Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Postcrossing: World Peace Through Postcards

When I was a child, I was a major geek, except back then, "geek" meant something very different than it does now. It was not a compliment. What it meant was that I spent a lot of time alone, pouring into my various hobbies. Two of my favourites were collecting stamps and postcards. Indeed, it didn't get geekier than that.

As various other interests took over, my binders full of stamps and postcards were relegated to a shelf in my closet. I still enjoyed coming across an interesting piece of ephemera from time to time, but I stopped actively collecting.

recently, I was inspired to delve into stamps and postcards again. I discovered a website called Postcrossing You sign up and when you decide you want to send a card to someone, the system randomly assigns you an address. You write a code on the postcard, and when the other person receives it, they register the card at the site. The number of cards you are allowed to have on the go at once depends on how many of yours have been received. Once your card(s) are received, then your address will come up for some random person. Postcrossing is free to use, with the only financial investment being the purchasing of postcards and postage.

Thus far, I have sent postcards to Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Australia, China, Ukraine, Russia, and the Czech Republic. Postcrossing also lists the travel distances of the cards. This week, Postcrossing celebrated its ten millionth postcard being registered. That is a lot of kilometres of snail mail.

Yesterday, I was excited to receive my first postcard. It came from Clearwater Beach, Florida. Not as faraway or exotic a locale as some of the places I have sent them to, but it was great to actually hold a card in my hand that someone took the time and cost to send. As much as I love using email and social media, there are some sensory and tactile experiences technology cannot replace.

As for world peace - well, maybe I was just exaggerating slightly. But seriously, the opportunity to make connections around the world in far-off lands can lead to new understandings and a global world view.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Torture Does not Fight Terrorism: Rally to Close Guantanamo & Bring Omar Khadr Home

On January 7, a group of students from the local branch of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) organized a peaceful protest outside of the Alberta Legislature, calling for Canada to support closing Guantanamo and bringing child soldier Omar Khadr home.

I took part in a similar rally around two years ago, at Churchill Square.

Like many of the causes with which I am involved, this seems to be one that is very divisive. I am going to list the arguments that I have been encountering, and explain the rationale behind the perspective that Guantanamo should be closed and Omar Khadr should be be brought back to Canada for a fair trial.

Omar Khadr is a terrorist.
When someone is on our side, that person is a war hero; when they are on the other side, that person is a terrorist. One nation's terrorist is another nation's freedom fighter. Omar Khadr was a child soldier in a war (an illegal and unjust war, at that), and in a war, people get killed (which is one reason me and my cohorts protest against it). If Khadr's actions were criminal, he should be tried, then possibly convicted and sentenced. Instead, he has been languishing in a prison for ten years, without a trial.

Excuse me - he pleaded guilty.
What choice did he have? Since his own country, Canada, would not take him back to try him here, it was probably the only way Khadr and his lawyers felt he would ever see the light of day.

His whole family is a bunch of terrorists.
See my original point. Assuming this is true, it only supports the need for Khadr to be tried in Canada as a Canadian. Likely, at his young age he was under the influence of his family for whatever actions he committed.

He was old enough to know what he was doing.
He was a young teenager. Young teens can be open to influence and easily manipulated. A fourteen year old in Canada who commits murder is usually tried as a child (yes, a murder charge can be bumped up to adult court, but even still, he would not have been imprisoned indefinitely and subject to torture).

Do you think the majority of Canadians agree with your view?
I honestly don't know - I have never conducted a poll. However, that is irrelevant. How the nation conducts itself in this situation is the difference between a government that has a foreign policy that simply follows the lead of the US, or one that holds up values of international law and justice. You see, the use of torture against prisoners of war is illegal. It is also ineffective. A person will say anything to make the torture stop. So, a confession acquired through the use of torture is invalid, as far as I am concerned.

As well, Canada is the only country who has not taken back a citizen from Guantanamo. All of the other countries have taken back their nationals and dealt with them on their home turfs. I see no compelling reason why Canada should act any differently.

I know these are controversial issues and I don't expect everyone to agree with me. Nor am I saying that Khadr is innocent of any wrong-doing. What I and my cohorts are saying is that the way the Canadian government has done one of its citizens a disservice and by doing so, has tarnished Canada's image to the world.

Here is my full set of photos from the event.

A video of highlights from most of the speakers:

The short march around the Legislature pool:

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Art for Awareness: Homeless Memorial Sculpture

A new piece of public art was unveiled in Edmonton in November. It is a sculpture that honours those in the city who live their lives without adequate housing. Located just north of City Hall on 99 Street, it was created by local sculptures Keith Turnbull and Ritchie Velthuis. I finally got a chance to go and photograph the sculpture this week.

The cost of the sculpture was $40,000 - a price tag that made some cringe. They questioned the use of public funds in this manner, expressing doubt that such a piece of art can actually help the homeless.

While it is true that the agencies and shelters who help the homeless (and those at risk) are often underfunded, a piece of public art such as this tribute has its place.

First of all, it raises awareness of the issue. It is a visually striking reminder to anyone who sees it, that there are those in this affluent city who live either without adequate shelter or who are on the margins and one step away from such a fate. As well, people with direct experience of homelessness took part in the creation of the sculpture. Tiles designed and made by these people are featured prominently - and, they were paid for their contributions.

A memorial for men and women who have lost their lives as a direct result of not having a home is usually held in January. However, according to one of the organizers, this year the date is yet to be determined. The hope is to have the memorial outside at the sculpture.

Public art has been viewed with some skepticism lately, due to the unveiling of the Talus Dome on Fox Drive, which cost $600,000, was made by an artist in L.A., and which most people can't seem to figure out. However, sometimes the price is justified. The homeless memorial sculpture has value that goes beyond money.