Underlying policy assumptions

I went to a policy discussion about ‘HST’ (Harmonized Sales Tax) tonight. I was excited to see a panel of former senior politicians, all of whom were from left-wing parties, speak in a right-wing environment. The night was a success because I left with more insight than I started with. But it was a failure in that it was all based on the assumption that HST was a good thing.

Now, I’m not an economist, and perhaps I was in a room of economists and just didn’t know it. Throughout the evening panelists talked about the political battle that is fought when implementing a smart strategy like HST. But even though this event took place in Alberta, the only province without a PST in Canada, there was no tools distributed to start discussions around why we should introduce HST here.

In all fairness, a former finance minister did say that the HST needs to be introduced to achieve a better ‘tax mix’, potentially reducing the level of corporate and personal income tax balanced against more consumption taxes (like HST). Another panelist suggested that municipalities should be allowed to directly tax citizens through a consumption tax. All nice ideas, but without a why they seemed like empty sales pitches… or dare I say empty political promises.


Under the surface = gas

I remember being at a ‘gas station’ in Pakistan and being fascinated by the air pump that was fueling up the cars marked ‘CNG’. My friends explained that PK uses natural gas to fuel their cars because it makes political sense to be domestically dependent on their abundant deposits. They also said it was more environmentally friendly (I believe because it releases less emissions) and cheaper. It sounded great and I couldn’t understand why this technology wasn’t being used in North America.

In England, I started to learn about PHD Group, a company who alters engines to be fueled by propane (or natural gas) instead of gasoline. When I started to inquire more, my friend was very firm in his preference for propane over natural gas because of the methods used (fracking) to acquire natural gas are dangerous. I somewhat understood, but things really didn’t click until I watched GasLand.

GasLand is a documentary everyone should watch. Yes, it’s one sided, but it shows a side of the story that is not often exposed (oh law suit hush money). The movie made my stomach turn and was heavy on my conscience (especially because I live in a city economically dependent on the energy industry).

It reminded me of a conversation I had with an 80 year old farming lady who lived in such a remote area, it took her 30 minutes to get to the nearest village of 500 people, 45 minutes to the nearest hospital and 100 minutes to the nearest city. She relies on driving and there is no option for public transportation. She was the first person to draw my attention to the shale deposits, and the first one to invest in companies who were aggressively trying to drill. In her world she needs fuel and she doesn’t take the time to think about what impact that fuel will have generations later. After all, technology will solve all of our problems… right?

I wonder what her response would be if her animals were getting sick. Are we playing God by extracting and becoming dependent on something that took thousands of years to create but hundreds of years to squander?

Lasting Impressions

The Place –
The first major European city I visited was Berlin. I was traveling with a local friend and although that was 9 years ago, I can still remember the sights, the conversations, and the streets. And I know that these are more than just memories attached to photographs because Berlin was also the first city I’ve revisited as a tourist.

At first it was a strange feeling passing by the Brandenburg gate and Reichstag only to think, “been there, done that.” But then I realized how much freedom I had when all of the standard tourist attractions have been crossed off – and more importantly stay crossed off because of the very real impression they left on me the first time around.

Maybe I remember eating cappuccino ice cream for lunch in Potsdamer Platz because it was my first real travel experience without my family and without the normal societal rules. Maybe it was just my age. But I find it interesting that things I did 9 years ago have beat the test of time, while I now find it hard to remember where my friend’s London flat is after having stayed in it only weeks before.


The Person –
My Dad’s favorite phrase to associate with me (his youngest child) was coined when I was three years old: “God help the man she decides to marry.” And every time he can share that story with strangers, he will.

Now I’m not denying that I can be opinionated and strong-willed, but that phrase simply doesn’t represent any part of who I am in relationships. My father still sees his little girl as the bossy five year old with budding leadership characteristics, which align with his leadership style. But no matter what I say to try to introduce my Dad to the woman I’ve become, I still remain that little girl in his idealistic mind.

I just spent a solid 2 weeks of one-on-one time with my Dad on a trip. I’m not sure we’ve ever spent so much solo time together, and I was sure that he would start to see the ‘present’ me. I guess that was the idealistic me thinking.

Art Timeline

I wonder if you can trace art to predict the future?

I remember seeing risqué art in Lahore. It was drawn in the 1970s by a young artist who grew up in the whore house, and it was a sketch of a prostitute from behind with her hair up, wearing a bra and pants. She was overweight and if I had seen the sketch in any other context, I would struggle to find the sex appeal or danger in it. But in Pakistan I could understand why it pushed the boundaries and wondered if it represented more. This sketch wasn’t displayed in a gallery nor was it tucked away in a private collection. It was in the front entrance to a very famous and popular restaurant which is right beside the largest mosque in the city. Was this a small sign of changing times?

Walking through the Tretyakov gallery in Moscow allowed me to vaguely trace art’s history in Russia. It started with religious icons painted on wood, was followed by the portrait period which rapidly evolved into a love affinity with landscapes. The one constant was dark colors used and somber appearances. Creativity within the collection was miniscule which may be a reflection of the isolation in Russia or the society in general. The few pieces that were slightly more abstract, possibly influenced by the impressionists (but far later in history), were tucked away in a side room and almost laughed at by tour groups that walked through. What does this Russian art say about their history, and where they are going?

I wonder what would happen if you match USA’s and France’s art history with their historical development. Could you use their development within art as marking points for their development as a society? Are art collections true reflections of a people – or only a piece of the history countries use to represent the life they want to be remembered by?

The Chakras – Keys to Self-Understanding and Freedom by Swami Kriyananda

One of my spiritually connected friends had a dream telling her to release her third eye chakra. After ignoring the first message, the dream reoccurred. She soon became a chakra expert and now has a light within.

Her story reminded me of the beauty of spiritual reading… or listening in my case! I’ve been making more of an effort to meditate recently, so to assist in this process, I decided to listen to this audiobook and have been pleased to be reminded of many lessons. It’s an easy listen, as Swami Kriyananda recorded one of his lecture series, making the connection tangible and the teachings accessible.

The basic idea behind chakras are that we all have 7 which lie on your spine and are aligned with major organs. Each is associated with its own color, astrological signs and is represented by a flower with varying numbers of peddles. The bottom three are materialistic and the top four are spiritual.

I first started learning about chakras from my yogi in India and have since tried to learn more through meditation and seeking. I strongly encourage those who need a refresher to listen to this book. It’s also friendly to first time learners, so long as it’s listened to with an open heart/mind. The swami explains that chakras aren’t typically the first lesson one learns, so there are some presumptions in the book that may turn off newcomers if the book is listened to with skepticism.

Call out to my spiritually knowledgeable peeps!
One thing I’m curious to explore deeper is the connection between astrology and the chakras. This may be my ego talking, but I’m intrigued by the fact that I’m born on the cusp, so I am represented by both Libra and Scorpio. More interesting still, is that these two signs are aligned with the heart (spiritual, positive, venus) and the sacrum (materialistic, negative, mars, fire)… they’re opposite. But, if birth and death really don’t matter, do ‘our’ astrological signs align with ‘our’ chakras? And when my yogi told me that ‘my’ chakra to focus on was the heart (represented by Libra), is this a coincidence? Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!

Write for who?

Over the past 2 years I’ve been to 25 different countries (or states for those of you who prefer legal correctness) outside of North America. That’s ridiculous. And each time I go abroad, I feel like an addict who’s getting their fix while deepening the cravings.

And, like an addict, I start to feel isolated. Alone. No one understands me. No one can – can they?

I’ve shared this blog with 17 people. Strangers have found it on their own (which I’m grateful for), but there’s only been a select few who I feel I can trust, or who I feel will appreciate these thoughts. I guess it’s kind of pathetic needing a blog to stay connected with those who are closest to you… but that’s the reality I’ve created and addicts are slightly pathetic.

Over the past 2 months I’ve made some new life long friends and re-connected with some past life long friends. And sadly, the old veins just aren’t as strong as they used to be. It’s not like they need to be removed, but things have changed and it’s hard to move past the past life… especially when fresh drugs are easily injected into fresh veins.

It’s normal to have certain friends in specific stages of your life – but if I keep making the closest connections on a temporary basis, I can’t be surprised to not really be known by anyone. Each time I go away, I’m not only sharing these experiences with people who quickly fade from my life, but I’m also distancing myself from those constant few friends at home. Have a created my own island and am slowly cutting the lines that keep me grounded? The catch is that I’m restless while at home…

PS – I quit smoking yesterday. Think it will stick?

ignorance ain’t bliss

Northern Ireland is fucking complex. I’m surprised and shouldn’t be. I guess this is what ignorance feels like.

Sure- I had read about Bloody Sunday in Londonderry/Derry. But I didn’t expect to get weird looks when I told my Muslim friend I was traveling to ‘Londonderry’ (Protestant) (instead of ‘Derry’ (Catholic)). For fuck sakes – that’s what it says on the train schedule!

I also didn’t expect to be reading and talking about politics every time I broach the subject of healthcare. Should the maternity ward go in Belfast City Hospital (Protestant) or Royal Victoria Hospital (Catholic)… literally just a few blocks apart from one another? Anything in the public sector is bound to have politics in its underbelly, but it seems wrong to be talking more about solidarity and equity than health issues like wait lists or patient care.

My biggest shock came from the realization of how current issues still are. I arrived less than 1 week after the latest riots… but was then comforted by a local who said ‘it’s just the rioting season, not to worry!’ I attended a Republican community talk about the hunger strike of 1980/81 given to a community who lost one of the ten prisoners. The reoccurring questions revolved around what to do now. I took a black top taxi tour and saw memorials of people killed over the years, most recently in May 2010. People still live in segregated communities and most neighborhoods remember past lost lives, and pass along the stories of former prejudices and wrongdoings. It’s sad when you here about the first day of med school, students began to slot the ‘Huns’ (P) and ‘Taig‘ (C). I thought it was normal to eye up your peers you’d try to pull…  not speculate about where they go on Sunday morn.

I guess what’s really hitting me is my own prejudice. Even though the streets, the people, the prices, the food, and even the fields all feel like home, the reality is that there’s still a riot season here with a deep seeded divide amongst the population. I’m ashamed to admit that it’s easier to stomach seeing something ‘foreign’ burst into flames than something ‘familiar’. I can forgive an Israeli for their ignorant hatred towards Palestinians, but I view the Catholic and Protestant feud as childish.

In reality – I’m an outsider to both issues and familiarity with a façade means nothing.