Tag Archives: The Meliorist

Fear, fighting and freedom: meet Ryan

My name is Ryan Gerstenbuhler and I have an anxiety disorder, which leaves me terrified sometimes.

In the first part of this series, we introduced Ryan and he talked about growing up in Picture Butte and how his illness has prevented him from living his life the way he has wanted too.

Growing up in a small town, Ryan had little choice but to try and be normal, as normal as he could be. Ryan is now 36 years old, and has suffered from spastic cerebral palsy most of his life. Despite consistent threats of fear and panic attacks overcoming him, his hometown surroundings kept him subdued, and restricted him from exploring the extent of his illness.

Upon high school graduation, Ryan moved out of his family’s house and into an apartment in Lethbridge. Ryan suffered a crippling panic attack upon this change, and throughout much of the 1990’s Ryan became increasingly more fearful, even to the point where he was afraid of his own wheelchair. As he describes, “I felt like my life was over, I was waiting to expire.”

However, things are now very different for Ryan, he has begun to take steps to push himself out of the cocoon of fear he has been so long wrapped up in. “Over the past ten years, I have been trying to make use of the present, and the future and learn from the past, without living in the past,” explains Ryan. “The message is, if there’s anything you want to do for yourself, if there’s anything you want to achieve, you have to do it now, because time is running out. It seems like opportunities are still there, but things are being taken away, not granted.”

If Ryan looks familiar to you in the halls, or in the streets of Lethbridge, it is because of his advocacy work on behalf of the physically challenged in Lethbridge. “I’ve been very good about fighting for what I thought I needed. If I need a higher standard of home care, and if the powers that be didn’t want to corporate for whatever reason, budget constraints or standards or what have you… I’ve been very good at beating through opposition and getting what I need that way.”

Outside of fighting for his own personal needs, Ryan has also taken on the city regarding Access – A – Ride and its lack of comprehensive service. Ryan admits the gains he has made have been small due to the bureaucracy of local government.

Despite Ryan’s success in meeting his physical needs and advocating for greater services for all challenged individuals in Southern Alberta, he has struggled to find the motivation to achieve success in his personal life. Ryan has questioned his ability to make friends, and find personal fulfillment both on a friendship and on a romantic level. His only answer is that he has had to deal with crippling self-esteem and self-worth, which has only served to aggravate his agoraphobia.

Throughout his childhood, Ryan was made to feel as if fear is controllable, and to show fear is a sign of weakness, and because of his disability, weakness will only make his situation worse.

“I was taught that I had to be better than other people I had to be something other than human. I know that sounds extreme. It sounds unreasonable because it is unreasonable, because of the fact of the matter is, I am a man.”

Throughout his life, Ryan has tried to grapple with how he, as a man who wishes for companionship with a woman, can achieve that given his physical condition and his battle with agoraphobia. Ryan is trying to change that though, “I need to put myself out there, and really advertise myself.” This is something he is actively working on by speaking to The Meliorist, by getting more involved with the University Community.

“It seems to me that this could be a form of catharsis, me saying to people: look here’s my problem, here what might happen, and then I don’t have to worry about hiding it. That’s a real trick with my type of fear. The real trap that someone can fall into when dealing with panic attacks or agoraphobia, in my estimation, is trying to control it.”

Don’t try and control, just let it do what it’s going to do, and eventually the adrenaline will drain out of your system and you will be ok.

This change didn’t happen suddenly, but the catalyst for Ryan was signature for it occurred in little more than a moment. “My life changed on July 23rd, 2001 at about 6:35pm. That was the evening I had to do a presentation before Lethbridge City Council and I was in full panic attack mode. There was so many people there to hear what I had to say about the issue I was going to speak on, I couldn’t let them down and have any kind of credulity left as an advocate, so I had to do this. For the first time since my big collapse in 1992, I controlled the fear, the fear did not control me.”

The road to getting to a place of confidence, where the closing of a classroom door is no longer a threat, and making conversation no longer seems impossible has been difficult. But Ryan has developed his own form of self-esteem therapy.

“I didn’t feel that I could handle life. I wasn’t hiding from other people, or myself, so much as I was hiding from life. What I started doing is, I started using this Stewart Smalley methods. Stewart Smalley was a character on Saturday Night Live played by Al Franken, and he was this over the top personal councilor. The end of every Stuart Smalley bit he would look in the mirror and say something like: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, something like that. He would do it in a way that everyone would laugh, but I looked at that and I thought to myself while I was laughing, why don’t I do that for myself?

So, Ryan imagined a mirror, and he imagined himself saying: “I’m good enough.” I’m good enough evolved into: “I’m the best.”

Ryan explains, “At first I was faking it, I could act the part but I didn’t really believe it.” However as time passed, and this practice became a fundamental part of his life, Ryan experienced a change. “Then one day it was like a light bulb, from spark to full glow, it blossomed and I realized I honestly and sincerely believed that I was every bit as good as I thought I was.”

Ryan takes issue through the way children take social cues from our environment to form relationships. As he looks back at his past, the word he would use to describe it is “isolated”. Feeling as if he was pushed to the back, and pushed aside, Ryan received very conflicting message from his family where he was told to push himself harder than anyone else while being told he was going to have to be dependent on others for his well being.

This lead to a lot of confusion, and then to the biggest deterrent to getting healthy: Ryan’s self-imposed isolation. Although he recognizes that he is likely not alone in feeling this way, he still asters that, “from a personal perspective, you do feel like you’re the only one. I do feel like I’m the only one who has never had a girlfriend, and if I’m not the only one, what’s our problem?”

Ryan’s experience has led him to question, “How can we keep developing as a species with everyone being so isolated?” His desire for physical social interaction means that new social communication devies hold little appeal for Ryan.

“We have YouTube, and we have FaceBook and we have Twitter, and people think this is social networking. In a way they’re right, your reaching out and you’re communicating, but you’re not communicating. Communication and being social is not interacting with a computer screen, or interacting with a video camera. That isn’t interacting in any kind of intimate or advanced way.”

Throughout this journey, Ryan has discovered something critical, something that every person needs to accept. “I spent a lot of time running from whatever issues I used to put myself into this emotional prison. The truth is, you cannot out run what’s eating it. It will keep up with you no matter how far or how fast you run.”

For more about Ryan, please visit themeliorist.ca and look under the Features section for the full audio of Ryan’s interview.

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Bibliophile

Narziss and Goldmund

Herman Hesse

Peter Owen Ltd.: 1959

“We two, my friend, are sun and moon; sea and land. Our destiny is not to become one. It is to behold each other for what we are, each perceiving and honouring it in its opposite; each finding his fulfillment and completion.”

Narziss: pg. 43/44

Herman Hesse is an author who resides in the upper echelon along with Miller, Plato, Wilde, Shelley, and Ferguson. A German native, he began his writing career by selling books and published poetry at the age of twenty-one. Hesse is the author of better-known novels Steppenwolf, and Siddhartha.

Although his novels can be quite dense and overtly philosophical at times, Hesse has a lyrical quality to his writing that allows his complex sentence structure and occasionally unwieldy ideas to wind themselves around a tongue and mind with grace. He consistently proves, throughout all his novels, that with patience comes reward and despite the difficult nature of his work at first glance, once enraptured he can hold the readers attention for hours, days, even weeks.

In Narziss and Goldmund, Hesse unwinds the life on a young man with an unsettled and wry nature. From his youth in a monks ministry, through his education, and during his time as a vagabond traveler, Hesse follows the life of this character through the major historical moments of the time; letting the setting impact his character as much as the character impacts Hesse’s choice of context.

The story is truly more about the relationship between a mentor and a pupil than it is about anything else, but Hesse allows the reader to discover that at their own pace, without forcing understanding or recognition. The discovery, through education and then rebellion, of Goldmund is as much of a discovery by the reader as it is by the character.

Evolutions in understanding, in critical thought, and in spiritual, emotional, and physical need prove the humanness of this character and support the internal philosophical struggle between basic right and wrong.

The story takes place in many spaces, but in Goldmund’s mind, it is always in his place of education. There is always his mentor, Narziss present in a room, there to comfort and guide him. As any true educator would.

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How many affluent, middle aged Albertans does it take to change a province?

Reboot Alberta (picture by Mack Male)

Alberta is experiencing a revolution in social activism. In the past, the influence of the affluent, middle-aged, white man in Alberta was lamented; now we are seeing these same types of people shape a movement that has promised to increase democratic participation, inclusivity, and accessibility in Alberta’s political environment. Small pockets of individuals, province-wide, are springing up and enacting genuine social change through long ranging and diverse discussions.

Enter into ChangeCamp, CivicCamp, and the most recent political conference, Reboot Alberta, where the first goal is bringing about a fresh perspective in Alberta. These events are truly engaging Albertans. People of all ages and backgrounds are invited to come together to participate in these discussions, and in the eyes of many, they are signals of a new time in Alberta. It seems like genuine progressives are taking command of the political culture.

The recent upswing in interest in politics of Alberta may be due to someone who is not a middle aged, affluent, white male. Danielle Smith, the newly elected leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party (WAP) has been featured heavily in local news, and seems to be everywhere; from The Rick Mercer Report, to The Economist. Her party is one without any official policies, and only one elected member in the house. Despite this, it is also posing a threat to the Progressive Conservative (PC) dynasty, as two MLA’s have crossed the floor to the WAP. The party, its infrastructure, and credibility seem to be building up; block by block, riding by riding, communication director by communication director.

Albertan, progressive, and proud of it

The Reboot logo

So where are truly progressive Albertans to turn? For some, the answer has been found in a new party, The Alberta Party. For others, new formats of discussion are becoming increasingly viable and effective.

Reboot Alberta, a conference that has an attendee list that reads like the who’s – who of Edmonton and Calgary business members. The first meeting was held in Red Deer last November. This past weekend, February 28th, 2010, a second meeting was held at the Delta Lodge in Kananaskis. While open to new attendees, there was some concern by organizers and original members that new people would slow down the process, and halt the progressive discussion that was being built.

To gain a deeper and truer understanding of how Reboot is shaping Alberta political engagement, and what goals it has for this province of ours, I spoke to two individuals who have been a part of this organizations from the beginning.

The faces behind the button

Andrew McIntyre and DJ Kelly are both Calgarians, and both work in community advocacy, public relations, and communications. Both men are active in their communities and have been politically engaged in one way or another for quite some time. In addition, both are original ‘Rebooters’ and have worked to shape and organize this collective which believes it can “help revitalize our democracy,”

I asked both McIntyre and Kelly why they attended the Reboot conference. McIntyre responded with a decisively personal claim: “I attended Reboot to continue a conversation about a new direction for the province. Reboot serves as a space for this discussion to take place.” Kelly, a little more directly, “I attended the first Reboot Alberta because I was disillusioned with the one-sided nature of politics in Alberta. I spend a lot of time with many of the new tech tools (such as social media) and I couldn’t help but think to myself there must be a better way to engage the public – to involve them in the decision making process. I’m a firm believer that the government acts on our behalf. In order for that to happen, we must instruct them on an ongoing basis. In order for that to happen, we must have more openness and transparency. I was looking for a group that was willing to discuss new options for Alberta, to make that happen.”

So, what do these two participants want to get out of Reboot, and how do they see this movement affecting Alberta? McIntyre responded with his perspective: “a group of politically interested Albertans came together without a preconceived plan of what would emerge through voting, participation, and conversations several separate “streams” emerged, some where focused on big picture issues and others where more focused in specific action, like the group that wanted to form the Renew Alberta party.”

Kelly’s perspective changed between the first the second event, “after this past event, I’m starting to realize there is value in the conversation alone. Many of the people attending Reboot Alberta are already extremely involved in various activities in their own hometowns – work, volunteer projects, etc. What I think is really interesting, is what those people do with what they’ve learned at Reboot when they go back to those projects. That to me is much more interesting than anything that “Reboot Alberta” itself could do or become.”

Neither of these two individuals are party-focused though, and both noted that despite there being a heavy presence with members of Renew Alberta and the Alberta Party – the conference was held after these two parties merged – many Reboot participants did not partake in the partisan discussion. The conference was attended by members from the PC party, the WAP, the NDP, Liberals, and of course the members of the new Alberta Party. McIntyre reinforced the point that he, “attended as a private citizen, as did all other attendees.”

In discussing Reboot’s contribution to the re-emerging centrist and/or progressive mindset of many Albertans, Kelly commented that, “I think by its very definition, the “centre” is where the majority of people are – or at least it is the average of what all the people believe. Centre is a moving target, which is why I prefer not to talk in terms of left or right politics – they don’t actually exist. Centre in Ontario is different than centre in Alberta, or Texas, or England, or etc.” However, Kelly does see the value behind the centrist movement. He noted that it is possible for the Alberta Party to succeed here, “…mainly because it is nothing more than a group of people saying, instead of a small group of “us” deciding – whether that be members or caucus or a committee or whatever – to be a centrist you have to put the power into the hands of the “average” Alberta to decide what your party will stand for, and do. Will the Alberta Party folks be the ones to do it? Time will tell, they will only be as good as the hours they put in and the people involved.”

Coming down from the mountains

Breakaway discussion

Reboot is not a movement powered by hot air. Rather, it is truly walking the walk through its social media inclusion and the genuine desire to open up the dialogue to be more accessible. The Reboot website encourages participants to publish blog posts and position papers, and on-line discussions are held with those who may not be able to physically participate in sessions. For some, such as Kelly and McIntyre, Reboot needs to be spread out to be effective.

DJ Kelly was affected by Reboot, causing him to look for ways to bring that discussion to the relationships and communities that already exist for him. “I’m the president of my community association and I realized, upon looking at the way we engage the people living in our neighbourhood, that we do a terrible job of involving people in the way they would want to be involved. Too often when someone expresses an interest – bam – we put you on the board. But they could care less about being on a board, they just wanted to work on a cool event, or something like that. So I partnered with CivicCamp to help them create CivicCamp in a Box, which we are piloting in our community. The goal of the event is to, through the “unconference model”, take what the residents like and don’t like, talk about them, and then give them the tools to help make those things happen. That’s just one example. Another might be, I’m spending more time on my blog trying to build a bridge between what one group thinks and another.”

Is Reboot really for everyone?

The Kananaskis Delta Lodge

It is easy to see the merits of Reboot, and sing its praises while marveling at the open process it has embodied. However, despite likely best intentions, the truth is that it is the still the same individuals already engaged in their communities, politically or otherwise who are the driving force behind this movement. It is still putting up barriers, likely unintentional but present nonetheless.

The conference held in Kananaskis this weekend was costly. A registration fee of $150.00 and to stay at the conference site, the cost per night was roughly $110.00. Those costs do not include travel, or time needed for travel, nor does it include any extra costs such as food, drinks, spending. Debra Ward, an Edmontonian was one individual who couldn’t attend because of the cost. She commented that, “distance equals cost. I think that was probably why they got the same people they always get. I wasn’t the only person who would have liked to have gone. It was cost; cost and little bit of disenfranchisement. A feeling of not really being a part of what the event was trying to attract. When you’re exclusive, you miss out on a huge part of the population, think of those disabled. How do they there if it isn’t easily accessible? I have friends who are disabled; they wouldn’t, and they couldn’t go.”

Ward has other criticisms. She was also a member of the ChangeCamp organizing committee, and found the experience to be less than positive. “I sat on the organizing committee for ChangeCamp, there were only two females in that whole group. That’s pretty sad when there is two females, and we are half the population. I felt, myself, like I was given lip service anytime I tried to bring up issues. I really believed in the process of ChangeCamp, but it was a headache for me and it made me reconsider joining anything again.

Wards disillusionment comes out of the barriers in place throughout Alberta’s political organizations, barriers clearly not being addressed by the members of these up and coming movements. Ward notes, “I hate to be gender specific because I believe the best person for anything should always be the best person. But, reality is, that’s not happening. It’s not happening because it’s the same people; the same group of society that is trying to change things but because there so insulated, they’re just altering it.”

In the end, only kindness matters

Ok, well that may not be true. In the end, what matters is staying true to what you preach. In end, what matters is that if Reboot, Renew, and The Alberta Party are here for Albertans, then they should be here for all Albertans. Kelly talked about increasing interests and genuine participation by opening up the process. In order to do that, all voices need to be heard and considered. Moreover, all voices need to recognized, and actual actions need to be taken, to ensure that their concerns, and their perceptions, are taken into account.

Reboot Alberta could be a game changing movement in the province. Working alongside, though not necessarily in consort with, new parties like the Alberta Party and WAP, this social change movement has the potential to produce actual change in Alberta’s political culture.

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Bills, bills, bills

Inspired by a CBC journalist who wrote about the many bills that were killed as Harper prorogued parliament for the second time in as many years, I couldn’t help but go to the LEGISinfo website and look for myself.

Parliament convened on the 18th of November in 2008, and was quickly prorogued on December fourth, leaving an extra long Christmas break for all members of Parliament. As it was such a short little session for our elected members, only four government bills and 52 private member bills were tabled. The four government bills passed through a first reading, but were killed, only to come back during the second session in January. The 52 private member bills were kept as they were, frozen in time until parliament could reconvene.

This is due to nifty (and somewhat convenient) law that was passed over a decade ago that allowed private member bills to carry forward from one session to the next within the same parliament – even despite proroguing. If – and now I think it is safe to say – when a parliament is prorogued due to the wisdom of the Governor General, all government bills that are killed on the spot rise again, reborn. Private member bills, however, stay kicking around in the state they were left in, to be reintroduced to the House or Senate for eventual defeat or royal assent. After the 2009 prorogation, all 52 private member bills came back, all having undergone first reading in the first session.

On to session number two. It was a busy year for the Senators and MP’s, beginning on that shiny morning of January 26th, 2009. 354 private member bills were tabled, all made it through the first reading and many were ready to come back after they were scoured by committees and layered with amendments. Only 64 government bills were tabled, though. Out of those 64, 30 received royal assent, which means more than half died on the table.

Truly, though, what does this matter to Canadians? It is not the number of bills passed or defeated; it is their content that matters. Many of them were procedural, but a few notable ones include Bill C-6: The Consumer Safety Bill, Bill C-15: The Drug Sentencing Bill; and Bill C-26: The Auto Theft Bill. All three made it to Senate and will now have to be brought back into the House then to the Senate, which will likely look remarkably different after Harper’s expected appointments.

Parliament amended the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act that extended the geographic definition of Canadian arctic waters to 200 nautical miles offshore (from 100), a response to the perceived threat on Canada’s arctic sovereignty.

An “act respecting not-for-profit corporations and certain other corporations,” as stated on the LEGISinfo site, was introduced and received royal assent. This act combined three previous bills that died during the 2008 prorogation. This act was introduced to give non-profit organization greater flexibility and recognizes them separately outside the Canada Corporations Act.

There is also Bill C-8, Family Homes in Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act. Reserve land is governed under federal law, and all acquisition or transfer of property is as well. However, the provincial government decides when a married couple divorces what the division of property will be, both real and personal. See the catch? The province cannot make decisions about reserve land, but there is no federal legislation or provisions in the Indian Act that governs the division of martial property. Essentially, those who obtain a divorce who also reside on reserves in Canada, are stuck in limbo as to the ownership of their home, their land, and any other property attained in their marriage. Even the United Nations has told Canada to get their act together. However, since this bill died on the order paper it looks like, once again, Ottawa will have to re-examine its treatment of FNMI persons in Canada.

These are only three examples of government bills that came through during the second session of parliament. It may have been short, but it sure was not sweet. Despite the potential to achieve quite a bit, many bills will have to come forward again, going through parliamentary procedure. Hopefully we will see more decisions made before the next election, or dare I say, prorogation.

Before it all went Prorogue in the House of Commons

First Session: November 18th 2008 – December 4th 2008,

Second Session: January 26th 2009 – December 30th, 2009

(Information from LEGISinfo, updated January 4th, 2010)

Private member bills:

354 tabled

354 went through first reading

23 were voted through to second reading

83 members who tabled private members bills

21 bills relating to Employment Insurance

25 bills relating to the Criminal Code

Government bills:

64 tabled

30 received royal assent

34 dead on the table, waiting to be revived

3 tabled by The Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

3 tabled by The Minister of State

5 tabled by The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

3 tabled by The Minister of Health

4 tabled by The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities

3 tabled by The Minister of Finance

6 tabled by The President of the Treasury Board

2 tabled by The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

12 tabled by The Minister of Justice

3 tabled by The Minister of Environment

7 tabled by The Minister of Public Safety

1 tabled by The Minister of Natural Resources

2 tabled by The Minister of Industry

1 tabled by The Minister of Veterans Affairs

1 tabled by The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

2 tabled by The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

1 tabled by The Minster of Labour

1 tabled by The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development


The MP who wins for most bills tabled is MP Peter Stoffer with a grand total of 22 bills tabled.

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Meet my little friend: THE FLU

I got the H1N1 this week, and with term papers piled in front of me and finals around the corner, it was pretty much the best possible timing (Italics meant to convery sarcasm).

I also still work for the paper, and had to write something… so this is what came out of a feverish and very spotted mind:

My fellow scholars, this all too dangerous time of year lays many pitfalls for the unwary academic to fall into. Missed paper deadlines, corrupted files, stress, lack of sleep, obtuse professors, unclear assignment details, canceled office hours, and the very worst of them all: the flu.

Yes, H1N1 has preoccupied our minds and health clinics for the last two months but its less pretty and almost forgotten sister is still hanging around, waiting to fill that glass slipper. According to health officials, there are three to four strains of the flu floating in our air stream that are not H1N1 related, and this editor was lucky enough to catch one of them.

Lest you think this is some self-pitying diatribe, please let your eyes be at ease. This little piece of text is nothing of the sort. The following is merely offered as a warning, and a guide, to you.

First, to warn you defenseless student: stress and late nights are the number one way to lower your immune defenses and invite pathogens aplenty into your body. I have spent the last two and a half weeks lying to myself, plying myself with coffee and baked goods to stay awake long into the night and getting up far before my mind or body was ready. It took a toll on the work I produced and now has taken me entirely out for the count.

Not to be around people, I can’t attend class; I sleep nearly fourteen hours a day (I had to nap three times while writing this), thus nullifying any hopes of productive sick days. Sick days are great, but only when you are not so sick you can still function and thus use them to catch up; I am not in that category.

While you can pretend that the term paper, or exam you are losing sleep over is worth it, it only gives you a one way ticket to vom-town. Sexy, amirite? Never one to follow my own advice, I did not heed this common sense and instead spent several successive days awake in the past month, fueled only by stress, coffee, and delicious breakfast bagels.

As great as those bleary eyed days were, I am now confined to bed, and occasionally the couch, watching Animaniac’s and stressing out about the work piling up, work I have absolutely no energy or cognitive ability to complete. Thank god for the flu registry.

Now, let’s say you heed none of my well worded and wisdom laden advice and go straight for your third large fair trade of the afternoon. Here are some things you can get accomplished while feverishly bed-ridden, because you will be soon:

– Stop smoking: You are coughing so hard your lungs are exploding, you have a headache like Mt. Vesuvius, and you are shivering like a Canadian nudist colony in February. Smoking, although it feels really, really good will only make you regret every wrong decision in your life to this point. Use these five days when walking to the bathroom seems like a chore to quit smoking. It’s bad from you, from what I hear, and it makes you smell. The coughing and wheezing that will ensue it not worth it.

– Watch documentaries: Get smart all while lying down. Even if you snooze during the films, there has to be some sort of sensory retention in R.E.M. sleep, maybe? Regardless, you’ll be bound to pick up a factoid or two and possibly get some latent creativity flowing for your I’m-no-longer-sick-kissing-the-sweet-sweet-library-floor days.

– Catch up on letters: or e-mails, FB message, RSS feeds, whatever. With limited ability to stay awake and aware, these short snippets of things to do will keep you from getting bored and make you feel like you are getting something – anything – accomplished.

– Make a giant pot of soup: It’s easy, and your illness ridden body will thank you once the finished product is ready to be consumed. My vegan not-chicken-but-better-than chicken noodle soup is killer easy. Vegetarian bouillon (found at most any grocery store), udon noodles, and cubed (1/2 inch by ½ inch) tofu. For an average size stock pot, four bouillon cubes should suffice, half a brick of tofu and about two average packages of udon noodles. Fill the pot about ¾ full with water and boil that noise all together; then consume. Tastes like the real deal, cruelty free.

Most importantly boys and girls, use these five-or-so days to get better. My theory is, my body got sick to prevent a nervous breakdown, so I am listening. I e-mailed my boss (give that EinC a high five for me when you see him), my professors, and my friends to tell them I am in no condition to do anything, at all. Feverish work tends to produce very little, and anything I tried to produce would be mired in 100 degree mind speak, a la nonsense.

Today’s lesson is: rest when your body demands it. While you can trick it for a very long time with double espressos and breakfast tacos, it will exact revenge leaving you in the fetal position, praying for a fever blackout.

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Our Truth and Effort

My first stab at The Meliorist’s opinion piece:

Political change in Alberta tends to reflect the open expanse of land and the spread too thin homesteads that dominate our prairie province. Pockets of individuals alienated and disaffected by the central government, afraid the brave the harsh climate they perceive. Coupled with groups of elites, people in small and shaky compartments, lifted away from the groundswell, and isolated from each other.

These past six months have seen the political landscape in Alberta shift. It may be small and it may be that only the most hard core of political pundits have followed the minutia of our political landscape, but this shift is cataclysmic in terms of Alberta politics.

With another provincial election still three years away, voters are already questioning what their elected officials are doing to reflect their voice, in the legislature and in policy decisions. Albertan’s expressing dissidence have evolved past letter writing and direct engagement with MLA’s through town halls and the like. The calls for change are progressively more vocal and more public.

Pieces of legislation, such as Bill 44, are debated in the streets, in cafés, on Twitter, blogs, and through mainstream media. Daily newspapers now have blogging added to their web content to allow their journalists to be ever more present in Alberta and ever more relevant, and these journalists are using that to express and reflect Albertan’s dissatisfaction with their governments.

The Wildrose Alliance Party, a party that few Albertans took note of a mere 4 months ago, now has over 11 000 members, a seat in the Legislature, and more media coverage for their leadership convention than the opposition parties could muster for town hall on health care.

The visible advantage the WAP has gained is in large part due to their vocal criticisms of the Stelmach-led government. While the current opposition seems content to rest on their laurels and travel the province speaking to small groups of disenchanted Albertan’s, the WAP was aggregating legions of Albertan’s frustrated with the lack of responsiveness by their MLA’s and channeling that desire to “send Ed a message.” The Glenmore by-election win was the first public clue that we are indeed in the midst of a fundamental shift in the way Albertan’s are participating in their provincial democracy.

Progressives are seeing this, and noting the advantage it presents. Split the right to strengthen the left is a historically oft-used tactic, though in Alberta, changes in government rarely go left but they do always go big.

Events like ChangeCamp, and other grassroots movements do what the WAP has done already. They bring people together and work to unite them around a common cause. For the WAP it was to “send Ed a message”, which its new leader, Danielle Smith, seems to have taken up as her personal war cry. For the progressives, the rallying cry seems still unclear.

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Bibliophile: “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda”

Cover of Dellaire's "Shake Hands with the Devil"by Lieutenant General Roméo Dellaire, with Major Brent Beardsley

Vintage Canada, 2003

“Could we have prevented the resumption of the civil war and the genocide? The short answer is yes.”

-Page 514, paragraph 2

Shake hands with the Devil was written by LGen. Dellaire nearly five years after he returned from Canada from his United Nations posting in Rwanda. Growing up in a military family with strong personal military aspirations, Dellaire describes his past and his formative experiences constructively and vividly. Reaching out, his personality and integrity envelops readers as they are drawn into the dark and murky world of the United Nation humanitarian efforts in Rwanda and the implicit difficulties within. Writing this biographical account, Dellaire had the assistance of several key people who had been involved in the Rwandan crisis in some capacity, whether on the ground or as an international observer. His personal accounts are from the same pages he wrote on during his time in Rwanda and the experiences retold speak of the harrowing nature of his mission and the horror he was a participant in. While many Canadians can still not find Rwanda on a map, the genocide of the mid to late 90’s is well known though not well understood. Dellaire’s actions and choices made in Rwanda still haunt him to this day and a debate continues to rage on whether or not those military figures that were put on the ground from the UN did all they could. Shake Hands with the Devil is a therapy of sorts for Dellaire, but also for those who stood up and supported him against his detractors when he returned to Canada. The dark side of humanitarian efforts, the human side, is one we often don’t see in the news. While this biographical account is riddled with acronyms and at times bogged with bureaucratic detail, the story is told as the events happened. Bureaucratic detail was what failed the mission, and the reader gets lost in the same feelings of helplessness and inefficiency as Dellaire himself felt. The intimate details of the Rwandan genocide are portrayed in here is a manner that pulls at the heart and the mind. A call for action by individuals is given, and after reading Dellaires accounts of the events, one cannot help but be moved and pulled to a greater humanitarian motive.

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A Symbiotic Love Story

The ROOTS Garden Club Celebrates Official Opening September 3rd, 2009

By Jennifer Prosser, Features Editor, The Meliorist

September 10th, 2009. Volume 43, Issue 1

It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is ‘soporific’

-Beatrix Potter

The Campus Community Garden operated by the University based ROOTS Garden Club is modestly tucked in a broad field about 10 minutes from the Students’ Union and just a few steps away from the on – campus family Residences’ and the soon – to – be open on-campus daycare. Fenced and protected from those roaming deer and adorable bunnies, the garden invites its tenders in with a bright sign and a welcoming attitude by all who garden there.

Nine plots with robust evidence of tender love and care, although clearly some have been cared for a little less than others, sit orderly filled with various vegetation. The large communal plot shows evidence of the water problems the garden saw this summer and marked with thistles and small patched of long grass scattered here and there, it reminds visitors of the native vegetation still present. Despite the lack of water and the thistle problem, the large communal patch proudly boasts healthy rows of lettuce, tomatoes and various other vegetable type plants. As evident, my gardening skills are limited to balcony herb pots but on my wander through our on- campus garden patch, I feel as if the earth is a little more forgiving than I thought and the possibility there.

Throughout the summer, members of the University community worked together to build, till, plant and tend the garden’s interior. Shared labour yields shared rewards in this cooperative and the harvesting was very good for this first year community garden. On the day of the official grand opening, the sun shone brightly on plant and animal life. Young children of the University’s many Faculty and Staff ROOTS members ran excitedly to their family’s garden plots, and students and other members of the ROOTS garden club came to mill, chat, pull weeds and celebrate the official opening.

President Cade spoke briefly and succulently, quoting the University of Lethbridge’s Strategic Plan on “Commitment to Society” (principle no. 1),  “Commitment to Students” (principle no. 3), and “Commitment to Responsible Action” (principle no. 5). While this may be the current University of Lethbridge talking points, it is also speaks to the support this garden has from all of the University community.

Our on – campus community garden has been hard fought for by the community with active participation from across the University. Funded by the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union and the University of Lethbridge to the tune of $17 000.00, this was an initiative that deserves all the support it garners. As the season grows shorter and the members of ROOTS collect the last of the produce grown, a new season is only around the corner and I even hear whispers of winter garden prep.

To get involved with ROOTS and take an active role in supporting our garden, look for their table at Clubs Rush. The on – campus composting project will also be present at the ROOTS table during Rush Week to share information on composting and talk to students about having composting on – campus, benefitting both our garden and our communities environmental impact.

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A Rose, Is A Rose, Is A Rose. Or Is It?

My Summer Vacation, An Essay.

By Jennifer Prosser, Features Editor, The Meliorist

Thursday September 10th, 2009. Volume 43, Issue 1

A burning and reoccurring memory plagues those of us subjected to the curriculum shortcut known as the “what I did on my summer vacation” essay. The road to hell is paved with best intentions, and this particular exercise of creative writing is the mortar.  Children glorify summer vacation the same way comic book fans glorify Joe Shuster, (unintentionally the crossover there may be greater than anyone can correlate). For two months, a ‘good childhood’ becomes a mere afterthought to actual living. Endless days stretched out with sunsets and sunrises being the only controls. Unprovoked and unrequested, creativity is valued and rewarded by both peers and adults. Intrinsically, an overwhelming sense of pride is felt after a particularly good fort is built, or a hard novel is finished or a rousing game of Red Rover ends in a hospital trip, as these things often do. It is the rush of freedom that is remembered fondly in our later years, as we wistfully and longingly look at swing sets and hula-hoops. Regardless of one’s summer responsibility level, nothing holds a candle to the never-ending freedom that is summer vacation.

As we as individuals grow and as our community grows with us, freedom begins to take on new meanings. Freedom becomes an entrenched right for many of us. It also becomes something bigger, much bigger than we often realize. So big, sometimes we cannot see it from end to end. My summer vacation was dominated by encroaching threats to this freedom. Threats to the very thing held so dearly by so many of us. Threats to an ideal many live by and die for.

This summer instead of a celebration of freedom, the chance to realize long lost days of youth, I watched as our freedoms became slowly but surely constricted within our province and our country. Ideals of universal freedom become muddied with the lines of right and wrong, and beliefs in universal truths became shaken with exposure to radically different perspectives. Everyone lives in a construction of his or her own ideals and experiences. We all draw different lines in the sand, all believing them to be in the right place and in the right sand.

The 27th sitting of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta saw major change and a forced compromise of previously made choices. Constricted by the market, Alberta could no longer carry out the multi billion dollar spending plans and instead had to content itself with a new $25 Million logo and a $2 Billion commitment to green washing, known in Alberta as Carbon Capture and Storage. It also was expecting to satisfy itself with a quiet summer and the recognition of a fundamental human right, enjoyed by every Canadian citizen. The right to have your sexual freedom both protected and recognized.

Introduced into the Legislature as Bill 44 in April of 2009 and passing third reading at approximately three am on June 2nd, 2009, this Bill included sexual orientation as a human right under the Human Rights Commission of Alberta as per the Supreme Court decision made eleven years ago, which currently overrules provincial judicial decisions in this matter. The specific amendment reads  “striking out “or family status” and substituting “, family status or sexual orientation”.

However, this inclusion came with a caveat, the enshrined right for parents to pick and chose the education their child receives through Alberta schools. Section 11 of the Humans Rights, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism Act has been amended to read: A board as defined in the School Act shall provide notice to a parent or guardian of a student where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, prescribed under that Act include subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation.” This notable phrasing allows parents to pull their children out of any education program which threatens/contradicts their religious beliefs, including discussion on sexual orientation and/or sexual education. In this writers opinion, it is a clear statement of the lack of belief that Alberta Government has in protecting and accepting the right of Albertan’s to exercise the sexual orientation of their choice.

The issue many Albertans have taken with section 11 of Bill 44 is not that it enshrines the right of parents to limit and control their children education, it is that by including this section within the Human Rights Commission we are subjecting our educators to the potential of lawsuits and charges under the Human Rights Act and not under the School Board Act where they can be dealt with internally, within the K – 12 sector. While this bill only reflects the current rights of parents as enshrined within the School Act, it does perpetuate the negative stereotype of Albertan narrow-minded culture. Section Three of the Alberta School Act reads:  “All education programs offered and instructional materials used in schools must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honour and respect the common values and beliefs of Albertans. For greater certainty, education programs and instructional materials referred to in subsection (1) must not promote or foster doctrines of racial or ethnic superiority or persecution, religious intolerance or persecution, social change through violent action or disobedience of laws.”

Understanding that in Alberta, many of our members of the Legislative Assembly have “family values” high on their endangered species list, section 11 shifts freedom both away from the educator, but also from the parent. Parents, while they may have more legitimacy to limit their child’s education, they also have less control in ensuring their children are being given a worldly education, one that includes discussion and education on sexual health, sexual orientation and religious content.

Freedom is to be extended to all equally; this includes the freedom of speech. The freedom to express your opinions and the freedom to use mediums such as editorials, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and a soapbox if you have one to expound on your own personal thoughts and concepts. However, the interpretation of this freedom is as controversial as you can make it and in the case of an elected official member this summer, this freedom was called into question with his misogynistic comments as published in his blog.

Voltaire infamously wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. With public officials saying nothing less in public than they would in their homes, they are doing nothing less than exercising their right to speak in public. The same right this paper presently employs; the same right many enjoy through Twitter and Facebook accounts, and the same right we are enjoy by conversing with others in public spaces. The elected Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in question here had previously been an active individual using social media tools to engage people far and wide. While he may tweet comments I personally find offensive, he is thinking them regardless and he was elected; mind, body and soul, to represent the people of Calder and Alberta.

The greater issue at hand is that his comments speak to a culture of narrow mindedness and ignorance. The same culture that is perpetuated within Alberta with such pieces of legislation as Bill 44. Accommodation is not equality and believing that to be true is simply laziness and unwillingness to create positive change around you. While I find this members comments offensive and sadly all too representative of the lax mindset many people have to what the true meaning of equality is, I also firmly believe he was well within his right to say it and well within his freedom to continue to blog, tweet and speak without the supervision and control of the Progressive Conservative party. A few days after this particular story leaked, a CTV poll had asked if readers/viewers believe that this member should resign. Where Alberta once had a Premier, with a rather high approval rating, who drunkenly threw loose change at residents of the Calgary Drop-In Center and now we are calling for resignation of an MLA who exercised his right in this country to voice his opinions? How fickle we have become.

Freedom is a contestable word. When does one persons freedom impact another negatively, and if so, who is in the right? These lines in the sand all nothing more than that and even as children we understood that while we may have the freedom to run amok for twelve glorious hours every day, that did not give us the freedom to destroy the community we called home.

[The full text of Bill 44 can be found on http://www.assembly.ab.ca/. Currently, this bill is slated to be given royal assent once the house rejoins session on October 24th, 2009 however many Progressive Conservative Associations have raised vocal opposition and on Edmonton, one association has been successful thus far in bringing MLA’s onside to opposing the amendments as they are currently written. ]

[Doug Elniski, the MLA in question who made the above comments on his blog post is a mere backbencher and despite the “McCain/Palin poster in his office and his Smart car, he will likely remain as such for a majority of his hopefully short political career.]

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High Performance Rodeo: more, more, more!

I have been diligently writing for the University of Lethbridge’s paper, The Meliorist about Calgary’s annual theater festival High Performance Rodeo. If you like Calgary, theater, festivals and/or freaky deaky performance art, check out at the posts at Random Nation (my other, more arts oriented blog, and yes that’s right, I am referring you to another one of my blogs…).

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