Thursday, January 28, 2010

Olympics Pics

On January 13, the Olympic Torch made its way through Edmonton en route to Vancouver. I saw the torch relay at the Alberta Legislature point on the route. I chose that point because I also knew there was going to be a protest by anti-Olympic demonstrators. Such demonstrations have been happening all along the route and bigger protests are in the works in Vancouver. The points of contention have to do with Aboriginal land claims; corporate sponsorships (and the nasty things those corporations are involved with when they aren't making themselves look good by sponsoring big events); the environmental impact of the Olympics; and issues surrounding poverty and homelessness in the area around the Olympics. I also learned that the torch ceremony is not part of the Olympics' history, but was started by the Nazis in the 1936 games. I was shocked. My beef with the Olympics is that I am against encouraging competition, nationalism, and yes, I agree with a lot of the points of the protesters. Still, I took some photos - and I even got one of the flame.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The New Art Gallery of Alberta

I took a tour of the new Art Gallery of Alberta building, along with around 30 of my fellow Edmonton bloggers and social media users. We represented a slice of life, from art lovers to professional journalists to people who don't really care about art at all.

The new building has a very modern design on the outside and inside, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get some structural and abstract shots of the architecture. I also had a great time going out on the terrace and taking some cityscapes from that vantage point.

It would have been nice to see a sneak preview of the actual exhibits, even though they were not totally set up yet. The exhibits of work by portrait photographer Karsh and depictions of war by Goya especially intrigued me. But I guess I will have to save that for another visit.

Here is my photoset from the event.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Defining the Centre

When I was in University, I remember in one of my English classes discussing literature in relation to the mainstream. Much of what we studied veered from this place marker, towards directions that were described as post-modern or alternative. Queries sometimes came up as to what exactly this "mainstream" was.

Today, in Alberta's political scene, we tend to look at things from either right or left perspectives, the depth of which is measured by how far one veers from the "centre." Whether someone is a right-wing extremist, a left-wing liberal, or simply middle of the road, all depends on the relationship of that person with the almighty centre.

I've been involved in the discussion of defining a progressive, in terms of trying to effect change in this province. I am starting to believe that the more relevant question might be: what is the centre?

If we do not have a fixed vantage point for the middle ground, then we're all going to have different views on where someone stands on the issues. In that case, any arguments over what defines a progressive or how one can be socially liberal versus economically conservative (and vice versa) becomes simply a matter of perspective without any sort of grounding.

I have been told that my definition of the centre may be off somewhat, mainly due to my involvement in left-wing politics and the activist scene. I disagree,and not for any political reason. I simply do not know what the centre is anymore.

I used to view the centre as exactly that: halfway between the right and left wings. Middle of the road on all things social and economic. Yet to me now, this definition sounds more like that of a fence sitter than political perspective.

Today, "centre" could be something which no longer exists, like the old Progressive Conservative point of view, back when the party actually took heed of the first part of its name. Or maybe it is the Liberals, who tend to do a lot of flip flopping of their own. Maybe the centre is no longer defined by any specific political party.

One of my activist friends said that the centre is whatever the dominant group in power says it is, with everyone else being marginalized. With the Conservatives still in power, and a new party emerging that is even further to the right (Wild Rose Alliance), the centre itself might be something that can shift.

That being said, does any political perspective stay as it is, or change based upon the party in power and culture of society? I think the culture is very important in answering these questions. I know people from the southern United States where conservative people there make conservative people up here look like hippies.

Alberta has been known as being quite conservative for a number of decades. As a result, people who wave peace signs and demonstrate for change can look a bit wild. Never mind the way we are in our personal lives - we're subversive.

We need a clearly defined middle ground if there is any hope of successful dialogue leading to a better future. Otherwise, we will always be in a battle between the vague "mainstream" and the misunderstood "extremists."

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Working as a freelance journalist has never been as difficult as it is today. Print publications are folding day after day, as online media proliferates at an exponential pace. Put simply, the industry is going down the tubes and up on wifi.

Many of the print publications where I used to publish are long gone, going, or soon to go. More and more of my work has been for online sources, and even the exiting print ones have a serious online presence. Some of that has been my own doing, such as getting Boyle McCauley News established on Twitter and other social media venues. Social media has become the top way in which I network and find jobs. It has been a form of self-publishing, activism, therapy, and research.

These said jobs are becoming more finite in number and requiring involvement in social media and at least some basic technological skills, like knowing how to maintain a blog. You cannot be a Luddite anymore it work in media. Writers, artists, musicians, creative folks of all kind - we have to be willing to embrace social media or get left behind. There is no choice, save for changing careers.

The future of publishing is bittersweet. I have considered buying a Kindle, not because I simply want to ride the technology wave and get the latest toy (that's why I got an iPod), but because I fear we're heading to the point where electronic versions of books and magazines will become the easiest, fastest, and least expensive way of acquiring literature.

If print media should ever become totally redundant, I will mourn. Speaking fully as someone who sometimes appears to have more of a life online than off, I love books. I love magazines. I love the feeling of holding something solid in my hands, the breeze of pages flipping, the smell of freshly printed newspaper. There is something romantic about cuddling up in bed with a good book. I am not sure an electronic reading device would hold the same allure.

That said, progress will be what it is and as a writer, I am willing to adapt.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Activist By Any Other Name . . .

I am often called an activist. However, I started to wonder what this term really means.

"Activism" and "left-wing politics" tend to go hand in hand. I'm someone who is involved in the peace movement, the environment, and poverty/homelessness. I am active in these causes. Ergo, I am an activist.

However, what about someone who is active with pro-life (anti-abortion) causes? Or who supports the "sanctity of marriage" (anti-gay rights)? Are these people activists, albeit on the other side of the spectrum? Of course they are.

Then, there are people who work for causes that are neither the property of the left or right. Parents who unite against a school closing. Neighbours who get together to form a community watch program. Are these people activists? I would say, very much so.

I find that when the term "activist" is applied to someone to the right, it is qualified with the kind of activist they are. I have heard numerous people referred to as a "pro-life activist" or "an activist for the family" (as if to imply that those of us more to the left don't advocate for our families!).

I have had qualifiers added to my activist moniker (particularly "peace activist), but in most cases, people simply refer to me as an activist. I admit, when I am told about someone else and am told that person is an activist, thoughts of marches and rallies pop into my head. (Although that is not an entirely accurate stereotype either, as there are indeed marches and rallies for right-wing causes).

However, the true definition of an activist is exactly what the word implies: someone who stands up for a cause. The question is then, the type of activist a person is. That is why the English language has adjectives.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Political Labels and Identity

I like to stir things up. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has known me for any length of time. Sometimes I make a statement about myself or my beliefs, and watch the reactions. It's not that I like to be the center of attention or spend copious amounts of time navel-gazing, or even that I enjoy agitating people I care about. It's none of those things. I find the reactions of others tell me a lot about themselves, and in the process, gives me greater insights into what I believe and why. It's a constant process of self-realization and refinement. When done properly, it can even deepen friendships.

Social media streamlines this process. On Facebook, one of the profile questions one can answer concerns political beliefs. I have put everything here from "liberal" (but not in the political party sort of way) to "left-wing, granola-crunching, tree-hugger" (my personal favourite). Yesterday, I changed it to "slightly left of centre" and posted a status update to reflect that.

And then, the comments came flying in.

"That's the understatement of the year."

"Your idea of of center may be a bit out of calibration."

"I'm with ----, except a bit may be just a tad to little. Perhaps a tad right of left extremist might be more the description I would use."

Now, my pat answers are as follows:

1) The year has just begun.

2) The centre of what?

3) I am hardly an extremist.

Facetiousness aside, I really started to wonder if a proportion of my friends honestly view me as an extremist. Moi? I don't drink, smoke, do drugs, or sleep around. I dress modestly. I practise a faith that many of my activist friends consider to be right-wing and patriarchal and have family ideas that can sometimes seem old-fashioned in today's world.

And in some ways, I think this might be the problem. People are not comfortable with what they cannot label and put in a box. I hardly fit the stereotype of a left-wing activist. At first glance, I am a professional, straight-laced, laid back woman. Talk to me for a while, and you will learn about my involvement in the local peace community, my thoughts on the failings of capitalism, the reasons why I am for democracy but why it is not working in our society, and my feelings about labour unions (both positive and negative.

I suppose that can all seem very radical to someone who espouses different views that are either in the centre or to the right of said middle. This begs the question: what is the centre, and who defines it? Our society has progressively shifted to the right over the past few decades. I've had the labels "socialist" and "commie" hurled at me simply for criticizing capitalism (as if any economic system is perfect), or or suggesting the government needs to do more to fight homelessness and poverty.

Our differences should not be cause for hostility. When conversations, whether online or in person, dissolve into ad hominum attacks, I turn off, tune out, and drop away. Rather, we should discuss our differences and in doing so, learn about each other and grow as friends. This is one of the ways in which we build a better society. I have friends of all political and religious stripes. We're friends because we like each other, not because we agree on everything. Let's quit focusing on how we are different, and concentrate on what we have in common.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Photo Blogging/Ice On Whyte/Deep Freeze/Tweetups

I've been spending some time going through my folders of photos from Boyle McCauley News and other sources, and uploading some of the more interesting ones to my Flickr photo blog. You can find most of them in the set Misc. Edmonton, some of them in Street Art, and a few in Stuff About Me.

On Friday, I checked out Ice On Whyte, which is an annual ice carving festival. Not all of the carvings were ready yet, but what was there was melting fast due to the warm temperatures. I did manage to get some decent shots.

Last weekend, I went to the Deep Freeze festival on Alberta Avenue. It is a really fun event, especially for families with small children. I really liked the French Canadian theme of the second day. Here is a look.

Finally, last weekend I connected with more of my friends from Twitter at not one, but two Tweetups held at the same time, on the same day, in different parts of the city. The first was a girl's night out and the second was a fundraiser for a medical mission to Ecuador. I took a few pictures at both.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Political Contradictions and Alberta

Progressive. Conservative. Centrist. These are political labels that define our perspectives on a variety of social and fiscal issues.

Fiscally conservative. Socially progressive. And vice-versa. These are combinations that are made when one or the other are not working in and of themselves.

As Albertans, can we find wholeness in what appear to be political contradictions? As someone who labels herself "progressive," I have seen those who are fiscally conservative cut a whole range of programs and services that are needed in order to be socially concerned. Yes, I suppose it is possible to be in favour of gay marriage and not care about abortion while being tight with the purse strings, but being "socially progressive" goes far beyond these issues. Issues which often cause people to vote Conservative because of so-called "family values," even though the result of that kind of government is cuts to programs deeply needed by families.

Progressives care about the Arts, education, healthcare, and the poor. In short, we care about people rather than corporations. We care about a diverse society with rights and protection for all, not just the elite few of the very rich. It's about everyone having an equal voice, whether one is a CEO or working single mother.

The term "progressive conservative" has become an oxymoron in our current political lexicon in this province because of the extreme right-wing route that party has gone down. Whether or not it is too late to get back to its "Red Tory" roots remains to be seen. As a social activist, I feel I need to stay away from the label "conservative" altogether. It carries too much baggage. We need something new, something better - something progressive.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Before and after High Level Bridge

This is another of John's work on one of my photos. I took the top image, and the bottom is the processed version. Almost like a painting. You can see more of John's work here.

Before and after Low Level Bridge

My friend John is a Photoshop ninja. The photo on top was taken by me - he worked his magic, and turned it into a masterpiece.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Bucket List

It started on Twitter. Someone came up with a "bucket list" and blogged about it. Soon, others of us tweeps were creating our own bucket lists. In case you don't know what that means, a "bucket list" is a set of goals we aim to reach before we "kick the bucket" so to speak. It is also the title of a movie from a few years ago starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson on this very topic.

The website where we have been recording our bucket lists is called Day Zero. Actually, it is not a real bucket list -- the site gives you 1001 days to complete your goals. This affected my choices. Some of the items are indeed on my "bucket list" (like writing a book) but others are more mundane things that I simply have not gotten around to yet, at least in recent memory (like going horseback riding).

In some ways, I was hesitant to create a list because it can be a setup for failure and disappointment. However, it is also a tangible reminder of things towards which I am working.

Here is my list.