Vancouver Riots

My brother has posted his thoughts on last night’s rioting in Vancouver.

#vancouver2010 olympics hockey party by rocketcandy

I think we’re mostly on the same page about how this mess came about: the riots happened because people expected a riot to happen. The anarchists and the assholes showed up, dragged a few fence-sitting drunkards in with them, and the party was on.

The people who gathered to watch bear some of the guilt too: their presence was encouraging, even if they remained silent (although some did speak up, and I applaud them). The presence of the silent witnesses provided the cover which made it possible for those without conscience to do their looting and violence.

But even though I condemn these actions, I’m not embarrassed by them. Living in a free society means embracing a certain amount of risk. Eliminating all crime necessarily requires the elimination of all freedom and privacy. Other Western nations are turning increasingly towards a police-state mentality: the USA has its obscene airline security. The UK has more surveillance cameras per capita than anywhere else in the world. France has proposed arbitrary censorship of any website.

I’m hopeful that Canadians will accept that this event — an extremely rare, and, relatively speaking, minor one — is an acceptable price to pay for living in a truly great culture.

Taking a Five-Year-Old to Paris

Ruby and I returned yesterday from a 12-day trip to Paris (with a dogleg to London). The vacation was amazing: Ruby is an energetic, enthusiastic, resilient and amiable travel partner.

Me, Ruby, Sparkly Tower

Planning a trip like this with Ruby was a little daunting. I was excited to take her away to a foreign culture and experience it through her eyes. The Eiffel tower! Walks along the Seine! Stepping into a tiny shop, sampling the wares, exploring the bits and pieces of life that make that somewhere else so exciting … but I was also nervous: how would she handle the two long plane rides there and back? Would we find a way to meet in the middle of how a child experiences a foreign place and how an adult does?

Well, the answers are mixed.

The Plane Rides

I was so nervous about the plane ride — just she and I for 10 hours trapped in tiny seats — that I splurged on an iPad 2 and loaded it up with movies and games. The iPad turned out to be a great travel computer anyway, but on the long international flights it mostly supplemented the in-flight movies. Ruby watched the Yogi Bear movie 3 times in a row on the flight out of Paris, and only turned to the iPad between showings. Still, it was the perfect distraction and Ruby could explore whatever movies and games she wanted at her pace, leaving me to nap and read. A few minor inconveniences (and inevitable exhaustion) aside, the flights were painless.

Attitude

I’m still in awe at Ruby’s attitude and energy. She was, for the most part, a non-stop bundle of go-go-go. Whatever we suggested, wherever we wanted to go, she was up for it. The movement of travel appealed to her; riding the metro and tube and train and plane were all exciting. It was a simple joy to hold her hand and just walk the streets of these big, crowded foreign cities. At times we both wore down, of course, and got too hot or tired or crabby. But in general, this trip really did reinforce what a special kid Ruby is: she can take something like a 15-hour travel day totally in stride and still be perfectly pleasant and social at our first bistro dinner in Paris. Damn, I’m one lucky Papa.

Travel and Play

Headstands in the Park

Even though Ruby loved the trains and planes and (to a lesser extent) just walking, the destinations didn’t really impress her quite as much.Travel is so much about context that it’s really hard to appreciate why we should go out of our way to see the Most Famous Painting In The World when it looks just like all these other ones. Our trip up the Eiffel Tower was terrible; it was hot and crowded and the lines took forever. As soon as we were at the top, Ruby wanted to descend again. “But,” I said, “this is the Eiffel Tower! It’s … it’s the Eiffel Tower!” And the same happened for the Mona Lisa, and the Venus de Milo, and Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”, and Buckingham Palace, and the Crown Jewels and a score of other destinations. We’d get there and I’d try to explain the significance and context and why it’s so cool that we are currently at This Important Thing, but a five-year-old can’t relate.

A five-year-old wants to play.

So we did: Ruby spent a lot of time each day at a playground, running from slide to swing to bouncy thing, just being a kid. It’s hard to be a kid when you’re in a strange city and your parent has an iron grip on your hand so that you don’t get dragged under a bus or smear snotty fingers on the Picasso. It’s hard to understand why this tiny butcher’s shop is any different than the meat case back at our local Safeway. But a swing and a slide: now that’s something Ruby understands.

Independently Traveling

My parents and sister met up with us in Paris and they took Ruby to parks and gardens and playgrounds as

Eiffel Tower with Nana

well, leaving me free to explore Paris’s museums and cafes and tiny shops and just walk and sit and go at my own personal, grown-up pace. There really is a difference between how a kid and an adult relate to being somewhere new; and making sure we each had room to take care of our needs really made the trip worthwhile. I couldn’t really explore the modern art of the Pompidou with Ruby by my side; I wanted to do the audio tour and read every placard and really absorb as much of it as I could. Dragging Ruby through the museum for several hours would have been a terrible experience for both of us. And meanwhile Ruby really needed to run around with other kids at a playground, but several hours each day watching her climb the exact same equipment we’d find in Seattle would have made me regret the $2000 plane tickets. Getting some time apart was necessary.

If It’s Important, Be It

It’s an inevitable attitude of parenting: you want to do something special with your child, but you want to make sure he or she is old enough to “really appreciate it”. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and it’s something you need to fight against. If something is important to you — if an activity espouses the values you hold dear — then do it. And then do it again. It doesn’t have to be Paris every time, but if you want to raise a traveler, you need to be a traveler. If you want to raise a hiker or camper, you need to get out in the woods. Don’t wait to read her your favorite novel; read it to her every few years.

The question of whether Ruby would remember this trip often came up when discussing it with friends. I think that’s a bit of a red herring; 33 years later, I remember just a few tiny snatches from a Disney world trip I took with my grandparents when I was five. But to me the question isn’t whether she’s going to remember this trip in 30 years: it’s how it’s going to color her life next week, next month, and next year. She’ll carry the confidence of having traveled well. She’ll have the context of knowing what a real-life Paris looks and sounds and smells like.

And, most importantly, we’ll both appreciate and cherish the bond she and I reinforced every day we spent together, holding hands, walking the crowded streets of Paris.

The Mona Lisa!

Who We Are

Ruby and I stand on the warm sand beside the ocean, the sweet swells breaking mildly before us. I crouch before her, get her attention, and tell her this:

When you enter the water, walk straight out. As that first wave swirls around your knees reach down and grab a handful of that foamy stuff and press it to your heart.

The ocean is bigger than us.

* * *

Ruby and I stand on the mountain, hot summer sun and sweat. Around us is air and clouds and wind, below us is dirt and forest and rock. I give her a high-five, then crouch before her, get her attention and tell her this:

When you climb a mountain, find the highest point. Then pick up a rock — any rock, it doesn’t matter — and place it there on the highest point of the peak. Thank the mountain by making it that much taller. We are not conquerors.

The mountain is bigger than us.

On Poppies

I spotted a poppy pin lying on the ground today.  Serendipitous!  Poppies are a Canadian tradition — nobody wears them here — and the pin was probably accidentally dropped by a Canadian shopper taking advantage of the exchange rate.  I’m excited to be able to celebrate Remembrance Day properly.

In the US it’s Veteran’s Day; in Canada it’s Remembrance Day.  They’re both on the same day and nominally celebrate the same thing (the end of WWI), but they have slightly different flavors.  I can’t comment too much about the US since, not having grown up here, I don’t really know what happens at school assemblies and various memorials.  I do get a sense that there’s a mix of honoring veterans and general patriotism.
At home in Canada it’s about honoring veterans, but also tinged with regret and shame.  Not shame for the people or the country, but shame for all of us, all of humanity, that such a horrible thing as war should ever exist.  It’s called Remembrance Day because we should never forget the horror of war, and we should never forget that war is, fundamentally, a failure of that which makes us human.

10 out of 10

An article in today’s paper discussed your carbon footprint. They talk about some cars, and how each one gets an EPA “greenhouse gas score” out of 10 (higher is better). A GMC Yukon gets a 3 out of 10; a Prius gets 10 out of 10.

A perfect score? For a car which only reduces greenhouse gas emissions by a 1/3 compared to a behemoth SUV?

A bicycle should be 10/10. Walking should be 10/10. A fuel-cell car with hydrogen generated from a solar source should be 10/10. But the Prius is far from perfect, and it’s doing us all a disservice to pretend that’s the best we can do.

Swarthy Choice

There’s an ad on the bus warning everyone to be vigilant of stray packages. These ads are sad and ultimately destructive of the society they’re supposed to protect. I wish we could learn to think more rationally about risk.

But anyway, that’s not what prompted this post. The ad has a picture of a suitcase-like bag sitting alone on a seat. In the frame next to it, squinting at the bag, is a close-up of a face that is nothing if not Arab-looking (or perhaps Indian, it’s hard to tell). Now, it’s not clear if this guy is squinting at the supposed bomb because he’s being vigilant, or if he’s squinting because he’s the bad guy with a hard, unapproachable look. Either way, did they have to make him look Arabic? There’s no such thing as “accidental” choices in the advertising world.
(As an aside: In the 1990’s, twice as many people were killed by roving death squads in Los Angeles County as were killed by foreign terrorists on 9/11.)

Ruby’s 2nd Hallowe’en

Ruby had a good time.  She loved her costume and walked from house to house like a pro.  She quickly figured out that it was all about the candy, even though she’s never really had any candy before.  “Trick or Treat” is still a mouthful for her, but at least she said please, thank you, and the occasional “meow”.  Occasionally she’d try to wander into people’s houses after they’d given her a treat.

She had one peanut butter cup when we got home, and she was definitely in the mood for more, but we’re holding her to one per day. And tomorrow, it won’t be so close to bedtime.

Steve’s Rules For Hallowe’en

  • Carving silhouetted pictures into a pumpkin is lame. Pumpkins should be faces.
  • Costumes which place a head on top of your head are not allowed.
  • Costumes which are not really costumes but instead just a big bag of walking product placement are not allowed. If you want to be a Power Ranger, then be one — not a walking billboard for the Power Rangers.
  • If you don’t say trick or treat, you don’t get any candy.
  • If you I ask for a trick and you can’t do a trick, then no candy for you.
  • You must say thank you.
  • If you want people to knock on your door, be clear about it. Lights on, pumpkins lit, the whole nine yards. When we went out with Ruby we hummed and hawed at half a dozen doors.

How the mighty have fallen

The NHL playoffs may be all-consuming up in Canada, but to get a sense of how far hockey has dropped off the radar here in the US, let me present the lineup for the channel that is showing the majority of the games:

  • 4:00pm: major indoor soccer league
  • 6:30pm: professional bull riding
  • 8:00pm: NHL playoff hockey
  • 11:00pm: professional bull riding

Don’t Think Pink

We’re anti-pink in our household. It’s not just that we don’t like the color (which, for the most part, we don’t). It’s also one front in our battle against the princessification of our daughter. We want Ruby to be an independent thinker. We want her to experience every color of the rainbow, and then decide for herself which one is her favorite.
DaddyTypes posted about this today:

The answer: far less than 2.5 years.

The question: how long before your soul is crushed and your kid’s soul is stolen by the whole pink-blue steamroller?

Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s worth resisting, and truth be told, we decided to let some pink into the kid’s life early on, rather than burn 75% of the gifts she receives. It’s a losing battle, but it’s not like you can just stop fighting and turn your kid over to the Disney Princess-o-lizer.

The source of the frilly pink-for-girls hegemony in our culture is still a mystery, and frankly, the first couple of waves of feminism haven’t really helped clear things up–or stem the tide, for that matter. My money’s on, well, money. Somewhere behind and under and at the root of it all is gender-coded capitalism, with products and marketing and design that are designed to reinforce gender-specific roles, but only/really as a means to a sale-making end.

Or turned around, if people didn’t buy more pink Pottery Barn kitchen toys, Pottery Barn wouldn’t be making and flogging it. If Toys for Boys and Toys for Girls weren’t a more profitable segmentation strategy, someone in the increasingly desperate toy industry would surely figure out a better way to separate you from your money.

With respect to the last paragraph, above, I think the inverse is also true: people wouldn’t be buying it if Pottery Barn wasn’t making it. The gentrification of the American shopping experience means that every mall has more-or-less the same assortment of national chains. To maximize profit, each of those chains attempts to find the fewest number of things with the broadest appeal to their designated market segment. Pink sells, so they sell pink. People buy pink because pink is for sale.

Stores also sell pink because it is a safe, easy choice. Is green a girly color? How light can the shade of green be before it’s effeminate? Can girls wear brown? Beige? By dividing everything into blue and pink, stores make our shopping experience quick and painless.

The best way we’ve found to spare our eyeballs from pink overload is to avoid shopping at the mall altogether. Local destinations such as our favorite used clothes and toys store and the Cotton Caboodle outlet store ensure that Ruby’s sense of style is preserved intact for her to enjoy when she’s older.