Monday, September 29, 2008

Al Walker

My uncle, Al Walker, died Thursday night in Barrie, Ontario. Run through with cancer and unable to go home to die, he instead passed in his sleep. He was 65 years old.

For a small boy, Uncle Al seemed several scores larger than life. He was a towering man with big hands and a huge frame. He was something from an Eisley essay. Into a family of staid customs and Mennonite ancestry came this brandy-drinking, cigarette-smoking, Lincoln-driving salesman. Beneath all this worldliness was a great kindness and generosity.

If I ever knew the story of how he met my Aunt Joan I’ve long forgotten. Indeed, I cannot remember the first time we met. But I remember still their wedding. I remember the moment he waved us into the drive of the cottage where we were staying. The ceremony was held inside another cottage and out of the rain. I remember someone in attendance yelling out for another kiss after their first and everyone applauding the second offering. My mother later told me a story of overhearing Al telling Greg, my cousin and Joan’s son, that he would be the best father to him he could. And so he was.

The obligations of an uncle aren’t clear, so Uncle Al set his own standards. He was kind, giving, and interested. He and my aunt welcomed me into their home for long stays. With great encouragement he listened to my struggle to learn the guitar. And with great patience he listened to me bang on about whatever topic interested me at the time. Indeed, of the great regrets I shall chalk up in my life one is that I did not have occasion -- that I did not make the occasion -- to tell him how much I enjoyed the better part of two summers I spent at his home in my early teenage years. And I shall regret not having the chance to repeat those great visits.

I should hope that my Uncle will exit my life the same way he entered. Not in one instant, but in a series of great memories. That is, that he might continue ghosting around in my memory and thoughts with no clear departure. And that he might remain larger than life.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Morning Coming Down

A few thoughts on a beautiful Sunday morning on Point Grey.

1.) The NDP is set to announce a child benefit program worth as much as $400 per month per child. The money will be given directly to parents, will not be taxed, and will continue until children are 18. This is highly significant for two reasons. First, it is clearly more generous than the Tory plan, but also much more generous than the proposed child care plan of the Liberal Party. Layton may well have outplayed Dion by waiting to release this policy. While this is enough to push him into the Official Opposition is clearly in doubt, but it is helpful for at least two reasons. One, it appears pragmatic. Second, Dion is likely to atack Layton for a lack of commitment to creating more child care spaces directly. Layton, of course, will turn around and accuse Dion of holding onto old and failed policies. This makes for another distinction between the Liberals and the NDP and it is to the benefit of the New Democrats. For whatever its merits, the Liberal child care policy of creating spaces was never nearly as popular as its advocates suppose.

The second reason why this announcement is so important is because it marks a sea change in policy away from a large state-directed creation of daycare spaces and towards the direct funding of parents. The merits of either system are debatable, but for what it's worth I was always suspicious about the claims of those who wanted to provide state day care, not because I oppose it in principle but because it sounded highly implausible practically. I guess we won't be finding out for a while anyways.

2.) The debates are this Thursday. It's really a toss-up between the American VP debates and the Canadian English debate. I'll be watching the second as I've been invited to a community event to talk about the debates a bit before hand and then moderate some discussion afterwards. Later this week, I'll post my little spiel explaining what I think they are trying to accomplish.

3.) I am similarly speaking at the Killam Foundation dinner at UBC tomorrow night. I was lucky to win a couple of Killams this year and this dinner is to recognize the UBC winners. I'll be talking about my research and, hopefully, demonstrating how the Killam's contribution to research (and Canada) is so significant.

4.) In between these two events I'll be flying home for a funeral. My Uncle Al died on Thursday night. When I can get through putting my memories of him to paper I shall post them as well. We can't avoid these things for long, even if we preface them with three points of useless front matter. In the meantime, I am off into a Sunday morning hoping I'll find something to take "me back to somethin', That I'd lost somehow, somewhere along the way."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Luck, a Great Week, and Sleepness Nights

I am now at the tired end of a great seven days. Last Monday I took the overnight flight from Vancouver to Toronto and then the hour-long shot to North Bay. There is no flight greater than the one that takes you over Lake Simcoe, Muskoka, the west end of Algonquin, and then over Lake Nipissing and the circle of the Manitou Islands and meets the runway where the hill comes up. There's no flight I enjoy more and no airport I look forward to more.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at my parents' house. It was a little more housekeeping and bookkeeping than I like as I had to pack a crate which my father built to be sent to Vancouver. But my parents kindly arranged a great and large party for me to celebrate my breathing return from Africa. It was a wonderful night to catch up with a lot of the people who have been instrumental in my life. And to be reminded of growing up in such a great place.

I flew to Moncton on Wednesday night and slept in Sackville. I spent two days at Mount A giving a couple of lectures and a public talk on altruism and spending preferences. I realized there, too, how lucky I was to have had the experience of living in Sackville and being taught by so many great academics. Their influence still runs through my research. As importantly, I spent an evening playing music with Frank Strain and his crew, and then Loren McGinnis and I finished the night with an early morning run to Amherst. Alas, the Big Stop in Aulac (recently of Old Man Luedecke fame and tribute) is no longer 24 hours. This would be the first of a few 5 am nights.

We spent Friday in Halifax with Andrew Black and his crew. Bed time: 5 am.

Saturday was the third jewel of the trip. David Myles and Nina Corfu got married in Petite Riviere, an incredibly beautiful and genuine town. They don't make towns liek this anymore and they rarely make couples as great as David and Nina. Their's is a great love story and everyone was feeling the vibe. What's more, they had an all-star line-up play their wedding ceremony and then had Garrett Mason play the reception in the firehall. He's Canada's best bluesman and he's worth more than a listen. The particular highlight of the performance were these lyrics:

To the girl on the left with the funky dress on
To the girl on the right with the fishnets on
You can dance the funky bossman all night long.

I don't even know what that means, but it's awesome! The wedding ended with a bonfire by the ocean. Bedtime? 5 am.

Loren and I then spent Sunday at Herman's Island with Blackie. We swam in the ocean (it must have been a kilometer to that bouy!), sat in the hottub, contemplated swinging the golf clubs and ate BBQ. We then raced back to Petite Riviere to catch Old Man Luedecke (who also played David's wedding) before driving overnight to the Moncton airport. Bedtime? Unclear.

So, all of this is to say that at the tailend of string of sleepless nights I am reminded of how lucky I was to grow up in such a great place, to attend such a great institution and to meet such great people. May it always be so.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the ethnic vote

I note this with great interest. I would also put down a lot of money that the reporter called Blais and he talked to them on background. Someone from the CES must of as there is no cited source for it...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This is what happens...

I guess this is what happens when Larry Bartels finishes with you.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Four thoughts on the election

Without further adieu, demand, or interest, here are my four thoughts on the election:

1.) The Conservatives are obviously desiring a majority, though the ability to fashion this majority is slightly more difficult than the media is making it out to be. It almost certainly requires two things: a much better performance in Quebec than in the previous election (which was already a pretty good showing) AND significant gains in Ontario. Assuming that the Tories' majority comes from gains only in Quebec and Ontario, the party needs a net gain of 46 seats out of the 131 up for grabs. This is not an impossible task, but it's not a simple one. And if it occurs it would signal a rather fundamental shift in the Canadian party system and will certainly doom either the Bloc or Stephane Dion, or both.
2.) We must always remember that the Liberals have an inherent advantage in Canadian elections due to their support among ethnic minorities and Catholics. Read Blais' Presidential Address before you say but. If the Conservatives win it will be because they've finally found a way to break into this group. And I am willing then to call all of my political friends who said it was stupid of Harper to bring up same-sex marriage in the last election. It may have been unsavoury, uncivil, unseemly, whatever, but it certainly wasn't stupid. It was most certainly a part of a longer-term plan to convince these key voting groups that the Conservatives are as much on their side as the Liberals. This is a long-term struggle, but the Tories have proven themselves much more forward-looking than the Liberals in recent years.
3.) Dion should quit talking like the Green Shift is not going to effect anyone negatively. It is. But that's ok. We don't pretend that the cost of cigarette and alcohol taxes are evenly distributed throughout the population. And society is willing to accept them as a necessary tool for addressing externalities. In sum, I liked Dion the Straight Talking Professor more than Dion the Politician, and this policy is the latest example. I also think it plays to his weaknesses and not his strengths.
4.) I am unconvinced Elizabeth May should not be included in the debates. But I am not convinced either. In this case, I can't imagine it would hurt, so why not err on the side of inclusion?