Tag Archive: information

an austere beauty


Photo Credit: Vera Kratochvil; Licence: Public Domain

Nature has the power to humble us. As much as the ravages of natural disasters are tragic, they also remind us that we do not own this planet, we will never overcome it, and our abuses will never go unpunished.  But there is also something astounding in the ingenuity of human achievement.  The universe gives us gravity; humanity responds with bridges, towering skyscrapers, and planes.  Process the concept of taking an 85 metric tonne hunk of metal and getting it to lift off the ground and fly it at speeds over 500 mph at 30,000-40,000 ft. If that doesn’t take your breath away, few things will.

I love nature and, if my life ambitions can be boiled down to a select few, moving further away from cities would be high on the list.  But I love the culture one finds it cities too and so I am drawn to them as well.  Let me find a place to live surrounded with trees and lakes and rivers, with mesmerizing sunrises and sunsets, with immense mountains and enchanted vistas, but let me be close enough to the city to see the marvels that one finds there.

While attending a conference for work this past weekend, I was simultaneously appalled at the dearth of green space and in awe of the vast network of towering monuments to human achievement.  It is not that I think skyscrapers and overlapping overpasses are the greatest testament to what humanity has accomplished.  The growth of compassion and philanthropy would be more valuable evidence.  But, regardless of your personal beliefs, humans were in some sense delivered into the world innocent, ignorant, and naive.  With observation they learned, with creativity they explained, with tenacity they tested, and with ingenuity they created.  They created the wheel, and bridges, and buildings, and music, and medicine, and trains, and cars, and planes, and transistors, and microchips, and… and then they took it a step further.  They didn’t just build something practical: they created art.  Engineers fought physics, architects made it aesthetic; scientists produced technology, designers made it alluring.  There is a beauty in that.  Sometimes it is an austere, cold beauty, but it is a beauty nevertheless.

Today, I am thankful for human ingenuity.  It has sometimes led to terrible outcomes, but overall our world is an incredible place to live simply because of the power of the human mind to evolve the most fantastical idea into reality.


To any readers who have become accustomed to a more regular dose of gratitude, I apologize for having been missing in action for a while.  Getting back into the school year routine has taken a greater toll on my energy than usual.  Gregory’s homework regimen has clearly been developed by someone with a sadistic streak.  Helping him with the homework on top of getting the kids to/from their extracurricular activities, getting dinner on the table, spending as much quality time with the kids as possible, and everything else, has left me feeling that I need to hire a project manager just to keep my life under control.  Then I got sick, and things just went further south.

But enough of the pity party.  This is the life of every parent.  This is also what every September is like.  I always manage to wriggle my way back into the swing of the things before too long.

Photo Credit: Michael Anderson; Licence: Public Domain

The other night, while I sat with my son in our dining room moving from homework task to homework task, with the descending sun casting longer and longer shadows in the room, I found myself overwhelmed with bitterness.  That bitterness has arisen partially from the time and energy I have lost in trying to motivate my son to tackle his homework when he is understandably frustrated by the tedium and sheer volume of it.  The bitterness has also originated from seeing my son finally head to bed, exhausted.  But mostly the bitterness has developed from seeing a society that increasingly fails to let children be children.

In the midst of all that bitterness, however, one thing did occur to me: at least my children have access to public education.  I know there are cultures that don’t prize education greatly, and that the history of my culture is one which did not always recognize the right of all children — regardless of status or wealth — to benefit from education.  My children and I are fortunate to live in a time and place where each of us has the opportunity to pave a way for ourselves, not through our family names or the coins in our pocket, but through diligence and merit.

Today, I am grateful for public education.  It helps us work and live better, opens our minds, enriches our communities, and propels forward human understanding of this mysterious universe.


Who was your favourite teacher?  I know you had one.  We all did.

I had a few memorable ones, but the first and most memorable one was my grade 5 teacher, Mrs. Keating.  Before her, I was a goofy kid with my head in the clouds.  After her, I was still a goofy kid with my head in the clouds, but felt better about myself for it.  She instilled in me a love of writing and generally made me feel like I had a special place in the world.  A lot of who I am today, I owe to her.

Teaching has changed a great deal over the years, spanning back to the archetypal one-room school teacher: scholarly, poorly paid, highly scrutinized.  The chief and sole reward of the position was the opportunity to enrich young minds, to make a difference.

Child raising his hand in the classroom

Photo Credit: Michael Anderson; Licence: Public Domain

Sometimes teachers are yet another class of secret hero, changing the world behind chalk-dusted dockers and polka-dotted skirts.  Perhaps it doesn’t carry with it the diamond-studded glamour enjoyed by the “heroes” we raise up on pedestals.  But there is a small village somewhere in the world — it doesn’t matter where.  There is a little girl who is the first in her family to go to school.  It took a lot of work for the missionaries to convince the elders and her parents that there was benefit to this. Now she is bumbling off to the small school house built by the people of her village.  It’s her first day.  She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s about to meet someone she will never forget, someone who will give her possibly the greatest gift anyone will ever give her: education.  Maybe if we fast forward 25 years, that same girl is an economist, working with the government to bring a better life to people like the ones in her village.  Try to tell her that her first teacher, 25 years ago, wasn’t a hero.

Now the job pays better, thank goodness, although I think teachers put up with a lot more attitude and defiance in the classroom.  Like that one-room school teacher, though, the greatest reward for most isn’t the pay cheque at the end of the week but the possibility that, some day, one of those children will grow up to do something extraordinary, and the teacher can reasonably enjoy a brief moment of pride in knowing that he or she might have contributed to that.  Even better if that young mind — now older — looks back through all of the angsty years, the awkward years, the first kiss, the first love, the first thrill of learning something that made his or her mind explode with possibility, and says, “thanks.”

I haven’t done anything extraordinary.  I hope some day I will.  But no matter what happens, I still want to say: thanks, Mrs. Keating — today, I am grateful for you.

Who was your favourite teacher?  I know you had one.  We all did.  Tell me about yours in the Comments.


Journalists are a nasty bunch of wraiths who will bully, deceive, cheat, and sell their souls to get a scoop on a good story.  And if they can’t get a good story, they’ll manipulate the truth until it’s something that will sell.

Leastways, that’s what popular media has always led me to believe.

I am perhaps a lonely one among the masses in that I have a great deal of respect for the noble industry of journalism. If you ever read, watch, or listen to the news, you should too.  Let me tell you why.

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Some of you might be aware of a tragedy that occurred recently in Elliot Lake, a small rural town in northern Ontario. On June 23rd, a section of the rooftop parking deck of the Algo Centre Mall (Eastwood Mall) collapsed, killing two people and injuring several others. It was a tragedy not only in the sense that all deaths and disasters are tragic, but an even greater tragedy in that it was — in my opinion — completely preventable.

When a natural disaster wreaks havoc, we feel the immense loss and sadess of it all, but there is also a certain amount of acceptance that these things do happen and are part of the natural order of things. But when a building is neglected year after year and a tragedy results, it is difficult to derive any meaning from the experience, and the extreme anger felt by the community is very valid and justified.

A criminal investigation into this incident has been launched and a provincial probe is planned.  Until the findings are released, there is little judgment I can pass on any specific person or entity, but I have seen photographs that were taken in the months leading up to the tragedy and I can say that, even to a layperson, they spell danger.  I wasn’t surprised that the roof had collapsed; I was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

News reports have revealed that a structural assessment was conducted as recently as April, but obviously either no action was taken by the owner in response to deficiencies identified, or the engineering firm conducting the assessment failed miserably at what they were contracted to do.

Elliot Lake is not a wealthy city (that is even more true now that the roof collapse has thrown a bunch of people out of work).  In 2006, census results listed mean household income at $36,366, 45% less than the mean provincial household income at $66,600.  A good friend, who grew up in Elliot Lake, commented after the incident that people in the town have known for years that the mall was falling apart and that something like this was going to happen sooner or later.  She told me that complaints have been lodged but, because people who live in the town are “poor,” they will put up with it and still patronize the mall because they have no alternative.  There is probably at least a grain of truth to that, and it is appalling thought.  Economic forces might be at work that prevent the owner from keeping the building looking modern and updated, but if people or companies are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for the basic safety of the building they own, then it’s time to get out of the business, and there should be stiff punishments for those who don’t — stiff punishments pinned to the offender before the owner’s dereliction results in injury or death.

Readers familiar with the theme of this blog are no doubt wondering how and when I plan to extract gratitude from this situation.  I work as a property administrator and, when I am working with contractors to bring a project to fruition, I am often frustrated by all of the hoops through which we have to jump.  I have joked with contractors, “you need a permit to wipe your butt, nowadays.”  But, as frustrated as I am by the process, I am thankful that the process exists, because all of those safety regulations and standards are what keep disasters like the Eastwood Mall collapse from happening more often than they do.

This tragedy never should have happened, but I am glad that there are systems in place to try to prevent this exact sort of thing from happening.  Today, I am thankful for when those systems do work.


Today, I am thankful for information.  I am thankful that my culture promotes learning and making information accessible, even though I feel that my country could do a better job of it by taking measures to make higher education more affordable.  When learning is restricted to the select few, it creates a caste system with power vested in the educated.  I am thankful, however, that elementary and secondary education is free where I live.

I am grateful that I live in a country where there are laws that protect me from being prosecuted or punished because I sought to learn.  I hold gratitude for living in a country where there are laws that limit the control my government has in restricting my access to information.

I am also grateful that the accessibility of the internet has made that information available at my fingertips.  Whenever the power goes out at my house, I can deal with most of the associated inconveniences, but what I find myself suffering from the most is the inability to look up answers to some of the thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of questions that pop into my head each day.  I am disclosing my age here, as several people reading this no doubt remember a time when one had to go to the library to look up anything but, having grown up with the internet, it is easy for me to take it for granted.  I love the accessibility of information because it makes learning so much easier, and I believe that learning is the most important thing we can do in life.  If I decide I’d like to learn more about the French Revolution, I can sift through thousands of resources on the subject in my pajamas.  If I had to get up and go to the library, I might be less likely to bother.

(I realize I am unintentionally making a statement here that I am thankful for the accessibility of information because I am lazy. I acknowledge that this departs a bit from the overall “positive” or “inspirational” tone I am trying to achieve through this blog, but there is no sense denying reality! 🙂 ).

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