August 8th, 2010, 10 Comments »
A few months ago, I was on a flight between two American cities. I was at the front of the economy class cabin, and watched as one of the first class customers waved down a flight attendant. He said, “there’s a soldier back there–would it be all right if I switched seats with him?”
On that same trip, I stood behind a couple of men on an escalator. They were strangers to each other, and were just chitchatting about flight connections. One was dressed in a military uniform. When they parted ways at the bottom of the escalator, the other man said “thank you for your service”.
Today I listened to a recent episode of This American Life. In it, a man tells the story of how a flight attendant requested that passengers remain seated so that a soldier returning from Iraq could disembark first. He was going to see his eight-and-a-half month-old baby for the first time.
I’ve witnessed other similar acts of generosity and kindness toward American military personnel. It’s a coincidence, I think, that these three stories happened at airports. I’ve never seen such gestures in Canada, though that may be because we have few military bases in and around Vancouver, and we just have fewer military personnel per capita.
I’m not sure how to feel about this. Should we accord extra respect toward soldiers? And does it matter if they’re being deployed to war zones?
On the one hand, they’re usually underprivileged, under-educated citizens being paid poorly to put their lives at risk ostensibly in defense of their nation.
On the other hand, maybe they’re no or less heroic than firefights, police officers or nurses? Plus, they may be engaged in a war with which you disagree.
Maybe this is just another way of asking “can you support the troops but not the war”, which is a question we talked about back in 2006.
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May 28th, 2008, 30 Comments »
I was just out for a walk, and I listened to a recent episode of This American Life. It was about prom night, and excellent as usual.
At my high school in West Vancouver, we never had anything called ‘prom’. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what prom is. From Wikipedia:
In the United States and Canada a prom, short for promenade, is used to describe a formal dance held at the end of an academic year…
While proms at smaller schools may hold a school prom open to the entire student body, large high schools may hold two proms, a junior prom for those finishing their 11th grade year and a senior prom for those who are finishing their high school years. The name is derived from the late nineteenth century practice of a promenade ball. The end of year tradition stemmed from the graduation ball tradition.
At Sentinel Secondary (holy crap, high school classes are now 80 minutes?) in West Vancouver, we had three or four dances each year, and then a year end event called ‘grad’. Grad involved the graduation ceremony, a dinner, dancing and the usual after-grad mayhem.
If memory serves, by 6:00am on the morning following grad, I ended up in my friend Lincoln’s hot tub. In a classic high school gaffe, Lincoln, myself and another guy, Ryan, all had grad dates that weren’t our girlfriends. I was taking Lincoln’s girlfriend, Ryan was taking mine, and Lincoln was taking a third young woman (their relationship status is entirely fuzzy in my memory).
If you went to high school in Canada, did you have something called ‘prom’? Is this, maybe, a regional preference?
DJs or Live Bands?
On a related note, did you have DJs or live bands at your high school dances? I ask because on the TAL broadcast, they visit a few proms, and they always seem to have DJs. At my high school, we almost always had live bands.
Was this commonplace back in the late eighties? Is it common now, or are all high school dances now DJ-powered?
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February 26th, 2008, 12 Comments »
According to the New York Times, Americans are leaving golf courses in droves:
The total number of people who play has declined or remained flat each year since 2000, dropping to about 26 million from 30 million, according to the National Golf Foundation and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
More troubling to golf boosters, the number of people who play 25 times a year or more fell to 4.6 million in 2005 from 6.9 million in 2000, a loss of about a third.
Those numbers are pretty shocking. I wonder if this is some kind of Tiger Woods-related backlash. A bunch of people started playing golf because of Woods’s stratospheric popularity, but didn’t stick with the game. The article cites the duration of the average game, the high costs, reduction in corporate treats, American apathy towards athletics and shifting family responsibilities as possible reasons for the decline.
The article also discusses declines in other sports–tennis, swimming, hiking, biking and downhill skiing. I also connect this trend with an ongoing reduction in the number of hunters.
Classist, Sexist and Racist
I think this is great news. Golf clubs remain some of the most classist, sexist and racist institutions on the continent. More importantly, golf courses are vast swaths of monoculture grass and huge consumers of fresh water. There are occasional water shortages here in Essaouira because the nearby golf course uses too much of the local water, which is already in short supply. That’s not to mention how inefficient they are in terms of people-per-square-kilometer.
I have a dream. In the next decade, I want cities, provinces and states to buy every bankrupt golf course and turn them into parks, rec centres and other public spaces. I’m sure that this would prove financially inviable, but that’s why it’s a dream.
12 Comments »
January 18th, 2008, 9 Comments »
You’ve no doubt heard about the American sub-prime mortgage crisis, its impact on the American and global economies, and the dreary outlook for 2008. I’m certainly not the sharpest tack on the cork board when it comes to global finance, so I didn’t have a particularly cogent picture of the crisis.
I do now, thanks to an excellent BBC documentary that explains the situation using California’s hardest hit town as an example. From an accompanying article:
“People went to the bank and got a loan on the increase in the price of their home. They went out and spent all that money,” he explains. “Price of the home went up again, they went back to the bank and got another loan. They went out again and spent that money on cars and jewellery and furniture – whatever they wanted.”
With the help of the banks, Mr Carrigan says, people in Stockton “spent their house”.
It’s not the most fascinating subject in the world, but it’s having an impact on markets in every corner of the globe.
9 Comments »
October 4th, 2007, 8 Comments »
My Irish friend Sarah recently wrote a post about a trip to the USA, and the stark difference between customer service in Ireland and stateside:
In Ireland, no matter what shop you go into, the main purpose of the assistants is to make clear that you neednÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think you are any better than them just because they are on the other side of the counter. Refusal to make eye contact, flinging change on the counter (or managing to put it in your hand without looking at you which takes considerable effort) grumpily announcing that all sizes are on display and consciously avoiding oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s attempt to attract attention.
The Irish folks in the comment thread unilaterally agree. All of my Irish friends would regularly complain about the service in Ireland. They sometimes found the service in North America a little ingenuine, but they preferred too much help to not enough.
There’s tangible evidence of this attitude implicit in the way Irish clerks greet you in many shops. They say “are you okay, there?” I never really knew what the correct answer to that question was. If I needed assistance, I think I was supposed to say “no”, as in “I’m not okay, I need your help finding hot pants”, or whatever.
The subtext of “are you okay, there?” is, of course, “do I actually have to deign to do my job and help you?”
I asked several Irish people why there’s such a lousy attitude in the service industry. Nobody gave me a satisfactory answer.
8 Comments »
September 20th, 2007, 2 Comments »
That’s the question posed by yet another great BBC radio documentary, entitled Top of the Class. There’s a ton of fascinating insights, some of them pretty counter-intuitive, into the devising an educational system that maps to a country’s social structure and policy. A few unexpected facts from the program:
- Finnish students don’t start school until the age of seven.
- There’s only a 4% difference in achievement between the students at the country’s best and worst schools.
- Though it’s above-average, the Finns spend less on education than many other nations, including the US and South Korea.
I know I’ve mentioned a lot of these docs lately, but I’ve been really digging them. They’re exceptionally well done, and–at 22 minutes–an ideal length to listen to while, say, stretching, doing the dishes or sweeping the patio.
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