Michael Potvin was my Friend

September 10, 2010

I’ve waited far too long to express this.

On August 4/2010, I attended the memorial service for Michael Potvin. Michael, an RCMP officer, drowned at the age of 26 in the Stewart River near Mayo, about 400 kilometres north of Whitehorse. August 4th would have been his 27th birthday. He is survived by his mother, father, brother, wife, and son who he never had a chance to meet. His son was born just a few days ago.

I have been struggling to define my relationship with Mike. I first met him when he was ten years old. He was delivered to my Karate club by his mother. Patty was concerned that Mike, who was a bit of a pudgy kid, was getting picked on at school; she hoped that Karate would toughen him up. Mike and I got along very well from the start. While I’m not one to pick favourites, it was hard not to favour Mike. He trained hard all the time. He asked good questions. He was a gifted and talented martial artist. As he rose through the ranks, I learned that I could count on Mike to do a fantastic job working with other students. He was an able and articulate teacher.

Mike and I attended seminars, tournaments, and other Karate-related functions together. His mother trusted me to take care of him. And I did. I recall one seminar we attended in Toronto. We had to stay one night in a hotel and three of us had to share a room (we were cheap). Mike asked which bed was his; Dan (another instructor at my Karate club) and I replied, in unison, “the floor” (in retrospect, this was probably a little mean; we should have tried harder to get one of those roll-away beds). Mike didn’t complain.

For years, we were pretty-much inseparable; at least on Karate nights. Back then, that was every night of the week (it was a lot easier to be dedicated to Karate in the years before I had children of my own).

Mike’s own father told me that I was “like a second father to him”. I’ve known Mike’s father for a long time; he was pretty good at the job. To be grouped into his company is an honour. I’m not sure, however, that such an honour was deserved. I know that I learned quite a lot about being a father hanging out with Mike, but I only ever had to deal with the cool stuff. We did fun Karate together. I never had to make him clean up his room, or take out the trash. We only ever did stuff he liked to do. It was easy to be “like a second father” to Mike.

At times, Mike was like a little brother to me. I honestly never really thought of the relationship in this way, but in retrospect, it probably was something like this. In many ways, he was like the little brother who tries to emulate the older brother. Sadly, I think that this may account–at least partially–for Mike’s sense of humour. Mike has a fantastic younger brother, Sean, who was far better in this role than I ever could hope to be. But, again, I am honoured to have shared in this role.

The one thing that I can say with certainty is that I was in no quantifiable way a mother to Mike. Patty had that role sealed up. Logic would suggest that a child doted on as much as Mike was should grow up spoiled; but he didn’t. Mike was a caring and thoughtful person who gave freely of himself without reservation. Patty, Mark, and Sean should be proud of how he turned out. I know that I am.

I guess “instructor/student” is an obvious characterization of our relationship. But that just doesn’t go far enough for me. Besides, I’ve considered him my martial arts peer for some time. Our instructor/student relationship grew quickly to one of mutual study; we observed, learned, trained together. I count the opportunity to award Mike his Black Belt as one of my favourite memories (as part of the ceremony, I actually got to put it on for him and tie it). Mike received his Black Belt ten years ago. In the time since, he remained very much a member of our club. Over time, we saw less of him than we would have liked. School, work, and other real-life distractions took up much of his time. But he still found time to drop in when he could.

Mike himself used to call me his “mentor”. But in the end, I guess that I have to settle for “friend”. Mike Potvin was my friend. And I miss him.



August 8, 2010

My Facebook remains open. It’s a valuable communication tool for getting in touch with real humans. It’s also a horrible, horrible thing. I’m approaching it with a lot more formality now.

Why I’m Closing My Facebook

July 17, 2010

4 amigos >>> n Facebook profiles

What to do…

July 7, 2010

Maybe I spoke too soon with my last post. Maybe rallies are an effective way to protest and make your voice heard. Maybe I just misunderstood the point.

I’ve read where some folks believe that the violence (from those participants who weren’t carrying shields and clubs) that took place during the G20 achieved its goals. The article I read (which I managed to lose the reference to) suggested that the violence drew the attention of the media which, in turn made sure that those of us who didn’t attend were able to know that something was happening.

And I guess that I can reasonably argue that after seeing all the craziness, I did spend a few minutes trying to understand what those issues actually were. So, while the rallies themselves did almost nothing to educate me, they did motivate me to educate myself. At least a little. I still have a lot of work to do to really understand the issues; I do intend to spend the time to bring myself properly up-to-speed.

But I have to admit that my concern over the issues is overshadowed by my concern about how the police responded. I am trying very hard to reserve judgement while the various inquiries are being undertaken. I’ve seen enough video to believe that mistakes were made. Unfortunately, every video that I’ve seen (I’ve really only seen about a dozen or so of them) only show part of the whole story. I’ve defended some of the violent acts performed by the police as plausibly justifiable. But I’ll admit that my rationalizations are strained.

I am very concerned about developing an “us-vs.-them” attitude with respect to the police and government. We gain little from that sort of stand. And we stand to lose so much. A gulf between the people and the government can only widen with this sort of attitude; nothing good can come from a government that becomes totally separated from the people.

I want to see a proper independent inquiry undertaken. I want to identify and fix the problems that are identified. I need to sort out what part I’m going to play in this process.

Rallies as a Form of Protest

June 29, 2010

I remember participating in a mock-rally protesting a local concert by Rick Astley. That was probably in 1990 while I was in university. That was also about the time that I started thinking that protesting is pretty pointless.

Last month I happened to be in downtown Ottawa during a Pro-life rally. I arrived late. I must have passed by more than 10,000 people (though I’m terrible at estimating such things) marching down Elgin Street, apparently after having attended the rally on Parliament Hill. By the time I got there, a scant 1,000 or so (again, I’m terrible at estimating such things) people gathered around a speaker. I sat and watched for a few minutes as the speaker described the horrors of abortion and introduced several women who had regretted having abortions. It all sounded, frankly, horrible. I couldn’t listen very long as I was there attending a field trip from my son’s school. I’m sure that I was one of maybe a few dozen people who weren’t there specifically for the rally, but still managed to experience it in some very small way.

I can’t help but wonder though… who got the message? The people who purposefully attended the rally were–I suspect–already “Pro-Life”. I’m pretty sure that neither the house nor the senate was in session on that particular day. I’m not sure if any members of parliament participated in the rally: maybe some did. But did it invigorate any of them to push for real change? What about the people on Elgin Street? How many of them were forced into deep reflection of their own views as 10,000 (or so) people walked past with placards featuring various Pro-Life slogans? I didn’t see even a 15-second bit on the news that evening (and I’m pretty sure that there was nothing on any of the major news websites; I could be wrong).

FWIW, I have purposefully avoided including my own views on this particular topic as I don’t think that my views on abortion are germane to this discussion

So what’s the point? Thousands of people who share a similar view on a particular topic gather together on the hill and rant to each other about the injustice, and nobody else cares. Or really even knows that it’s happening.

This all leads me to the conclusion that rallies as a means of changing public awareness and policy is a dead form.

Maybe this explains some of the violence in Toronto during the G20 meetings. Could the vandalism be a symptom of frustration that gathering together to try and force change is pointless? I heard many people complain that the vandals took the news cameras away from the “real protesters”; that vandalism itself became the story instead of the real issues that people took to the streets to shed light on.

But seriously, would those “real protesters” have been heard anyway?

It’s Good to be King

June 11, 2010

I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately about the process of making rock stars.

I have experienced the process of creating a rock star in my own industry (software development). Building a rock star requires an individual with some minimum number of years of experience who has good knowledge of the domain and the ability to communicate in an articulate manner. Developing that sort of individual is non-trivial; it requires–in my experience–a university degree coupled with several years of apprenticeship with an existing rock star. It also requires an authoritative body to designate an individual as a rock star (and bill them out at rock star rates).

So I wonder. What does it take to make a rock star in other industries?

Sound off

June 5, 2010

I’d much rather be getting my drink on with my best friends. Post something, you summoner badges.