Friday, 31 January 2014

4 Reasons Internet Forums Still Matter for Business Communicators

Last October, in the midst of a high-profile spat between Edmonton International Airport and Air Canada over the embattled Edmonton-London service, something interesting happened that changed my perspective on digital communications. I was contacted by an Edmonton lawyer and frequent flyer who is an active participant in the popular international frequent flyer chat forum FlyerTalk under the rather sassy handle "PunishedEdmontonian". He directed me to a lengthy and animated online conversation about the route in question, which appeared to be a pitched battle between EIA defenders and hidebound supporters of Air Canada.

He later asked me if I would be willing to organize an Edmonton meet-up for forum participants at the airport. I agreed, and some two months later I was playing host to a group of frequent flyers and aviation geeks in an event that included tours of EIA's ATC tower and centralized baggage system, presentations from EIA's gurus of operations, emergency, commercial development, air service development and parking/ground transportation, and some pints afterwards with a crowd that included journalists, municipal and provincial government staffers, lawyers, IT people and other assorted provocateurs and malcontents.

All this was an eye-opener for me because as a thirty-something social media obsessive, I had all but forgotten about Internet chat forums. While some part of my brain was cognizent of the fact that they still existed, I had incorrectly assumed that their once-enthusiastic denizens had for the most part, like me, moved onto Facebook, Twitter and other 2.0-vintage networking platforms. I could scarcely have been wronger. FlyerTalk, for example, has been around since 1998 (prehistoric in Internet terms) and has grown steadily, attracting anywhere between 27,000 and 52,000 daily unique visitors and has racked up over 20 million posts. Not bad for a communication tool widely perceived as having been eclipsed!

I bring this up because, as a professional communicator, there are very good reasons not to ignore Internet forums, particularly industry-relevant ones. In addition to it simply being bad business to ignore any group of stakeholders, chat forum participants are a very different breed from the majority of social media users in the following three regards:

1. They're a great source of information.

Web forums, particularly industry-specific ones, tend to attract very industry-savvy people. FlyerTalk participants, for example, are typically people who fly a great deal (certainly far more than I do) and therefore have a great deal of perspective on airports, airlines and other facets of the business I'm in and are therefore sources of information far too good to ignore.

2. They reach a very influential demographic.

While it's true that social media is no longer the exclusive domain of the young, the gap between social media users and non-users is still very much a generational one. (A recent survey shows the typical Twitter user is a 37-year-old woman.) Not surprisingly, the average age of an Internet chat forum, particularly one like FlyerTalk, is considerably older than the average Twitter or Facebook user - and indeed I was easily one of the youngest people among the 40-some people who attended my recent airport meet-up. It therefore goes without saying that if you want to reach our society's wealthiest and most influential demographic group online (i.e. Boomers), you're much more likely to find them on a forum like FlyerTalk than on, say, Twitter.

3. Their publics tend to care a lot.

Participants on forums like FlyerTalk aren't just highly informed. They also tend to be extremely passionate about whatever they're talking about. And unlike today's social networks, these people suffer from far less of the attention deficit disorder that comes with Facebook, Twitter and the like, with threads often continuing on for days and even weeks. From the standpoint of a professional communicators, web forums are a readymade arena for networking with potential intervening publics - people who will very enthusiastically transmit your key messages to the far reaches of the intertubes. Granted you'll have to fight off those who are dead-set against whatever you're doing, but it's a fight well worth fighting.

4. They're actively moderated - and therefore usually nice.

The other nice thing about web forums like FlyerTalk is they're actively monitored by moderators who do their best to ensure civility and respectfulness. So while discussions can often get heated (and they certainly did over the Air Canada-EIA snafu), it's still a stark departure from the sort of asinine commentary you typically see accompanying an online newspaper story or, for that matter, on the social networks. It's not always above the belt, but it tends to be. And the FlyerTalk folks who attended our event this week at EIA, while many of the differed in opinion about airport business and our airline partners, were respectful to a fault and all-around wonderful guests.

In the meantime I'm off to New Orleans next week for IABC's Leadership Institute conference, and from there returning home via Chicago for three days with my sister. And as I'll be using a total of four airports for the trip (and trusting United Airlines with my luggage), I'm definitely be checking in with my new BFFs at FlyerTalk. And for my fellow Gen-Y'ers out there, you'll be happy to know they're also on Twitter at @flyertalk. That should help me ease into it!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

(Poem) Waiting for a date in Shinjuku


Overhead lights
Undertoe, frog splashing
Neon ripples
Remnants of a postwar human frenzy
Still casting shadows at the end of the night

I stand here
Usagi in the headlights
In Omoide Yokocho
Piss alley turned memory lane
Isn’t drunkenness supposed to kill your memories - the ones the B29s couldn't?

The city hangs overhead
Searchlights evanesce
Caricatured modernity envelops Showa movie sets
The clash of light
Too much to bear

It would all be too easy
To play the role of the drunken tengu
In the backalleys of Shinjuku
Hypnotized by the hanging masses, comforted by the steady hum
Of postwar light fixtures and the underground thrum

Eventually someone
Will flatten this quadrant of space and time
And I could lying drunk across this alley
Arthur Dent on the Sumida
Waiting to see who rusts first

Pinpricks of towerlight tap my skull
Worker bees still at it
Keeping the city alight
And irrelevance-free
The modern still hasn’t punched out, don’t you know?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

6 Reasons To Attend IABC Edmonton's New Year's Mixer

Thinking about joining us next Wednesday for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Edmonton New Year's Mixer? Apart from being cheap ($10 for members, $5 for students and $15 for non-members), there are six extremely good reasons for attending. Here they are - in no particular order.
1) Get a great professional jumpstart to the year.
Do your new year's resolutions include ambitious career goals? Are you looking to change tracks this year, secure a promotion or develop specific new communications skills? If so, you're going to want to start mingling with your fellow communicators in the city, and there could be no better way to start than by attending IABC Edmonton's New Year's Mixer. And for those of you who are natural introverts and have a difficult time with networking events, our mixers are cozy, friendly affairs with drink tickets that will help soothe your nerves.
2) Meet our board members.
IABC Edmonton's board is a charming and motley assortment of professional communicators who represent all sectors of the city and levels of career development. Looking to network with people from specific sectors and potential employers? Our board includes representatives from:
  • ATCO Electric
  • Axxiome Group
  • B5 Communications
  • Berlin
  • Canadian Western Bank
  • City of Edmonton
  • College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta
  • Covenant Health
  • Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd.
  • Department of National Defence
  • Edmonton Airports
  • James Murgatroyd Communications
  • White Box Communications
3) Check out one of Edmonton's most talked about new eateries.
Perhaps you've already been to the Parlour Italian Kitchen and Bar on Capital Boulevard. Most likely you haven't yet, because it only opened late last November. But this highly anticipated new addition to Edmonton's gastronomic scene is more than living up to its promise thanks to its gorgeous setting and decor, top-notch service, dynamite wood oven pizzas and superb selection of Italian, Argentine and Californian wines. For more on this event's host venue, read this Edmonton Journal restaurant review.
4) Win some great swag from Edmonton Airports.
Door prizes are a tradition at IABC events. And this event will be no exception. Edmonton International Airport has been a longstanding supporter of IABC Edmonton (and has indeed given us a few board members over the year), and with record-breaking passenger numbers and a new route to Iceland debuting this year, it's got a lot to celebrate right now. No, you won't win a trip to Reykjavik, but the airport is throwing in some nonetheless cool stuff for this event. But you won't find out what unless you attend.
5) Shake off the midwinter blues.
Let's face it - this time of year sucks in this city. If you're in Cancun or Maui or just about anywhere else right now, good for you. If, like the rest of us, you're not, then why not party on a random Wednesday night? With temperatures and our hockey team both in the cellar, there's precious little else to celebrate right now. So why not celebrate being a communications professional in this otherwise great city of ours? After all, we're all in this together - we might as well enjoy it!
6) Be part of the #WeLoveEdmonton campaign.
You may not have heard but Edmonton was just named one of 34 finalists (including three in Canada) in this year's Earth Hour City Challenge, which recognizes cities making a sincere commitment to sustainability. In honour of this accolade from the World Wildlife Federation, the city is promoting the #WeLoveEdmonton campaign aimed at showing the world that we're not only a paragon of sustainability but also a fantastically engaged, cohesive and, yes, communicative city. As professional communicators it's up to us to lead the charge in this campaign, and what better way to kick it off than to party it up with your fellow communicators in a suitably sustainable retrofitted old building in the heart of our revitalized downtown. Bring your iPhone and tweet your heart out over pizza, wine and PR gossip!
Click here to sign up for it.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

(Haiku) First Night in Tokyo

the urban landscape

clamouring for attention

bends itself in knots

(Tokyo, October 2003)

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

8 Ways Male Musicians Can Fight Misogyny in Music

Poster for feminist concert series in Leeds, UK (source:
It's a world I love dearly and thus it pains me to say it, but in my experience the music world is one of the most profoundly sexist professional domains out there. I say this partly as an occasional musician myself, but mostly as the spouse of a professional musician who has spent a great deal of time immersed in musical settings. Particularly in recent years I've developed strong friendships with a number of female musicians, and have seen first-hand how much unadulterated sexism and misogyny they have to face on a regular basis.

For those outside the music business this might well come as a shock. After all, surely professional domains such as engineering and construction are more rife with sexism than music. While I've spent less time in these worlds (aside from a year working closely with the construction industry at Merit Contractors Association), I would maintain that it's worse in the music world. While engineering and construction are still overwhelmingly male-dominated professions, there is at the very least a widespread recognition of the ingrained sexism in these domains and, in this country at least, most of the leading construction firms and engineering departments make a point of at least being seen to promote gender equality. Music, by contrast, is perceived by outsiders as a "progressive" field, which ironically has allowed it to endure as a bastion of unreconstructed misogyny.

Of course, anybody with half a brain will tell you that gender theatre is everywhere to be seen at the upper echelons of popular music, a fact that was thrown into sharp relief in 2013 thanks to Miley Cyrus' tongue and Robin Thicke's rapey lyrics on 'Blurred Lines'. But the problem is much bigger than most people not closely associated with professional music making realize. Case in point: how many female symphony conductors can you name, or composers who aren't named Schumann? How many female jazz instrumentalists? How many rock 'n' roll drummers or guitar players, or record producers for that matter? Here's another one: how many male covers of iconic female hits can you think of? Of the top the only one I can think of is Faith No More frontman Mike Patton's cover of Lady Gaga's 'Poker Face', and and while Faith No More retains a loyal following among overgrown nineties indie kids like me, they're hardly mainstream.

Nothing blurred about these lines (source: The Guardian)
For female musicians, the overwhelming maleness of the music business in all roles other than vocals and early childhood education takes its toll in the form of 'microaggressions'. Just about every female musicians who's been in the business for any length of time has their own laundry list of small but tangible slights, from being overlooked for ensemble positions in favour of male instrumentalists and not being treated with disdain by male music store clerks while shopping for gear to enduring condescending 'man-splaining' of music technology to flat-out sexual objectification as lead singers, concertmasters etc. Even classical music is rife with it, a fact that the director of the Conservatoire de Paris made clear recently when he asserted that women "lack the physical strength" to be symphony conductors.

This is not, however, to say that all men in the music business are sexist pigs. Far from it; I have a great many male musician friends who are as appalled by the stubborn misogyny of the music world as their female colleagues are. However, as in any domain with entrenched cultural norms, acknowledging a problem is easier than fixing it. This is why I decided to articulate my thoughts on how to fight it in the proverbial trenches - that is to say in the practice rooms, in the concert halls, in the clubs, in the recording studios etc. This post is primarily aimed at my male musician colleagues, but also to women in the biz who may, unconsciously, buy into many of the gender cliches trotted out by instructors, producers and male colleagues' expectations.

There have been several great polemics on the many and varied microaggressions that female musicians face. Montreal-based synthpop icon Claire "Grimes" Boucher famously tore a strip out of the social neanderthals in her industry in a recent blog post while Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho did the same in a recent speech at McGill University. But while many female voices have spoken out against the entrenched sexism and misogyny in the music industry, disappointingly few men have. This post is my small attempt at helping male feminist allies in the musical world combat gender double standards at the grassroots level, starting with checking their own privilege. Here are my eight tips.

1. Stop assuming every female musician you meet is a singer.

This ought to be a given, but sadly it's not. Virtually every female instrumentalist will recount tales of male counterparts who were incredulous to the fact that they played (gasp!) an instrument. And while we're on this topic, there are far too many male musicians who treat female vocalists like some sort of pseudo-musician. And those who actually feel that way should be locked in a room with Diamanda Galás for at least three solid hours.

Would you mansplain gear to her?
2. Don't assume you know more about gear and music tech than your female peers.

The aforementioned Grimes is, as those familiar with her music know, is a sampling and programming wizard. So are Andrea Parker, Ikue Mori, Yolandi Visser, Maryanne Amacher, Sachiko M. (and Gaga for that matter) and the countless other female samplers, turntablists, programmers and all-around techies. And yet just about every female musician armed with a laptop and Garage Band has had to contend with condescending men purporting to explain how to use tech. Seriously, if your natural impulse upon seeing a woman fuss with music software (and most likely drop a parade of F-bombs when things aren't working quite right) is to give her unsolicited advice on how to 'improve' her handiwork, you're being sexist.

3. Actively seek out female musicians/composers and female-driven acts in your listening.

As I mentioned before, men who cover women are few and far between in the music biz, whereas women covering men, whether it's Tori Amos doing Kurt Cobain or Eva Cassidy doing Bill Withers, are everywhere. This can only mean two things: there's little if any worthwhile music written by women, or there's an enduring but unspoken stigma against men paying tribute to the female greats. Why not be part of proving the latter? That of course starts at the listening stage, and the fact is most guys don't listen to much female-driven music. Which is a pity because there's so much phenomenal female-driven music out there.

4. Take care not to talk over your female peers during rehearsals and gigs.

Unless you're a completely unmitigated douchebag, you don't do this deliberately. But so many guys do. And even if you don't we're all conditioned to give male voices more credibility. Celebrity speech coach Christine Jahnke, whose clients have included Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, attests to how much more work women have to do to gain the same degree of public credibility as their male counterparts. Even if you're not guilty of gratuitous man-splaining, chances are you have to work less hard to convince people you know what you're talking about. So when it doubt it's worth dialing it back a little.

5. If you're a student, make a point of choosing a female musician/composer/musical movement as an essay topic.

This phenomenon, sadly, goes far beyond the realm of music. If you're a guy, as yourself this question: as a high school or university student, when you were asked to write a paper about a historical figure/famous author/great composer etc., did you ever pick a woman? If not, why not? I first became aware of this phenomenon as a history TA, and have since encountered it everywhere - women are more than happy to write about male subjects, but not vice versa. And this extends far beyond the undergraduate years. When is the last time you read an article on the Riot Grrrl movement or the Blue Stockings Society written by a man? Belief in cooties seems to extend far beyond age four. Why not buck social convention and pick Meredith Monk or Violet Archer for your next term paper on a modern composer?

6. Be critical of your music 'gods'.

Yes, you're still allowed to like these guys. Or at least their music.
As a self-identified male feminist, I have a complicated relationship with some of my favourite male artists. I can't stop loving Led Zeppelin, even though Jimmy Page was infamously guilty of the confinement and statutory rape of 14-year-old fan Lori Maddox. I still have a soft spot for the music of multiple wife-beater Miles Davis, and The Prodigy's Fat of the Land album is still a workout favourite of mine in spite of the presence of the problematically named song 'Smack My Bitch Up'. But while I still like these artists, I have the perspective to not elevate them to the godlike stature that so many male musicophiles do. The deification of music history's great men is one of the more nauseating aspects of male musical culture. By all means admire Jimmy Page and Miles Davis for their musical accomplishments, but let's be honest about their less-than-admirable characters - and don't take offence when they get deservedly knocked off their pedestals.

It should be noted, however, that not all the 'great men' of rock, jazz and other sexist cesspools are misogynist pigs. Kurt Cobain was a great ally who famously helped promote the Riot Grrrl scene of the early-to-mid-nineties. Hardcore punk legends Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye (author of Fugazi's epic anti-rape anthem 'Suggestion') are both passionate feminists. And R&B star John Legend recently came out as a feminist, arguing that "if men care about women's rights the world will be a better place." There are indeed great examples of men actively combatting misogyny in the music world, and their exploits ought to be celebrated. It also helps when it's combined with kick-ass music!

7. Confront misogyny head on when you see it.

For young guys immersed in 'bro' culture, this is probably the hardest thing of all to do. But it gets easier. A lot of men, especially men in their teens and early twenties, are understandably fearful of social censure when it comes to calling out their own when they engage in blatantly misogynistic behaviour. But there are three reasons for doing it. Firstly, it's the right thing to do. Secondly, you'll gain a whole lot more respect from your female peers (as well as your more enlightened male colleagues). And thirdly, the more you do it, the better at it you'll get - and the more benefits from reasons one and two you'll reap. And besides, many of the guys who engage in douchebag behaviour don't realize they're doing it - and never will unless they're called out on it by voices they respect (i.e. male ones). And for the rest of the male populace that really don't care, their respect - or lack thereof - isn't worth fretting over.

8. Quit taking feminist rants personally.

No, L7 doesn't hate you. They just hate it when you're a dick.
Here's the thing about feminism: it's not about you. In fact it's never about you specifically, unless you're the d-bag making brazenly misogynistic remarks - and if that's you, you probably haven't made it this far into this post. Feminism is not anti-male, nor is it about making individual men feel bad about themselves. It's about deconstructing social grammar that's been inculcated over 6,000 years of human history. It's this basic misunderstanding that turns so many otherwise thoughtful and open-minded men off feminism, with some turning to the mean-spirited and logically bankrupt polemics of the Men's Rights Movement. No, feminists don't hate you - they just hate it when you're a dick.
So that's my rant-du-jour. In sum, my message to men in music is that music is far too important a thing to be left to the social neanderthals of this world. I suspect a big part of the problem is that being a musician (at least a professional one) is such an all-consuming process, and what with the demands of practicing, composing, rehearsing, gigging and gig-hunting, there's not a lot of time left over to read the works of Simone de Beauvoir or debate gender politics with your counterparts in the political science department. But thanks to digital media we have unprecedented access to both information and mind-improving conversations with a wide cross-section of people. And thanks to blogs like this one, you can get your information in a pithy, attention deficit-friendly fashion.
Start by reading. Read as much as you can. A full list of feminist blogs and news forums would run into the thousands, but sites like Jezebel and Skepchick are good places to start. For a double-dose of feminism and music, check out the appropriately named Feminist Music Geek blog. And then start a conversation. Those of you living in the Edmonton area might want to investigate the Facebook group Feminist Edmonton, a group which I've found to be very welcoming of male perspectives and questions. The world needs more guys reading, writing and engaging in open, frank conversation about this stuff. And the music biz, in particular, is in dire need of a fresh shot of feminism. Help make it happen!
(This post was inspired by (and is dedicated to) my amazingly talented better half Allison Nichols and her fellow take-no-crap female musical troopers, as well as their male allies - you all know who you are. You guys are the best!!)

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

6 Potential New Sister City Partnerships for Edmonton

Commemorative stamp featuring Edmonton's Harbin Gate (source: CTV News)
Edmonton, it is often said, has an identity problem. In spite of the fact that the city is regularly ranked as among the best places in the world to live, it is still a place that most of humanity has never heard of or is barely aware of. And most of the people who know of it, if we're honest, probably think it's a boring, colourless frozen wasteland whose most interesting features are a giant shopping mall and a has-been hockey team.

In defence of the rest of the world, however, it should be noted that Edmontonians have, until recently, not done a particularly good job dispelling this notion. The latter half of the twentieth century saw the Alberta capital fall asleep at the wheel as its downtown core died, its stature as a transportation hub faded, its once vibrant community of corporate head offices disappeared and Calgary became the uncontested economic engine of the province. All the while, Edmonton's notoriously self-deprecating denizens failed to trumpet the city's enduring treasures - its festivals, orchestras, green spaces, universities and research institutes, world-leading construction companies etc. - and as such Edmonton became Canada's Lost City of Atlantis, somehow just off the map.

Fortunately, the Edmonton zeitgeist has changed dramatically since the dawn of the Mandel era in 2004. Edmonton's downtown is vibrant again, the airport is booming, the city's architecture is bolder and more imaginative than ever, public transit is at last being prioritized and the economy continues to thrive. Nevertheless, Edmonton's dream of becoming a global trade and logistics hub continues to be hindered by the city's lack of global profile. People simply don't know who we are as a city.

There are many things we could be doing as a city to change that, some of which might seem frivolous on the surface. One possible tactic would be to expand current our sister city partnerships. While many cities have numerous city twinning arrangements, Edmonton has only four such partnerships, specifically with Gatineau, Quebec, Nashville, Tennessee, Harbin, China and Wonju, South Korea. Of these, Edmonton's partnership with Harbin, the economic hub of China's northeastern Heilongjang Province, has proven the most economically fruitful, with the two cities signing a tourism and business cooperation agreement in 2011.

What other cities around the world would befit a sister city arrangement with Edmonton? Here are six suggestions.

1) Adelaide, Australia

With the notable exception of its famously sublime climate, Adelaide, the capital city of the state of South Australia, is arguably the world city that most closely resembles Edmonton. Its population is virtually identical to Edmonton's, as is its status as Australia's fifth largest city. It also serves a similar transportation and logistics role to Edmonton as the main air gateway to Australia's vast mining operations in the country's geographic centre. Want more parallels? It's also home to a thriving arts and culture scene, including the biggest fringe festival in the southern hemisphere. And as I pointed out in my recent post on Edmonton's airport predicament, it's also a city that has faced some of the same hurdles as Edmonton in building connections with the outside world. Adelaide - it's more or less Edmonton in the subtropics.

2) Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine

Source: Wikipedia
Why the hell do we not have a sister city in the ancestral homeland of at least one out of every ten Edmontonians? While other Canadian cities have entered into civic partnerships with Ukrainian counterparts (Toronto with Kiev, Winnipeg with Lviv and Vancouver with Odessa), Edmonton, one of the most Ukrainian cities outside the Motherland has notably not done so. The central Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk would seem to be an obvious choice. Not only does it not yet have a Canadian sister city, this riverside metropolis is of a similar size and economic profile to Edmonton. It is also a major educational centre in Ukraine, whose many post-secondary institutions include the National Mining University, a world-leader in resource extraction technology.

3) Concepción, Chile

While it scarcely compares to the city's Ukrainian contingent, Edmonton's 3,000-strong Chilean community, most of whom came as refugees during the early Pinochet years, maintains an outsized presence within the city's Latin American population. Chilean accents dominate Spanish-language radio in Edmonton and empanadas and ceviche share shelf space with perogies and kubasa in the city's 'ethnic' grocery stores. Which Chilean city would be the best fit with Edmonton? The southern city of Concepción, with its metro population of just over one million, its renown as a "university town" (it's home to 15 universities) and its thriving music scene, would be a strong candidate.

4) Astana, Kazakhstan

Source: Wikipedia
A little-known fact about the Ukrainian diaspora of the late nineteenth century is that at the same time thousands of Ukrainian farmers migrated to the west, ultimately settling in the Canadian prairie provinces, an equally substantial contingent migrated eastward, settling in the steppes of what is now Akmola province in northeastern Kazakhstan. Today Kazakhstan is an independent republic that bears more than a passing similarity to Alberta, with its mountain and prairie vistas, extreme climate, multiethnic population and fast-growing economy dominated by oil and gas. At the centre of Akmola province is the country's new capital city of Astana, Kazakhstan's northern metropolis - and its Edmonton. (Almaty, the country's largest city to the south, is very much its Calgary.) Edmonton's architecture may not be as garish as Astana's, but the cities' roles, and the countries' historical and economic parallels, would make for an intriguing pairing.

5) Pasig City, Philippines

Source: Wikipedia
Of Alberta's total immigrant population of around 644,000, nearly 70,000 - about 11 per cent of the total - are of Philippine origin, making them the largest single immigrant group in the province. Edmonton's Filipino population is over 26,000, representing nearly three per cent of the city's total population. If Ukraine represents the city's ancestral past, the Philippines clearly represents its present. So who would we partner with in the land of Jeepneys and adobo chicken? With Winnipeg partnered with the Manila proper and Vancouver with Quezon City, that leaves Makati and Pasig among major Metro Manila cities without a Canadian partner. Makati, with its major agglomeration of banks and corporate head offices, might be a better match with Calgary, with Pasig, a major educational centre, home to the highly respected University of Asia and the Pacific, would be a logical partner for Edmonton.

6) Juba, South Sudan

Edmonton's increasingly diverse citizenry includes around 3,000 immigrants from the recently independent republic of South Sudan. The vast majority came to Canada as refugees in the late-1990s and early 2000s during the worst of Sudan's torturously long and cruel north-south civil war. As a relatively new contingent from a country still beset by instability and destitution, Edmonton's South Sudanese population retains a strong vested interest in their beleaguered homeland. Some have even returned to South Sudan to help set up infrastructure, while others continue to lobby on behalf of the country's people, which last month faced renewed unrest. A sister city partnership with the capital city of this young nation, especially one with strong ties to Alberta, would send a strong signal of solidarity to a country still struggling to survive.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

La Loba (For Diamanda Galás)

I saw you sharpening your steak knives
on a streetcorner on Santorini
on sheer-ice obsidian
Hard as the Hellenic features of the
shrouded women of the marketplace
Sharp like the hastily hewn hexes
on the gravestones of Anatolia

Oh to have been a fly on the wall
Of that vertical house in San Diego
You and Dimitri
Honing your art like cocooned pupa
Before the blood ran, the pulse quickened
And the fearmongers fled in fear
As you detoured the dread to their doorsteps

Or to have been a bullet
in your double-barrel prayer
Who was the target?
Was it Gibby Haynes?
Forever surfing his precious butthole
Or Axl? – Fuck his axel but pity his tiny mind
A relic in his own time
Trampled underfoot by your companion cavalry

To have been the altar
For your Plague Mass
Or the X for your Shrei
Or the solvent
Leeching the lead from our zeppelins
Who would have thought
You could wash the misogyny outta that shit?
It’s never truly indelible is it?

Don’t you know your brother
Is alive and well and living in the Sporades
With your friends Callas, Pasolini and John Lee
While you soldier on for us all
Yielding to the unbearable
Letting it course through you
'Cause nobody else ever would

La Loba
You with with the celestial shriek and electric soul
Sappho on the Mississippi
Or Olympias in the Ozarks
Soaking up the blood of our slain sisters
And wringing it out before our eyes and ears
Moving a million hearts in mono, stereo, surround sound
White noise, black noise, rivers coursing through steelmills
Poor old Johnnie Ray never saw it coming

Switch it on, Diamanda
Switch on those mics and let 'em have it
Forever the best
Of our better angels
Forever challenging us
To be just a little bit more alive

Friday, 3 January 2014

6 Edmonton Resolutions for 2014

Happy New Year, everyone!

As many of the people who follow this blog will know, 2013 was a watershed year for the city of Edmonton in a number of ways. Not only did it mark the end of Stephen Mandel's transformative nine-year tenure as mayor, but it also a number of key civic issues finally laid to rest, including the new arena, City Centre Airport and the Churchill-NAIT LRT line. It was the year Edmonton declared war on 'sprawl', fought publically with Air Canada, watched with amusement as our outgoing mayor chewed out everybody from Councillor Kerry Diotte to the city's transportation department to the National Post's Chris "Twitchy-Eyed Savage" Selley and elected a button-cute civic boy scout to the city's top job.

So how do we top such a highlight-laden year? Well, Omar Mouallem of Metro Edmonton offered five suggestions of bad Edmonton habits he'd like to see broken in 2014. While I agree with Omar on all of them, four out of five (complaining to the mayor about roads, using the word "revitalization," NIMBYism toward affordable housing and constantly moaning about being "busy") probably apply to a great many cities. But it's an excellent start, and one that I would like to take further with my personal list of five New Year's Resolutions I'd like to see the city of Edmonton take on.

1) Lose the hate-on for Calgary.

The Bert & Ernie of Alberta (Source:
Edmontonians, let's be honest. You don't really hate Calgary that much; you just think you do. Calgary is actually a fine city, and according to the world's quality of life indecies, it's indeed one of the nicest places to live on the planet. It may be a bit more go-go-go than Edmonton and it's definitely got more money, but that hardly makes it the Abode of Satan. And frankly, the more you moan about Calgary-this and Calgary-that, the more insecure you sound. We've already broken the 'Calgary Habit' in economic and infrastructural terms. Let's now break the Calgary-hating habit. After all we're all in this provincial economy together and we both have smart, charming mayors with good ideas. Let's try working together for once.

2) Develop a regional transit plan.
Not good enough (source: Sherwood Park News)

While there's been a lot of progress made, Edmonton is still a world-class city with inadequate public transportation. And as the city continues to grow, both population-wise and economically, this is becoming more of a problem, as it makes it very difficult for young people and others working in lower-wage jobs to actually commute to where they're needed, while clogging up streets (and city air) with single-occupancy cars. A big part of the problem is the fact that all of the municipalities in the Edmonton region have their own transit plans (or in some cases no transit at all), making it exceedingly difficult to commute from residential areas in Edmonton to, say, Sherwood Park or the Acheson industrial area, and so on. For regional transit to work, all the municipalities need to get together to develop an integrated system, and this year would be a great year to start.

3) Get serious about affordable housing.

Brought to you by the nice people of Terwillegar
(source: Edmonton Sun)

While I've been a supporter of the redevelopment of the ECCA lands for a new mixed-use neighbourhood since it was first proposed, I confess that I haven't been thrilled with the actual proposals, inasmuch as it's going to be a whole lot of expensive condominium developments aimed at the well-heeled segment of the city's population along the same lines as Windermere and other new developments. As Omar Mouallem astutely points out, this city has a real NIMBY problem when it comes to affordable housing, and this really needs to change. And not just for altruistic reasons. Unless Edmonton can solve its chronic shortage of affordable housing options for service-sector workers, the city's robust economic growth will soon peter out. It's in everybody's interest to fix this enduring problem.

4) Develop a sense of humour.

Edmontonians are funny people, but we're not particularly good at laughing at our own city. Last summer when National Post wag Chris Selley jokingly referred to Edmontonians as a bunch of "twitchy-eyed machete-wielding savages" the city went nuts on social media, and the usually sharp-witted Mayor Mandel responded in a manner befitting, well, a twitchy-eyed machete-wielding savage, frankly. Seriously, people, are we really that insecure about our status as a city that we can't deal with being called a more linguistically rich J-school educated equivalent of 'Mr. Poopypants'? Can't we own our city's clichéd reputation for being a desolate, uninhabitable shithole? We all need to work on that.

5) Stop f*cking tailgating!

Back in December of 2012 I wrote a post called "How To Drive Like An Edmontonian" in the hopes of bringing more attention to some of the city's less-than-admirable driving habits. While the post was by far my most popular ever, it appears to have done little to improve the quality of driving in the city. In particular, people still tailgate. A lot. Even on slick winter roads on the Anthony Henday while travelling at over 100 km/h. For the love of God, please stop doing that! It's dangerous at the best of times, and exponentially more so in winter. Of all the bad road habits in this city, this is the one I'd most like to see disappear.

6) Genuinely embrace Aboriginal culture.

Proposed interactive storytelling pavilion for Fort Edmonton Park
(source: Edmonton Journal)
Edmonton is home to the country's fastest growing urban Aboriginal population, and is predicted to overtake Winnipeg as Canada's most Aboriginal major city within the next few years. However, the city has a long way to go before its fastest-growing minority group is truly embraced as part of its cultural mainstream. Ever had an Indian taco at Bannock Burger on 124th Street or partaken in Cree language classes or cultural programming at the Edmonton Native Friendship Centre? There are innumerable pockets of First Nation and Métis cultural life in Edmonton, but sadly it's all but off non-Aboriginal Edmontonians' radar. Which is particularly unfortunate given the rising tide of Aboriginal identity politics by way of Idle No More and other movements and the growing friction between Native and non-Native Albertans over the future of the Athabasca Oil Sands and other controversial resource projects. If there was ever a time for non-Aboriginal Edmontonians to start truly getting to know their indigenous neighbours, that time is now. And fortunately it's never been easier.

That's it from me for now. Have a wonderful 2014!