Sunday, June 29, 2014

Flying the Colours

Has it already been four years since the last World Cup? Here we are again, and with England not even making it to the round of 16 (for the first time since 1958!), our household is once again pinning its hopes of soccer glory on Holland's national team, the Oranje.


It's a great chance to balance the family heritages out a little bit; the Irish side can fall back on St. Patrick's Day, storytelling, singing, drinking and Glory's Irish dancing. The Dutch side is left with the distant memory of being a 17th century superpower, wooden footwear, and a current legacy of liberal permissiveness and a reputation for frugality that borders on the unsettling, whether or not it is deserved.


Audrey's folks were up last weekend for Fenya's profession of faith, and we took the opportunity to watch Germany v. Ghana (and as much as I love the quality of play Die Adler brings to the pitch, we were all cheering throatily for Ghana's Black Stars!), followed by a trip to Ben's Meats.


Ben's Meats is a family-owned Dutch deli and butcher shop on Stony Plain Road that is normally our source for quality licorice (especially the double salted!) and other ethnic treats like metwurst (a dry sausage like landjaeger but with spices like cloves added), but during international soccer matches becomes a great place to get jerseys, car flags and other paraphernalia declaring our football allegiance to the Netherlands.


Audrey's folks picked up a Dutch tricolour for their truck, Audrey got a jersey, and I picked up a cap as well as some orange mirror covers for the Flex, since the window covers prevent the attachment of a flag.


Since Holland progressed to the round of 16, we were all prepared to forego church this morning in favour of watching KNVB take on the Mexican team, until Audrey reminded us that our friend Tani would be preaching as part of her training to become a diaconal minister (what you would once have called a deaconess). So we set the PVR, and pledged not to listen to the radio or check the internet until after we had returned home to watch the recorded game.


Tani's sermon was excellent, weaving Jesus's parables about the kingdom of God (mustard seed, pearl, etc.) together with Buddhism's Noble Truths and C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, along with her own experience of being admonished for buying a homeless man outside a convenience store a coffee and muffin. Great stuff! Before going to church however, I was told in no uncertain terms that I would need to be flying the team colours in church along with the ladies if I intended to sit with them, which is why I went to church in a t-shirt for the first time since I was 11.


After church, we maintained radio silence, grilled up some buffalo smokies (brilliant!), and headed downstairs to watch Oranje beat el Tri 2-1 in a nail biter of a match played in sweltering heat, and now we have a week to wait before they face off against either Greece or Costa Rica in the quarter finals.


Another trip to Ben's Meats may be in order...


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Thawed Circumstances

Our deep freeze packed it in yesterday.

As unpleasant as it was, it could have been much worse; the girls and I had just come back from buying groceries, arriving at home just as Audrey returned from school, just a little before 1:00.  The plan had been to do a quick stowing of the supplies, and then pop over to Jack's Burger Shack in St. Albert for lunch.

Fenya called me downstairs to say there was a leak by the freezer, and that she had heard water and ice hit the floor when she opened the lid.  When I opened the lid, there was a bit of aroma, but more jarring was the absence of cold air rising from the chest itself.  "The freezer's stopped working," I told her.  "Go let mum know and then come back down."  It was still cool inside the chest, but a long ways from cold, and had probably only stopped working the evening before.  Thank goodness we hadn't decided to go camping right after school had let out!

It's of importance to the story that you know I am the primary grocery purchaser in our household, and over the years, I fancy I have gotten rather decent at it.  I don't scour competitor ads and do my week's shopping at four different shops or anything (too lazy by far), but I have become rather adept at spotting deals, which is a bit of a necessity when you shop at Safeway.

I shop there regularly, mostly to accumulate Air Miles, but also because the staff are quite good, but there are lots of things I simply will not buy there unless they are on sale.  One of these things is meat.  I will diligently scour the clearance section of the cooler and the most heavily discounted cuts, storing them in the freezer until needed.

With the freezer now critically out of action, I looked into a soggy pool of bargains, perhaps 6 inches deep in water tainted by the four frozen lobsters I had picked up at half price some time ago, but had not yet gotten around to cooking.  Packages of 50% off chicken thighs (for stir fries and curries) peeked up from the mess, and I knew near the bottom was a whole frozen turkey I had been saving for the summer, because turkey leftovers are awesome, especially when cooked on a cool day and then eaten over the following week.   I abhor waste, so I was not looking forward to jettisoning 8 - 10 cubic feet of groceries, much of which was meat.

Thankfully, Audrey's level head came into play while I was looking for suitable tinder so I could burn the lot of it.  Checking the turkey, she said, "It's still frozen solid, and a lot of this other stuff is double wrapped in Ziplocs; we can recover a lot of this.  Glory and I will start re arranging the fridge freezers while you and Fenya sort this out."

And just like that we had a plan.  Fenya ran to the garage for a garbage bag, but I found one of the oversized Ziploc storage bags instead, which seemed a prudent choice, since garbage pick-up wouldn't be until Thursday.  The lobsters and a Costco-sized bag of now-soggy french fries were the first entries, followed by three waterlogged boxes of frozen pizzas.  "Careful!" said Fenya as I extricated them from the water and ice that made up the bottom third of the freezer, "When you turn that over you're dripping like, death juice everywhere..."  And just like that, the gruesome effluvient had a whimsical name, and the task became lighter as a result.

The wax-paper-wrapped roasts and steaks we had bought from Audrey's folks the last time they had butchered a cow were still frozen, but having been at least partially saturated with death juice, they had to go, as did the packages of cellophane wrapped apples we had cored and sliced from the big harvest, what, two years ago?  Can it really have been that long?

The discordant sound of footsteps thumping down the stairs heralded Glory's return.  "Mum's got the upstairs freezer ready, and sent me down to get stuff," she said in a tone that had me half expecting her to salute and say "Colonel Audrey sends her compliments, and reports that the storage areas are at your disposal."

I nodded and pulled the 13 pound turkey from the bottom of the fridge, checking to make sure the wrapping was all intact, which it was.  I gingerly handed it to her, and said, "This needs to get wiped down before it gets stowed anywhere, right?"  She looked a little puzzled, until Fenya said, "It's covered in death juice."  Looking into the detritus of the freezer, she wrinkled her nose, but nodded and then trotted up the stairs with the frozen bird held a generous distance ahead of her.

A short while later, we had re-frozen everything we could, and recovered as much meat that had thawed but was still cold and securely packaged so it could be cooked and re-frozen.  Fenya and I had the grim task of doing up the zip on a bag that probably contained 25 pounds of saturated organic matter, much of which was protein, but were able to do so without too much difficulty.  "How are we going to get this out of the house without dripping death juice everywhere?" Fenya asked.  I pointed at the black garbage bag she had brought over initially, and said, "In that."

She and Glory held the bag open while I maneuvered the grisly package into it, then Glory went out to grab another bag from the garage, just to be on the safe side.  After wrestling it up the stairs in as orderly a fashion as I could while not allowing the sides of the bag to touch me (which was pretty challenging, given my nearly total lack of any sort of upper body strength), I wrangled it into the garage, noticed that were was still liquid seeping from the bag or condensing from it in some fashion, and called the girls to the garage so we could add yet another layer of bag to the agglomeration.

"Please tell me we aren't going to leave it in a hot garage for a week," Glory intoned.  Truth be told, that had been the initial plan, since animals or birds were likely to be curious about such a bag left at the curb for a week, but that plan was based on my faith in complete Ziploc integrity, and I had become somewhat apostate in that regard, having had to shoo Nitti away as he tried to lick up a puddle of the now ominously named death juice from where it rested it on the sidewalk while I got the door to the garage open.

"One more bag," I said instead, and then dragged it over to the curb.  Fenya suggested dousing the bag with Bitter Yuck, a product designed to keep pets from chewing household items (or themselves) by coating them with an acrid, foul-tasting spray.  I thought this was brilliant, and after doing so, supplanted it by putting a generous coating of permethrin based insecticide on the bag as well.

Back in the basement, Audrey had brought down the bleach and rubber gloves so she and Fenya could sterilize the area and clean the freezer itself.  By the time they were done that, we remembered how hungry we were, and that we had intended to be eating lunch an hour ago, so we postponed the remaining recovery and made our way to St. Albert.

40 minutes later, we were sitting at a picnic table by the Sturgeon River, eating our cheeseburgers and sharing on order of 'Jacked Up' fries.  My Hangover Burger, served between two halves of a grilled cheese panini in lieu of a conventional bun, was a perfect overlapping of savoury flavours, much needed protein, and comfort food.

I told the girls I was proud of them, and they looked at me a bit quizzically.  "I'm serious," I said; "Once we knew things had gone off the rails, you guys were right away looking for ways to help, making good suggestions, and never complaining."  Glory started to open her mouth, but I cut her off.  "Okay, maybe about the fact that death juice is gross, but no one questioned that, so it doesn't count. But you need to know," I continued, "that a lot of people, and not just kids, I might add, would have either tried to step aside out of the way, or waited to be told what to do.  You guys are awesome."

Audrey nodded in agreement as she washed down her BBQ Crunch burger with a swig of root beer, and the girls beamed a little as they polished off the fries.  On our way home, we priced out some freezers and found an upright one on sale at Leon's that should be delivered Wednesday.  A couple of hours after that, I had finished cooking up the salvaged meat, and simmered up some chicken in a tomato chili sauce so we could have it over rice while we all watched James Bond in Die Another Day together that evening.

It's fair to say it's not how anyone saw the first day of the girls' summer vacation going, but like I said, it could have been so much worse.  And like Fenya said, any opportunity for family bonding should be cherished, even in less than ideal circumstances.

And no one in our house is likely to forget what `death juice is anytime soon, either, which makes me smile.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer Beverages: The Lunar Caesar

For my birthday, my mum got me a jar of moonshine.


The packaging was enough to endear it to me immediately, but I also found 'Ole Smokey' surprisingly smooth for something 100 proof. I just don't come across too many situations where I am inclined to sip strong spirits straight up though, so I started contemplating a potential cocktail application.


On a recent shopping trip, I saw a jar of pickled asparagus spears, and having seen them used as drink muddlers before, I got to thinking, what about a moonshine Caesar? I gathered up some additional ingredients and upon returning home, I descended to the lab.


Like a lot of people, the allure of the Bloody Caesar eluded me for quite awhile. Not being a fan of tomato juice in the first place, adding vodka to it in order to construct a Bloody Mary was never appealing to me. The idea of adding clam juice to such a cold beverage was not only counter intuitive to me, but actually a little disgusting.


But then I discovered a couple of interesting things: first, that the Calgary mixologists who created it did not extrapolate the Caesar from the Bloody Mary, they were inspired to make a cocktail version of Manhattan-style clam chowder. Secondly, someone explained to me how the ingredients themselves are really just a foundation; a delivery system for all manner of spices and garnishes, and how the combination of savoury, salty and spice combine to make a beverage that scratches an awful lot of different itches, especially on a hot summer day.


I've only ever constructed Caesars at someone else's place, under experienced direction and supervision, so I was a little nervous about starting from scratch. I was delighted to discover that combining the moonshine above with


And a glass rimmed with this:


Along with a spoonful of this:


And garnished with this:


...made an absolutely delightful cocktail, suitable for enjoyment with company on the longest day of the year. I'm not married to Lunar Caesar as a name, but with moonshine as the active ingredient, it fit better than Blue (Moon) Caesar, or perhaps the white lightnin' could make Zeusar a possibility... At any rate, please leave a comment below if you have a better suggestion. Slainte!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

All That Is Necessary

Back in November of last year, I was given the opportunity to do a sermon as part of our weekly worship service.

We'd introduced the idea of lay-led worship earlier in the year, with a team of three coming up with a theme together, and then splitting up various other elements like hymn selection, prayer-writing and suchlike.  We were the second team to go, and Paul and Linda felt I was the best choice to do the sermon this time around, and honestly, I was kind of looking forward to it.

I've been asked to read and to be the service assistant on many occasions, but the opportunity to craft my own reflection and deliver it as part of a regular Sunday morning was titillating and daunting in equal measure.  I mean, like most mainline churches, our congregation is aging, which means that most of them have heard a lot of sermons, and they aren't about to let some Johnny-come-lately stand up and run his mouth all reckless-like.  Likewise though, it just wasn't in me to spout a bunch of platitudes and catchphrases either.

The three of us met a few times, often with Rev. James, to talk about the lectionary readings (sort of a scripture schedule) and to derive a theme.  The Old Testament reading was Micah 6:1-8, encompassing one of my favourite verses:

God Challenges Israel

Hear what the Lord says:
    Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
    and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
    and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
    and he will contend with Israel.
“O my people, what have I done to you?
    In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
    what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
    that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

What God Requires

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?
And our Gospel reading was the Beatitudes, from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12):

The Beatitudes

When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

As much as I love the highlighted bit from Micah, it is pretty familiar territory to most of the people who would be hearing it, and despite their inherent wisdom, the Beatitudes have been quoted nearly to the point of irrelevance.  It looked like I had my work cut out for me.

Thankfully, James' comprehensive knowledge of not only the scriptures but a bit of Greek etymology gave me a handle I could grab onto, and when I read my rough draft to Paul and Linda a couple of weeks later, they were pretty happy with it.  We usually have a non-scriptural reading as well, and we chose Dr. Kent Keith's "Paradoxical Commandments" for ours:

The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

I was fearful of crutching on my notes too much, so I decided to try speaking without them, and fell to memorizing instead.  After a number of false starts, I finally managed to get all the points I wanted without stumbling into the camera of my iPad in under 16 minutes.  I'll never remember all that in front of a crowd, I thought, and abandoned the idea.

The following morning, I picked it up again, trying to run through the speech from memory on my way to work.

The Thursday before the sermon, I printed out my notes.

Saturday I went back to memorizing.

When I woke up Sunday morning, I knew I would have to use the notes.

By the time I got to church at 9:15, I knew I couldn't.

But I kept them in the pocket of my sport coat just the same.

When the time came, I decided to go for it, partly because hey, they'd already gone to the trouble of hooking me up with a wireless mike, so it would be rude not to use it, right?  I stepped in front of the lectern, took a deep breath and let fly.

I tried to be conscious of my body language, because I know that my 'expansive open-armed gesture' followed closely by lightly clasping my hands together in front of me, when repeated, gives the impression of nothing quite so much as an oversized bird (perhaps a penguin) working up the nerve to attempt flight.  I did my best not to strain my neck to escape from the constraints of the turtleneck I was wearing, because if no one else noticed, I knew Audrey would, and if I made eye contact after doing so, well, that would be all she wrote.

My tone was fairly steady, and I think I did a good job of keeping up eye contact with the people who were to the side and behind me, in the choir loft.  The low point came when I tried to swallow near the end, and my mouth was so dry, I made an audible gulp that I think you can even hear on the recording.

When I finished though, and said "Amen," there were a lot of echoed amens murmured from the crown, which showed me thy had at least been paying attention and not started catching up on their twitter feeds or reading the newsletter.  And as I returned to sit with my team, I could hear quite a bit of low conversation that suggested that a portion of what I had said had made some sort of impression.

Following the service, during the postlude, the three of us went and stood by the doors so we could shake hands with everyone as they left, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.  A few people even told me I had missed my calling, which I found very flattering, but told them I didn't want to lose my amateur status.

Besides, this was one sermon, one! that had taken me weeks to put together, within a service that took three people even longer.  Ministers like James do it every week (also speaking without notes, but from full text, not an outline like I used!), and their response is typically either 'Nice message,' or nothing at all; there's no way I could work in that sort of vacuum.

At any rate, it was a privilege to have been able to deliver a sermon, and a relief that it was so graciously received.  Who knows, a few years down the road, I might even be ready to do another one.

If you want to hear it, they record the services for those unable to attend in person, and were kind enough to give me an mp3 of my sermon.  I recognize that very few of the ten of readers of this blog have religious inclinations, but hey, you read this far.  There is an embedded audio player and a link to the mp3 itself so you can listen to it on the player of your choice while commuting or mowing the lawn or what have you.  I promise there is no proselytizing in it, just an appeal for humility and justice that, when I stop to think about it, are probably the two most important tenets of my faith, just like Micah said.

Sermon: All That Is Necessary"

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Funhouse Mirrors

Of all the roles I play in my life - worker, friend, brother, husband, citizen, et cetera - the one I am most preoccupied with is father.


It's not because this is a role I get any bonus points for in my personal scorecard, or because I am naturally talented at it or anything, it just feels like it's the most important, so I treat it as such.


Part of the reason for this is because of what's at stake. I don't think having more committed fathers in the world would solve all the world's ills, but it couldn't help but make it a better place. Look at the sentencing reports or background reporting for so many of the maladjusted individuals that visit such harm and havoc on the world, and just how many of them have suffered mistreatment at the hands of those who were supposed to protect and nurture them. I mean, that is obviously a pretty low place to set the bar for those of us in these roles to one degree or another, but I think it goes to show pretty comprehensively just how much damage can be caused by the wounded or unloved, and the ripples that spread from the point where they lash out.


The other reason is because children, like all people, are a work in progress, and you can the effects of the various ingredients in their life fairly quickly. Looking at my daughters, I can see my curiosity and appreciation of humor in they way they interact with the world, but I also see their caution and insecurity, and look for ways I can show them how to be brave.


It's hard! Years of adulthood have shown me that the world can be a fast-moving, chaotic, uncaring and often unforgiving place. On the other hand, a closer look shows me how any people there are working to make it better in spite of this, and how easy it can be to forget all the progress we have made.


In the end, you hope you have shared enough values and given enough tools to your offspring in order for them to feel confident in facing the world, secure in the knowledge you have their backs. You hope that they use love and faith as their primary means of experiencing both the world and the people in it, and the best way to ensure this is to give them as much of it as you possibly can during the comparatively brief time in their lives when they are wholly in your care.


It is likely that you will spend the majority of your life wondering if you have done the right things for your children, but every once in a while, if you are very lucky, you might see something in that twisted reflection that suggests they are on the correct path.


This morning, for instance, I was given the rare pleasure of sleeping in, and I woke up to the sound of the girls singing 'Happy Father's Day to you' as they carried a tray into the bedroom with scrambled eggs, fried tomatoes, and pumpernickel toast. Rather than get crumbs in the sheets, they allowed me to resituate myself to the living room recliner, turned on Switzerland v. Ecuador, and got me a coffee from the Tassimo with two cream and two sweetener.


With my feet up, and a plate full of food, and a jar of Islay single malt whisky marmalade (brilliant!), I have to tell you, it felt pretty good. Almost overwhelming in fact, and I was effusive in my thanks, to which Glory said "You're welcome Daddy. You've made us breakfasts lots of times, so it was nice to do it for you this time."


And she hugged me, and trotted off to get me some strawberries, and I thought to myself, well, how about that?


And after breakfast we headed out to Leduc so they could see me being a brother and a son and a dad and an uncle and a brother-in-law and probably a bunch of other things as well.


Glory modelled the Irish dancing dress she and Audrey had found at her most recent feis in Calgary, and I showed Mum the video of Fenya singing at her voice recital. Mum asked me more questions than usual about the iPad, and ended up having me order one for her so she can stay in better touch when she goes back to Osoyoos when the snow flies. I watched the second half of France v. Honduras with Jerry and Jason, and had a chance to be impressed by Jason's sharpness of wit and Jerry's easygoing nature.


In the end, this is what a loving family, by blood or by choice, does best: they reflect the parts of you that you most want shared, and show you, gently, where you might do even better.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ode to a Grade 10 Honor Student

I hope I'm a ways off before I sing "My Way"

Marking these milestones along life's highway

Watching your life turn another page

As you confidently cross the stage

The principal's hand there for you to shake

And I know you're smiling just for our sake

To you getting honors is no big deal

But to Mum and I though, the pride is real

Like you, I liked being bookish and smart

But at your age I'd not yet learned to work hard

Never think having brains on their own is enough

Or you'll face an awakening sudden and rough

Insight and gumption like you have to spare

Can take you practically anywhere

Showing curiosity and passion

May, at times, seem out of fashion

But don't fret too much about who is hiring

Seek out those who are likewise inquiring

Keep your courage and curiosity

To best maintain your vibrant velocity

Though you won't give it a second look

That paper is surely now in Mum's scrapbook

And I suppose you'll blush at this polemic

But your folks never got honors academic!

For a mind that's sharp and a heart that's true

These are the reasons we're proud of you.





Sunday, June 8, 2014

Us Versus Them

A lot of people hate cops.

This is probably not a revelation to most of us, but it's really begun to sink in for me as an anti-authoritarian loner dry gulches three RCMP officers in Moncton, and less than a week later, two Las Vegas police officers are shot while eating pizza.

I grew up around police officers; my next door neighbour worked in a number of roles with Edmonton Police Service, and his neighbour was an RCMP constable.  When he moved out, another one moved in, when they weren't at work, they were both friendly fixtures of the block we lived on in Leduc.  The fact that they were cops never seemed to be a big deal to anyone else, so I grew up seeing the police as people first, and law enforcers second.

This is probably the main reason why, nine years ago, I took Fenya out of school for the day to go to the funeral for Mayerthorpe's Fallen Four.  After a vicious monster had taken the lives of four men who had not wronged him personally but who were serving the needs of their community and society, I felt a tremendous need to go and pay my respects in person.  I was gratified to see so many citizens there, as well as members of the policing community from all over North America, including one from Boston, who had paid his own way there.  When asked why he went to such efforts, he said only that when one of his colleagues went down in the line, there was always a 'horseman' at the funeral, and he wanted to repay the sentiment, using his vacation time to put in his appearance.

Since the police are also human, there are inevitably going to be a few officers that go into that line of work for the wrong reasons; because they like to scuffle, because they like to impose their will on others, because it's a way to overcome their insecurities.  As a result of this, and a number of other reasons, not everyone has positive interactions with the police, and not just those who are breaking the law.  I'm sure there are those who read about disciplinary hearings or officers up on charges of their own with a shaking of the head, a clucking of the tongue, and words along the lines of 'well, what did you expect?'.  Still others look at the horror in Moncton or elsewhere and think to themselves, 'Good'.

People think nothing of saying they don't like the police, or they hate cops.  Where I work, we administer the pension plan for most of the non-RCMP police officers in the province, and we can't send their paperwork in a plan envelope, for fear of disclosing that they are cops.  This partly an operational decision for undercover officers, but surely has to take into consideration the possibility of cop haters in the member's own neighbourhood doing something regrettable with this knowledge.

I thought we had come a long way from the 1970s and the countercultural warcry of "Off the pigs!"  I thought, as a society, we had moved passed a lot of our prejudices.  Don't get me wrong, I think we still have a long ways to go, so long as two guys can get beat up for holding hands in public, or any of us remain afraid to speak up when a co-worker or taxi driver brazenly uses racial slurs, but the idea that a segment of our population is happiest when expressing disdain and hatred towards those who take considerable risk to protect all of us is just unfathomable to me.  Aren't these our neighbours too?

In Edmonton, our pendulum seems to swing between adversarial and collborative policing.  Under previous administrations, there was a palpable 'us vs. them' dynamic in everything from the paramilitary uniforms and demeanor of many of the officers to the way discipline and civilian oversight was handled.  This culminated in the Overtime Sting controversy, wherein a number of officers surveilled a critical newspaper columnist as well as the chair of Edmonton's civilian police commission, in hopes of catching them driving home from a bar while over the legal limit.

Thankfully our last two police chiefs have been committed to the idea of community policing, and it seems like things are improving.  Meanwhile, however, men and women who have, for whatever reasons, decided to play a role in keeping our society safe by enforcing the rules and maintaining public safety, are finding themselves increasingly targeted by disturbed individuals who feel their liberties are somehow being infringed.  Where will it lead?

Last night I finally got to see the science fiction film Elysium, by Neil Blomkamp, in which the rich and privileged live in a pristine orbital habitat where disease and aging have been eliminated, while the rest of humanity toils in a an increasingly dystopian Earth.  The police here are no longer members of the community (such as it is), but merciless androids, bereft of compassion and context.  In real life overseas, drones and UAVs play an increasing role in warfare, ostensibly to protect the lives of our own troops.  Meanwhile though, the idea of quadcopters to assist North American police with finding or tracking suspects grows in popularity, and many considering a career in law enforcement either have second thoughts, or move deeper into this adversarial stance, and accept a workday spent in something analogous to an occupying army.

Peace officers enforce bylaws without the benefit of sidearms, but tactical response units get more and more militarized, with fully automatic weapons,  military camouflage,  and armoured vehicles.  Why?  Because criminals are getting more equipped and better organized, and a single person is more than capable of visiting grievous amounts of tragedy on the enforcement community without warning, as Moncton, Mayerthorpe, Las Vegas, and too many other locations have proven. In a way, it is sadly understandable for the police to think of the world in terms of 'us versus them.'

But that doesn't make it right.

Cops should be our neighbours.  They should be able to live among us and share our hopes and fears, and not have to worry about an armed and angry individual executing them for their decision to help us maintain our rights and safety.  I hope brave, decent people continue to volunteer for this often thankless role, and continue to call out the damaged and dangerous individuals that somehow manage to elude the screening process and end up behind a badge.

But more importantly, I hope we can take the time to remember that, in the end, there is no 'them', and at one point or another, law-breakers and law enforcers started out in the same place: as our neighbours.