Bikini, Burkini – Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

– initially entered as a series of ranty comments on an effbook post –

iPhone Photos 049I don’t care WHAT your religion is, or isn’t – no government has the right to tell anybody how to dress. So the government of France doesn’t have any more right to tell people what they can wear at the beach than the government of Saudi Arabia has to tell people what they CAN’T wear at the beach. Rather than banning a clothing style, why not address the root of the problem, which is racism and intolerance? If someone spits on you or assaults you, call the police (that’s what I’ve done). I also don’t care what the news is or isn’t reporting. This isn’t about the news; it’s about human rights.

If the government said “Canadian men are not permitted to remove their shirts because it makes people around them feel weird”, would that be okay? Of course not. (Although we could argue for a while here that in many cases, that would be a PERFECTLY REASONABLE BYLAW.) If the government said “we’re going to ban brimmed ballcaps because a large number of men who commit crimes wear ball caps”, would that be okay? No, because *it’s not the ball cap that’s causing the problem*. It’s inequity that’s causing the problem.

If we’re going to talk about terrorist attacks, let’s talk about the HUNDREDS of mass killings and violence that has been perpetrated by people who aren’t *from away* – again, rather than fear-mongering and stirring up peoples’ dander, why not get at the root of the problem, which is poverty, the shitty level of care for people with legitimate health issues, and cultures that teach violence as an answer to any and everything. I’m not denying people are afraid of people different from themselves – hell, this isn’t new. It’s been going on since the Sumerians enslaved non-Sumerians as a means of control and for cheap labour. If you dehumanise someone it’s much easier to feel better about the inequality they face.

But for Glob’s sake, telling people how do dress at a BEACH? How is this solving anything? Arresting women from one faith who choose to cover up? What is that solving? Is it making the French people any safer? Nope. Is it going to stop any terrorist attacks (from within or from without)? Nope. Is it going to stop people from spitting on women who aren’t covered up? Nope.

It’s like finding a leak in your pipe and deciding the best way to address it is to just not use that tap. It’s ridiculous.

And I’m also not denying that people in France are legitimately afraid of terrorist attacks. And I’m not denying that a lot of French people probably are terrified of identifiable Muslims. I’m saying that’s wrong, and that the government (and probably the media, but what do I know about the media) had a role to play in NOT FOSTERING FEAR OF A SINGLE RELIGIOUS GROUP. And yes, I say this from the relative safety of a third-storey building in Saskatchewan where the most terrorism I’ll ever see is the kind that comes from white Christians.

Yes, I’m mad. I’m mad at this attitude that it’s somehow okay for governments to tell people how to dress. The French constitution is pretty interesting in that there is, at least in theory, separation of church and state. Which is to say the government is far more secular than ours. The government of France is not “socialist”. It’s a republic. But it’s still based in parliamentary procedure, just like the US and Canada. You can’t pass laws based on “feelings”, and the reason this burkini ban was overturned by the French supreme court is precisely BECAUSE it was discriminatory. So calmer minds did prevail.

Let’s not forget that the biggest massacres in French history were not, in fact, in the past year, nor were they perpetrated by Muslims. They were perpetrated by Christians. (St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre saw upwards of 20,000 deaths in the 1500s; the Versailles government executed more than 10,000 prisoners at the suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871; British and French POWs were executed by German troops in the 1940s; French police murdered dozens of demonstrators in the Paris massacre of ’61.) So the only real difference here is that the last five attacks on French soil have been perpetrated by identifiably Muslim men for the first time this century. And in four of those five cases, the perpetrators *were French*. But you don’t see the French government trying to pass laws about how non-Muslim French people should dress at the beach.

If Muslims (or anyone else) is harassing, assaulting, or abusing people because of how they dress, then *address that problem*. Creating a blatantly intolerant law that very clearly is aimed only at women from an identifiable religious group is not solving anything. It’s just making things worse.

I should also say, in response to the comment “try going to the beach in Saudi Arabia and wearing a bikini” – try going to Germany and going to an heritage church wearing short-shorts. Try going to powwow and wearing a headdress. Try going to court naked. The argument that “human rights are worse in this other place” is not a great argument. It’s not a race to the bottom. At least, it shouldn’t be. Wouldn’t it be better for France to say, “yeah, you know what, if you wear what you want on a beach in Saudi Arabia, you can get arrested or shot. But not in France. France is awesome. We don’t care what you wear on the beach. Just leave the turtles alone.”

Hush

Blocking hateful and threatening posts from your social media feeds isn’t censorship, for crap’s sake. Censorship is the suppression of free speech. You’re still perfectly capable of bleating your fear-filled messages of intolerance and xenophobic BS on your own feeds, on your own website, on signs in your yard, in the books you publish, etc.. Hell, hire a marching band or a skywriter to say those things.

A news outlet or social media feed is not actually a public space – these sites are owned by a business, and therefore when you signed up to use them, the fine print that you didn’t bother reading outlined which permissions you were giving that business as it pertained to your actions and posts. Most businesses have a clause that says something about hate speech. The ones who don’t, should.

Many regions have laws against using threatening language. That means that you’re fine to call a politician horrible names, but if you say they should be shot, killed, hurt, or assaulted in any way, that’s against the law. What do you mean, why? Because in some places, that might be considered conspiracy to commit murder if someone actually takes your advice, that’s why.

This is pertinent right now not only because there are so many people actively advocating for the assassination of political candidates and leaders (I was shocked the first few times I saw people saying Rachel Notley should be shot. I was shocked when, five hours after being elected, someone called for Prime Minister Trudeau to be shot. I was shocked when someone said the worst thing about the recent alleged murder in Saskatchewan was that the accused left witnesses.)

There is a difference between stating an offensive and small-minded opinion and actually promoting hate and advocating violence. I don’t think enough people take online comments seriously enough, and I’d like to see more being done to track down the folks who do that kind of crap. We’re moving very, very slowly toward that goal, I think. Too many people think there’s nothing wrong with saying “I’ll bring my guns up to Canada and shoot you, you stupid liberal” (that was my most recent death threat, which was the result of my saying that I see a lot of my US friends expressing shock over what the Republican candidate said in the latest speech). If you’re out at an event, and you tell someone you’re going to kill them (especially if you’ve also been threatening them all night or being generally aggressive and miserable toward them), chances are good you’ll be removed, and possibly that the police will be called to deal with you. This needs to be the same for all communication – online forums too.

The practice of ‘outing’ someone (“doxxing” – and don’t bother correcting my spelling on that particular word; both “doxing” and “doxxing” are used and I prefer the latter because there are so few words with double exes – is when you publicly post someone’s name, address, and/or other personal information online) who’s said horrible things smacks of vigilantism. While I don’t have a problem with vigilantes like Batman (although he whines too much) and Spiderman and even Deadpool, I’m also a huge fan of due process. Mostly because I know I don’t have the skill to determine someone’s guilt or innocence based solely on what I read on social media, or on what I read in the paper, or on what I see on the news, or on what people tell me. I just don’t. Neither do most people. That’s why we have a judicial system.

It might not be fair, but it strives to be just. Or something like that. Anyway, I do like to see people experience consequences for their actions, especially when their actions are hurtful and damaging (as racism always is. Always. There is never a time when racism is okay. Nor sexism. Nor any kind of bigotry, really). But there needs to be (and in some cases there are) processes through which actual hate speech, harassment, and threats are dealt with that don’t involve posting someone’s personal information in a public space.

Why is that even a problem? The reason doxxing is a problem is because it’s not just that person who’s affected by the practice. If you commit an offense, you ought to be prepared to live with the consequences. Should your family also have to suffer the consequences? What about someone with the same name as you? What about your neighbours? It’s one thing to pass on a screen shot of horrible, horrible things to someone’s boss; it’s another thing entirely to post it to a very public space.

This is the thing about all of this – it’s all about rights and freedom. You have the right to say whatever the hell you want on your own terms and in your own public space – this is the freedom of speech. There are consequences, of course. And if you issue threats or advocate violence or promote hate, those consequences include legal action against you. Those consequences include the possibility that your employer will see what you’ve said and will decide that’s not the image they want to portray.

I guess on the other hand, if you’re okay with posting pictures of yourself online and are willing to stand behind your convictions, however hateful and fear-filled they are, that’s better than pretending you’rse something you’re not? I dunno. The practice of doxxing leaves me with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. It feels like an invasion of privacy. It feels like a violation. I’ve never been the sort of person who believes in ‘an eye for an eye’ – that kind of mentality just simply promotes brutality and doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t deter people from continuing to do shitty things.

I guess part of it is the “how far does it go” thing. Like, if you say hateful things on Facebook, does that give someone the right to find out your credit rating and post it on Facebook? Does that give someone the right to find out who your employer is and badmouth them for hiring you? It just seems bad.

Of course, the easy solution is to stop being bigoted twits.

 

Gender what now?

equal-rights-amendment_03_45db8bf5a51385ce2950b017cc305307_thumbYesterday, Premier Brad Wall announced his new cabinet (full disclosure: up until my mid-20s I thought a “cabinet shuffle” was a really, really lame dance move), a move which was met with literally no excitement. You could have sandwiched this media announcement between “Man Walks Dog” and “Library Fines Stay The Same As They’ve Always Been” and it STILL wouldn’t have been particularly newsworthy.

Except.

Except in the new cabinet, fewer than 1/4 of the ministers are female. I don’t know if this is because none of the women elected to the SaskParty are considered by its leadership to be capable of handling a cabinet position, or if it’s because they don’t want to handle a cabinet position, or if it’s because of “true gender blindness” (wherein the dudes who’ve always run the political show claim to not notice whether the person they’re working with is a woman. You know, kind of like how you don’t notice whether you’re driving, or when you don’t notice if someone near you has no face).

(And in case you in the back are sick of hearing about equal rights, that’s too damned bad, because until there is equality regardless of gender, gender expression, sexual preference, heritage, ethic background, religion, etc., I am going to keep talking about this. You know where the ‘unfollow’ button is if you don’t like it.)

Maybe you don’t care whether you elect a man or a woman (or a non-binary person). Maybe you don’t care whether the folks running your provincial government are men or women (or ‘other’). Maybe you think it just doesn’t matter so why keep crowing about it. If that’s the case, this is the end of the article for you. Thank you for reading this far!

In yesterday’s media release, newly appointed Minister of Social Services and Minister responsible for the Status of Women Tina Beaudry-Mellor said of the less-than-one-quarter-female cabinet, “the number [of women] that we have [in cabinet] is adequate.” Adequate for what, Ms. Beaudry-Mellor? Adequate for cook staff?

Tina Beaudry-Mellor was the chair of Equal Voice, and even served on its national board (Equal Voice, in case you’ve forgotten, is an association that tracks the number of women elected to public office and is dedicated to seeing that number rise. They work toward GENDER BALANCED GOVERNMENTS). So it’s a little weird to hear someone who worked for that organisation say that less than 1/4 of cabinet positions going to women is “adequate” (unless I’m vastly misinterpreting the phrase “gender balanced”).

The woman appointed to be the Minister responsible for the Status of Women thinks that fewer than 1/4 of cabinet positions going to women is “adequate”. ADEQUATE.

I suppose you could chalk this up to someone not wanting to badmouth their boss the second they got a new job, but if that had been me (and this is why it will never be me), I’d have said “actually, no, appointing fewer than half the cabinet positions to capable women is the wrong choice, but I expect that’s why the Premier asked me to take over this Ministry”. Maybe this is Beaudry-Mellor’s way of handing out a backhanded critique: she didn’t want to come right out and say “this is bullshit”, so instead she used a rather horrid term.

Think about it – you’re pleased as punch because you’ve just finished a huge project that everyone’s been asking about, and one of your team-mates, when asked about the work you did on the project says, “well, I mean. It’s adequate.” Not good. Not ideal. Not “GOOD JOB YOU!”. Adequate.

Nobody ever looks at their dog and says “ADEQUATE BOY, REX! ADEQUATE BOY!” On the other hand, nobody ever looks at the smoking ruins of their home and says “adequate job on keeping new batteries in those smoke detectors, Sharon”. Adequate is more or less a fancy way of saying “well, that kind of sucked, but I guess it’s better than if you hadn’t done anything at all. Maybe.”

So maybe it is adequate. It’s not satisfactory. It’s not okay. It’s not *good*. It’s certainly not ideal. At least you got some women in there, and maybe from the “inside”, Beaudry-Mellor can effect more change.

Let’s hope so.

 

Downtown Train

It’s been an interesting couple of months living downtown in the city. There are some truly great things like music festivals (two in August alone) and farmers’ markets (every Wednesday and Saturday, and sometimes on Thursday evenings) and outdoor movies and going to the pub for supper with friends and not having to worry about how we’re going to get home (we walked). It’s been wonderful to wake up and walk the dogs through the park and come home with enough time  to have tea and breakfast and then still have time enough to walk to work. Having a huge library across the street and several pools within easy walking distance is awesome.

Downtown SkyThere are some pretty significant drawbacks, like not feeling 100% confident sending my youngest out to walk the dogs alone – not because I’m particularly afraid something bad will happen, but because you worry that they won’t be able to get back into the condo, or the dogs might get freaked out and run off, or because – well. There are any number of things to worry about (note: this didn’t stop us from encouraging and expecting them to walk the dogs when we’re at work; it was just an added concern). Living in the city is EXPENSIVE. Even when you’re not driving anywhere.

There are no grocery stores within easy walking distance, so we ended up eating out a lot (because why drive if you don’t have to?). There are shops all over the place, and the mall is only a block away. THE GAMING STORE, PEOPLE, IS ONLY TWO BLOCKS AWAY. Anyway, let’s just say we spent a lot more in the past two months than we normally would over the summer. We could have worked a bit harder not to, but the point is that if I lived in the city, I would take convenience for granted – at home, if I decide at 11:30 that I want a snack and there are no snacks at home, I usually just have a glass of water or maybe I make some popcorn. In the city, I just go buy some snacks at the local 24-hour convenience store. (Where yes, you can buy groceries, but they’re RIDICULOUSLY expensive.)

Anyway, one of the best things I’ve experienced in the past couple of months are the people I’ve met downtown. We walk the dogs five or six times a day (tiny dogs have tiny bladders, don’t you know), early in the morning, throughout the day, and into the evening. There have been a couple of times I’ve not particularly wanted to go out alone – when the bar let out after the music festival ended, f’rinstance. The park was full of drunk people who are, at best, erratic and unpredictable like bears, and at worst, are angry or weepy and looking for something to fight.

The people who HAVEN’T given me pause are the folks who sleep in the park, who bum cigarettes, who might say something to you about your little dogs as you walk by. The people that other people tell you to be careful of. There was the guy (C) with the meth teeth who offered to ‘hook me up’ with ‘the maer-ih-joo-ah-neh’ if I was so inclined – nice kid who’s had a shite time of things since leaving school. He fully disclosed he has had problems with meth in the past and (probably like most people with that particular addiction), says he’s clean now.

I met R, from up north. He robbed a bank and was sentenced to five years in the federal penitentiary a province away. Nobody was hurt during the bank robbery. He didn’t kill anybody. Got five years hard time. He has an acquired brain injury and has never learned to read. He finished his program at a nearby halfway house, but is having a pretty hard time finding work because he’s illiterate.

There’s A, who has mental illness and can’t work. He also had to leave school because of his mental illness, and never quite got the grasp of basic arithmetic. He’s in his 70s and does his best with odd jobs. He makes enough to get by, but it’s not easy. He’s sweet and kind and loves talking to people.

D’s dogs ran away when she tried to board them with family – she had to leave the province to find work. When she got back, her dogs had been put down because her family wouldn’t go and get them, and she couldn’t find a place to live. But she looks after her sister’s daughter when she can. It’s hard to find a job when you don’t have a place to live, and public transit may or may not provide service to the area you’re living in during the times you have to work.

People are, for the most part, good. Living in the downtown has kind of restored my faith in people – it’s too easy to listen to all the bad crap that’s happening (yes, I’m aware there were two shootings in two weeks within six blocks of the area I’m talking about). It’s also reminded me that literacy is the key to beginning to alleviate poverty.

In Regina, you can volunteer with the Regina Public Library’s literacy program: http://www.reginalibrary.ca/literacy/

Read Saskatoon has some excellent programming: https://www.readsaskatoon.com

Check out Sask Literacy, too: http://saskliteracy.ca

Check out the section on education in the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Calls to Action: http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

We have work to do.

Listen, Lady

Listen, lady. I get that you’re super old and afraid of things like broken hips and air, but I was standing IN THE PARK, not on the sidewalk, with my dogs, who were *on leashes*. You weren’t watching where you were going. This was understandable, because the farmers’ market was on, and there are many delectable things in many delectable booths, and there are lots of people, prams, and puppies on the sidewalks (this is why I was on the grass, where the dogs wouldn’t be in peoples’ way). My dogs were standing (Princess Sassypants) and sitting (Bumblebutt) within a foot of me.

Bumblebutt*YOU* tripped over *my* dogs, kicking one of them in the process, then proceeded to stumble, which caused you to punch me in the back. When I turned and caught you, I apologised. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “Did my dogs trip you?”

“I didn’t see them,” you said. Then you glared at me, spat out some invective about idiots who can’t control their animals, and huffed indignantly.

Now, I’m going to have a good day in spite of your snottiness, but please do let me give you this advice, which I didn’t think would be helpful at the time: look where you’re going. Especially if you’re not walking on a sidewalk. Especially if you’re not always confident on your feet. Especially if YOU ARE AT A CROWDED FARMERS’ MARKET ON A NICE DAY AND VIRTUALLY A THIRD OF THE PEOPLE THERE HAVE DOGS ON LEASHES. MANY OF THOSE DOGS ARE TINY. I mean. I can do a lot to make sure my dogs aren’t bothering people, but turning in a circle and announcing “Peligro! Pequeños perros! Peligro!” in my best carnival barker voice isn’t one of them.

 

No phone, no pool, no pets

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If you’ve been following along the Twitter feed, you’ll know we’ve been ousted from Chez Relaxo and have been wandering like thistles for a few weeks. This all started (wavy remembery lines) back four or so years ago when we had some horrific ice dams one Spring. That led to water damage on the ceiling and walls in the house. We filed an insurance claim and the next Spring (before anything could be done) had another ice dam which resulted in more damage.
The damage wasn’t extensive but it was ugly and was starting to cause the stipple ceiling to bubble. We had supplied a couple of estimates to our insurance adjuster and at the time, there was some question as to the details of those estimates. We had a number of people from the insurance company come in and take a look and every time they did, the cost of repairs went higher and higher.
By the time we got back in touch with our insurers, our first adjuster had left and we had a New Guy (who has been very attentive and lovely). We had more people in, discovered the insulation had got wet which meant it needed to be replaced, which meant we needed an asbestos abatement (we have vermiculite in our attic). Fast forward to the first week of July, and we have vacated the house for the farm where the boys worked for my Da. We had been told we could move back in after a week. Maybe two.
End of week one, we haven’t heard from the remediation company doing the abatement. Turns out they’d run into some problems and needed more time. [I’m going to leave out some details here that you can ask me about over manhattans because there’s already too many bad vibes on the internet.] So we moved into the garage (the loft), thinking we’d only be there for a day or two.
A week later, we found short-term condo accommodation in Regina with Obasa Suites. That was this past Monday. In retrospect we should have just booked something back in June, but I’m a *good* socialist, and I wanted to save the insurance company some money so that’s why we chose to stay at the farm. By the time we realised we simply couldn’t live at home [issues with asbestos contamination, sawdust, and drywall dust from the repairs], we didn’t have much time to find accommodation. A Twitter friend (hi, @tholtergeist!) recommended @OBASAsuites. I have to tell you first of all that what I’m about to tell you is unsolicited.
These guys have been a bright light in what had become, for us, a pretty dismal and frustrating experience. I called these guys up and within a day we had a lovely 2BR suite with en suite laundry, a full kitchen, a fitness centre, and underground parking a block from Victoria Park in Regina. It’s a lovely suite, and they allowed us to bring our dogs (thus saving us…well, technically, our insurance company) hundreds of dollars in kennel fees. I walk to work every morning (and can even come “home” for lunch).
But what amazed me was something that happened this morning. We were taking #PrincessSassypants and #Bumblebutt for a walk, and the elevator did this little drop thing on the main floor. Landed about a half foot below floor level, and the doors shot open. Sassypants bolted out (on a leash) and the door started sliding shut. I tried sticking my hand out to stop it but it wasn’t about to stop. I tried throwing her leash out but the door closed before I could. Then the elevator started going up. Dog on the outside, attached to leash, me inside holding leash. I dropped my end as the elevator shot up to the second floor. The leash pulled out through the doors.
By the time we got back down and out of the damned thing, a lovely lady, nearly in tears, was holding Princess Sassypants. The property manager was standing there too, a look of horror on her face.

“She started going up,” the lady said. “She just got pulled up by her leash and I tried to take it off but I couldn’t so I just held on to her and she didn’t bite me or anything but I thought she was going to be strangled!”

The dogs have “bras” – halters that attach to their leashes so that they don’t garrotte themselves with their collars (little dogs are prone to tracheal collapse so any pressure on their throats is a Bad Thing). Thank Glob we had Sassypants in that bra, otherwise things could have turned out very differently.

Kind Lady handed me the dog, and was quite traumatised (Sassypants was fine, as is her wont). We thanked Kind Lady very much and took the girls out for a pee and exhaled at how lucky we’d been. We’re planning to leave a gift of gratitude for the Kind Dog-Saving Lady.

When I got home from work, I found out the manager of Obasa suites gave us a gift card “to get our fur babies a treat” and to apologise for the malfunctioning elevator and the dangerous and frightening situation we’d been in.

That small act of kindness impressed the shit out of me. It was a small gesture that has had a huge effect on me. They didn’t have to do that. It was an accident, and thankfully nobody was hurt, but let me tell you – these guys have not only been incredibly accommodating (literally) to get us set up in a wonderful home-away-from-home during a pretty stressful time; they’ve gone above and beyond to make sure we’re comfortable and …well… That we’re cared for. I’ve never had an experience like this before (and hope I never have to go through the bad stuff again). So I want to give a huge shout-out to Obasa Suites for their kindness. I will remember this well.
And I do recommend Obasa if you’re in Regina or Saskatoon for more than a couple of days. There’s nothing better than having your own space and a kitchen when you’re away from home for a week or a month or longer.

Just Another Happy Plant

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The circled portion of this plant has been waving at me and not doing any kind of mind control for the past half hour.

Okay so there’s this plant in my office. I don’t know what it’s called (maybe some kind of hoya “wax plant” or something), but it’s a thing that kind of vines and sends out runners and it’s awesome. We inherited it from the shady travel agency when it (the shady travel agency, not the plant) got raided by the police. This was shortly before the police raided the grow-op on the OTHER side of us. We’ve since moved.

Anyway, we have this plant. It’s in a very sunny window which it has been enjoying greatly, as I can tell by the happiness of its leaves. But it’s been sending out this runner. And today, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. The runner was waving around like it was employing the communications device known as “muppet arms”. I gleefully pointed this out to my co-worker who informed me that the plant does this on a regular basis.

As I watched, giggling gleefully because, let’s be clear, this is basically the most exciting thing to happen in my entire life, the runner stem flipped itself back overtop of the bookshelf where it normally hangs out. I had assumed the thing was moving because of air currents and whatnot, but now it’s completely clear that the plant has been waving at me. Now the stem is gently bouncing up and down hypnotically. I’m sure we can all agree this is perfectly safe and normal plant behaviour and is not in any way related to mind control.

So I’ve been sitting at my desk, clapping and laughing while the plant waves at me. This is basically the best day of my life.

Burn Blog Tour – Saying Goodbye

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I’ve been putting this off for as long as I can. I’m not…good…with goodbyes. I’m a ghoster; a master of what in my family was called “the Irish farewell”, which was to simply leave the room innocuously when nobody was looking, so as to leave without making a huge deal of leaving. It bothers the hell out of some folks, but there’s truth to the old Lincoln saw that you can’t please all the people all the time. If you’re the sort of person who loves intensely, feverishly, and deeply, you understand – you can’t just fall in love and wave your lover away. It’s better to just quietly leave rather than being forced to say goodbye. The thing about goodbye is that despite all the adages about ‘it’s only farewell, not goodbye’, you’re acknowledging that the thing you’ve been enjoying is coming to an end. It’s a great time for new things to begin, but as humans, we need a bit of time to mourn. A bit of time to understand how this new state is going to pan out (the state of not being with someone).

The worst thing about books is that they end. As you approach the end papers of a truly good book, it’s like you’re gearing yourself up to say goodbye. There’s no way to Irish Farewell your way out of a good book, unfortunately, because leaving it unread will drive you mad. I’m pretty sure God invented book series precisely to keep us from wandering around, moping in a funk every time we finish a good book. Whether or not you believe in God, moping in a funk doesn’t solve anything and just makes everyone around you miserable too.

BurnI’ve been anticipating Paula Weston’s Burn with a mixture of intense excitement and deep, deep despair. I know it’s the last book in the Rephaim series, and I’ve been steeling myself against the funky mopies as best I can. I thought I had until September, but when the book showed up in my post box recently, I actually ran around the house flapping my arms like Kermit the Frog and screaming like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert in the 1950s [editor’s note: 1960s].

There’s another thing.

I once read the blog tour entry I wrote for Shimmer to #TheTeen (yes, he even gets his own hashtag). He got noticeably jumpy and asked me if I’d read any of the others in the series, so I ended up reading him all the blog tour posts I’ve done for this YA series from Tundra Books. The more I read, the antsier he got until finally in his “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS DELAYED GRATIFICATION” voice, he asked, MOM MOM MOM DO YOU HAVE THOSE BOOKS OR IF NOT CAN WE JUST GO TO THE CITY TO BUY THEM RIGHT NOW PLEASE? You know the author’s on to something when a 16-year-old loses his mind over wanting to read some books.

I ended up lending him all three of the first books in this series about a couple of half-angel, half-human warriors, which he proceeded to consume like a starving man eats …well, pretty much anything, actually. So when he saw me running around the house like Kermit the Frog and screaming like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert circa 1955 [editor’s note: 1965] while brandishing a fresh-out-of-the-box copy of Burn, HE screamed like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert and started flapping his hands like a muppet. (We are cut from the same cloth, he and I.)

Yeah, we were excited. Probably more than regular people get at having a book in their house, but there was a bittersweetness to the joy, because we knew it meant the series was over. Whatever else Rafa and Jude and Gaby got up to after this would be their business, not ours. Yet on the other hand, the downfall of so many book series is that they seem to never end. Each subsequent title in the franchise gets watered down just a little until eventually, you’re on book 84 and you’ve forgotten why you started reading the series at all. Sometimes, it’s good when things end. Especially when they end the way they started: with passion, strength and a little bit of mystery.

Jude and I are looking at each other. Watching. Sunlight streams through the window, warms my back. I can hear the surf pounding the beach a block away. A magpie somewhere outside. My room smells of stale coffee and the half-melted vanilla-bean candle in a mason jar by my bed. My chest is a storm of emotion, thunderous and insistent. …I already know I can’t outrun the thing I’m trying to avoid. The truth.

ShadowsGaby and Jude, sibling Rephaim (the children of angelic fathers and human mothers), up until about ten days ago, each thought the other was dead – their memories had been altered, and they’d forgotten everything about their lives as anything other than humans. But then everything started to change. Burn starts with those lost memories coming flooding back, at a pretty inconvenient time (just before a war between heaven and hell), and right when Gaby and Jude were starting to feel like they were finding places for themselves among their half-angelic kin.

The betrayal of one of their own that runs so deep it falls strongly into the category of “conspiracy theory proven conspiracy fact” has burst open a schism that had only just begun to heal. One of the Rephaim themselves is involved in hunting others of their kind; there is a spy among them, a discovery which uncovers decades, even centuries of betrayal. Traversing the breadth of this betrayal takes time and resources the Rephaim just don’t have – a prophet has come to them and warned them of the coming war that has something – although nobody knows exactly what – to do with the factions that have emerged among the Rephaim themselves.

We gather around, no longer in formation…I’m shoulder-to-shoulder with Jude and Rafa. I think about the past – real and fabricated – all the moments that make me who I am. What it means to have lived as a half-angel warrior and a human. The value of my friends…

HazeSomething’s coming. Something big. If the Rephaim have any hope of surviving, they have to figure out the prophecies that have been suppressed and manipulated for ages. They have to figure out who altered Gaby and Jude’s memories and why. They have to figure out whether they can work together, or whether trying to do so will make everything worse. Running through the entire story is the question of whether Gaby can trust Rafa – whether she can trust herself. There is history there, and Rafa has always known what it is. Can Gaby live with her newly remembered knowledge of it?

Paula Weston  has crafted a series of novels that seamlessly weave together mystery, romance, and action, within a captivating supernatural setting. Without the heavy religious overtones that sometimes accompany stories of angels and demons, the Rephaim series is a damned fine adventure, propelled by a strong and inquisitive lead character (Gaby) and a supporting cast of gripping, believable characters you’ll recognise from your own group of friends (or your D&D party): The devilishly handsome ex who likes being in charge (Daniel); the action-oriented fighter who’s always scrappy (Taya); the true anarchist (Mya); the ridiculously smart person who would prefer to get all the information before they do anything (Magda); the person who always has time to listen but who doesn’t take any crap (Micah); the keeper of secrets (Jason); and that couple who complement each other so perfectly you suspect they’ve been together since before they could walk (Ez and Zak).

With a fairly large cast of characters, there’s always a fear that you’ll need a flow chart and a sherpa to muddle your way through each book (I’m looking at you, George R. R. Martin), but Weston is a true artist. Each of her characters is brilliantly individual (and here’s kudos also to Weston’s editor, making sure every cast member is in the right place at the right time); it’s rather like you’re at a party and you know everyone well enough to recognise each voice. Even with some of the new characters introduced in Burn (and I don’t want to give you any spoilers), you don’t lose your sense of who’s who.

ShimmerI desperately wanted to savour this book, and I tried. I mean, I *really* tried. But it’s pretty tough to savour a book when there’s an Australian beach full of demons descending on innocent people, and an ancient mystery to solve, and treason within the ranks and perfidy without. It’s pretty tough to just take it easy when the glass is flying and hearts are breaking and being healed and breaking again. You can’t just saunter your way through mystical binding rights and long-forgotten summoning rituals and a decade of repressed memories that answer the questions you had from book one.

Nobody speaks. Nobody moves. In the stillness, a wave breaks on the shore. Our world is being up-ended and shaken out but the tide keeps rolling in, oblivious.

If you have the option of reading the entire series (Shadows, Haze, Shimmer, and Burn) this summer, do it. The entire story actually only occupies about a two-week period. Work it so you read along with the actual timeframe of the narrative, you’ll have a good idea of just how intense the story truly is.  Like many serialised stories, a bit of wandering happens somewhere in the middle, and I’d say the first and last books (Shimmer and Burn) are the strongest and most tightly paced. Yet Weston has a way of tying her characters up in to pretzelly knots you’re going to want to watch untangle.

It’s been a great deal of fun reading the Rephaim series, and a huge thank you to Tundra Books for inviting me along on the blog tour for each of these four titles. Both #TheTeen and I have had a wonderful time talking about each of these books, and I know we’ll have more fun with them in the future – my current goal is to re-read the entire series in under two weeks, to get a closer glimpse of Gaby’s transformation. Keep your eyes peeled for Paula Weston’s next books. I have a sneaking suspicion you won’t be disappointed.

You can find these books at your local indie bookseller, or from Tundra Books.

Read the previous centre of the universe blog tour entries for Shadows, Haze, and Shimmer

Paula WestonPaula Weston lives in Brisbane with her husband, Murray and their pets, a retired greyhound and a moody cockatiel. She reads widely. Shadows, book one of the Rephaim series, was her first novel. Visit her website at paula-weston.com for more information.

Follow the Talking with Tundra site or any of these book tour blogs for more takes on Burn: 

MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2016
Lee at Rally the Readers
Michelle at Undeniably Book Nerdy
Juhina at Maji Bookshelf

TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2016
Lynne at Words of Mystery
Laura at If It Has Words
Leanne at Author Leanne Dyck
Crystal at Bookiemoji

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 2016
Lauren at Love is not a triangle
Joy at Joyousreads
Krystal at Krystal’s Stellar Book Blog

THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2016
Jaime at Fiction Fare
Liz at Midnight Bloom Reads
Crystal at Winterhaven Books
Andrea at Cozy Up With A Good Read

FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2016
Jen at The Starry-Eyed Revue
Patty at Bookish Wanderlove

You can also follow @TundraBooks@PaulaWeston, and the wonderful bloggers on twitter!

Existential Threat

Saskatchewan Premier warns the oil industry is under existential threat by activists

 

I dunno about you, but existential threats have always been kind of fun once you get over the whining part. They’re truly the best for growth – most of us have some kind of existential threat when our first love crumbles or when we fail at something we’re truly passionate about. The point is, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, dry the tears from our cheeks, and we sally forth to become stronger, more amazing people.

In other words, the PURPOSE of a true existential threat is to make you question what your true nature is. To force you to question yourself, your goals, and to assess your needs versus your wants. Existential threats are POWERFUL agents of change. Given a healthy body and mind, you will come through your existential threats with flying colours and keen insights. They help to build us faster. Stronger. Better.
I truly do hope the oil industry is facing an existential threat. I don’t want the petroleum industry to disappear or to die out; I think it’s a silly notion that it will or that it’s become irrelevant. But it’s absolutely silly (not to mention irresponsible) to base the lions’ share of your economy on one or two resource-based industries. It’s also silly to insist that the petroleum industry is the ONLY industry that will generate the kinds of revenues you’re hoping to see.

Budgeting is no different from gambling, but there’s still a difference between blackjack and roulette. If my government is going to gamble with their plans for citizens’ money, I’d RATHER they do so with a strong understanding of (and acceptance of)things like non-partisan research and statistics. We’ve all heard how important it is to diversify your investments. It’s important for any organization, business or government, to diversify their revenue streams as well. And to BUDGET with that in mind.

Now, with the balanced budget legislation facing an existential threat at the hands of its parents, makes a person wonder what else the government could have done in their budget. Well, they could have raised taxes. Not necessarily income tax, although that’s always an option, but certainly sin tax (they didn’t want to do that, I’m sure, while introducing private liquor stores which people mysteriously think are going to offer cheaper product [news flash: they don’t]). Hospitality tax – heading in to the tourism season, they could have instituted a hospitality tax.

Ultimately, the only thing to fear about an existential threat is that it will pass and nothing will change. Oh wait. I’m thinking of existentialIST threats. Yeah, hey, existential threats are super bad and mean the end is nigh…I think Brad Wall has those two words mixed up too. The petroleum industry isn’t going anywhere. What’s happening now is that people are saying it’s time to ALSO invest in OTHER forms of energy. Activists aren’t about to eradicate the oil industry, for crap’s sake (although if they were, this would be the most powerful they’ve ever been. What, are hippies everywhere are joyfully chomping away on kale or whatever other kind of hideous food they eat, claiming victory over “Big Oil”?). Deciding not to build enormous pipelines because you have serious concerns over their safety BASED ON EMPIRICAL DATA has nothing to do with activism. It has to do with empirical data.

Yeah. Wow. Totally not the same thing. Just goes to show you that even a premier can get a word wrong now and then.

Ain’t nothing wrong with faith

IMG_4436After yesterday’s little rant about public funding going to “independent schools”, let me be clear about something: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with religion or with faith (I know some folks disagree, but that’s a discussion for another time). As someone who spent every summer in bible school, who helped run church youth groups, who was Baha’i for a number of years, I chose to be baptised in my late 20s, and while my current religious beliefs are really nobody’s business (I’ll talk about it if you ask), I think faith is lovely. I think prayer is lovely. If religious belief and/or adherence is something that enriches your life, practising your faith is one of the most profound things you can do, and I think that’s awesome.

Faith is not the problem. The problem is that we must develop and maintain a separation of church and state. With “independent schools” receiving public funding, we have a situation where private service institutions are funded, in part, by public tax revenue – your tax dollars may be used to support an institution in which your children may not be eligible to enrol.

(Aside: I also have a problem with schools that receive public funding calling themselves “independent schools”, and yes, I understand they mean “independent of the public school system”, but truly what they mean is “private schools” or “alternative schools”. So. There’s that bugbear.)

In other words, this isn’t an attack on religion. It’s not even a rail against religious schools or faith-based instruction or home schooling. It’s a rail against spending public funds on what are, ostensibly, private institutions. I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to send one of my kids to an “independent school”, I’d have to pay tuition. And that’s fine and I would expect to do so, but I sure as hell don’t think tuition for private schools should be subsidised by tax revenue. ESPECIALLY when we’re in a situation where our public school system is facing funding shortfalls, cutbacks, and even closures.

We should have all KINDS of educational institutions. Truly independent schools where if you want your children to have specialised or focussed education (arts, athletics, religion, gender-specific, elite academics), you should have to pay the full tuition (barring scholarships, bursaries, etc. from the private sector). Faith-based schools should receive their funding only from tuition, from the religious institution with which they’re associated, and from private sponsorship and patronage. There’s room here for governments to provide scholarships *for non faith-based education* to individual students, but not to subsidise the institutions themselves.

Faith was never the problem. The problem has always been the necessity to separate (and to KEEP separate) church and state. Public funding has no place in faith-based institutions, if we are to truly have an open and democratic society. (Also the rant about ending tax leniency/exemptions for faith-based institutions and private business will come at a later date.)

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