Donut is the only pet I’ve had from birth to death.
She was born in China, one of four kittens in a cat we adopted who wasn’t supposed to have been able to be pregnant. She was named Donut beacause she had a marking on her side that looked sort of like an “O”, but her most distinctive feature was her black nose.
We didn’t plan to keep the kittens, but as a kitten Donut was so attached to our dog that we decided we would keep her. Even though she lived with her actual biological mom all her life, Donut was more attached to the dog than any other cat she encountered.
So she flew home with us, along with her mom and another kitten we couldn’t find a home for in Wuhan. The other kitten was adopted out in Canada, and Donut stayed with us- at my in-laws, then a rental, then another rental in Victoria, then my parents house before the house we live in now.
She took to living in Prince George just fine, but she did not like Victoria. We had to get her old cat tree shipped down to us before she became somewhat settled. She was particular like that.
She was also very vocal. A lot of cats are noisy, but Donut was one of the loudest and most persistent I’ve met. She would purr for a while if you’d pet her, but very quickly move on to another spot, just out of your reach. Though she would allow us to brush her out on the deck in the sun for long periods of time, purring and rolling around.
She had some other odd habits, particularly an obsession with eating plastic. We tried various psychological and physical remedies, but nothing seemed to reach, so we had to be careful not to have any plastic anywhere she could get it- no bread on the counter, no ribbons on the Christmas gifts, no packages ready to be mailed left on the ground.
Since we had her from kittenhood, I kind of figured that as long as we kept her away from plastic we’d have Donut into our forties. Most cats I’ve had live between 15 and 20 years and she was healthy.
Unfortunately, a growth in her stomach started slowing her down in December. We had her on fluids and medication in the hope that we could get her strength up enough that the vet would be able to get a better idea of what it was, although it was almost definitely inoperable. She perked up a little here and there, but over the last week deteriorated to the point that we were ready to let her go.
A vet was scheduled to arrive tomorrow, but that’s been cancelled. Donut died curled up in my wife’s lap, a few months shy of the ten year anniversary of her cutting her umbilical cord halfway around the world.
She will be missed.
So you’ve probably seen posts saying “Don’t normalize this,” or “Don’t let this be normal”. I didn’t really think about them until today.
Earlier today i was going to write a Facebook post saying I’m happy to have Muslim neighbours. Then I stopped myself.
As a journalist i’m not supposed to take a position on controversial issues.
And i found myself thinking, “Is this a position on a controversial issue”?
This is not a question i would have asked myself a year or two ago.
My mind on diversity hasn’t changed, but the world has shifted in a way that what used to be boilerplate “Oh Canada” sentiments seem less so.
So even though my values haven’t changed on this front, in my mind they’ve shifted from fairly innocuous to potentially controversial.
But the sentiment is fairly simple: I’ve grown up with different races and religions and I like living somewhere where that can happen.
I can and will not allow what is going on in the world to make that a part of me that I feel the need to hide for the sake of “neutrality”.
You can’t allow extremists to shift the conversation so that what should be basic human decency becomes somehow partisan.
I believe in the basic humanity of people. I believe we should not allow race or religion or place of birth to divide us. I won’t hide that.
I found my basic values slipping today without me noticing. It scares me that it happened. I hope I catch it if it does again.
Do not allow it to become normal.
Writing in iPolitics, Paul Adams criticizes not polls, but reporters who don’t understand polls. Part of it is reporters who ignore the margin of error, reporting on polls showing a “clear winner” rather than a possible winner, but maybe not, because there’s a margin of error:
“If you look at the final polling forecast from Real Clear Politics, it showed Hillary Clinton with a 3.3 percentage point lead in the popular vote over Donald Trump. Guess what? She won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes; that’s just more than 2 per cent.
“An error of just over a percentage point is an error, for sure. But it’s a perfectly unsurprising error. No reasonable observer would expect the national polls to be more reliably accurate than they were.”
I ran into this during the last federal election. A group with the express purpose of getting people to vote strategically to defeat the Conservatives released a poll indicating that the NDP was the favourites to win- unless you looked at the margin of error. As I wrote:
“The more accurate way to read the results is with NDP support somewhere between 32 and 40 percent, the Conservatives between 26 and 34, and Liberals between 25 and 33 (19 times out of 20). The NDP could drop 4 points and the Liberals could go up 4, resulting in a Liberal victory, and it would still be within the margin of error. Or the Conservatives could win. Basically, it’s too close to call.”
For this I had a couple of days of (a very few) people accusing me of being a Liberal or Conservative shill.
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect I may have had less of this if there hadn’t been a bunch of headlines saying the NDP was the favourite to win.
In the end, the Conservative candidate won, followed by the Liberal and then the NDP.
If we must report on polls, let’s at least do it accurately.
I’ve never been a big fan of people who talk about ignoring the news. I believe in the need to be informed about the community and the world so you can act in an informed and responsible way.
But at a certain point you have to ignore the news. Not all of it, but huge chunks of it. The majority of it, really. Do you know how much news there is?
24/7 TV stations, countless current affairs shows on radio, a constant stream of new information breaking on Facebook and Twitter and news feeds coming from all around the world. Look at the newspapers in your local grocery store. Think if how much time it would take you to read all of them. Then multiply that by literally thousands from around the world. The idea that we could take even a small percentage of it in on a daily basis is… well, it’s impossible.
So we filter. We’ve always filtered. I’ve always filtered. We focus on the stuff that’s closer to home, the things that more directly affect our lives and, hopefully, the stuff that we can more directly affect back.
It’s that last point I’m starting to think about a little more in 2017, especially with the thing happening down south. You know the thing– how could you avoid it? It’s everywhere.
And yet I find myself checking out. This thing has consumed so many headlines, so many broadcast hours, so much of my personal time and thought over the past months and, dear god, years, actually, and to what end?
I’m not about to go take part in foreign politics. I don’t know anyone with political sway in that country. What is the point of me sitting, breathlessly, watching the thing move onto its next stage? What insights will it give me? Almost as important, what insights can I offer back?
The thing about platitudes is they are only platitudes until they become profound. I suddenly find myself reflecting on the profundity of the Serenity Prayer– you know, the famous lines:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s a surprisingly good guiding light for a period of time in which we are invited by all sides to be constantly shocked, constantly outraged, constantly righteously indignant and can you believe this is happening in our world?
I’m not trying to be flippant when I say that bad things have always happened. But, bad things have always happened. Bad things are always happening. They are happening far, far away and they are happening right in your own neighbourhood (good things are always happening, too, but I wrote about that elsewhere).
What I’m trying to do is be strategic about which bad things get my energy. This is a privilege I have as a person who doesn’t have any dramatically bad things happening directly to me. I get to choose which bad things come into my life.
With that privilege comes a responsibility: being strategic about how I use the reserves of energy I have for dealing with bad things. I get to focus it on the areas that I am best equipped to make better.
So is it the thing happening in the United States? Probably not. Is it the less well-documented things, happening closer to home? Almost definitely. Is it less political and more economic things happening in other parts of the world? Quite likely.
There are probably hundreds of ways I could more effectively spend my energies and positively change the world than spending more time focused on the latest what, REALLY? moment coming out of the online conversation.
This isn’t an excuse to be ignorant. This isn’t a throw-your-hands-up-and-watch-Netflix-cuz-we’re-all-going-down-anyway moment. It’s a question of which path is the most morally right one, with a rather utilitarian view: how can I be most effective?
I did a bit of research (Wikipedia) and found out that the Serenity Prayer as I’ve always known it is not actually the prayer in it is original form. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr had a number of versions over the years, but one of his later drafts had a subtle shift, imploring us not to change what we can but to change what we should:
“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”
Another one done, it’s been fun.
Over the Christmas break, I visited the home of Rose and Nael Tohme who, along with their children, were the first family of Syrian refugees to come to Prince George.
Since it was the break I had more time than usual, so I was able to speak with them for an hour- a wide-ranging conversation that covered everything from pets to faith to food to music.
The end result is one of the reasons I love working with audio over other mediums. There are moments in here that I feel capture something lost in print and even lost in video because having a visual element takes you out of the narrative more than simply sitting and listening does. It’s intimacy without distraction.
I didn’t have any goals going into this except to tell an honest version of their story. I wanted to avoid any preconceived notions of what the end-goal would be, and tried to focus on personal moments rather than larger narrative ones about the conflict and the numbers. I wanted to hear from these two people as people, not as symbols of anything.
I don’t know if I accomplished it, but I have heard they are happy with how the story was portrayed. They were generous with their time and thoughts and I thank them for that.
This year my listening habits were torn in two directions. On the one hand, my switch over to Spotify after the death of Rdio had me listening to a lot more single tracks. Discover Weekly is a pretty darn good tool– every week, a mix of 30 new tracks I haven’t heard before, tailored to my listening habits. Add things like Daily Mix and Release Radar and I could easily do nothing but listen to algorithmically-generated playlists.
On the other hand, with the deaths of career artists like Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie and the stark reminder of Gord Downie’s mortality, I found myself gravitating towards wanting to spend time with albums and discographies of music I might want to return to, again and again, rather than chasing the hit of whatever’s new.
This year’s mix is a reflection of both these impulses. About half the tracks are by artists I was already familiar with, who put out new work this year. About a quarter are by artists I wasn’t familiar with but who I am now interested in following where they go next. The rest are just really good songs that came my way.
As far as format goes, I decided to go with a mix that would fit onto two 80 minute CD-Rs, just like the old days. I even threw in a “hidden” track at the end that wouldn’t technically make it.
I once again followed the Said the Gramophone rules for year-end lists, which is: every artist only gets one song (with two exceptions, which I deal with below), and the songs are ones that I heard for the first time in 2016- a couple came out at the tail end of 2015, but I didn’t catch them then so they are here.
As for other odds and ends, my favourite album of the year was, hands-down, Beyoncé’s Lemonade. It’s a work of art and an all-time classic.
I am still working out how I feel about Life of Pablo by Kanye West, but given that he’s released one of my favourite albums of the year almost as many times as he’s released an album, it feels worth noting it here.
My favourite live artist was Crones who have advanced to a point in their performance that they should be moving above the ‘local artist’ stage, imho.
For the first time in a while, there is no single song that stands out to me as my absolute favourite.
My other favourite musical discovery worth mentioning here is Slip Disc, a compilation of 60’s era Indian rock music that I bought at a restaurant in London.
Three songs that came out to early to make this cut but were discoveries for me in 2016 are “Song for Zula” by Phosphorescent (2013), “Journey” by Drishti Beats and “Floors” by Abhi The Nomad & King Sadboy (too early in 2015 to make this cut).
Almost every song I sorta liked this year can be found in this Spotify playlist.
Previous year-end mixes:
And here’s this year’s mix:
Nostalgia isn’t about missing the way things used to be. It’s about missing the way we used to be.
waves of sound, get lost in them
Anderson Paak is an artist I was introduced to via an algorithm that turned out to be worth spending time with. Malibu is a top-ten 2016 album and Paak is an artist who I will be listening to whatever comes out next.
The first exception to my one-track-per-artist rule because 1. “I Love Kanye” is so short and 2. this is more of a showcase of Chance than anyone else. It took me a long time to listen to the rest of Pablo because I kept hitting repeat on this.
If I were really going to nit-pick about the one-track-per-artist rule I would substitute Chance’s “All Night” here. It’s a lot of fun.
I like the slow burn of this one. Often rock bands using strings and choirs is a sign they’ve got a bigger budget and lost their creativity, but they are put to good effect here. Reminds me of Exile-era Stones.
I don’t actually know anything about Lucy Daus, but this came up in my Discover Weekly early in the year and I keep going back to it. A song about not liking the box you’re in.
One of my top five albums of the year, as high as number two, definitely number three. Another track about humour and heartbreak. “Now that we all know the punchline. Can I make you understand?”
You ever notice how the journey home goes so much faster than setting out on a new path?
This is a song about the internet but honestly that description makes it sound so bad and that’s why Samson is a poet.
It’s weird that in a year where we lost both Bowie and Prince we got the 1975, who seem to be an equal mix of Bowie and Prince. I listened to their album quite a bit, and I still can’t decide whether they are genius or terrible and I suspect only time will tell.
I was at a wedding this summer and when this song came on people danced and sang along and that’s basically all it takes to get on here.
The trouble with Drake is that I could put almost any Drake song on here. So I am starting to have trouble telling whether he is really good at making songs or if he is just really good at making people (myself included) think he is good at making songs.
DJ Snake has actually secretly become one of my favourite artists by just continuously releasing good tracks that I don’t know are him until I look at the credits.
Kaytranada was kind of like water, he was so ubiquitous this year- winning awards, popping up at the top of critics year-end lists, remixing and producing all the top-name artists. I like this track.
I have not followed the story of Gucci Mane. I do not know why he was in jail and I do not know his music enough to get excited about him getting out of jail so he can make more music. But I enjoy this song.
Anytime Skratch Bastid and Shad work together, it’s an absolute delight.
Beyoncé and A Tribe Called Red put out my two favourite albums of the year, and for similar reason: there’s a vitality to what they have to say, a political urgency, in addition to creating straight-up awesome music. There’s a straight line from each going back to Public Enemy and Marvin Gaye: artists with a purpose.
This is the second exception to my one-track-per-artist rule because although Tanya Tagaq put out her own incredibly worthwhile album (top ten), this moment with ATRA is the best showcase of what she has to say.
Slow down and chill.
Anti was the album that moved Rihanna out of the “singles artists” category for me. Though not as fully realized as some of my other favourites, it is definitely more than a collection of songs and it was tough to choose between putting this or “Love On The Brain.” Ultimately I chose this because while “Love” is a great showcase of how Rihanna could do classic soul, this is a showcase of what makes her unique to the now.
I wasn’t aware of Car Seat Headrest or the album Teens of Denial until I saw them come up again and again in other people’s year-end lists. I haven’t spent enough time with them to know whether this will be a favourite album/artist for me, but what I’ve heard – a more garage-rocky version of LCD Soundsystem, to my ear- it’s worth including.
End disc one on a celebration.
I usually hate Canadian bands singing about America, but this is the second instance of it I’ve included on this list.
If this were really a favourite-songs-of-2016 mix virtually everything from Lemonade would be on here. I like this track because it’s the moment in listening to the album that I realized “oh, there is something really special going on here.” And it’s track two. If you haven’t heard Lemonade yet, stop this and go change that.
I loved the Avalanches when they released their first album. After so long, I never thought I would hear new music from them. I’m glad I get to, and I’m glad this is it.
Pharrell knows how to make a heavy beat and Skepta knows how to use it.
Nothing to say about this, I just enjoy this song.
Same. How’s it going?
I find it interesting that whenever I find a good garage rock song, they are from Canada. Are we really the only ones making that much good garage rock? What’s happening to Britain and the U.S.?
I’m a little worried that sometime in the future Tegan and Sara’s move towards electronic/dance style production will date them, the same way so many sixties and seventies musicians went synthy in the eighties and now it’s this weird blight on their legacy. But I’m enjoying it for now.
I don’t know what the musical effect is that makes a song sound like it’s being stretched out like an elastic, but this does it and does it well.
In other years, I might have thought “eh, this isn’t M.I.A.’s best work” and left this off the list, but as I said in the intro, this year I’m doing more appreciating artists for being who they are, not just for being new.
Golden Boy – Elf Kid
“1 Thing” was a jam and I’m glad someone recognized it this way.
There’s long been a cliché of saying “everything but country” when asked about musical tastes, but in recent years indie rock has been creeping towards country music while mainstream country has been creeping towards classic rock. Whitney is the former, Simpson is the latter (plus, he has the Dap-Kings– Amy Winehouse’s band!). Both these albums are great to put on with headphones.
I would actually be happy if Jepsen just kept releasing outtakes from Emotion every few months. This whole EP was great and while a lot of people seemed to have an issue with the silliness of this song- she doesn’t want to break up with someone so she’s just going to the store and never come back- I still love it.
Like I said, I don’t have a clear favourite for song of the year, but this would be on the contenders list.
Two Canadian icons confront mortality. One sweetly, the other dark and haunting. The latter is a fitting sendoff, the former hopefully won’t be but if it is, it’s a good one.
Part Beatles, part the Flaming Lips, a much needed chaser.
A late addition to this list since I heard for the first time yesterday, but when I found myself humming it this morning I knew I had to leave a spot for it.
OK, so someone outside of Canada is doing garage rock.
Not an official release and technically a Rihanna tune, but funky enough to want to share with you. Nothing else has happened on his Soundcloud page since this came out seven months ago, but I’ll keep checking.
“Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in”
“Everybody knows the war is over/ Everybody knows the good guys lost/ Everybody knows the fight was fixed/ The poor stay poor, the rich get rich/ That’s how it goes/ Everybody knows”
– Everybody Knows
“I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get?/Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet”
– Tower of Song
“I have to die a little/ Between each murderous thought/ And when I’m finished thinking/ I have to die a lot”
– Almost Like the Blues
“You want it darker/ We kill the flame”
– You Want It Darker
There are any number of post-US-election hot takes for you to digest right now, by people who were following the race far closer than me. The analyses of how Trump won, why, and who’s responsible are coming fast and furious.
One thing that I don’t think is controversial is this: he received a lot of coverage from the press. From the New York Times in March, here’s the amount of free media coverage he received versus the other contenders for leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties:
Whether that coverage was fair is debatable.
Some of his supporters might feel it was a relentless attack that mischaracterized the nature of his campaign and his appeal.
Some of his detractors might feel it was a free pass, normalizing bigotry and racism in favour of ratings.
But either way, Trump took up a lot of space, at the expense of other candidates, and a lot of time was focused some of his more… outrageous… talking points at the expense of other issues.
As you may or may not know, there is a Conservative Party leadership race underway right now. At the risk of drawing too many parallels to the Republicans, it is:
By the way, of the twelve people running, here’s the only one who’s received a national magazine cover:
And Kellie Leitch is making her way into Canadian headlines today thanks to a 3 am email reading:
“Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president
It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well.
It’s the message I’m bringing with my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada
It’s why I’m the only candidate who will ensure that every visitor, immigrant, and refugee will be screened for Canadian values
I look forward to continuing to deliver this message to the Canadian elites – that historic Canadian values are worth protecting.”
The temptation to go COULD A TRUMP CAMPAIGN SUCCEED IN CANADA? is strong and is already well underway. But I think some real thought needs to go into this, regardless of where you stand on the candidates or the issues.
Some questions for Canadian media going forward… and bearing in mind I’m not suggesting I have the answers:
“It was just this sense of we’re not being listened to, and we feel like this guy’s going to listen to us… it was more of a message of ‘I’m tired of my voice not being heard’. I think that there’s some congruency to the Brexit results, as well. The Brexit rhetoric sort of boiled down to two very polarized camps: it was either you’re a bleeding-heart leftist socialist for wanting to help these people, or you’re a racist for questioning how we integrate, how we successfully integrate newcomers into the country, and there was no sort of pragmatic middle ground.
“I think for us in Canada we have to be very careful to not fall into that same trap, for not having a place where we can talk about legitimate issues in a way that is positive for the growth of the country, that we don’t shy away from tough topics… because I feel like that was a big dynamic that happened down in the US, it happened in the UK, and I certainly don’t want to see it happen here.“
So how do we have those conversations, while keeping them grounded in reality? I think there’s a temptation, sometimes, to take some of the most polarizing voices on a controversial issue and pit them against each other, and act like that’s fair. My suspicion is there might be more value in renewing efforts to actually examine these debates in an informative way- one that treats all sides of an issue with respect, but doesn’t allow misinformation to go unchecked.
These aren’t opinions so much as sketches of questions floating through my mind. Interested to hear your thoughts.
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