English: President Barack Obama's signature on...

English: President Barack Obama’s signature on the health insurance reform bill at the White House, March 23, 2010. The President signed the bill with 22 different pens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




Some people just can’t admit defeat.  They kick and scream and cry and refuse to admit they lost.  The other side cheated!  The other side lied!  When the empty echo of their own voices forces them to the realization that no one’s listening to their whining, they either bury their head in the sand or they turn to throwing temper tantrums as often as they can.  Anyone looking for a perfect example of such juvenile (dare I say asinine) behaviour need look no  further than our neighbours to the south, where vengeful Republicans have shut down the American government.


The Republican controlled Congressional House shuttered the White House and most American Federal agencies at midnight last Monday in an effort to kill President Obama’s signature domestic legislation, the health care reform bill commonly called Obamacare.  After failing to repeal Obamacare 41 times over the past four years, House Republicans tried to extort the Obama administration, telling the White House that they would not pass a budget, essentially de-funding the American federal government, unless the President delayed the implementation of his own health care law, scheduled to begin going into effect October 1st, by a year (the full extent of the law takes effect January 1st of 2014).  For the last 48 hours of September, Congress and the Democratically controlled Senate played ping-pong with various bills, each one outdoing the previous in absurdity.  And when the clock struck midnight Monday, a Republican forced shut down ground the American Federal government to a halt.


This isn’t about the law (and that’s what Obamacare is, a full-fledged law), or the ethics or philosophy behind it.  Entire libraries have been written about the pros and cons of health care reform in the U.S. and no one from either side of the debate is ever going to change the mind of anyone on the other.  This is about the American Republican party failing to cope with the reality that they lost this fight.  Several times.  Health care reform was central to Barrack Obama’s campaign when he was first elected president in 2008 (more than doubling John McCain in the electoral college and collecting nearly ten million more votes) and Obamacare was a huge issue when he was re-elected in 2012 (beating Mitt Romney by 126 Electoral College seats and over three million votes).  The American people were given two opportunities to vote on Obamacare, essentially approving it by referendum, but Obamacare has weathered even greater storms on its way to becoming law.  It was passed by Congress (yes, the same body that’s moving political heaven and earth to repeal it now) in November of 2009, following fierce debate and Congressional vote where a handful of House Republicans voted to pass the bill, making it law (the backlash over Obamacare’s passage was disturbing in its violence, with the offices and even homes of some Representatives who supported it being vandalized; failed 2008 vice presidential candidate Sara Palin even posted a bullseye over the constituency offices of members who voted in for the law, one of whom was Representative Kathy Giffords, who would be shot in the head months later).  Obamacare even survived a constitutional challenge heard by the conservative dominated Supreme Court of the United States.  It has cleared every obstacle it has faced. This government shutdown is nothing more than a temper tantrum thrown by Republicans who have failed to defeat it with the legitimate devices the American democracy affords them.  They have been unable to man up and deal with their repeated losses.


It’s estimated a government shut down will cost the American taxpayer an estimated 200 million dollars a day, agencies such as the Federal Food and Drug Administration and the Centre for Disease Control are immediately affected and the effects will only grow.  And if you think this won’t affect those of us north of the border, consider the following; depending on the time of year, up to seventy percent of Canada’s goods and services flow south.  If demand decreases, it will create a drag on our economy headed into the most consumption heavy time of year.  And if the shut down lasts long enough to affect border security . . .   The GOP claims that current polls demonstrate that Obamacare is unpopular with the American people and that’s why they’ve turned the government’s lights off for now.  And in truth, there is some merit to this argument.  But polls also show that a government shut down, for whatever reason, is even more unpopular with American citizens as well.  Funny how they ignore that one.


Shayne Kempton


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President George Bush introduces the Joint Res...

President George Bush introduces the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, October 2, 2002. The resolution was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law two weeks later. White House photo by Paul Morse. Image obtained from (Photo credit: Wikipedia)I WAS WRONG

It’s been a just over a decade since the United States and it’s “coalition of the willing” invaded Iraq, seeking to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction and bring the al-Qaeda supporting dictator down once and for all.  That was the spin used to sell the war to the American people and her allies anyway, though not everyone was convinced.  The United Nations declared the invasion illegal and Canada politely declined the American request for military support (we were already pretty deep in Afghanistan by than anyway, a lengthy war that would prove more expensive in Canadian sons and daughters and blood then any since Korea).  Nations like Russia, Germany, France and China were all staunchly opposed to the invasion and NATO sat quietly on the sidelines (in truth, the United States only military ally of note was Great Britain).  But despite all of that, on March 20, 2003, with the 9/11 terrorist attacks still fresh and raw in the American consciousness, Iraq was invaded for a second time by an American president whose last name was Bush (nothing like keeping it in the family).  The “coalition” armies swept unopposed over Iraq’s borders and didn’t even meet token resistance on their way to the capital city of Baghdad (resistance would come later though, as Iraqi insurgents would wage a brutal guerilla war against American occupiers that would stain Iraq’s deserts red with blood).  And, much to my shame and regret, I supported the invasion, though for different reasons then the ones the politicians and talking heads offered.  It’s disturbing the clarity a few years of hindsight can offer.

I didn’t actually buy the whole WMD thing, despite the enormous energy the Bush administration invested in trying to convince the world that Hussein was just days away from having a dirty bomb or a dozen long-range ballistic missiles carrying anthrax.  My genuine concern, my genuine fear, was that he was close to getting his hands on the wealth Iraq’s oil would have provided him.   Iraq’s natural oil reserves had been the centre of an epic saga since the first Gulf War in 1991 and between strict economic sanctions leveled against Iraq following it’s failed attempts to conquer neighbouring Kuwait and scandals like the “Food for Oil” program that followed, Hussein was never able to harvest the majority of his country’s oil.  And there were some who thought that the black gold beneath Iraq’s sands could rival that of Saudi Arabia’s.  Iraq may have been a primitive dictatorship that lacked the technical knowledge to develop their own WMDs, but with the money and power that much oil would have brought, Hussein simply could have gone to counties like Russia and China with a shopping list in hand and simply bought what he wanted.

But it wasn’t long before my reluctant support for the war faded and then disappeared altogether.  It soon became apparent that Iraq was indeed about oil. And money.  To the victor went the spoils of war, and in this case, the victors included the architects behind both the invasion and the lie that justified it, the lives lost were merely collateral damage standing between the profiteers and their plunder.  I remember the first time I felt outright anger at the war and the wealthy suits responsible for engineering it.  George Bush Jr. was giving a press conference and he was asked about the Iraqi civilians who had lost their lives as a result of the invasion.  I will never forget his exact response and what followed.  “I believe 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died fighting the insurgency,” he said with casual ease, (like he was sharing a recipe for Thanksgiving turkey) and followed that with a smirk and a shrug of the shoulders as if to say what are you gonna do?  It’s the cost of doing business.  And I also remember the exact moment when my tolerance for the insanity that was Iraq died altogether; it was when I, like a disgusted world, first saw the images from Abu Graib prison, where American soldiers were humiliating and torturing detainees while smiling and posing for pictures.  The American occupation, it seemed, was little better than the brutal regime before it.  But liberation was never what the U.S. was there for anyway.

Before taking the job as George Bush Jr.’s vice-president, Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, one of the biggest corporations in the world.  Cheney maintained shady financial connections with Halliburton after taking office and conveniently enough, his former company was awarded reconstruction contracts in Iraq worth over 11 billion dollars by the Bush administration.  Chevron Oil, a company that was named as a possible collaborator with Saddam Hussein during the years he was the subject of UN sanctions during the Food for Oil Program, has been awarded a number of Iraqi oil contracts, some of them legally vague.  Once upon a time, Chevron was run by one Condoleezza Rice before she was tabbed to be Bush Jr.’s Secretary of State.  And speaking of the Bush clan, Bush Sr. continues to have strong connections with an investment firm called the Carlyle Group, and in turn he’s got a lot invested in various weapons contractors like Lockheed Martin, contractors that include the United States military among their chief customers.  On top of being oil barons, the Bushes are also war profiteers and every time the largest military force the world has ever seen goes into battle, the Bush family, among others, gets a little fatter.  These examples are merely the tip of the bloody iceberg.  Essentially, Iraq was the American military-industrial complex having a frat party, with a complacent media enthusiastically in tow.  And it didn’t even care who noticed.

English: Saddam Hussein statue falling Svenska...

English: Saddam Hussein statue falling Svenska: Saddam Hussein staty faller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Iraq war was a fraud, a bill of goods sold to the American people (and the world) based on lies and deception while a handful of greedy men made a fortune off the bloodshed and carnage.  Iraq didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction and it never did.  All the “evidence” to support the invasion was fabricated, and while the Bush administration cowered behind the excuse that the intelligence they based their decisions on was bad, a few members of the American Intelligence community (and a handful of British ones as well) have revealed that facts were distorted and invading Iraq was the endgame all along.  Bush Jr. and Cheney rarely leave the safety of American soil these days for fear of finding themselves in the Hague facing charges of war crimes (the two have been tried by some countries in absentia).  Make no mistake, Saddam Hussein was an evil human being, cut from the same cloth as Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and I felt no pity when he was dispatched from this world at the end of a hangman’s noose.  But the brutal fact remains that, with humanitarian groups putting the number of Iraqi civilians who’ve lost their lives since the American invasion at 100,000 or more, the American regime has been just as bloody, if not more so, than the former dictator’s.  But as I’m sure George W. would tell you, those lives, to say nothing of the over 4500 American soldiers who sacrificed theirs and the countless others who were wounded and maimed, is simply the cost of doing business.  For others like myself, it is the price of being wrong.

Shayne Kempton

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     Words have meaning.  Words can hurt.  It doesn’t matter if you grasp their full meaning or if have any intent to hurt someone with a particular word, their meaning is fixed and absolute. Don’t believe me?  Try walking into the Ottawa airport and shouting BOMB really, really loud.  Try the same thing at the front gates of the American Embassy.  Oh, here’s a good one, I dare you to walk right up to your wife or girlfriend or significant other with a big smile on your face on call her the infamous B word (but be sure to let her know its only word).  Better yet, walk into Harlem and yell the N word at the top of your lungs, then get back to me and let me know how well any of these experiments turned out.  Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, take a trip to Russia, walk right into the middle of Red Square and scream GAY PRIDE over and over (just don’t send me your dental bill).  So when someone complains that the name of a sports team is discriminatory and their logo racist, everyone should take a moment to think it through a little before resorting to their reflexive eye roll and false indignation.

On Tuesday, Ian Campeau (an Ojibway Aboriginal and member of Polaris nominated band A Tribe Called Red) filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal objecting to the name and logo of the Nepean Redskins minor league football team.  He feels the branding is discriminatory against Canadian Aboriginals (and he’s right, but more on that later) and this story is painfully similar to the protest that resulted last February when Ottawa’s new National Basketball League of Canada franchise announced they were going to be called the Tomahawks (which was probably nothing more a marketing stunt to get everyone in Ottawa talking about basketball for a day instead of hockey-why else do you think they were able to unveil a brand new name and logo just a few weeks later?).

A lot of the public feedback on this story resembles the same recycled arguments from many previous arguments on the same topic.  People are tossing out the reliable “politically over-correct,” and “language police” criticisms and the “its only a word, it only has the power we give it” line has been thrown around more than the proverbial football.  And I’ve read a lot of comments actually arguing the validity of the word redskins as a racist term or outright mocking of Campeau’s complaint.  And if someone hasn’t tried to assassinate Campeau’s character yet, it’s only a matter of time.

Look up redskins in any dictionary you want and it will tell you, by its very definition, the word is a racially derogatory term for all First Nations Peoples.  Not one dictionary that isn’t written by a neo-nazi will tell you it’s an acceptable word.  And whether or not someone knows it’s meaning, it’s history or even the intent behind using it is irrelevant.  If your child were to yell out the N word in the playground, would you laugh it off and dismiss it with a “kids will be kids smile?”  What if they used it while talking to someone who was black, despite not knowing what it meant?  Would it be acceptable?  And would anyone defend a team name that included the N word (or any other racially offensive term for any other identifiable group)?  Of course they wouldn’t.  And while some members of the Aboriginal community my accept the term, there are many who are offended by it, and consider it just as offensive and degrading.  So why is calling a football team played by teenagers redskins acceptable?

You’re going to find the majority of people who are up in arms over this complaint are mostly white, which makes my next point even more potent.  Like it or not, Canada (and the United States) inherited a legacy of genocide.  Each and every First Nation in North America was brutally slaughtered by invading white, European imperialists.  Canada’s methods weren’t always as brutal as the Americans, but just as lethal.  Our preferred methods of cultural erasure included starvation, biological warfare (giving Aboriginals blankets infected with fatal diseases) and addiction.  Historians are in agreement that well over 120 million aboriginals were massacred by the territories and colonies that would become Canada and the United States (Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany pale by comparison).  Canada’s Residential schools, responsible for the deaths of an estimated 3000 children and an unacceptable amount of sexual, physical and emotional suffering, typifies the abuse and neglect we’ve visited upon the descendants of the cultures our ancestors tried so hard to exterminate.  The Canadian and American reserve system was even studied by South Africa as a model for their Apartheid system.  Yes, Canada’s treatment of its Aboriginal community was almost inspiration for one of the greatest humanitarian crimes of the twentieth century.  Given that blood soaked history and the deplorable conditions faced by Aboriginals today (a shockingly high teenage suicide rate among them), maybe we should back away from using racist names for minor league sports?  After all, how tasteless would it be if a German minor league football team named itself The Jews?  Or one in Mississippi called itself The Negroes?

Campeau didn’t accuse the team of outright racism, and he isn’t seeking any damages or demanding that the team stop playing.  He simply wants them to abandon the name and logo many members of the Aboriginal community find racially offensive (and he’s backed up by every dictionary on the planet).  He’s even said he’d be willing to raise money to help them buy new gear.  But let’s reverse the question; what if there was an Aboriginal team (or Black or Hispanic or Asian) that called themselves the Krackers (or Honkeys or Klansmen)?  Don’t you think a lot of white people would be a bit pissed?  Or would the names merely be words, invested only with the power we give them?

Shayne Kempton

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English: Justin Trudeau promotional photo take...

English: Justin Trudeau promotional photo taken by Jean-Marc Carisse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Well Justin Trudeau ruffled a few feathers last week, didn’t he?  While discussing the legalization of marijuana in Canada, Liberal leader and Papineau MP Justin Trudeau admitted that he’s smoked the cannabis in question five or six times over the course of his lifetime, including once after he was elected a Member of Parliament in 2008 (unlike tricky Bill, it turned out Justin did in fact, inhale).  Many of his critics joined with members of the Conservative government (who expect to be campaigning against Trudeau in the next federal election) to pounce on the admission as a reflection of his shortcomings as both a leader and a man; not only did he consume a controlled substance, he did so as a member of Parliament, bringing disgrace and shame to the noble House of Commons and the Institution of the Canadian government.  OK, I’m embellishing a little, but suffice to say, there were more than a few people who were genuinely miffed that Trudeau Jr. had partaken of the Mary Jane, and while they might be able to forgive him if it was all youthful indiscretion, the fact he did so as an adult (and father) seemed to be an even more unforgivable crime.

The debate around legal marijuana was already occupying headlines here in Ottawa as police and municipal authorities have found themselves in a sort of unofficial tug of war with a new marijuana dispensary that opened in the Nation’s Capital in June (called the Greater Ottawa Health Advocacy Centre), and there’s been no shortage of legal acrobatics as a result.  And last month, a group called the Ontario Safety League petitioned the provincial government to crack down on convenience stores and mom and pop shops selling marijuana paraphernalia like pipes, bongs and roach clips, claiming it’s availability sends the wrong message to children.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest both the Conservatives and the OSL relax a little and grow up a bit.  Maybe they should, you know, try a joint or two themselves.

For the most part, Canadians rate pot pretty low on their daily list of things that may kill, mug or otherwise violate them.  Canada has a pretty laissez-faire attitude when it comes to enjoying a reefer or two (or four or five) and the use of medicinal marijuana is pretty much an accepted fact of Canadian life.  Even the United States, a country whose movement on social issues often makes glaciers look hyper-active, has seen a shift in popular attitudes on weed, with more and more states legalizing it’s medicinal use (though there are still plenty of states that consider it a toxic enemy of both Jesus and the almighty State and have unleashed SWAT teams on places they suspect may be harbouring a plant or two). CNN’s popular medical guru, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reversed his long-held opposition to the use of medicinal marijuana, describing his previous position on the matter wrong and ill-informed.  Even President Barack Obama experimented with marijuana during his college days (and my oh my, didn’t FOX news and the Breitbart Report have a ball with that little nugget).  Now in Trudeau’s case, there is a definite element of hypocrisy.  In 2009, he voted in favour of legislation which would have  introduced mandatory minimum sentences for possession of marijuana, and this would have been around the last time he toked up.  Now while the Conservatives current attack strategy on this front failed (most Canadians dismissed the issue as a non-starter and some polls suggest Trudeau’s approval ratings-already higher than the Prime Minister’s according to some national number crunchers-got a bit of a bump), Canada’s Tories have proven nothing if not agile, and you can expect Stephen Harper’s camp to spin the pot issue as more of an hypocrisy and leadership one then a legal one moving forward.  Some more hardcore members of Canada’s conservative media have tried painting this as a contemporary Adscam scandal, digging up “evidence” and dates in an attempt to draw some sort of elaborate conspiracy of, well, no one really knows.  Failing that, they have criticized him for trying to score cheap political points with Canadian voters (don’t any public statements made by any politician, Liberal or Conservative, try to score political points with voters?  With cheap ones being the best kind?), but the only Canadians to take their attempts seriously is the small fringe tribe who would hate the cure for cancer if it came from anyone who wasn’t a Conservative.  If anything, Trudeau’s very, very rare (according to him) penchant for enjoying a joint now and then should be far less concerning then Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s increasingly common episodes of public drunkenness, as well as his occasional attempts to cover his missteps up before being confronted with concrete evidence.  And that’s to say nothing of his (possibly unfounded) allegations of crack cocaine use.  Personally, Trudeau’s admission doesn’t change my perception of him any.  Mostly because aside from his support for legalizing marijuana, I have no idea what his policies are or where he stands on major issues.  Has he offered an opinion on possible Canadian military involvement in Syria, for instance (or a concrete alternative if he opposes it)?  What are his ideas for the economy and jobs?  How does he plan on addressing the challenges our public healthcare system faces in the near future?  What does he think of unmanned American drones in Canadian airspace?  The atrocious and unacceptable conditions most of Canada’s First Peoples live in?  Arctic Sovereignty?  Quite often, his default stance seems to be whatever puts him squarely opposite of what the ruling Conservatives are saying.  Those are the things that influence my decision when I’m casting my ballot, not if he indulged in a harmless hobby nearly a decade ago.

As for the Ontario Safety League, I’d be inclined to take them more seriously if they invested as much energy to remove tobacco products from stores as well, because let’s be honest folks, having kids smoking cigarettes is more likely and far, far more dangerous.  And you can add alcohol to that list as well if you’d like.  A lot of people refuse to believe it, but marijuana is a far more benign substance (though much more tightly controlled) then the products that Big Tobacco or your favorite brewery produces.  When was the last time you heard of someone dying of marijuana cancer?  Or being killed while toking and driving?  Don’t confuse my sarcasm with mockery of serious tragedy, but the fact remains that cigarettes and alcohol are far more addictive (why do you think Big Tobacco in the US has been paying out billion dollar settlements for the better part of the past two decades?) and each can kill you in a hundred different ways with a dozen different breeds of cancer.  And if you have any doubt about behavioral influences, just ask your local police force if they’d rather be called to a domestic dispute involving alcohol or marijuana.  What do you think the answer might be?  At best, weed may give someone a bad case of the munchies, little more.  And when was the last time you heard of a doctor prescribing a medicinal cigarette or screwdriver?  I rest my case.

The majority of opposition to marijuana is based on a very old, very obsolete and very hypocritical ideology, one that is slowly eroding in the face of growing awareness and acceptance.  I myself believed it was a drug like many others until I began to think for myself and learned that most of what I’d been told about the substance was about as legit as Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France wins.  Do I honestly care if a politician tokes up now and then?  Not in the slightest?  But do I care if he gets hammered more than occasionally?  You betcha, because an addiction to alcohol doesn’t just pose a far greater threat to the addict in question, but to those around them as well (MADD has some pretty grim statistics on how many Canadian funerals take place every year as a result of drinking and driving).  What I do care about is that public figure’s candor about the issue.  And if a public organization decides to publicly wade into a debate, then they need to understand that any scent of hypocrisy is going to cost them serious credibility (quick query, if the OSL is so concerned about the well-being of our children, when was the last time they issued a public message on sugar, the 21st century’s new tobacco?).  And when it comes to marijuana, the government already provides Canadians with more hypocrisy then they can stomach.

And you can rest easy mom.  I, like President Clinton, have never inhaled but not for fear of the potential consequences, but rather because I couldn’t handle the smell (seriously, the stuff does reek).  It’s the same reason I don’t drink coffee or tea (plus, can you honestly imagine me on caffeine?  Didn’t think so.).  But that time, during my slightly botched appendectomy, when there was a lapse of communication at the nurse’s station and I got an injection of painkiller as well as three or four pills?  I’m not going to lie, THAT was pretty sweet.

Shayne Kempton

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English: Canadian parliament from the Musée ca...

English: Canadian parliament from the Musée canadien des Civilisations in Gatineau Français : Parlement canadien depuis le Musée canadien des Civilisations à Gatineau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


     So here it is September and the Nation’s Capital has once again welcomed its annual wave of new residents, all prepping for the new school year.  The Labour Day weekend came and went as they always have here in Ottawa, with legions of students enrolled at one of our numerous higher educational institutions moving into their temporary addresses, parents and boxes in tow.  Yes, it’s that time of year when the next eight months are looking bright and shiny and new, seen with a breed of fresh optimism that will evaporate the second the first professor deals out the first homework assignment.  For those of you returning, and many more who are favouring our fair city for the first time, here are five pieces of wisdom I’ve collected during my time living in Ottawa, shared here for your benefit.  You first time residents may find some of this helpful, returning ones humorous.  But either way, drum roll please . . .

5.  Behave Yourself:  When the need strikes to cut loose a little bit and sample some of Ottawa’s night life, you’ll find you have plenty of options to choose from.  But keep in mind, Ottawa is a fairly close-knit town, and the employees at one bar or club may find themselves working at another establishment in the near future.  Or they may already work at two places at the same time.  There’s also a good chance they know people who work at the club across the street or the bar by the same name across town.  My point is, if you get in a bouncer’s face or offend a waitress or get kicked out of one place, there is a very, very good chance many other drinking holes in town will know your name and face in the amount of time it takes to send a Tweet or update a Facebook status.  So have fun, but remember to behave yourself and tip your waitress on the way out.

4. By-Laws R Us:  Ottawa isn’t merely Canada’s capital, but we’re also the country’s unofficial by-law capital.  Whether it’s because we have so many government offices and branches from so many different levels co-existing within one town or that we have the National Capital Commission sticking their bureaucratic fingers in every pie or that Ottawa is just more anal, we seem to lead the continent in by -aws.  Ask your favourite business owner or landlord sometimes about the jungle of red tape in this city compared with other Canadian burghs.  Suffice to say, there is an army of uniformed by-law officers waiting to pounce and hand you a hundred-dollar ticket (or more) for some minor infraction or offence.

3: Behave Yourself 2:  Ottawa isn’t just home to Canada’s Parliament, but also to its Supreme Court, various Ministries, foreign Embassies and the headquarters of a number of federal departments.  And suffice to say, with that much political capital lurking Ottawa’s streets, the Nation’s Capital attracts it’s fair share of CEOs and corporate profiteers for regular visits.  So with that many politicians, ambassadors, diplomats, supreme court justices and other assorted power players and rich guys, you can imagine how much security is wandering around this town.  There’s the Ottawa PD, the Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, an over abundance of Canadian Forces troops, private security, etc. etc.  Just ask yourself how many marines are hanging out in the America Embassy on a regular basis.  You may not see them, but trust me when I say they’re there.  When 9/11 went down, they were on the streets outside the embassy in a matter of minutes in full fatigues and carrying serious firepower.  Odds are, if you’re doing something wrong, half a dozen pairs of eyes are watching.

2 From Point A to B:  Ottawa has one of the best public transportations systems in North America, and the majority of its drivers and other employees are genuinely good guys doing an often thankless job.  Now having said that, make a habit to get to your bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive and don’t be shocked if it’s five minutes late. Or more.  And you’ll soon discover that it isn’t altogether uncommon for a bus to never show up at all.  This city wasn’t designed to handle the amounts of traffic it currently sees, and when it’s “was only supposed to last the summer” construction projects stretch into September, October and even November, things get even more complicated.  And while the most of the drivers are cool, it’s an absolute guaranteed fact of life that the one time you decide to snap on a driver, you’re going to do so one the biggest ass hole on the schedule that day.  And when winter arrives, Ottawa traffic, a nightmare of binge drinking proportions normally, becomes even more brutal.  And speaking of winter . . .

1 Winter Is Coming.  And Yes, It’s Cold:  Depending on who you talk to (and there is some debate on the matter) Ottawa is the second coldest capital in the world.  Only Moscow is colder (and we’re not just referring to the hospitality) so you can expect three or four frigid months of misery in the coming year.  Not even going to try to sugar coat it.  There are going to be days when it’s so cold that when you sneeze it’s going to come out as slush.  There are going to be times that you may be tempted to slash certain portions in your yearly budget to afford an extra night or two out on the town, but trust me, you do not want to shave a single penny off your budget for winter clothes, boots or home heating.  And other than snow, politicians and by-laws, you know what Ottawa doesn’t need more of?  People flooding social media to give the rest of us a weather report.  Between December and March, your local meteorologist of choice will do a fine enough job telling you how low the mercury is going to plummet on a daily basis.  We don’t need 842 000 Facebook statuses telling us every day that it’s cold.  If it’s February and you’re in Ottawa, odds are you won’t be breaking out the sun tan lotion.  I don’t need this universally accepted fact Tweeted at me three hundred times a day.  Because it’s just going to piss me off more.  Bitching about the weather doesn’t change it and it really just makes everyone around you want to face palm you.  With broken glass.  And fire.  Besides, with global warming rearing it’s fierce-some head more and more, real winter may soon find itself facing extinction.  And when you curse the cold and wish it was sunny and thirty degrees all twelve months of the year, just remember the Chinese proverb about being careful what you wish for.

So there you have it, five simple suggestions and observations I’ve amassed from my two decades here.  And for the most part, they’re simply the product of common sense. Ottawa can be a good town, if you know how to treat her right.  And knowing some of her more eccentric personality traits doesn’t hurt either.

Shayne Kempton



English: Dr. Martin Luther King giving his &qu...

English: Dr. Martin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington in Washington, D.C., on 28 August 1963. Español: Dr. Martin Luther King dando su discurso “Yo tengo un sueño” durante la Marcha sobre Washington por el trabajo y la libertad en Washington, D.C., 28 de agosto de 1963. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


     This weeks celebrates the anniversary of two monumental dates in American history.     On August 27th, the American constitution’s nineteenth

amendment, which guarantees women the right to vote in the entire U S of A, turns 93 yeas of age.  And on the 28th, the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luthor King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the March for Jobs and Freedom at Washington D.C. in 1963.  Both dates commemorate milestones in the struggle for liberty and equality by all.  But other events this week have shown that, while we may have come far since these two days, we still have so much further to go.

While I didn’t watch MTV’s Video Music Awards this past Sunday (I’ve given the channel a very wide berth since it’s entire programming slate degenerated into teenage moms and the weekly cat fights of pseudo-celebrities), I did take a peek at a video of the Miley Cyrus performance that caused enormous backlash on the entire planet’s social media.  I watched maybe a minute of it before my eyes vomited a little and I had to run away screaming (one online commenter suggested Robin Thicke get a pregnancy test after his Close Encounter of the Miley Kind).  While plenty has already been said about Cyrus’ . . . unique performance, I find myself asking the same question about the price of female success in pop music that I’ve been asking ever since a seventeen-year old Britney Spears wore a mini-skirt and gyrated to seductive choreography while asking men everywhere to hit her one more time; why do women have to be sex objects to be successful?  Cyrus isn’t the first to strut across the stage nearly nude and look like she was auditioning for a porn movie-and she won’t be the last-but I think we need to ask why every major female star in pop music for the past three decades has, at one time another, marketed her sexuality in order to conquer the top 40.  Spears, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, the current queen of shock Lady Gaga, the Pussycat Dolls, the list stretches on and on.  And while it may be argued that the ladies in question are simply cutting loose and having fun, and that Cyrus in particular is trying to divorce herself from her little girl image, would any of these women have enjoyed the same level of success had they not turned themselves into walking sex fantasies?  One notable exception is Kelly Clarkson, yet she could well be the exception that proves the rule as American Idol’s very first winner has had to endure criticism about her weight and body every step of her impressive career.  Would Janice Joplin, Karen Carpenter or Patsy Cline be successful in today’s sex saturated industry?  Or would they be consigned to obscurity?  And while pop music may be one of the biggest and most visual examples of this lopsided social dynamic, it’s hardy the only one.  It seems that more than nine decades after the fairer sex won voter equality south of the border, woman still have miles to go for before they’re seen as genuine equals and not sexual possessions.

And while the entire free world should celebrate both Dr. King’s speech and the pivotal march where he delivered it, every week we’re confronted by evidence that racial equality in the United States is still light years away.  One current story making the viral rounds is about a party of 25 black customers being ejected from a Wild Wing Café in North Charleston, South Carolina.  Michael Brown and the rest of his party were bidding farewell to his cousin, who was leaving the North Charleston area, when they were asked to move by the restaurant’s shift manager.  Apparently, they were making a white customer feel uncomfortable and when one of the offending party began recording the unusual request on their smart phone, the manager became offended and asked the entire group to leave because “she had a right to.”  Brown called Wild Wing’s corporate headquarters repeatedly but didn’t receive a response until he posted the story on the restaurant’s Facebook page.  He immediately received a call from Wild Wing’s head office offering him an apology and a free meal for himself and everyone in the party that night.  Needless to say, he refused both the offer and the apology.  Most telling of all though are attempts to keep blacks (and others) from participating in American democracy at the most basic level.  Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned a number of provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prevented voter discrimination and suppression based on race (legislation that was a direct result of Dr. King and the March for Jobs and Freedom on Washington D.C. half a century ago), a number of southern states rushed to begin shoving through legislation that would make voting more difficult for blacks, latinos and other minorities.  Texas waited a mere two hours before introducing its legislation and North Carolina’s laws have resulted in widespread campaigns of civil disobedience across the state (Texas is currently being sued by the American Department of Justice over it’s new restrictive voting laws).  The scarier part is, this fight started well before the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act and last November, hundreds (if not thousands) of black voters waited in line more than four hours after polls closed in Florida in to cast their vote for President.  Most did so in defiance of that state’s attempt to disenfranchise them.  These battles will only grow more intense as next November’s mid term elections for control of the Senate and House draw closer.

The sacrifice of those who inspired and engineered such pivotal moments should always be celebrated.  The women who marched to win the right to vote were often spit on, beaten and worse.  Many were rejected and scolded by their families and church leaders before being disowned or thrown out of their congregations altogether.  Martin Luthor King was arrested dozens of times for frivolous and often fictional offences and he always knew an assassin’s bullet waited for him.  But he, and others like him, persisted and fought the good fight, no matter how much needless blood was spilled and how much their dignity was assaulted.  And the world benefitted from their graceful yet determined resolve.   But as we mark the passage and importance of these unforgettable days, we should take equal measure of how far we sill have to go before the architects of such change are truly vindicated.  We should also take stock how far we’ve fallen since.

Shayne Kempton

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English: Wells Fargo Center in Los Angeles, Ca...

English: Wells Fargo Center in Los Angeles, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


     I recently found myself in a store that had a talk show on the radio that was discussing the city’s plan to use a scarecrow (or a man dressed up like one) to scare seagulls or crows or some form of avian nuisance away from one of Ottawa’s monuments or parks.  I honestly can’t recall the specifics because it wasn’t the story that grabbed my attention, rather it was the host, who seemed to be working himself up into a ballistic lather over the issue.  He was beyond enraged that the city was contemplating spending money on such an outrageous idea and I found myself briefly wondering if they had paramedics on standby in the studio when he went into cardiac meltdown.  He painted the idea (in very loud audio colours) as an affront to democracy and Ottawa taxpayers needed to rise up and punish their elected officials for such a travesty.  In all honesty, I have no opinion on the matter that got him so riled up, but it was the degree to which a minor issue (in my opinion, anyway) provoked him so dramatically that got my cranium’s wheels turning (not to mention the language he used to vilify both the proposal and those who hadn’t even voted on it yet).  He genuinely sounded like he was the only chicken who knew that it was raining chunks of sky and he was determined to warn the rest of the barnyard.  I actually found it more than a little amusing.

Then later that day I came across a story I had to triple check to believe.

Returning home after being out-of-town for two weeks, Katie Barnett of Vinton County, Ohio discovered that not only had her home been burglarized, but that the locks had been changed and she was locked out.  The culprit?  Welston First National Bank, who was foreclosing on a home.  Not hers, because the company that was responsible for collecting and removing the possessions in said house got the address wrong.  No, you didn’t misread that-the bank, an institution that is supposed to protect money and perform dozens of complicated financial transactions on a daily basis-emptied the wrong house (one of the reasons they gave was that her lawn hadn’t been mowed so obviously she had to have been the delinquent homeowner in question).  But while that may have given you a chuckle or two, the story quickly becomes a downright knee slapper.

When Katie contacted the bank to get her stuff back, they had already sold it.  When she kindly asked that the bank reimburse her for the stuff that they had essentially stolen and then fenced, she was met with attitude, bank president Anthony Thorne gruffly told her that she wasn’t going to get retail value for her possessions.  You know, the ones the bank stole.  The local police pretty much shrugged their shoulders after initially accusing her of being a squatter and Katie quickly discovered she had few options.  The bank had robbed her of an estimated eighteen thousand dollars worth of stuff, and no one apologized, was held accountable or was going to fix it.  And stories like this are becoming frighteningly common in the good old U S of A.

By the end of 2012, there had been more than 50 lawsuits filed against big American banks for improper foreclosures (perhaps that’s why the banks have begun using SWAT teams to deliver routine foreclosures notices), they’ve made a habit out of foreclosing on homes they don’t even own the mortgage on and have even foreclosed on homes where the owner’s crime was making the monthly payment early.  Last week, a court overturned the foreclosure on a woman’s home because she was a mere six dollars short and American banks have recently paid a handful of punitive fines without disputing the charges because it wasn’t worth their time (and the fines amounted to little more than a few minutes worth of revenue for them anyway).  It is estimated that banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citibank (among others) have foreclosed on over 700 veterans, many of them while they were on active duty overseas, in defiance of American federal law.  American banks have also come under fire for knowingly laundering billions of dollars for international drug cartels (it’s estimated that Wachovia, now owned by Wells Fargo, laundered an amount worth approximately one-third of Mexico’s entire GDP) and lawmakers have been pretty candid that America’s banks have returned to the greedy, negligent behaviour that lead to the economic meltdown of 2008, a collapse that caused catastrophic damage across the entire planet (current lawsuits and investigations against the U.S.’s big banks easily number in the double digits, if not triple).  And for those keeping score at home, you can count the number of American CEOs and major banking figures that have seen the inside of a courtroom for their role in the second greatest economic crisis in history on one hand.   Instead, many of them took multi-billion dollar bailouts, gave themselves bonuses and proceeded to lay off thousands of workers.

Last Canada Day, I wrote a mostly tongue in cheek piece about why we’re fortunate to live in Canada, taking a few good-natured jabs at our American friends along the way.  But the reality is, when it comes to our financial and banking systems, Canadians are truly far better off.  That isn’t to say Canada’s banks are angels.  Last spring the Royal Bank of Canada made headlines when it was discovered that they were laying off 45 Canadian workers and replacing them with cheaper, foreign labour.  To add a little extra insult to injury, the Canadians who were being discarded were forced to train their replacements.  Public outcry was fierce and the government moved swiftly to address the situation, promising to close loopholes RBC had exploited.  Now odds are there were probably a handful of government officials who knew what was going on and may have looked the other way every now and then, but once the story broke, the government at least made the appearance of correcting the problem.  In the land of the Stars and Stripes, banks routinely prey on their customers with neither apology nor regret and the American government rewards their predatory behaviour with obscene subsidies (it’s estimated that the United States facilitated implied subsidies of 83 billion dollars to it’s ten largest financial institutions last year).  Perhaps the most telling fact?  Since the late nineteenth century, the United States has suffered 16 crashes.  Canada has suffered a grand total of 0.

The moral to this little rant?  Well, suffice to say, if I could have put a little birdie (or crow) into the ear of the radio personality who seemed to consider the possibility of Ottawa’s decision to spend a quarter of a million dollars on a glorified scarecrow as a genuine threat to the Canadian way of life, I’d have suggested he calm down and take a breath.  Because if that’s the biggest problem we currently face in our day-to-day lives, we have it much better off then our American friends, who are getting mugged more and more by the guys in the three-piece suits these days then the ones hiding in the alleys.

Shayne Kempton