Don't Fear the Reaper

Come on baby...don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand...don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly...don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man...
I had heard this song before, but never paid much attention to it. I borrowed my friend's truck a couple weeks ago and he had the oldies station on and "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult came on. I started singing along. Last night I played Rock Band for the first time on a Wii (what a blast!!) and sang lead on "Don't Fear the Reaper." Today, I couldn't get the stinking song out of my head. 

The kicker was tonight as Amber and I watched episode 8 of season 2 of Six Feet Under, "Don't Fear the Reaper" features prominently in the episode.

It's amazing how coincidences occur. I hope it's not some not-so-subtle message from beyond that I'm going to die soon. 


Uncle Zaak

I became an uncle twice over in the past three weeks thanks to each of my two dear sisters.

My niece Abigail was born to Saison and Dean at the end of July.

My nephew Kai was born to Salomé and Brad last night.

I just realized that these little ones are going to cost me money. I better start appealing to my sisters (2) and sister-in-laws (4) to limit the number of their offspring or I'll be broke with birthday and Christmas gifts down the road. On the positive side, I'll get to corrupt (in a good way) some children that aren't my own.

So, congrats to the new parents. I look forward to watching them grow into admiring neice and nephew.


10 Positive Things About Living In Calgary

As penance for having complained to my wife for the past few weeks about having to live in the world's largest horizontal apartment building (NW Calgary) and about the high cost of living, I've decided to force myself to come up with a list of positive things about living in Calgary, AB.

1. Calgary is in Canada

2. I'm working at a great school

3. 80 minutes to the town of Banff

4. Got some good friends there

5. Relatively close to Red Deer and Edmonton where I have family

6. Some of the cheapest gas prices in Canada

7. Apparently there are some great biking and walking trails

8. The Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton Eskimos visit on occasion

9. Some terrific amenities (Shaw phone and internet, cinemas, libraries, restaurants, Apple retailers, Audi dealership, ...)

10. My house should appreciate in value

Zaak like Barack

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Late last night I ended up watching the interview that Rick Warren hosted with Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama (watch it here). I was deeply impressed. When I was in Guatemala I didn't have much of an opportunity to see video of Obama and I was limited to distilled sound bytes in news articles. After hearing this guy give frank and heartfelt answers to questions on leadership, morality, America and government, I'm sold. The man has principles! I didn't watch the interview with McCain for two reasons, it was 2 AM and I'm sure I would have disagreed with him (especially on the war issue).

What was most striking to me is that nothing he said caused me to disagree with him - which leads me to think I must have thought out these issues as much as him - which leads me to think that perhaps I should get into politics.

I really think the tempest of fear that is creeping up against him because his father was a Muslim and his mother an Atheist is ridiculous. For one, the fearful are Christians who believe in the transforming power of Jesus blood - unless of course your parents weren't Christian... Hmmm.


Just Wages

This is something that has been weighing on my heart for some time now. After witnessing the unjust wages in Guatemala and in Canada, I thought I would share some thoughts.

I collected a few example salaries and made some calculations for daily wages* for different professions in both Canada and Guatemala:
Doctor in Calgary: $724
Top Accounting Executive in Calgary: $479
Lawyer in Calgary: $448
Realtor in Calgary: $354
Teacher in Calgary: $257
Mechanic in Calgary: $214
Sales Clerk in Calgary: $135
Doctor in Guatemala**: $36
Policeman in Guatemala: $23
Teacher in Guatemala: $15
Bank Clerk in Guatemala: $9
Agricultural worker in Guatemala: $3.50
Housekeeper in Guatemala: $2.50
First of all, I accept that there is a very clear difference in cost of living: A doctor in Guatemala is only going to pay $5/hour for work on his car and $15 to have a housekeeper. Guatemalans have no need to heat their homes or build insulated houses. Everyone in Guatemala can travel a fair distance on public transportation with $5, whereas that amount will get you in and out of downtown Calgary on the LRT. But, other costs are quite similar: electricity, petrol, food (slightly less), electronics (slightly more), medication and seeing a doctor cost quite a bit more as to receive adequate services a patient must pursue the private health sector whereas Canadians have universal healthcare and most jobs provide some kind of pharmaceutical benefit. And sure, Calgarians are going to pay a fair bit in tax for many of the services they receive.

Now for an instant, toss out all the figures I've just shared and receive these questions: What is the value of any person's 8 hours of work? Is there a minimum amount that we can say this labour should provide, no matter the skill or education or risk involved? Clean water? Daily food? Health services? Possibility of education for children? Ability to save 5% of wages? Ownership of a home? Opportunity for travel, recreation and creative pursuits?

If we decide that all working persons*** should have these basic needs met, then we ought to consider what the minimum amount each person in the world should be paid for their time and labour. We follow this amount with the adjustment of what multinational corporations end up having to pay for raw materials, foreign production of goods and services that are brought into the first world. If this became a reality, I believe that we in that first world would not be able to afford something as simple as bananas if the banana crop workers were paid to such a standard, let alone coffee, clothing, and electronics. That is unless the wholesale, transport, and retail profit margins were reduced to reasonable levels.

We could also decide that we in the west enjoy far too many excesses that are causing the injustice in poorer nations. Should anyone in the world be making more than $200**** a day? Should any 1 person in the world enjoy luxury when there are 9 lacking most basic necessities?

Tony Campolo makes this distinction (loosely summarized):
Democracy: People are free to pursue the careers they choose to and society benefits when all people enjoy the basic necessities of life. The government's responsibility is to its people. Workplace justice can be a focus.

Capitalism: Reaping maximum profits is the focus. China is the world's best expression of capitalism.
I think we should begin to make that distinction as well and begin to thwart the capitalism in our culture and in our world rather than automatically coupling it with democracy.

*Meaning that their wages are calculated only for those days worked - a teacher works 40 weeks each year, so his salary would be divided accordingly. Most Canadian jobs were given 3 weeks vacation, the Guatemalan ones weren't given any vacation time.
**Many doctors work at public hospitals during the day and then operate private clinics in the evenings and weekends to compensate for the poor daily wages. If they didn't, they would earn about the same as policemen.
***Provisions for non-working persons is another discussion that I won't begin here at this time.
****This is an arbitrary number.

Olympic Commentary

I haven't been too taken in by these Olympic games. I always enjoy watching different events and this is what I want to comment on. Where I'm staying, there are three channels that offer coverage of the games: CBC, Radio Canada, and NBC. I've noted that neither NBC nor CBC so far doesn't stick to any event to show a good portion of the competition, but rather offers highlights of their own country's competitors only. They both have way too much interview commentary as opposed to raw competition footage. Radio Canada (a francophone channel) on the other hand sticks to an event and shows a full competition even if the competitors aren't from Canada. I like that more.


Logpile Lodge

On August 6, 2000 Amber and I were married in Smithers, BC. Our first night together as husband and wife was spent at the magnificent Logpile Lodge just a few minutes drive out of town.

Exactly eight years later, Amber and I spent our anniversary at the same lodge. April watched our kids for the night. This time we were much more rested and we enjoyed the complimentary drink upon arrival and the fabulous view from the balcony. In the morning, as I was reading my Bible, a hummingbird buzzed above my head. I thought it was a dragonfly. Breakfast was amazing and incredibly filling - juice, coffee, muslix/yoghurt/fruit, fresh bread toast and jam, bacon, eggs, and roasted vegetables. I also ate half of Amber's waffles.

So Amber, it's been a pleasure being your husband these last eight years. You're a trooper!


Dispatches from the Greyhound

I've travelled over 28 hours on the bus in the past 2 weeks. Pretty glad I didn't go to Winnipeg last Tuesday night. I wasn't worried as I boarded the Greyhound in Edmonton late last night because a teenager rooted through my dirty laundry (and everyone else's). And the murderer is police custody.

I had to retrieve my car in Chase, B.C. a couple weeks ago so I hopped on the bus in Red Deer in the evening and arrived the next morning. I enjoyed the view of the mountains as we approached Calgary at dusk.

Bus depots are certainly an intriguing place. People from every walk of life are laying on the floor, drinking bad coffee from vending machines and anxiously waiting with their luggage at vague boarding gates. Everyone tends to keep to themselves as there aren't a lot of children to break the ice.

In Calgary a woman interrupted my Tetris game to tell me that she was on a trip to see her mother on her deathbed. Her fear was that she would get there after her mom had slipped into a coma. We visited until it was time to line up and then again hours later at our layover in Salmon Arm.

The bus driver thought somehow that not everyone would fit onto the bus bound for Vancouver from Calgary, but I ended up with two seats to myself. The buses aren't built for comfort. I managed a couple hours sleep switching between fetal and sprawled out positions. The greatest discomfort however came from our bus driver who would leave the lights on for our 10 minute stops (every 45 minutes or so).

I remember hearing my sister-in-law, April, talking about her cross-country bus trip. She did a fabulous imitation of the drivers as they announced each stop and the rules of conduct on board the bus. Each fragmented phrase was held together with raspy breathing into the microphone. Our driver often told us that if we missed reboarding (I never disembarked for the courtesy smoke time) the bus that we shouldn't worry, another bus would be on its way in 14 hours.

Dreary and dehydrated at dawn, I sat in the Greyhound station in Salmon Arm, BC. I leafed through a free seniors newspaper then asked the desk worker if she knew of a free internet hotspot nearby. A warehouse worker shouted out that the Best Western next door did. I guess I could have tested the frequencies myself because sure enough, I had a free connection on my iPod Touch and was able to check my email and send a message to my wife.

My second trip was substantially longer, but far more direct with just a 50 minute layover in Prince George. After buying my last minute ticket, I sat playing Tetris. A hooded, overweight and sweaty young man plunked down beside me and told me the security was freaking him out. I asked him why. He exasperatingly recounted some incoherent story about the guard smoking up on his off time. Then he turned and looked at me. "You're not the guy I was talking to before, are you?" Nope. He quickly got up and left.

Everyone on the bus had their own pair of velvet seats for the night ride through the Rockies. I had stayed up very late the two previous nights so I had a hard time drifting off, especially with an overweight teen snoring behind me. I listened to some tunes I hadn't listened to in a long time on my iPod and slept between Hinton and Jasper.

Arriving in Smithers a few minutes late in the mid-afternoon, I was greeted by a payphone that was torn to shreds (bears?). Amber eventually came to get me. I was whisked off to Tyhee Lake where I chased my children in the grass.