Chris Aylward


Polar vortex Quebec City.jpg

The “polar vortex” (or as many Canadians call it, “January”), still holds most of us in its icy grip. My native province of Newfoundland got hit with a massive power outage on top of it, just to sweeten matters. Across North America, comparisons with the temperature on Mars have become the in thing.

But outside that mad polar whirl, somewhat different comparisons are available: it’s been warmer in Alaska than Georgia, for example. Cold comfort to those of us in the deep freeze, of course, even if we are told the vortex is on its way back to the Arctic where it belongs. It’s been so frigid that an escaped prison inmate in Kentucky phoned the police, asking to be let back in.

At least one wacky conservative south of the border has been claiming that the whole polar vortex thing is a hoax. Sometimes, it seems, you do need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.

Closer to home, I was struck by the near-universal outrage over a police officer in Montreal apparently threatening that he would tie a poorly-dressed homeless man to a pole. He’s (deservedly) in some trouble now, but when spectacular cases of police brutality attract far less outrage, one might wonder about the serious consequences here for mere words. I suspect the answer is that we haven’t all been pepper-sprayed or dragged down a staircase by the neck, but we’ve all felt the cold. We instantly empathize with the fellow in T-shirt and jean-shorts outside in weather like this. (Needless to say, other officers are out across the country rescuing people.)

The weather, certainly, hasn’t always brought out the best in people. This story out of Toronto is downright embarrassing:

Usually thought of as polite, Canadian travelers dropped their courteous demeanor. Police were called to the airport to calm hundreds of frustrated passengers who were verbally abusing airport employees. No arrests have been made to date.

Nevertheless, more positive stories, like this, are commonplace anywhere you go: folks tend to help out total strangers in a mutual crisis. Here’s a typical random act of kindness. No doubt you could share some of your own (please do—that’s what the comment section is for).

Everyone talks about the weather, said Mark Twain, but nobody does anything about it. Yet that’s not entirely true. We may not be able to stop wobbly Arctic vortices from chilling the blood, but we can generally cope when it happens—some of us, of course, much better than others. On balance, we collectively rise to the occasion. In the labour movement, we call that solidarity. But in plainer language—we look after each other.

[Photo credit: Reuters/Mathieu Belanger]

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This page contains a single entry by Chris Aylward published on January 9, 2014 8:30 AM.

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