or messaging could fix the problem: competent subs and trades will fix the problem. You might not appreciate his language, but you don’t want a talker to build your house. You want a builder.
Donald Trump is a builder. I’m sure his words hurt the ears of many listeners, but at this point in its history, I think America needs a builder, not a talker.
I was so surprised when a neighbour asked me after Christmas: “Aren’t you going to take down your Nativity decorations now that Christmas is over?”
“You mean, before the Epiphany?” I asked in a state of near-shock. “What would even be the point of putting up the Nativity, if you did not celebrate the Epiphany?”
I understand that much of the world celebrates Christmas on December 25th. As Will Ferrell states clearly in “Talladega Nights,” “Dear 8 pound, six ounce newborn infant Jesus, with your tiny clenched fists…”
His character, Rikki Bobby, refused to accept the fact that Jesus Christ ever grew up or lived as an adult. He just loved the idea of Jesus as a new born baby, which we celebrate on Christmas morning.
As a child growing up in the Mid-west, however, my big sister Mary taught me the meaning of the Epiphany: Christ might have arrived on Christmas night. Unfortunately, human beings, dull as we are, did not grasp what His arrival meant until several days later. We are slow like that: God and Truth come to Earth one day. We figure out what it means weeks later. That’s just us. It doesn’t make us bad or stupid; it just makes us human. For some people, it takes days or weeks. For others, it takes years or decades; maybe a whole lifetime. The gap between the arrival and the realization is what makes humans, human.
Growing up in a family of 10 kids, doing dishes after dinner was a serious deal, and a real job. However, working with my big sister Mary, it never felt like work. I recall perfectly clearly the night she taught me the words to “We Three Kings” while she washed and I dried the dishes, pots and pans for dinner for 12 people.
“We Three Kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts, we traverse afar…
Moor and Mountain
Field and Fountain
Following yonder star”
When we finished the dishes, I had to go find a dictionary to look up the word “moor,” which I had never heard before. Mary was mind-expanding that way; she also opened my mind to the fact that all people do not understand all ideas at the same time.
She introduced me to the ritual of moving the Three Kings around the house, moving them a little closer to the Nativity every day, although they never actually arrived until January 6th, the Epiphany.
Decades later, a co-worker complained to me: “Rita, your life is a series of endless daily Epiphanies!”
“And that is bad….how?” I spluttered. I always assumed an Epiphany is a GREAT thing.
Three years ago, we lost my big sister Mary to Alzheimer’s disease. How, I wondered, could a human being so full of sweetness and love could simply be…gone? It was an Epiphany I did not welcome.
This Christmas, my son David approached me and sighed, “Ma, I’m so sorry. Winner (his 100 pound Rottweiler) came to me with….a camel.” He held out a damaged camel, belonging to one of the Three Kings. The camel’s head had been mostly chewed off, puppy-Rottweiler style.
“Ah, well,” I laughed, “That will teach me to leave the Three Kings around the house, where dogs can reach them!”
Actually, I will still leave the Three Kings all around the house. Mary would have.
I have to say – and perhaps I have a selective memory, but I don’t think so – that every Persian person I have met or taught or worked with has been a smart, hard-working, impressive person.
Possibly it’s because many of the smart, hard-working, impressive people picked up and got out of Iran when the going was good, decades ago. Possibly it’s just baked into their culture….Homa Arjomand, who organized the globe to fight Sharia law in Ontario 2005 was born in Iran. Many of the students in my Carnegie classes (almost always engineers) were born in Iran.
One year, when I was hired to run the Taxis on Patrol program, we had 12 finalist “heroes” to honour, and 9 of them were from Iran. The winner, an incredibly humble man who really did not want to be awarded anything, had a knife pulled on him at the back of his cab. He popped the trunk, pushed the assailant in, and drove to 52 Division Police station.
“I need an officer to come out to my car,” he informed the desk clerk. “There is a man with a knife in my trunk.”
“What is it with Iranians, that they are so proactive they make 9 of 12 nominations in this program? What were you thinking when you locked that guy in the trunk?” I asked the cab driver.
“Well, maybe it’s because where we come from, if you wait for the police, all the damage will be done before anybody comes to help you; so you help yourself. Besides,” he sighed, “that guy with the knife was so old and weak and spindly, he really could not have hurt anyone. I felt sorry for him.”
Imagine my delight when a Persian couple moved in across the street last summer. To welcome them, I made up a tiny paper plate of cookies to leave at their front door with a little “Welcome to Milligan Street” note. The next day, an ENORMOUS pink geranium appeared on my front porch, which bloomed for the entire summer.
A few months later, after a trip to ARZ, I made up a platter of dips and stuffed grape leaves and zucchini so I could “share the wealth” of my favourite store with them.
The next day, my neighbour appeared at my door with an absolutely gorgeous glass bowl for my dining room table. It sits atop a beautiful fabric runner which came from Shiraz, in Persia. (Shiraz is famous for two things: the grapes from which the popular wine is made, and the poet Hafiz.) I have given up trying to out-gift my Persian neighbours: it’s impossible.
Now, thousands of men and women in cities across Iran are protesting in the streets, demanding a Democratic government and better economic policies. I always felt the West let Iranians down during their Green Movement in 2009; I can’t do much now, but here is what Homa Arjomand is asking us to do:
Support the movement of people in Iran for freedom, equality, prosperity and secularism.
• Distribute the news as soon as possible through various social media
• Join the demonstration in support of people of Iran organized in the West by activists and freedom seekers
• Request the Canadian government and all other Western governments to put pressure on the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights to adopt a resolution for closing down all Iranian Embassies around the world.