Friday, May 11, 2018

For The Artists

There are things that need nurturing and protecting because they are precious and beautiful, and life-affirming. There are things that hold an intrinsic value to society so critical, that removing them renders black voids in society. Often, we cannot quantify these things. We cannot place a hard dollar value on them

Music, dance, dramatic arts, visual arts; they are the bridges to the world and the window to our souls. The Arts reflect our humanity and our struggles. The Arts celebrate our highs and mourn our lows. The Arts tell our stories; historical and contemporary. The arts give life colour, depth, and meaning. Long after we have gone and future generations explore what we've left them, they may be amazed by our technical prowess, but they'll moved by our artistic contributions.

We make meaning through the Arts. We open ourselves to scorn, ridicule, praise, and encouragement through the Arts. We lay ourselves bare through the Arts. More important than any industrial process or financial transaction, the Arts let us show the world who we are, what we believe, what we tell each other. The Arts are anger and violence, joy and peace, meaningful reflection, humour and sadness,  writ large. We are, Our Arts.


I grew up in a musical family. My mother trained for years as an opera-singer and as a girl, played the trumpet. My aunt played the clarinet. My brother and I grew up playing the piano, trumpet, trombone, ukulele, violin, guitar, and most recently for me, the mandolin. Our houses are still filled with music - ours' or others'. Our daughter is a ballet-dancer, currently at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. Our nephew is an accomplished vocalist and actor. When the Arts suffer a cut, we suffer a cut.

We know that arts funding is fragile. We know that in an ever-competitive economy the ability to turn a profit wins the day. But what of those things that that are precious, life-affirming, and beautiful? What of those things that sometimes - oftentimes - need to exist because they need to exist. They need to exist not to turn a profit. They need to exist because they simply need to exist.

Red Deer College has decided that precious, life-affirming, and beautiful is unimportant; that they don't need to exist. The College "leadership" has told the Arts community that they have no value. The College "leadership" has told society that the Arts are only important if they turn a profit.

Enrollment in the music program may very well have been low. The solution is not to decide that people don't want to be musicians and creators. The solution is to figure out how to get more people to study at this incredible facility, with these incredible artists, mentors, teachers, and creators.

Was there any creative problem-solving? Was there any license given to the faculty to allow them to brainstorm new ways to attract students or to create paths to viable music careers? Or, is it as it appears on the surface? Did the College take a short-sighted approach and simply cut? Rather than invest in the music program - as they have in rapid-prototyping, engineering, design, etc - did they simply look at low enrollment and decide "people don't want to be musicians"?

People want to be musicians. They want to be actors, and painters, and sculptors, and writers, and directors, and conductors, and singers, and set-designers and and and... and all of those professions that need protecting because creating and fostering artists doesn't necessarily turn a financial profit. The College's role is not to say that "It's too expensive to train a few musicians every year". It's the role of places of learning to take those who want to create and to help them grow and develop the skills they need to stand on the merits of their work and be supported by the community for their work.

We need the artists. We need the Arts. Without them we are monkeys who can do tricks with technology. With them, we are human.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Dear America - Again

Dear America,

It seems like every time you have an election I write one of these posts - mostly for my own edification - and get a few things off my chest. Usually I write them after the fact and vent my spleen about the terrible decisions you've just made. I wrote one after both of Dubya's wins, and after you decided to hobble Obama by stacking Congress and the Senate against him.

This time it's different.

First, I'm writing ahead of time. Second, I'm not venting this time. This time I'm looking for information and for someone to explain what the hell is happening in your country.

From outside the US border we in the rest of the world peer in and gaze upon all you've accomplished; and you've accomplished great things. You put people onto the moon, you've been running an amazing Mars mission for years, and you've given the world some of the greatest scientific minds of a generation. You've created art, evolved sport (especially the extreme ones), and championed athletics. At your best you tried to give your fellows health care, and your fellow global citizens shelter and comfort. You even recognised same-sex marriage last year. Granted, you were a little late to the party on that one and some folks burned their invitation, but you did it.

Lately though, we've been looking at you with a little less awe, reverence, indifferent interest and with more uh... panicked fear(?) maybe(?). We've been watching you with the same morbid fascination that made us watch - and then rewind - Steve Buscemi getting fed into a wood chipper in Fargo.

I have read many descriptors of the 2016 US election, on the internet. Dumpster fire, train wreck are the two most quoted, and most apt. And what I can't help but wonder is, why you all are putting up with it. To be perfectly clear: When we are not recoiling in horror at the potential outcome of this election, we are laughing our asses off at you.

I fully accept the fact that Hilary Clinton has made some terrible decisions in her life; staying with Bill and the email server debacle chief among them. However, Hilary's transgressions pale in comparison to those of the withering, dysfunctional, Oompa Loompa whom you've placed so tantalisingly close to actual power.

Why is a man who violated US sanctions against Cuba in order to do illegal business there, only 6 points behind on the BBC poll today? Why has that story not stuck to him? How did he shake that off?

Why is Hilary's email server all of a sudden (and again) more important than Donald's treatment of 1/2 the population of the USA?

Why does nearly 1/2 of the voting public support a man who would create an island of your country, and base his domestic policy on the most overtly racist speech we've heard since Alabama in the '60s. Why does nearly 1/2 of your country support a television personality who treats anybody he sees as being "less than him" like crap. Why does nearly 1/2 your country not understand that Donald doesn't speak for them, doesn't see himself as one of them, and doesn't really represent their values, yet will stand behind him and vote for him.

I get it. This is an election where nobody is voting for the person they want. Nobody aside from the most ardent supporters, really believes that either Donald or Hilary should run the country. But, when one of those candidates is an actual terrible person... how is he polling so high?

He steals from his own charity. He doesn't pay his bills. He invited the gun-toting yahoos to assassinate his rival. He advocated for the torture of suspected terrorists families (which is an actual war crime by the way). He literally takes a crap on a gold toilet. He. Is. Not. One. Of. You.

If any other person behaved like this, most normal people wouldn't put up with it. They'd be in jail for fraud, or sexual assault, or crimes against humanity, or uttering threats, or threatening a federal official. They'd have been attacked by jealous husbands. They'd have been sued by the ACLU. But not Trump. This human stain has been hoisted up on a pedestal instead of on his own petard.

And we beyond your borders, we don't understand. We don't understand how - to paraphrase Hilary - you are willing to put a man who can be baited by tweet, so close to the nuclear button.

And so we recoil in horror. And, we laugh... and laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Not with you. At you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

It's an Art

Dance is art. 

Art is how we reflect humanity; its successes, its failures, its triumphs, its challenges. Art is how we express joy, sadness, pleasure, and pain. To have dance reduced to a competitive event is to demean the art form. Competitive dance has taken a centuries-old art form, comprising thousands of disciplines, and reduced it to a series of athletic moves and tricks to be perfected.

Competitive dance gives no value to continued struggle, or continued improvement - the end is all that matters. To have dance reduced to an awards-based athletic event is so counter-intuitive to why humanity evolved arts, that it may as well be removed from the arts completely. Call it something else. Call it the sport that it is. Sanction it under a governing sport body. Rename it.

A dancer is an artist. And artists will struggle for a lifetime in search of those small moments that give voice to their expressions of humanity. While professional artists do what they do in order to make a living, they also do it because the need to do it, the need to express themselves, burns deep inside.

Competition is not part of the artist's ethos. Painters don't paint because they want to triumph over other painters and win a trophy. Painters paint because they need to give people a window into new perspectives on life.

The same can be said of sculptors, authors, performance artists, and - pop music and the Hollywood system aside - singers, songwriters, and actors. The reward for dedicating your life to the arts is not found in trophies. It's found in the soul. It's knowing that you are showing people a way forward, and potentially opening up new ways of knowing.

Competitive dance can never achieve this.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Dance Funding... Wait, You're How Old?

It would be easier if she were a hockey player; or a gymnast, a volleyball player, a skier, a handball player, ringette goalie; hell even if she were a fencer, it would be easier. If she had already graduated high school, it would be easier.

She, is Ainsley. She is a 12-year-old ballet dancer. She is - in her father's totally unbiased eyes - a talented artist. She, is racking up expenses like nobody's business. She has been accepted to The School of Alberta Ballet for three summers. She dances at two studios, five days a week. She performs in The Nutcracker (and oh, to be Clara one day, she dreams) each year. She has been accepted to The Professional Development Division at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School this summer.

This is a huge time and lifestyle commitment for a young girl chasing the dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. This has been a huge financial undertaking for us, her parents.

We are not complaining. She loves dance, she's apparently fairly good at it, and if she wanted to quit tomorrow, we would not stand in the way. It simply makes her happy to sweat, bleed, strain, stretch, bend, and inevitably injure herself, in the pursuit of artistic perfection. She is a perfectionist.

How then to support this dream? How to pay for ballet slippers and pointe shoes (don't ask the cost)? How to pay for expensive summer schools, year-round classes, transportation to auditions and master classes? How to front the cost of physiotherapy? How to tell her that no, a residency in New York won't happen, or that even if she's accepted, year-round school in Winnipeg just isn't in the cards because let's face it, Dad works for a non-profit?

For athletes and artists the answer often lies in the myriad granting programs out there. If you have a young athlete and need assistance with the costs associated with coaching, transportation, nutrition, therapy etc... there is help for you. Locally The Sutter Fund, The Red Deer Games Foundation, the Alberta Sports Recreation Parks and Wildlife Foundation, among others, all support young people in their pursuits. We were encouraged to apply through them. Dance - despite it's newly-found competitive nature - is not listed with the Alberta Sport Connection program and thus isn't eligible for support. The representative from The Red Deer Games Foundation was very nice and very sincere when he called to deliver the bad news.

On the artistic front, there are many corporate and public foundations that support The Arts. Musicians, visual artists, singers, songwriters, and dancers can all apply to be supported by these generous companies and foundations. There is a catch however. With the exception of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the artist must be at least 18-years-old, graduated from highschool, and/or enrolled in a post-secondary fine arts program. For every other artist this is a legitimate qualification to make; save for dancers.

At the age of 12, Ainsley knows that her performance career could be over by the age of 25. Dance is hard on a body. Hips, knees, shoulders, ankles, and spines all wear out and require therapy or surgery at a young age. Dancers are being selected for elite training programs as young as 10 years old. To a person, they know that if they want to continue a career in dance, beyond their mid-20s, it will be as an instructor, studio owner, choreographer, or artistic director. They will likely not be performing beyond their mid to late 20s.

Contrast that with every other artistic pursuit. Musicians have performance careers that last often into their golden years. Painters, sculptors, and carvers can produce works until arthritis takes their dexterity. Writers can generate stories, songs, poetry, prose until their minds are robbed by senility. Dancers perform until their bodies give out at comparatively young ages.

Ainsley is remarkable in that she "pays to play" and never complains about it. She holds multiple bottle drives each year and has raised close to $5000 over the past three summers. She received unsolicited support from a local business with a total of nearly $500. To say that we are grateful to them is an understatement. We are exceedingly grateful to everybody who shared Ainsley's RWB GoFundMe site and even more so to those who donated to it. However, it seems to me that funding our dancer's dream of making a meaningful contribution to The Arts (deliberately in capitals) in Canada, and of becoming a performing dancer with a known company, shouldn't be your problem.

The Arts make a community whole. The Arts are our expression of life. They give voice and image and movement to our passions, our dreams, our fears, our past, and our future. The Arts are not about competition or getting rich. The Arts are about us being better.

That ideal needs funding.

For a young dancer the path to making us better doesn't begin at age 18, or after highschool, or when they begin their BFA. By then, they have often studied with some of the best in the world. They have already achieved milestones that are yet to come to other artists. By the time they are eligible for the majority of funding opportunities, young dancers are already looking at the back 1/2 of their performance careers.

As I said. I am not complaining about costs here. Ainsley's instructors and their studios, artistic directors and performances have been worth every dollar that we as a family have invested. Miss Christine Slaymaker, Miss Kirsten Kowalchuck, Miss Tania Strader, and the too-many-to-mention dancers and instructors at Dance Magic in Red Deer, at The Penhold School of Dance, at Alberta Ballet, and on The Nutcracker team have all made such an incredible impact on Ainsley. They've been her teachers, and her mentors.

I am absolutely not looking for sympathy or a hand out. I'm just pointing out, that if she played hockey, or baseball... this would be easier.

At the very least, while I loathe the idea of competitive dance, having it listed with Alberta Sport Connection might open up some other funding, for other dancers in the future.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Evacuee vs Refugee?

Just a quick note to every single person I’ve seen on Facebook in the last few days, who decided to compare the Fort McMurray tragedy to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Please. Just. Stop. It.

Look, I get it. You hate Justin Trudeau and you're looking for a reason to make the Liberals look bad, and that you think he's a #traitor while you"re a #albertahero and a #realalbertan. Please, just shut your mouth and do even the slightest amount of research - from an actual news source and not The Rebel - before spouting your racist garbage. 

Here are the actual facts. I got them from Global News, the CBC, and from the Federal Government's Global Affairs website. They are, as they say, direct from the horses' mouths. 
  • The Federal Government has committed to match, dollar-for-dollar, all donations to the Canadian Red Cross; with no spending limit. As of 1:30 this afternoon there had been $30 Million donated to the Red Cross, so $60 Million raised in the first few hours. So, about $690 for every single evacuee. There are also the costs associated with sending in the military to assist, to pay the public service employees who will process claims and provide assistance. Those costs will be unbudgeted but will be covered by the government.
  •  A lot of Fort McMurray residents –especially home owners - will likely have insurance to cover their losses. More to the point, they will be able to go home and rebuild. There will also likely be Federal and Provincial disaster relief once the dust has settled.
  • The Feds are absolutely not spending $1.1 Billion on the Syrians coming to Canada. The Federal government has committed to spending $1.1 billion¸ over the course of THREE YEARS, in the affected region as part of a funding package to help stabilise the greatest humanitarian crisis a generation. The resettlement of Syrian refugees to Canada makes up a very small portion of that funding.
  • $1.1 Billion, divided amongst the 6 MILLION displaced Syrians = $168 person; which theoretically would have to last them three years.
  • Refugees will likely never be able to return to their home country, let alone their homes; homes which are just as destroyed as those in Ft Mac.
Please also keep in mind that while they have lost their homes and their possessions, the residents of Ft Mac will be able to return to gainful employment, getting paid equal or near to what they were making prior to the tragedy. Businesses will be rebuilt, oil workers will go back to their jobs, health care workers, teachers, etc... will all be needed again. Syrian refugees on the other hand, have fled their livelihood. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, teachers, nurses, bakers, farmers, businesspeople, scientists are all now faced with the reality that many of their qualifications are not recognised in Canada, therefore they'll be trying to make a living - that will afford them a severely diminished quality of life compared to what they had pre-conflict - at Tim Hortons, 7/11, McDonalds etc.... all while you complain about foreigners taking Canadian jobs. 

Please, do not use the Ft Mac tragedy to fan the flames of racial intolerance. The refugee crisis and the Ft Mac tragedy are two completely separate issues, and the refugee crisis is affecting 68 times more people. Your real problem, is that you don’t want your tax dollars helping people with brown skin.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dear America Redux

This is a revisit and update of an article I wrote after the 2006 US mid-term elections. After watching the Republicans gain total control of Congress last night, I felt it was worth another visit.

Dear America,

You voted.

You voted against poor people working hard to make a better life for themselves.
You voted against basic equal rights for all Americans to enjoy the benefits of marriage.
You voted against protecting women and against giving women a voice as to what they do with their own bodies.
You voted against keeping decent paying, union-protected, blue collar jobs in your own country, where they pay your fellow citizens.
You voted against giving every American child an equal piece of the educational pie.
You voted against protecting you fellow citizens from a health care crisis.
You voted against protecting your green spaces.
You voted against clean air.
You voted against alternative energy.

You looked at the will of the rest of the world desperately striving for a safe planet, stuck up your middle finger and voted against the rest of us.

You voted for fear.
You voted to tell gay people that they are not really equal; that they are worth less than straight people.
You voted to tell women that they have no say what happens to their bodies.
You voted to make sure that oil and gas companies have more say over the natural world, than do the people and animals who live there.
You voted to make sure that families can be financially bankrupted by a surgery, cancer treatment, or extended health issue.
You voted to give religion equal footing in our science classrooms.
You voted for rampant commercialization.
You voted to keep sending your sons and daughters to die in a desert for oil
You voted to fight a war against an enemy you don't know, in a political climate you don't understand.
You voted to make the world a more dangerous place.
You voted to allow the government to enter your home, call you a terrorist and hide you in a prison cell without charge – on no grounds.
You voted to condone the torture of innocent people.
You voted to ensure you keep the honor of having the highest gun-related homicide rate in the western world.
You voted for school shootings.
You voted to ignore international treaties regarding clean air, nuclear proliferation and land mines.
You voted to validate a corrupt CEO making (on average) 417 times the wage of his lowest earning employee.

Dear America. You Voted.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why The Internet Blows - and Redeems

Remember that fun little thing we did last post where we answered some questions that Creationists had about evolution? Remember how it was fun to denigrate them and make them look stupid? Guess what, we're doing it again! This time we're going to taunt an internet-based, rumour-mongering, conspiracy-theorist website - and one of its authors.

The story in this link would have you believe that a mere three(ish) days after the Malaysian airways flight disappeared, "they" are covering up what really happened. I'm not sure who "they" are, or what "their" motivation would be for not telling us every piece of information that "they" couldn't have possibly retrieved yet, might be. For what it's worth, neither does the author - Mike Adams.

BUT, that hasn't stopped intrepid Mike Adams from assembling six "facts" and presenting them to you as if they mean something. By "assembling facts", what I really mean to say is that Mike Adams has pulled a bunch of ideas out of his rear end, cobbled them together in some sort of delusional narrative, and then spewed it out onto the internet.

So, much as before I'll paste Mike's "facts" below in italics and then address them in normal text. Hint: my words will be the rational ones.

Let's begin shall we.

 Fact #1: All Boeing 777 commercial jets are equipped with black box recorders that can survive any on-board explosion
No explosion from the plane itself can destroy the black box recorders. They are bomb-proof structures that hold digital recordings of cockpit conversations as well as detailed flight data and control surface data.

This is true. It's really damned hard to destroy a flight data recorder (FDR), and a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) - like really hard. However this "fact" is moot at the moment because the aviation authorities don't have the damn things.

• Fact #2: All black box recorders transmit locator signals for at least 30 days after falling into the ocean
Yet the black box from this particular incident hasn’t been detected at all. That’s why investigators are having such trouble finding it. Normally, they only need to “home in” on the black box transmitter signal. But in this case, the absence of a signal means the black box itself — an object designed to survive powerful explosions — has either vanished, malfunctioned or been obliterated by some powerful force beyond the worst fears of aircraft design engineers.
 No. Emphatically, NO. The CVR and the FDR could be hundreds of feet deep in the middle of a very large body of water. The broadcast radius is about two miles. That means, you need to be in a two-mile bubble that includes the instrument, you, and the device you are using to receive the signal. See below on the amount of area that may potentially need searching. 
• Fact #3: Many parts of destroyed aircraft are naturally bouyant and will float in water
In past cases of aircraft destroyed over the ocean or crashing into the ocean, debris has always been spotted floating on the surface of the water. That’s because — as you may recall from the safety briefing you’ve learned to ignore — “your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device.”
Yes, seat cushions float. So do many other non-metallic aircraft parts. If Flight 370 was brought down by an explosion of some sort, there would be massive debris floating on the ocean, and that debris would not be difficult to spot. The fact that it has not yet been spotted only adds to the mystery of how Flight 370 appears to have literally vanished from the face of the Earth.
 Have you ever seen footage from a Search and Rescue operation? It is really difficult to find things on the surface of the vast ocean. Even large, orange life boats have been missed by SAR crews. The surface of the ocean is a dynamic environment. White fuselage panels can look like wave crests, seat cushions are tiny. The ocean is so vast, that an entire, intact, floating cruise ship has gone missing.  The short version of this answer is, give it time and realize, they might not find the plane. 
• Fact #4: If a missile destroyed Flight 370, the missile would have left a radar signature
One theory currently circulating on the ‘net is that a missile brought down the airliner, somehow blasting the aircraft and all its contents to “smithereens” — which means very tiny pieces of matter that are undetectable as debris.
The problem with this theory is that there exists no known ground-to-air or air-to-air missile with such a capability. All known missiles generate tremendous debris when they explode on target. Both the missile and the debris produce very large radar signatures which would be easily visible to both military vessels and air traffic authorities.
 This is assuming a lot of things, including the idea that there would be motivation for such an act - something Mike doesn't address. However, one of the things that should be cleared up is that "the missile would have left a radar signature". It would have. However, contrary to Mike Adams' belief, the entire world isn't being actively scanned by radar. One of the reasons that planes have transponders is so that ground-based controllers can pick them up and track them. These receivers are the ground aren't so much radar, as they are really specialised radio receivers. Real radar isn't used until the planes are close to land. Except for the US and other navies using it on ships, powerful search radar isn't in use over the ocean. 
• Fact #5: The location of the aircraft when it vanished is not a mystery
Air traffic controllers have full details of almost exactly where the aircraft was at the moment it vanished. They know the location, elevation and airspeed — three pieces of information which can readily be used to estimate the likely location of debris.
Remember: air safety investigators are not stupid people. They’ve seen mid-air explosions before, and they know how debris falls. There is already a substantial data set of airline explosions and crashes from which investigators can make well-educated guesses about where debris should be found. And yet, even armed with all this experience and information, they remain totally baffled on what happened to Flight 370.
 If you turn off, or lose the transponder through an electrical fault, the plane vanishes. It could have flown for a while not transmitting its location. If it was over the ocean, as I mentioned in the last answer, it wouldn't be "on radar". 
Let's assume that the plane was flying at 500 kph (probably a low estimate) at 20,000 feet. If the transponder failed, but the plane kept flying, the circle to search in expands by 500 kilometers - in every direction - for every hour the plane is in the air. Let's again assume that the plane remained airborne for 15 minutes. That means the potential search area would be something like 196,000 km2. This doesn't account for the potential of a mid-air failure and the wreckage continuing on under its momentum.  That's a huge amount of space that needs to be searched at a low enough altitude to be able to see debris. 
• Fact #6: If Flight 370 was hijacked, it would not have vanished from radar
Hijacking an airplane does not cause it to simply vanish from radar. Even if transponders are disabled on the aircraft, ground radar can still readily track the location of the aircraft using so-called “passive” radar (classic ground-based radar systems that emit a signal and monitor its reflection).
Thus, the theory that the flight was hijacked makes no sense whatsoever. When planes are hijacked, they do not magically vanish from radar.
Sure it could have. Read the part above where I talked about the transponder being turned off. 
So, the reality is that there is likely no conspiracy, that "they" aren't hiding anything from you, and that "mainstream media" is telling you everything you know.

While I was writing this post, Wired published this article that articulates much of what I said here. It's nice to be right once in a while.