Monday, August 30, 2010

Hate, fear bigotry…

With the economy in shambles, unemployment way too high, a recent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and state budgets in disarray all over the country, what would you say should the most important issue being discussed on political campaigns this year? If you said fixing the economy, creating jobs or developing green infrastructure… you’d be wrong. Obviously the most pressing issue out there is who we should hate! There are plenty of candidates out there, minorities that can’t defend themselves, people who are a little different then the rest of us, groups that we can score a few political points off of and maybe scare enough people into voting for one party or another. Hate, fear, bigotry – these have been part of campaigning since the country began, mostly because they work! But why should we let them? Recognizing these tactics as the pathetic election tools that they are is a good way to render them ineffective, so let’s take a look at who’s destroying America this year.

Hating on the gays is so 2004. Not a lot of anti-gay ballot issues this year, at least, not that I’ve heard of yet. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people are still bizarrely frightened of the idea of two people who love each other getting married, and there have been a number of examples of openly gay candidates being slurred against, but it no longer seems like the issue that guarantees getting out the bigot vote. (Maybe I’m being overly optimistic. Let me know if you hear of the “gay agenda” being played around a lot by candidates.) Hmm, who else is out there we can hate on…

OMG! Have you heard? Muslims want to destroy America by building a mosque on Ground Zero in New York! Except, it’s not really a mosque, it’s a community center with a place to pray, and it’s not really on Ground Zero, it’s actually a couple of blocks away, only 2 blocks closer than an actual mosque (not to mention some strip clubs), and the Imam, one Faisal Rauf, is on record saying that he is not only a Muslim, but also a Jew and a Christian, as all three believe in the same things. So, it turns out to be a lot of fake outrage directed at the… you guessed it, the bigot vote! And don’t tell me it’s the placement of the mosque is why it’s a problem. There are active protests of soon-to-be mosques in Tennessee and other places, and a church in Florida had a Koran burning party to show their, what’s the term, stupidity? Racism? Outright idiocy? Something like that? Muslim fundamentalists talk about how the US and Islam are incompatible and thus are at war, and here we are doing are best to prove them right. Awesome.

Immigrants, of course, are an easy target for election hate, after all, unlike the gays, many of them can’t vote! Immigrants have been bashed in this country, by one party or another, since elections began. Of course, in the beginning it was those dirty Irish and the lazy Italians, and don’t get me started on the danged Germans! Speaking German and trying to hold on to their customs and culture. They’re takin’ our jurbs! Lately, of course, Hispanics have been the target of our hate and fear. Arizona’s famous “Show me your papers” law cost that state over $6 million in tourism revenue, and now South Dakota and many other states are considering similar legislation, as my friend Matt Hildreth detailed in an excellent blog a couple weeks ago. (As an immigrant myself, let me tell you, the idea of carrying your immigration paperwork with you everywhere you go is pretty ridiculous. You keep them at home, in a safe place! I almost lost my work visa at a beach once, and I will not let that happen again!) Stepping up the insanity ladder is the claim made by Texas Representatives Debbie Riddle and Louie Gohmert about Terror Babies. Let that sink in for a second. Terror Babies. Evil pregnant terrorists climbing over desert border fences to give birth to evil terrorist babies that will destroy this country in 20 years time. Facepalm.

This blog was supposed to be about some awesome undocumented kids that I know (don’t worry, they aren’t terror babies, or even terror teenagers) and how they are improving the community here in Houston, but one thing led to another and I got distracted. Maybe I’ll get to it at some point. Anyway, keep your eyes open for hate and fear being bandied around the political discourse. And please don’t ever fall for it!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Iowa is the worst state ever. So is Kansas. Nebraska's pretty horrible as well. Also Missouri. South Dakota and Texas, you're not so great either...

When this was posted as my Facebook status a few days ago, one of my “friends” commented that I had my “cranky pants” on. I suppose it was true, having just completed the 20 plus hour drive from Watertown, SD to Houston, TX for the second time in 10 days. I’d made that trip once before (alone, in January) but even with two people it isn’t a trip to be made by the faint of heart or in vehicles with low gas mileage.

The drive North to South Dakota went surprisingly well, other than the usual obscene amount of traffic in Houston and a bizarre freak-out at a Super 8 (if you ever stay at the Super 8 in Norman, OK, do not, I repeat DO NOT attempt to start the 6 AM continental breakfast at 5:59 AM). My girlfriend and I arrived in Brookings with more than enough energy to head straight downtown and close down O’Hare’s and Jim’s. Brookings was its usual self, full of people I hadn’t seen in way too long, but SDSU looks quite different with all the new construction. The week was filled with catching up, running into old high school friends, meeting the girlfriend’s parents for the first time (eep! gulp!), drinking, Shark Week and a wedding where I didn’t really know anyone. You know, the usual.

All in all, the whole week went pretty well; the cranky pants didn’t come on until the drive home. You see, the wedding was Saturday night and my girlfriend needed to be back at work Monday morning, so we needed to cram all that driving into a short period of time. We left Watertown at about 8:30 PM after the reception dinner and planned to stop in Omaha/Council Bluffs sometime around 12:30 or 1:00 AM. We pulled off the road about on schedule, ready for a short night’s sleep, only to find out that the hotel had no vacancies and according to the night desk guy, none of the other hotels in the area did either. Writing Omaha off as a loss, we got back on the road and proceeded to stop in Nebraska City, Hamburg, Mound City, St Joseph – 11 different hotels in all, excluding the places front desk clerks called to check for us – until we found a Travelodge with one empty room in Platte City just north of Kansas City. It was 5:00 AM at this point and we were about ready to pull over and sleep in the car (energy drinks and gas station coffee can only take you so far). Fortunately the nice desk clerk pushed back the checkout time for us and we were able to get a good morning’s sleep before heading out again around noon.

Now, I love South Dakota, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know if it’s worth it to make that drive again. The Sturgis Rally (started that week), some Nebraskan rodeo and the Kansas City Chief’s training camp (shudder… yet another reason to hate that team) all conspired against us. The construction on I-29 in Iowa alone made me question humanity’s merits, while the desolate nothingness that is Kansas is enough to drive anyone to madness. What truly frightened me, however, were the billboards threatening a “New American Revolution” (surprisingly, the teabaggers usually spelled “revolution” correctly).

I don’t think we’ll be making that drive again any time soon. We’ll definitely be flying up next time. Look on the bright side – I’m sure the airports will be crazy enough over Thanksgiving that I’ll get to write about that trip too!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Burnt, sore and coated in salt; PLUS a little taste of home.

We had an amazing day this last Sunday. It was Memorial Day on the 31st, so we had a long weekend and decided to head down to Galveston Island for a day of kayaking and swimming. We signed up for a tour of Galveston Island State Park with Artist Boat, an organization that combines kayaking, science and art, and headed into the estuary/marshes of the park for a 4-hour excursion. If you’ve never gone kayaking, give it a try. I feel that kayaks are not only faster and more maneuverable that canoes, but the paddling motion is more natural on a kayak. I had only gone kayaking a couple of times before, and this was Alisha’s first time, but we totally rocked the two-person kayak. I’m proud to say that we were faster than anyone else and we never got stuck in the mud!

Next time we go kayaking, we’re going to just rent them and go out on our own, but it was nice to have a tour guide this time around. She pointed out the egrets, great blue herons, black skimmers (awesome birds – their lower beaks are longer than their upper ones and they fly along “skimming” the water with their lower beaks), turns, sea snots (like jellyfish, but just the jelly, not the fish part) and the places where stingrays live (unfortunately did not see any and fortunately did not step on any). During our lunch stop we even got a lesson in watercolours and had a chance to paint the scenery to help us remember the adventure. My painting looks like it got wet and was ruined on the trip back, but alas, it did not. It was just poorly done.

After the kayaking, we headed across the island to the Gulf side for a little bit of swimming and ended up playing in the surf for a good 3 hours. By the time we headed into Historic Downtown Galveston for some lovely Mediterranean food, we were sunburned, exhausted and quite salty. It was quite the day, and we are already making plans for our next kayaking trip.

“Home” in the title refers to Canada. Generic Canada, not really any particular place. We’ve found a spot here in Houston where we can get a little taste of Canada: the Maple Leaf Pub. Located in Midtown, the Maple Leaf is a fun little bar with a small selection of Canadian beers. I hear it gets quite busy when a hockey game is on (especially Houston Aeros or NHL playoffs) but we went on an off night and it stayed busy, it was never over crowded. I loved the atmosphere; there were people playing board games, there was a table hockey game in one corner, a map of Canada on the wall and jerseys and flags for Canadian sports teams (including quite a few for my favourite, the Leafs!) all over the room. You could also get a good selection of Canadian beer (unfortunately not my favourite, Dead Elephant Ale from Railway City Brewing Company) including a beer from Quebec that tasted like potpourri. Seriously. It was quite florally delicious.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Things I should have blogged about sooner…

Some of you might recall hearing about a series of immigration rallies that took place across the US on May Day (May 1st). The rallies were in part to call on the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform and in part to protest Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law (SB 1070). I could probably rant for several entire posts about that racist piece of work, but I’ll restrain. If you haven’t heard of it, basically it attempts to legalize racial profiling by allowing cops to pull people over for “looking illegal”. So, as an immigrant, along with other prominent immigrants to the US including Steve Nash (of Los Spurs) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (“I was also going to give a graduation speech in Arizona this weekend. But with my accent, I was afraid they would try to deport me,”{please read that quote with a Terminator accent}) I felt I needed to do something to in protest. Hence the immigration rally.

Honestly I had no idea what to expect. I’ve tried to go to other protests before, only to find just one or two people waving signs. Plus, I hadn’t heard much advertising about the rally, so I wasn’t all that hopeful, but we made our signs and headed over. When we saw two helicopters hovering over the area, we figured it was a good sign, but I was still impressed when I saw the crowds. Media estimates put about 7000 – 10 000 people at the rally, quite a big event (although we were dwarfed by Dallas which had around 20 000 turn out). We parked a few blocks away and ran over to join the march. Emerging as we did from a crowd of grumpy looking white people at the sidelines, we received a few apprehensive looks from the mostly Hispanic marchers, but once we pulled out our signs, they welcomed us quite warmly. One older lady even complimented my horrible mangling of the slogans we were chanting: “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!” (A community united will never be defeated!)

We had a great time and marched a good distance and fortunately, only saw a few teabaggers. One idiot had his rallies confused and was holding a “No socialism” sign (not sure what immigration reform has to do with socialism) and another ‘bagger had one proclaiming the sacred border/language/culture of the US. Psst, dumbass, Texas used to be part of Mexico. As the saying goes, they didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them. My least favourite sign read “Immigration is ruining this country. Look what it did to the White House” which was all kinds of stupid and offensive. It was heartening, however, to note that there were only 20-50 teabaggers (of the ones I saw most were old and all were white) along the entire route, and set against at least 7000 marchers, I think makes us look pretty good.

In other news, thanks for the advice in the comments from the last post. The websites had good tips, Sara’s was the most appealing and Greg’s was, well, the most practical. To get rid of the fruit flies, we used a mixture of red wine vinegar and dish soap in a glass. We left it out on the counter overnight and the next morning, there were about 30 dead flies in the bottom of the glass. I guess the smell of the vinegar was irresistible and the soap broke the surface tension so the flies would sink and drown. We left a couple of glasses out for a couple of days and killed off almost all of the flies. My only worry is that we created a new race of flies that don’t like vinegar by killing off all the ones that do. Natural selection and all that. Or would it be artificial selection? Anyway, we’re still trying to find a way to deal with the millipedes. Normally I really don’t mind them; they’re some of the least threatening of bugs. However, we found one in bed the other night, and that is crossing a line.

Oh, and we have some sort of heron hanging around our apartment pool. This is one of those things that would be more interesting if I was still overseas. It would be an ostrich or a monkey or maybe a crocodile.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The immigrants are stealing your low-paid internships.

Hello all! I’m back at work and hopefully back at blogging!

I’ve been away from the blogging pretty much since getting back from Rwanda, other than a few random posts, but I’m going to try to start doing it regularly again. Ironically, I had plenty of time to write while I was unemployed and yet did very little of it. Now that I have a job and much less time, I decided to restart the blog. Not sure I understand myself sometimes.

First main point: I have a job! Hooray! Actually, I ended up getting three interviews all around the same time and ended up getting offered all three jobs! When it rains, eh? Fortunately, one of the jobs starts in September, doing after-school enrichment programs, so I accepted that one. I had to decide between an hourly job at Te House of Tea and a short-term internship at the Student Conservation Association (SCA). After taking everyone’s advice into account, I decided to go with the internship, mostly because it seemed like less of a downgrade than serving tea, even if the pay was worse. After two weeks, I still believe I made the right choice, especially since there could be a slight chance of it turning into longer-term, better-paid employment.

The SCA is an environmental non-profit that has been around since the 1950s placing people in internships at national parks and the like to do conservation work (habitat restoration, trail building, invasive species removal, population studies, environmental education, etc). In the last decade, it has also expanded to programs that get urban youth involved in conservation efforts. My job is to recruit people for internships in and around Houston (including Galveston), or as a friend put it, a non-corporate headhunter. I’ll also be helping to build partnerships with other organizations, running the intern program for the summer and helping out with the high school summer program. So far, so good!

That’s all for now, but I hope to post again in the near future. Keep an eye out for posts on my attempts at becoming more environmentally friendly, an awesome immigration rally we attended and our recent infestations of fruit flies and millipedes. (Alisha found an ingenious way to annihilate most of the fruit flies, but does anyone know how to get rid of large numbers of millipedes?)

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Jobs I want and think I would be good at:

- Cartographer
- Xenoethnographer
- 2040 Olympic Croquet course designer
- Hero (although I would probably need some super powers. Or maybe just powers. Even some skills would be nice…)
- Coffee snob (is this a job?)
- Harrison Ford
- Death panelist
- Talking head (either the kind in a jar or the kind on TV, I’m not picky)
- English gentleman-adventurer
- Robot

If you can think of other jobs I might be good at/want, leave a comment!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Unemployment leads to much reading of the BBC

Has anyone else been following the news out of Niger? I’m guessing not, but it’s an interesting story. At first glance it looks like any one of a dozen stories that have come out of Africa over the years, but some people, myself included, are hoping it’s different. Basically, a military coup has overthrown Niger’s government, a uranium rich but extremely poor Saharan nation with a history of rebellions. This is unfortunately all too common in this part of Africa (see Guinea in Dec 2008). The new junta is now promising democracy and reform, something else frequently done by juntas across the world. The question is are they telling the truth? I’m guessing most people would answer no, or if they’re feeling extremely optimistic, maybe yes but it won’t happen. As for myself, I’d like to believe.

Here’s what I know: former President Mamadou Tandja was not democratic. He was one of many African leaders who rode into power on a wave of democratic revolutions but overstayed his welcome. Like many such leaders, he pushed through constitutional amendments to allow him to stay in power longer than previously allowed. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe Velez are other such leaders. Some also fear that in Rwanda President Paul Kagame will do something similar, but I have my doubts. Anyway, Tandja ended up a dictator. Fast forward to February 18 of this year: military coup ousts Tandja. As you probably know, I don’t usually like militaries to have any influence at all in governance, but there have been a few promising signs out of this. For one, elections have been promised, but of course, these promises are easy to break, and they usually are. For another, members of the military junta AND the transitional government will not be allowed to run in the new elections. Again, it’s just a promise, but it’s a good one to make. Finally, although Tandja is being tried for treason, the junta is not seeking the death penalty, even though that would be permissible by law. I find that last one interesting. It could be just a smart move to prevent making a martyr out of him, or it could be something different, something promising. If nothing else, it shows that the junta is not planning a purge, which would a sure sign of trouble.

Will this coup lead to anything other than another dictatorship? If history were our guide, it would look like a resounding no. However, this does not mean we should immediately condemn the coup in Niger. Tandja’s government was not a good one, and this could be an opportunity to create a new functioning democracy in Saharan Africa, a region that desperately needs good role models. The governments of the US, Canada and the EU should reach out to Niger and offer to help them through the difficult process of building a new government. Will any of this come to pass? Who knows! But one thing is for certain: I’ll be following the news out of Niger.

Sad news out of Rwanda. There were recently three grenade attacks in Kigali shortly before French President Sarkozy’s visit (or due to the upcoming 2010 elections). One attack took place in front of a bar/restaurant I used to frequent, Chez Venant. They had cheap beer (for Kigali) and a nice atmosphere. I’m hoping the restaurant remains open and that there are no further attacks like this one.

Other random crap:

Now, I’m sure that the hats I purchased in Rwanda were probably made in China, like many of the things you could buy there, but I still think of them as my Africa hats. (You may have seen me wearing the brown one in many of my Rwanda photos.) They weren’t extremely common in Rwanda, but I’d see them every now and then, usually being worn by musees/old men. So when I saw an old man wearing one here in Houston, I smiled. A lot. And almost greeted him with a Mwirire!

So, small world, eh? I tend to have these moments quite often, like running into my parents in DC or meeting a guy I went to high school in South Dakota with in a random bar in Kigali. Or meeting a nice American in a hotel in Butare who know a friend of mine from SDUS. This latest incident is not nearly as interesting, but I have little else to write about. I met a fellow at a meeting about census jobs and we got to talking. He went to school in Iowa and when he found out I formerly lived in South Dakota, he happened to mention that the father of one of his friends ran for governor there! This would be Jack Billion of course, whose campaign I volunteered for and whose children I met while campaigning. I love being reminded of how interconnect the world is.

Finally, HOCKEY! Canadian women took the gold and I’ll be watching the men’s game tonight. NBC isn’t doing a good job of covering hockey, and I can’t seem to find it online to watch. Solution? My dad is going to set up his computer in front of his TV in Ontario and I’ll be watching it over Skype. Aren’t technology and parents awesome!?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Update attack!

So, it’s been quite a while since my last post, hasn’t it? That’s probably because my life now isn’t nearly as interesting as it was just five months ago. I’m currently living in Houston, the fourth, possibly third largest city in the US. I’m unemployed, looking for work and in the meantime, being a houseboy.

The problem with keeping up my blog is that, well, who is going to read it? When living in Rwanda (or as several friends have pointed out, anywhere overseas) even the most mundane event is worth blogging about. That’s probably because what’s mundane in other places is still strange and new to us Westerners. In Rwanda, I could write about the awful intestine brochettes I was served, or the live chicken in a paper bag under my bus seat, or the funny English problems I encountered. Other examples given to me by friends include “I waited for a bus today… in front of a castle!” and “I almost got hit crossing the road today… by a camel!” Now that I’m in Houston my life isn’t all that interesting to the rest of the world. Writing about putting together a bookshelf or job-hunting probably isn’t going to keep readers’ attentions.

Of course, this isn’t to say I’m not having a good time! Houston is a great city with so much to explore and see. Plus, my relationship is finally not a long distance one, which after more than a year is definitely a good thing! I’m beginning to get settled here, working through all the change of location stuff (though a little annoyed that I need to get my car inspected at an office this is only open from 9 am to 9:30 am on Mondays – and of course I found this out Tuesday morning) and job-hunting is keeping me busy. There are jobs out there, but having no real skills is a bit of a detriment to getting interviews. I’ve been finding a lot of them on, a great website for finding (generally) progressive jobs, volunteers, programs, and other opportunities.

I’m starting to get back into the politics I missed while in Rwanda, and frankly, I’m annoyed. Annoyed at the Republicans for doing nothing by saying no and at the Democrats for misplacing their collective spine. Again. Health insurance: I need it and I need it to be cheap. Jobs: also need it! The Repubs seem to have forgotten their economics: spending creates jobs. It doesn’t matter whether it’s private or public, but seeing as the average person doesn’t have as much spending money as usual, it’s up to the government to do that spending. I know the deficit is huge (and I also know it got that way under Bush by getting into two wars we couldn’t afford while cutting taxes) but now is not the time to try to fix it. Get the economy back on track, lower unemployment, THEN worry about the deficit.

Oh, and I may have found my new Cottonwood. If you know me, you’ll know how much I love coffee shops. I’ve been missing Cottonwood Coffee in Brookings. It was pretty much my home senior year at SDSU and need to find a replacement. I’m sitting in Salento CafĂ© in Rice Village right now, and it just might fit the bill. I need to try a few alternatives before I settle down, but this place has a lot going for it. It doesn’t just have coffee, it has wine…

That’s all for now. I think I’ll keep this up, more as a means of staying in the writing habit then anything. I don’t expect to keep readers, but meh… this is for me. Oh, and in case you didn’t guess, it’s also something to do when I should be writing cover letters and following up on applications…