The Western Enigma

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


I was bored at work the other day, so I started surfing through the blogs of people I know. Then I got bored with that and started surfing through the blogs of people they linked to.

Long story short, I stumbled upon the blog of someone who shall remain nameless and saw something that surprised me: my name (spelled wrong, but still) was mentioned. Mentioned, under less-than-flattering circumstances.

The gist of it was, "I saw you, but I think you're a jerk so I pretended I didn't know you." I don't care if you think I'm a jerk. That's your right.

What I would ask is that if you think this, and if you feel the need to broadcast your belief over the Internet, that you at least spell my name correctly. Some other Erik Jacobs who spells his name E-R-I-C might read it and be offended.

9 Months

A sometimes crazy, always amusing, and occasionally sharply insightful man once said that on the internet, your crimes live forever.

It's been nine months since I last posted on this blog. I don't remember the last time I even looked at it. The few people who were kind enough to link to it no longer do. And yet, my crime against blogging remains.

I've been busy in those nine months. Spent a month and a half backpacking in Spain, France, the UK and Ireland. Adjudicated the 2006 World Debating Championships. Did not distinguish myself in any way, shape or form. Got back to Canada in January and went back to a shitty little town with a nice facade for the tourists. Only lasted until April before heading for the coast.

I'm currently working at the Vancouver Fim School. The job's okay so far. I don't know if it's any better than my previous jobs or if I just haven't been there long enough to come to hate it.

Hopefully, I will post again within the next nine months. To the six people who actually read this blog, my apologies for not posting more often.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Canmore Folk Fest Preview

This weekend is August long weekend (actually, two of the three days are in July, but I digress). For those in the know, this is the weekend of Alberta's oldest folk music festival, The Canmore Folk Music Festival. If you are looking for something to do this weekend, I highly recommend that you come check it out. Performers will include The Arrogant Worms, Carlos del Junco, Connie Kaldor, Oscar Lopez, and Oysterband, among others. This will be my tenth Canmore Folk Fest and over all of those years, I haven't seen an act I really disliked.

In addition, it seems that they are still looking for volunteers so if you want to come but don't want to pay admission, you can get in for free in exchange for a few hours of your time. I recommend this festival to everyone.

PS. Look for a review some time next week.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Fighting Them There AND Here

So I guess I would rather fight them [the terrorists] there [in Iraq] than here. I know I would rather fight them there than here, and I know would rather fight them there than in other remote parts of the world, where it may be more difficult to find them.
- US President George W. Bush on preventing future terrorist attacks on Western cities

With this logic, if we start building dirty hospitals, we can fight germs on our terms.
-A poster on a web board called "America's Debate."

I would like to take this moment to offer my condolences to those who lost loved ones in this morning's bomb attacks in London.

The latest numbers show 37 dead and over 700 injured in coordinated blasts targetting subways and a double-decker bus.

A group calling itself Secret Organization-Al Qaeda in Europe claimed responsibility for the attacks. According to the group's statement, the attacks were in response to "massacres Britain committed in Iraq and Afghanistan."

According to President Bush, the invasion of Iraq was supposed to draw the terrorists into battle. As the logic went, if we're fighting them in Iraq, they can't launch attacks on Western cities. Furthermore, it was supposed to draw terrorists to where they could be more easily fought, where they can be fought on our terms, not their's. This has been dubbed the "flypaper strategy." Not only has this strategy failed, as this morning's attacks and last March's attacks on Madrid tragically demonstrated, it now appears that Iraq has become a seasoning ground for would-be terrorists, much like Afghanistan was during the Soviet occupation. Skeptics of the strategy have always said this would happen. Now a CIA report supports their view.

So not only has fighting terrorists "there" not prevented having to fight them "here," it has given the terrorists another reason to attack Western targets, served as a recruiting tool for them, and provided them with a ready-made training ground.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

My Father

Today is father's day. I'll call my dad after eight, when I have unlimited cellphone minutes.

My father, Paul Jacobs, is a native of the suburbs of New York City. He first came to Canada in 1970, at the age of eighteen. After a year as a student at McGill University, he moved west and has lived in Western Canada ever since. He doesn't talk about the circumstances under which he came to Canada very much. He says he came to go to university, but I know that, at the time, he was a strident opponent of the Vietnam War. As he returned to the US to work before he got Canadian citizenship and has never had any trouble getting across the border, I'm pretty sure he didn't dodge the draft.

Nonetheless, he seems to have mixed feelings about the country of his birth. There are times when I think he wished he had stayed. He is not a dual citizen; he gave up his US citizenship. He also married a Canadian woman.

For much of my childhood, dad was a grad student at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg. He recieved his Ph. D. in engineering when I was nine, but he has never worked as an engineer. He's never worked long at any one job. He dislikes institutions and bureaucracies, especially when he has to work in them. Dad can always be counted on for a snide comment about bureaucrats.

For most of my life with my parents, dad did his part to support us by running a small network support business, playing the stock market with considerable success, and investing every penny in interest-earning accounts. He has also managed to make a profit selling not one, but two houses. Indeed, had he chosen to pursue it as a career, he probably could have been a high-powered financial executive. But he didn't want that. He was never happy as someone's employee and in the almost six years he ran a business, he never hired anybody.

In elementary school, we are told to "be a leader, not a follower." Dad ignored both that advice and the default position. He doesn't lead, yet he refuses to follow. In an age where all seek to be individuals, dad is one of the few people who can truly claim to be one.

Unlike many parents, who attempt to be cool and fail miserably, dad didn't even try. He knew that, whatever he did, my sister and I would never think of him as cool. Dads aren't supposed to be cool. They aren't supposed to be their kids' buddies. Friends, especially for teenagers, come and go quite frequently. Fathers aren't supposed to, although all too often they do.

Some parents strict forbid any hint of sex or drugs in their children's lives. Others, realizing the futility of such prohibitions, refuse to take any stand on these things, but shield their children from the inevitable consequences of experimentation with sex and drugs. Dad did neither. When I was sixteen, I staggered home drunk after a party, when I had to work at seven the next morning at a summer job. Dad personally made sure I got up on time, even though it meant going to work with a massive hangover. One thing he always made clear was that choices always have consequences. You stay up late drinking before you have an early shift, you go to work hung over. End of story.

Here are a few of dad's more memorable quotes:

"If you have to ask why, the answer is probably money."

"Be good, and if you can't be good, don't get caught."

On government:
"If we're not careful, we may end up with incompetent and corrupt politicians in charge."

On his decidely unfashionable winter clothes:
"Warm beats fashion any day."

And finally:
"Even paranoids have enemies."

Happy father's day dad.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Politics of Star Wars

(Warning: Star Wars spoilers ahead).

For those of you who have been living in a cave or on a desert island, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was released on May 19. This completes the saga of Anakin Skywalker, from slave boy, to Padawan, to Jedi, to Sith lord, to his redemption in Return of the Jedi.

As Anakin transforms, so to does the political structure of the galaxy. At the beginning of the saga, the galaxy is ruled by a democratically elected, perpetually divided and squabbling, republican senate. Over the course of the first three episodes, power increasingly shifts from the senate to Palpatine. Palpatine goes from senator, to chancellor in Episode I, and his power gradually increases until he declares himself emperor in Episode III.

The underlying question is, why did the galaxy, or more accurately its democratically elected senators, choose to give up their freedom? While the question of why people seek power is a common theme in literature and movies, the question of why people choose to give in to those who seek power is not.

Below are several links to articles further exploring the politics of Star Wars, with emphasis on the transformation from republic to empire.

Monday, May 16, 2005

My Job(s) and Musings on the Canmore Economy

First of all, an apology to anyone out there who has loyally read my blog. The reason I haven't posted in a few weeks is that I haven't had Internet access at home until today.

So, I'm back in Canmore. Great town to visit, not so great to live in. My family moved here when I was ten, and I lived here full-time until 2001, when I left to attend the University of Alberta. I have always ended up returning to Canmore in the summers, despite my best efforts to find work elsewhere. My parents left town last fall, but both my sister and I returned in April.

So, I'm sharing a basement suite with a German denture technician facing the 1A. I start my real job on the 24th. Right now, I'm working in the bakery of the local Sobeys. The job sucks, but at least I'll be out soon.

I worked at the front desk of the local Howard Johnson last summer, but they weren't hiring this year. I cut through their parking lot fairly regularly (it's the shortest way from my house to downtown) and it always seems to be really empty. I think that this is partly due to the fact that tourist season hasn't really started yet and partly due to the fact that some genius built the place right next to the train tracks.

So about my new job. I just signed away my soul for the next six months to the Fairmont corporation. On May 24th (five days after the release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) I start work at their laundry facility in Canmore. Fortunately, I was able to get a job in the shipping and receiving/quality control department. I'd prefer not to spend the next six months feeding towels and sheets into machines.

My first weekend back in town, I visited the annual trade fair. Canmore is usually thought of as a tourist town, but there was nary a tourist business in sight at the trade fair. Almost all of the booths were for construction or home improvement materials. While I was looking around I had an epiphany. Canmore's economy is not primarily based on tourism. Sure, there are tourist businesses. But the real money is not in tourism, but in construction and real estate. So the Canmore economy should be just fine as long people continue to move here.

The problem is, that the houses that are being built aren't cheap. A one bedroom condo will cost you at least one hundred fifty grand. For a condo that you could actually fit a family into, you might be able to get away with spending three hundred grand at the barest minimum.

But, let's say you want to own the land your house is built on, not just the house itself. Buildings tend to depreciate in value over time, while the land they are built on may or may not depreciate depending on its location. To buy an actual house, you would have to spend over four hundred grand. Most nicer houses run at five or six grand, and houses selling for over a million are not uncommon.

It is possible to spend this much on a house in most cities. However, most cities also have houses that cost less than this. Canmore doesn't.

Very few Canmore residents can afford to buy a house now. High level management jobs are almost unheard of and even professional position are relatively rare. Most of the town's population works in the tourism sector, which tends not to pay very well. Many businesses find themselves compelled to provide staff accomodation, but no one in their right mind would want to spend much time living in your typical staff accomodation. They typically have two, or even three people sharing the same bedroom.

But even those at the management level cannot afford to buy. I personally know hotel and restaurant managers who rent. I'm one of the lucky ones. I managed to get a decent job. But, there is no way that I am going to be able to afford a house here. Indeed, about the only people who are able to afford houses in Canmore made a whole pile of money somewhere else. I don't know how long I'll stay here, but I don't plan on settling in Canmore for life.

Right now, the economy is relatively hot. It will only stay this way, however, if people continue to build and buy houses here. If they stop doing this, because, for example, interest rates go up, the town's economy is in deep trouble.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

I'm Done... Almost

Wrote my last exam today. I have one more course to complete in the spring term and then I will be the proud owner of a BA (Honours) degree. Yeah!

Now if only I had a job...

I head back to Canmore on Friday. So long Edmonton, it's been good to know ya. Seriously, Edmonton's a great city. I've enjoyed my four years less summers here and I won't stay away on purpose.

This will be my last post for awhile. My internet connection gets disconnected tomorrow and I don't know when I'll be able to go on the internet next. Hopefully soon.