Why Isn’t Canada Part of the United States? A Primer for Americans

Virtually every American I keep in touch with has, at some point, asked me this question. American history classes do a very poor job of explaining how one region of mainland North America colonized by the United Kingdom became one country and the next region over became a different country, and tend to pretend Canada isn’t even on the map most of the time. I certainly faced this question with confusion prior to moving to Canada and being confronted with its reality.

As it happens, though, the events that led to these two settler states to emerge as separate entities are fairly interesting, and tied into the events that started the Thirteen American Colonies thinking of independence. Continue reading “Why Isn’t Canada Part of the United States? A Primer for Americans”

Why Isn’t Canada Part of the United States? A Primer for Americans
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An Imaginary Q&A on the World’s Degrees of Britishness

As many readers are undoubtedly aware, this past week the people of Scotland held a long-awaited referendum on whether to become an independent country.  What, exactly, this means has been more confusing than it should have been, because Scotland exists at a nexus of confusion within the mess of terms used to describe that general region of Europe.  With my trusty Imaginary Correspondent, let’s sort that out.

Imaginary Correspondent: I find Britishness quaint and also confusing.  Where do we start?

Alyssa: Geography.

IC: Okay…

Continue reading “An Imaginary Q&A on the World’s Degrees of Britishness”

An Imaginary Q&A on the World’s Degrees of Britishness

Salsa Fuerte, Vergüenza Profunda

Yesterday was Ontario’s provincial election, a frustrating event for this American citizen.  Even if Canada were just enough to enfranchise its permanent non-citizen residents, that would not give me a say in how this peculiar country runs itself.  My status in Canada is, for now, temporary, and my voting will continue to be in the far more globally significant Florida, where a handful of badly filled ballots or a rash of felony convictions can be the difference between a drawl-feigning warmongering theocrat or an environmentalist deciding what the world’s largest army will do.  As it was, Ontario’s Liberal Party sailed into a majority government with no particular difficulty, a source of both elation and disappointment for Ontario’s progressive constituents.

Canada’s parliamentary system affords a much larger niche for third parties than the United States’s legislature.  In Canada, if one party’s candidates get 35% of the seats, a second party gets 40%, and a third party 25%, that 40% party will have to form a coalition with one of the others, and that coalition will select the Prime Minister and otherwise set the government’s agenda.  If a particular attempted coalition cannot get along well enough to form the government, the coalition dissolves and another one tries.  This entanglement between the executive and legislative branches means that the leaders of Canada cannot, usually, afford to ignore people who didn’t vote for them, and it means that third parties that manage substantial segments of the vote don’t necessarily disappear behind the ones that got slightly more, because they can become necessary coalition partners.  A system like this one still eventually converges on two parties—it takes a much more complicated system to preserve more than two poles indefinitely—but it takes much longer and affords those third parties and their constituents a much greater voice in the meantime.

Suffice to say, there’s a much greater possibility to vote one’s conscience in Canada, even if some situations demand voting for whoever stands the greatest shot at keeping the Conservatives out of a particular seat.

So it was with curiosity and interest that I surveyed the pamphlets and cards that the various candidates and advocacy groups kept leaving in our mailboxes.  Most of them were political boilerplate, a series of minor promises next to a candidate putting on the best trustworthy-and-not-smug mug xe could manage.  But I had to give one of them a lot of extra attention.

Did you know Canada has a Communist Party?

Continue reading “Salsa Fuerte, Vergüenza Profunda”

Salsa Fuerte, Vergüenza Profunda

Why I am an Atheist – 3 of 3

It would turn out that I had overestimated the extent of the damage.  True, I had become a pariah from many of the people that had filled the social outings of the past few years and simply grown apart from many more.  But I still had friends (mostly from high school) I would have felt bad about losing.  It would be they that I would commit to seeing on my visits back to Miami.

In Ottawa, population 1 million, I could build myself anew.  The blogosphere became a close companion in my newfound solitude, and what had been intuitions and half-formed ideas grew into a far greater understanding.  I learned about the historical events surrounding the major religions.  I learned that Mormonism is, in fact, more overtly ridiculous than Catholicism, by a hair.  I learned about the psychological underpinnings of faith.  I learned just how little the average believer’s ideas relate to the Bible they claim is the foundation of their faith.  I learned about the gory zeal with which religions persecuted science that revealed religious teachings to be factually incorrect.  I learned about confirmation bias and how it convinces people they have psychic powers.  I learned why the sexual education regimen in my elementary school had to be split into sections at multiple locations: so that the segment on safe sex could be kept away from zealots’ eyes.  I finally understood the religious energy directed against the pure, visceral, primal joy that is sex, and into the authoritarian command to obey without question.  I learned about the seemingly boundless well of the Catholic Church’s crimes against humanity.  I learned about how Buddhist teachings encourage people to treat disabled people as monsters because their genetic disorders are a curse from karma for past lives’wrongdoing.  I saw that so, so, much of religion can only exist in a pluralistic, secular society when people do not live by it, that the litany of reforms that fill history classes occurred precisely because religions as originally formulated, as “God intended,” are utterly monstrous.  I saw that religious notions pervert our innate, empathetic moral sense until it is something inchoate and unrecognizable.

I saw that my parents and many of my friends and most of our leaders were in the grips of a vile and transmissible mind poison that told them their lives were worthless beneath the judgmental gaze of a cosmic entity whose plagues and marauding beasts we were supposed to take as expressions of “love.”  I saw that those same people paid regularly to hear someone tell them that this loving god would condemn one tenth or more of the human race to eternal torment based on who they loved, and that the best of them would merely disavow that notion without disavowing that church.  The worst of them would share that abuse out of “concern,” and drive a wedge through our family that makes me burn with sad, piteous rage.

I don’t remember when I listed myself as “Atheist” on OkCupid, but that designation was most emphatically in place when I changed my location to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  The lady I sought would not find this problematic, or would even look for it specifically.

I cultivated a different persona.  I did my reading, and recognized my desperation and my caution for the impediments they were.  I was now in a land where I could be the swarthy, exotic foreigner, where my American manners were fashionably impolite, and where my quiet, cerebral nature didn’t make me seem gutless and ineffectual to my ethnic kin and utterly invisible to anyone else.  In Miami, I was Solomon Vandi angrily listening to Johnny Archer shout at him, “Without me, you’re just another black man in Africa!”  In Ottawa, I could be who I wanted, and it would work.

In Ottawa, the zealots only come out to hold up their evil signs at Gay Pride parades and to show off their insultingly incorrect billboards about terminating pregnancy.  Canada isn’t as irreligious as paradises like Sweden or Estonia, but compared to the suffocating weight of Miami’s obsession with Spanish virgins, it was beatific.  Here, at long last, I could feel safe.  The political discourse here figured out that caring for one’s population and treating them fairly even when religious groups demand otherwise is the only way to run a modern country, while the United States still has to fight, over and over, people who want the government to enforce some specific version of Christianity on 320 million people.  Canada figured out the humanist notions of ethics that are the watchwords of the best atheists out there.  The United States belongs in another century by comparison.

And it was in Canada that I met a lady who thought clearly enough that she could see all of that, and did not despair.  A lady who, at long last, I would not have to placate with lies.  I met a lady who would not make me choose between loneliness and dishonesty.  A lady whose intelligence and understanding is matched only by her fiery commitment to making the world a better place and her mastery of Polish cuisine.  A lady who was everything I needed, and more.  I met Ania, and then we became co-bloggers.

Why I am an Atheist – 3 of 3