Money for Nothing

Pay_voteI would hazard a guess that most Canadians would agree that helping a huge multi-national Canadian company survive and remain competitive is good for all Canadians. So, when the government of Canada and the Quebec provincial government bailed out Bombardier with a $372.5-million loan, and $1 billion respectively, it was a bit of a sticker-price shock, but still, it could be substantiated in the eyes of many people. What could not be tolerated, however, were bonuses for the company’s top five executives for poor performance.

I do not understand how executives can even think that they deserve raises after being brought back from the edge of the brink with taxpayer’s money. America’s Wall Street banking executives, who performed so poorly that they almost brought the entire world’s economy to its knees, also decided it was a good idea to hand out millions of dollars in bonuses after a federal bailout. In both these cases, executives cited the need to attract and retain the best executives. If the definition of a great executive is to gouge taxpayers and screw its employees, then the Bombardier top executives have easily come from the same gene cesspool of the greedy “privileged” few that have no concern for anyone below them. Money for nothing is not what a tax-funded bailout is for.

Most employees are lucky if they get an annual raise of two per cent. In the case of Bombardier, it has laid off thousand of workers worldwide to “help turn the company around.” There is no turning anything around when part of the problem is executive greed. It’s no wonder they were having financial difficulties. If private companies like Bombardier want to play fast and loose with their private money, then I would have no issue, but they are playing with taxpayer money. These funds should have come with conditions that include things like “never to be used to increase executive salaries.” What Bombardier and other companies like it are doing is a form of corruption, and should never be allowed under any circumstance.

Many Canadians are going through financial hardship. They have never received a bailout from their government. A bailout would sure help me, and it would not need to be anywhere near the amount doled out to corporate giants. When the average Joe or Josephine has financial difficulties, they cut back, scrimp, and conserve to help make ends meet. Why is it that Bombardier executives do not have to reduce their wages during hard times?

Bombardier executives do not need raises. Deferring these compensation packages to 2020 is not the answer. Cancelling these bonuses altogether is the answer. If you are an executive of any company who finds that living on $1 million per year is not enough, then you and I need to trade places for a year. Living on my pay, would, I am certain, make you better appreciate what it truly means to have to cut back or tighten one’s belt.

Canadians are a friendly bunch; they like to help out in any way they can. If that support, however, goes to line the pockets of the people that need it the least, then those people are no better than corrupt dictatorships that keep financial aid for themselves in the face of despair and financial ruin of their own citizens.


Toddlers, Dogs, and Language Acquisition

parlez_vousFear of saying something the wrong way can be debilitating. There will be opportunities lost in not saying what you want, or in not understanding what has been said. In my case, misunderstandings usually stemmed from my lack of self-confidence, and my constant questioning that often took over my capacity to speak. Even after I convinced myself, or even after I rationalized that if I made a mistake, things would be fine. I am never quite sure if things will really be fine. One thing is certain: if you want to learn to speak a second language as an adult, you will have to exercise practise, patience, persistence, and engage other people.

While learning a second language, I often found it extremely difficult to express myself verbally. It was as if I was in grade school where the fear of public speaking, or the reciting of anything, while standing in front of a group, left me in a state of distress. This fear followed me into adulthood. It had followed me to Quebec, into my Françisation class, where my hopes of becoming fully fluent in French were fairly quickly replaced by a hope to be able to just get by in my new language. I had feared if I had trouble speaking in front of an audience in my own language, how could I ever be expected to do it in a foreign language?  It is with much regret that during my childhood, I never fully learned French past a level only useful to speaking to toddlers under the age of three. As limited as my vocabulary was, it expanded somewhat when I learned how to swear. When you are young, there is something very intriguing about learning how to spew profanities in a language other than your own. Although using coarse language against the Catholic Church didn’t hold any appeal for me, I was grateful that I could recognize profanity in French should it be directed my way.

As an adult, however, I was quite pleased when my French vocabulary had surpassed that of my sister-in-law’s dog. I was quite sure that Jack was not capable of understanding commands in the imperfect voice. I hadn’t tested that theory, but to Jack’s defence, and to my chagrin, he was perfectly capable of understanding the imperative voice long before I understood what that entailed.

Toddlers and dogs aside, and despite the fact that learning a new language as an adult was not easy, I persevered. It is well known that children learn communication through both verbal and non-verbal cues. It is probably not that well known that second-language acquisition by adults is also highly supplemented by non-verbal gesturing, at least in the beginning. Had anyone peered into our beginning French classes, we would have looked like an ensemble theatre troupe from the Marcel Marceau School of Mime and Gesticulation, The Quebec Chapter. Of course there is no such place, but had there been, we would have made the school proud.

A benchmark day in my evolution to becoming bilingual came when I went to see the film, The Passion of the Christ. In my personal war against bilingual illiteracy, I chose to see the film with French subtitles, and much to my surprise, I understood much of it. In my defence, I already knew the storyline and the ending, so I was able to follow it with some sense of ease.

Inexperienced users of a new language trying to broaden their vocabulary can, as I have found out, stumble into malapropism, sometimes leading to embarrassment, or at best, creating a very funny situation. Ironically enough, the word originates from the French phrase mal à propos, meaning “inopportunely” or “inappropriately.” So it was not a surprise to find out that I was not the only person afflicted with this phenomenon. Another student had broken his big toe. So when it was time for his oral exam, the easy question asked was “What happened?” Obligated to reply in French, he said pointing at his toe, “J’ai cassé mon oreiller.” The teacher started to laugh.

Perplexed, he had asked, “What is so funny?”

What was so funny was that the translation of oreiller is  “pillow.” It was hard not to imagine a full-grown man tearing up a pillow by having a pillow fight. After the laughter subsided, the instructor explained to him that what he had broken was his “orteil.”

Languages are not static; they are continually evolving entities that require constant adaptation. For example, using Google as a verb made me slightly queasy, but now it has become part of my everyday lexicon, as well as that of my dictionary’s. Inexperienced users of a new language trying to broaden their vocabulary can, as I had experienced, depend on a dictionary just a bit too much. My whole life, I have used dictionaries with no problem. I have delighted in learning and understanding a word for the first time. The same holds true for French. Although, there are times that I have searched for a meaning of a word only to find that I needed to search for the meaning of the meaning. My personal record to date is six entries just to find the meaning of one word. Ignorance is not really bliss at all; it is mostly just frustrating.

If you expect to learn a language quickly by solely buying a book or a CD, I think the road ahead will be difficult. There are many tools available that preach quick answers. There’s even a Wiki available called How to Learn French Fast. It includes ten steps with pictures. I wish I would have known about that before. Just think of all the time and agony I would have saved. My personal favourite is the Audiobook, Fast and Easy French, which has all the aspirations of being oxymoronic, or perhaps it is actually about people. Personally, I am waiting for French in 30,000 Complicated Steps Including Exceptions to come out because that would be a more accurate title.

Learning new things can be intimidating, unfamiliar, terrifying, self-doubt inducing, and downright uncomfortable. So you must trust me when I say the sooner you accept that the road to fluency may never be fully realized, the sooner your language acquisition will be—dare I say—a lot more fun. To continue in your quest to French fluency you must read more, write more, speak more, yell more, order more, and sing more, but mostly, you must be more patient, and accept that there will be times that you will make more mistakes.

Floss is not Just Another Pretty Name

floss_toothIf I had to give a word of advice to my younger self, it would be to say, “Don’t forget to floss.” In fact, I probably would use a more serious tone and say something like, “Don’t you come out of that bathroom until you are done flossing young lady!”

I know that we have all heard the perils that can befall a person that does not floss. You can have bad breath; cavities; periodontal disease (gum disease); and loss of teeth. That last one? The looming threat of tooth loss? You’d think that would be the clincher; the thing that would have convinced me to floss regularly. Regretfully, it was not. Although I had made many attempts at flossing, I was just not consistent enough. Thankfully I still have all my teeth, and I now floss daily. You are probably wondering so what changed?

What changed is my recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It seems that researchers in this field have found that there appears to be a higher incidence of RA with those who have periodontal disease. This finding is not to say everyone with periodontal disease will get rheumatoid arthritis. Nor is it true that healthy gums will prevent you from getting RA. Just the possibility that flossing could have lowered my chances of getting RA, I think, would have been enough to keep me flossing regularly.

When something invades your body like a cold virus, your immune system will try to kick the offending visitor to the curb with certain defence moves that can include extra mucous or tears as well as things like sneezing. There is an invasion of white blood cells that march forward to fight an oncoming infection or invading bacteria. With rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system essentially malfunctions. Problems arise when white blood cells go into overdrive to fight bacteria or viruses and then, for no apparent reason, attack healthy synovial fluid that surrounds your joints, resulting in irreversible damage to surrounding bone and cartilage. (Synovial fluid’s job is to reduce friction between joints and cartilage.)

Sounds scary? Well, it should be. True, doctors do not know why the periodontal link is so strong with people living with rheumatoid arthritis except to say periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease. Once bleeding happens in the body, your immune system fires up to fight the problem with a protective inflammatory process. In the case of periodontal disease, your gums become inflamed. If left in this state with no action or no consistent action, your immune system continually tries to fight the periodontal disease over a long period, until (and no one knows why) your immune system can go after healthy areas, like those surrounding your joints.

When it comes to doing something as easy as flossing in an attempt to lower a risk factor like that, I think it would have been nice to have known about the link between RA and periodontal disease. I had never heard of it until it was too late. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and there is not much I can do about that. You, however, should heed my warning. Flossing takes minutes out of your day and costs next to nothing. The alternative could amount to expensive medication, and doctor visits for the rest of your life.

Sadly, I know now more about rheumatoid arthritis and periodontal disease than I ever wanted to. But, that’s what happens when you get afflicted with something; you research it to death. I am not a doctor, nor am I a dentist, so why should you listen to me? You shouldn’t. If you have problems with your gums or joints, you should consult a professional. In the end, my advice, based on my experience, is just to say with a serious tone, “Floss, people! Floss daily!”

You Want to Take Me Where?

winning_stepsA phrase, often used, can fall into the realm of clichés. I too am guilty of using them from time to time, probably because it is so easy to do. We use clichés so often during our every-day speech that it is often difficult not to use them in writing. Also, because there is truth in them, they are hard to avoid. Perhaps a ten or twenty-year ban would suffice, after which the offending phrase could once again take its proper place in the world to be revived like an endangered species, that you were never quite sure existed in the first place.

One of those overused phrases is “Take your (insert service or business) to the next level, or to new heights!” This phrase, or something like it, has been used so often that it has become meaningless. If we are all now on “the next level,” what could be the attraction? Personally, I would like to go somewhere else for a change, somewhere explicit, somewhere concrete, because no one quite knows where this ubiquitous “next level” is, or what it means.

The other major problem with this type of phrasing is that once you get to “the next level” what happens next? Trying to get to “the next level” could set you up for striving for next level attainment in perpetuity; no matter what level you attain, there is always another one that follows. When will it end? Must we always strive for better? Which begs the question, better than what or whom? Because as we all know, no matter how good we are, there will always be someone better that comes along.

For clarity sake, let’s take a phrase like “Take your widget seeker to the next level.” If I were in the business of widget seeking, I would be somewhat offended that you would think that the work I put into marketing my widget seeking was sub-par.  I realise most people are trying to position their business as the answer to your quite possibly non-existent problems, but to do so at the expense of someone else’s work is not the most productive way.

Certainly, there are perfectly acceptable things for “next level” attainment, like Karate, or the myriad of other martial arts sports. Practitioners in the martial arts world never imply that one’s previous level is not worthy, or not enough. Gamers go through levels all the time. They compete against one another, or the game itself to win, but games by their nature are meant to win, and bragging rights are part of that glory.

So what’s a person to call it when they want to sell you “the next level” goods? First and foremost, marketing experts need to be more specific in their pitch. Instead of telling someone “We’ll take you to the next level.” Tell them exactly what that next level entails. Whether it is increasing web traffic, or storefront traffic, don’t be so ambiguous when trying to steer potential clients your way.

If we think of our business like we should be thinking of ourselves, the answer is easy. If we can say we are good enough, or we are fast enough; then we can say we are enough instead of self-deprecating thoughts of not being enough. Self-improvement is great, but there is a difference between striving for betterment and endeavouring to be number one. The elusive “next level” is not always a requirement to win, or at least it shouldn’t be. Besides, no one cares about “the next level.” It has become the white noise of marketing jargon, and no one wants to end up like that.

So the next time you see someone promising you that they will help you take your service or job to “the next level,” I’d save your money, because if they have not done so for their marketing copy, then how can you be sure they will come through for you?

Looking Forward


My excitement levels over an anticipated birthday have somewhat tempered over the years. I went from an excited kid waiting for that telescope (that never came) to an expectant teenager hoping for something other than clothes (I’ve since outgrown that sentiment). As an adult, birthdays became reasons to go out and celebrate. Today, whether it be mine or other people’s, I still enjoy birthdays. Who doesn’t with all those offerings of cake flying around? The reasons to look forward to a birthday may change over the years, but for most, it is something we look forward to celebrating.

Looking forward to things isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s equally incessant younger brother, “I can’t wait” is not all that bad either. As humans, we look forward to many things throughout our lives – Christmas, graduations, vacations, weddings, summer, and weekends. As time moves on, our anticipatory list seems to expand to include things like retirement, hip replacements, and seniors discounts – none of which I am currently experiencing.

Our entire lives are summed up in that one little phrase, “I can’t wait until…” When we are young, we can’t wait until we become teenagers, after that, we can’t wait until we can legally partake in those vices we wished we’d never started. Once we’ve entered into the adult world, we can’t wait until certain uncomfortable, irritable things are over. Equally, we can’t wait until beautiful, joyful, fun experiences start.

Most often, the anticipation of these things are great fun, but it would seem we spend so much of our lives looking forward to other things, we forget to look at what is right in front of us. Instead of yearning for the end of something that is not enjoyable, we need to re-evaluate what is happening around us in the present.

I for one, have forgotten how to live in the present. Perhaps I never knew. Maybe living in the present would open up a new world of opportunity. Maybe, I would see the forest and the trees. Maybe living in the present would save me from wishing my life away; hoping for the future, yet fearing its propensity to be full of what ifs at the same time. Maybe, at the very least, living in the present would allow me to remember where I parked my car.

My story does not end here. There are many unknowns ahead of me. Although I cannot bring myself to say that I look forward to getting older, I can now look forward to the new unknowns in my life like an old friend coming for a long overdue visit. Then, of course, there is the “careful what you wish for” thing, but that’s an entirely different post.