30 May, 2004

For your inspirational reading, we recommend...

I was baptized Catholic...twice.
First, when I was a baby. A Church requirement, that: a little moisture to ensure my place in heaven.
Second, when I was twelve. A 'rededication' to the Faith, done with a twelve-year-old's full knowledge and consent--which is to say, it carried the weight of a political campaign promise.
I've always questioned the standard beliefs about God. Like many, I've wondered how a loving God could judge and condemn us to eternal damnation. I wondered why God was supposedly so needy, so jealous, so insecure. These always struck me as human, not divine, traits.
So I went through a period in high school where I rejected God, trying on atheism to see how it fit. For a time, I spouted the atheistic creed as mindlessly as I had once been taught to wheedle Hail Marys and Our Fathers.
But that didn't feel right, either. God as a crutch for weak people was all well and good, except I felt weak myself.
It was through my voracious reading that I first began to hear God speaking to me...through what seemed to be the most unlikely author: Stephen King. First in THE STAND (a book given to me by my atheist best friend, ironically enough); shortly thereafter in DESPERATION, a novel concerning itself very much with the power of prayer. I started to think a little more about the possibility of deity, and started halfheartedly paging through spiritual books, like THE CELESTINE PROPHECY.
Then came the books that changed my mind: the CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD series, by Neale Donald Walsch.
It wasn't, strictly speaking, an epiphany. Rather, it was the curious (and very agreeable) sensation of seeing my mind laid bare in print. It wasn't learning; it was realizing what I already knew. Very empowering and inspirational stuff, this.
Not that everyone's willing to listen to it, oh, God, no. I've read a bunch of reviews from devout Christians that stop just short of calling Neale Donald Walsch the living antichrist.
What's so controversial about his books? Plenty, if you believe in the God I was taught about in catechism class. According to these dialogues, God is everywhere, in everyone, all the time. He/She/It never judges nor condemns; there is no Hell apart from our tortured imaginings; all paths lead to God; all paths ARE God.
On evil, the text is quite provocative. It states repeatedly that there is no such thing as absolute evil, that nobody ever sets out to harm another without what they think of as a very good reason.
Take Hitler. Pretty much the entire world over personifies Hitler is evil incarnate. Yet in 1930s Germany, Hitler thought he was doing good for his country, and the true horror was that millions agreed with him. It took fifteen years for enough of the world to decide it was time to put a stop to his activities. Hopefully, we're a little quicker on the uptake now.
Book 1 is kind of like a big hug from God; book 2 is a stern, yet equally loving, lecture on where we are as a species and how to get where we say we want to go; book 3 is an examination of universal cosmology, including the lives of 'highly evolved beings' elsewhere.
The strongest reason I have to recommend this series to anyone and everyone is that it is by no means authoritative. It doesn't claim to replace anybody's holy text. Rather, it invites you to read its words, and respond how you will.
It worked for me.

28 May, 2004

Part II, as promised

I don't drive. There, that makes me different. It's kind of funny, actually: almost without exception in our circle of friends, there's one out of every couple who doesn't drive either. It's invariably the female half of the couple, though. There aren't many of us 32-year-old males out there who don't have a license.
Part of the reason I'm nonvehicular is my eyesight. Thanks to having been born premature, I spent most of the first four months of my life in an incubator, which damaged my eyes. The thing is, my corrected vision is supposed to be just adequate to drive. When I was seventeen, I aced the written driver's ed test but barely passed the eye exam--the sun was backlighting everything and making it difficult for me to focus, I said as much, and for some reason they let me pass. I felt like I'd failed, though.
I found, when I took driver's ed, that the only kind of driving I felt comfortable with was the 401. Reason: no cross streets, next to no chance of kids suddenly running out into your path, seemingly no need to have six pairs of eyes. (I've just got the one pair, thanks, and the peripheral vision is iffy.) I found, too, that I could perform "difficult" tasks fairly well (parallel parking, for example), but would then botch the simplest right hand turn.
(I've found that throughout my life in lots of different things. Playing goal in a floor hockey game, I would make a spectacular save and then have the puck shoot right between my legs in the next ten seconds.)
Anyway, the thought of what a poor driver I was simply reinforced itself over the years. I tend to view driving like a video game, with one major exception: when you crack up out there in the real world, it's not a matter of a pretty little fireball, five seconds off the clock, and an instant brand new car. And I've never managed to play a racing-themed game for very long without crashing.
This little phobia of mine has disappointed an awful lot of people, I know. My Dad in particular, which is understandable, since he's lived his life behind the wheel. I'm sorry that people feel that way, but I make no apologies for the way I feel about driving: I'm just not up to it.
I've been lucky, though. My wife, bless her, hardly ever grumps about doing all the driving. (The only time is on long trips to her or my parents' places: also when I feel most guilty for not having a license.)
The thing is, there are now very practical reasons for me to remain a non-driver. Have you seen the price of insurance lately? Or gasoline?

While I'm on this little soapbox, why is a driver's license the only acceptable form of identification for some places? It's the first thing they ask for, and sometimes the only thing. I've been turned away at video stores, as if a permit to drive has anything to do with how trustworthy a person is. Just a couple weeks back, I tried to cash in a chit at Mohawk Raceway. The sign said that 'government issued photo identification' was required. My Ontario Health Card satifies all three qualifiers. It's government-issed; it has a photo on it; the photo can clearly be identified as me. But it wasn't good enough for them. Barring a driver's license, well, they'd accept a passport. Fair enough, except last I looked I WAS STILL IN MY OWN COUNTRY.
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What else makes me an odd duck? Well, I love individual people, and lots of them, but tend to hate groups. I'm supremely uncomfortable in party environments. I feel insecure as hell if I have to interact with a bunch of strangers. (I'm a crackerjack public speaker though; that's different. Nobody's talking back.) I'm also uncomfortable around a large group of friends, simply because I feel my attention being pulled too many ways at once.
I watched so very little television as a child, preferring books. (One of many things that amaze me about my Eva is that she's a confessed TV addict who also reads more than I do.) I once went three years without any TV access, and to this day, I can take or leave most television programming. There was precisely one show I'd classify as "can't miss" last year: Joan of Arcadia. Aside from hockey games, and what I'm sure Eva feels is an unhealthy fascination with news, there hasn't anything else that's thoroughly captured my attention.
And I do wish all so-called "reality" shows would go off and be on their own network. Take "Survivor", for instance. What's the one thing all Survivor locales have in common? That's right, heat. Why is that? Two letters, baby. T...and A. A "real" episode of Survivor would see the tribes threatened by very large, very hungry bears. The people who could improvise some sort of a weapon and kill the beast or at least drive it off, would be said to have survived. Their reward? Life. That's "survival" in reality. What the T.V. Survivor is is a soap opera. Nothing wrong with that, if you like that sort of thing...just don't call it "reality".
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Well, that about wraps it up. Until next time, goodbye from the Breadbin, where we're crusty on top, but soft and squishy beneath.



26 May, 2004

Things that make me different

I found this T-shirt on a recent trip up to the in-laws that I kind of had to have. It expresses "me" perfectly. It says:

You laugh at me because I'm different
I laugh at you because you're all the same.

Well, I don't always laugh, come to think of it. Sometimes I want to scream. Sometimes I feel pity. Usually, I just don't get it.

What don't I get? Well, for one thing, the cult of celebrity. I don't understand why so many people spend so much time, money and mental energy tracking every little detail in lives that will probably never impact theirs in any way.
Since I am a big hockey fan, I'm willing to bet people think I can rattle off vital stats for every Toronto Maple Leaf player. I can't. There are two of them I would probably recognize if they came up and said hello--Mats Sundin and Tie Domi--but I couldn't tell you the first thing about their lives off the ice.
I actually take pride in my ignorance. During the O.J. Simpson trial--the kind of event I expend great effort ignoring--somebody told me a Kato Kaelin joke and I didn't have the slightest idea who that was. I'd make a perfect juror if it wasn't for my dad the lifelong police officer.
Once, when I worked at 7-Eleven, I served Elvis Stojko. (No, it didn't change my life or make me a better person in any way. And it wouldn't have done so even had I recognized him.) My co-worker was in the back room at the time and emerged just as he was getting into his chauffered limousine. She actually slapped me with a sheaf of papers, over and over, in time to "HOW could you POSSibly not KNOW who that WAS?" All the while I was wondering how in the hell she recognized him, and I made the mistake of saying so, earning a "God, you're dumb" look.
Sexual fantasies about celebrites confound me. The mental calisthenics required to make myself believe (a) I might actually meet Kate Winslet and (b) she'll immediately drop to her knees and [......], well, they're just too tiring.
I am firmly convinced this would be a better world if celebrities were let alone to live their lives, and filmed only with their knowledge and permission.
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Another thing that earns me a lot of strange looks is my taste in music. I have a very broad range of musical acts I like, but comparatively few are popular these days.
Take, for example, John McDermott. For those (all) of you who have no idea who that is, he sings old Irish and Scottish folk tunes, some of them dating back five or more centuries. He also does tunes from the 1930s and 40s. We've been to a couple of his concerts. Both times we were younger than the rest of the audience by an average of one hundred and seventeen years.
I used to work a lot of graveyard shifts, at McDonald's and 7-Eleven both. I'm not a night person and never was; it just so happened that in first year university residence, it was impossible to sleep any time before three in the morning, what with the constant lacrosse games in the hallway, drunk people careening off the walls, and omnipresent par-tay. So, I reasoned, seething, if I was just going to lay here awake, I might as well be paid.
Anyway, to get me through the nights, I'd bring in classical music, New Age music, opera, anything in that ilk so long as it was slow and soothing. I must have had three hundred people remark on it over the years, usually some variant of "Why aren't you falling ASLEEP?" I would always shrug the question off because I couldn't very well tell the truth. "This music may put you to sleep, but what it does for me is keep me from leaping over the counter and strangling obnoxious drunks."
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Which brings up another thing that has convinced people I'm actually from Rygel-6. What in God's name is the deal with alcohol?
An old roommate of mine (who should probably remain nameless) once drank himself into such a stupor that he threw up, shit himself, and passed out. He came to four hours later with dried puke running down the front, dried shit running down the back, and a head that apparently felt like a cement mixer on high. He vowed he'd never drink again. That lasted a week.
Okay, I (sort of) understand addiction, but not one so strong that it would cause your mind to dismiss the spectre of yourself covered with shitty puke. "Oh, that was fun, let's do that AGAIN!"
It's not just the hard-core alcoholics. I saw an awful lot of people parading through my store in the wee hours of the morning, forty-seven sheets to the wind. Almost without exception, they were rude, prone to violence and petty theft, and SO FREAKING LOUD!!! What I'm trying to say is that drunk people act like brain-dead imbeciles. What's the attraction in acting like a brain-dead imbecile? Damned if I know.
I got drunk once. Once. Just to see what the big hullabaloo was. I found that I knew and understood everything that was going on around me and I just didn't care. I'm not sure how many degrees of blotto there are beyond that, and I sure don't have any pressing need to find out. It's not fun when Reason goes absent without (or with) leave. It's disturbing.
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I've never climbed a tree. Never done anything like that. I've never been the most co-ordinated person, and the risk of falling out and breaking something, in my case, is just too high. Those of you who tell me I missed out on all the fun, go fall out of a tree and tell me how much fun you're having.
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Part II to follow.

24 May, 2004

Love/like/looks/life...rambles

I once took a class in university solely so I could re-write a high school essay. The class was 'The Philosophy of Love, Sex, and Friendship' and the essay was simply called 'On love'.
When I say 'solely to re-write a high-school essay', I mean just that. I never attended a single session; merely walked in a few minutes ahead of everyone else the first night, grabbed the syllabus, and left. Thereafter, I did the readings proscribed and wrote the required assignments, handing the latter in to the professor's office mailbox on the dates given on the course curriculum. I walked into the final exam, written in Laurier's Athletic Centre gymnasium, without the slightest clue what would be asked of me on that test. Despite all this, I got a B+ in the course overall--and that's one of many things wrong with liberal arts degrees these days.
Anyway, my thoughts and beliefs about love are as unorthodox now as they were in high school and university.

"Sweet Marie, she loves just me
(She also loves Maurice McGhee.)
No she don't, she loves just me
(She also loves Louise Dupree.)
No she don't, she loves just me!
(She also loves the willow tree.)
No she don't, she loves just me!
(Poor, poor fool, why can't you see
She can love others and still love thee.)"

--Shel Silverstein

You ever wonder where jealousy came from? I see it as a corruption of envy, which is a natural emotion. Envy is wanting something that someone else has. Without envy, there'd be little impetus for growth. Doesn't the little child envy the things his brother can do?
Jealousy, though, is envy corrupted. Jealousy is "wanting something someone else has, such that they can't have it anymore."
Nothing curdles love faster than jealousy, because true love is unconditional and possessiveness puts the most monstrous restrictions on it. If love is something you gain by giving it away, and you're not allowed to give it away, then your love will dwindle and die.

If a runner is one who runs, and a sleeper is one who sleeps, than shouldn't a lover be one who loves? It's not, you know, not in this society. A lover in this society means one with whom you have sex--often, in fact, sex without much love in it.

How come a woman can tell another woman 'I love you'--in public--without anyone thinking they're lesbians? If a man told another man he loved him, eyebrows would be raised. If they were unrelated men, the assumption would be made that they were a couple of queers. That's kind of sad...first, that the assumption would be there, and second, that men should care about it.
Corollary: women can have 'girlfriends' and men can't have 'boyfriends'. That's even more odd. Shouldn't a boyfriend be, simply, a friend who's a boy? Or can men not have simple "friends who are girls", either? More thoughts on that in a second.

The Greeks had four words for love. I'd argue English needs at least that many. Love has many permutations, from the love you have for ice cream right up to the love you share with your lifemate. It seems ridiculous that one word is supposed to suffice for the entire spectrum of love.

Sex further complicates things. Many men, in particular, seem to be capable of sex without love at all. Myself, I'm not. At the very least, I have to convince myself there's *some* degree of love there for sex to be anything other than seventy-eight pumps, a tickle and a squirt.

Ever heard someone say "I love you, but not in THAT way"? People tend to take that as an insult. They shouldn't. If you want to get scientific about it, what they're saying is that your pheromones just don't do it for them, but they love you anyway.

But then there's some people (often parents of rebellious teens, I've found) who say "I love you, but that doesn't mean I have to like you." THAT'S crap. A better way to put that is "I love who you ARE, but that doesn't mean I have to like what you DID." Kids who feel unliked also feel unloved. It's the same thing to them.

Can a man like a woman without loving her? Or better, can a man love a woman without lusting after her and making a fool of himself?
Yeah, but it's rare, and first you usually have to go through the process of making an ass of yourself. If you're mature, you do this only in your mind. There isn't a guy alive who hasn't thought about sex with any and every woman friend he has. (Sorry, girls, but it's best you know.) That said, a man who can get past the superficial sexual attraction can indeed have a platonic and deep friendship with a woman in which the very thought of sex never comes up. Almost never comes up. Hey, we're men, give us a break!
The best thing to do is to take the best of those friends and marry them. At least, it seems to have worked for me.

Do you remember when toothpastes were marketed as things to clean your teeth with? Now there are pastes and strips and all manner of gewgaws to "whiten" your teeth. Because white teeth are supposed to be important, somehow. They shout to the world "here is a person who will strip enamel off their teeth and endure a great deal of pain in so doing, all to satisfy some artifical standard of beauty. How appropriate that we keep such things around the "vanity" in the bathroom.

Or consider high heels. They're awkward for women to wear, can certainly be painful, and they can even permanently damage your feet. But oh, do they push those boobs out! What kind of society-sanctioned torture is that?

Looks mean very little to me. In fact, the typical male fascination with ogling beautiful women utterly mystifies me. Most of the conventially beautiful women I've seen have struck me as snots, airheads, bitches, or some combination of the three. Besides, such things as intelligence, a fine sense of humour, caring and compassion (all of which my lovely wife has in spades) elevate even the plainest person far beyond what mere looks can do. Although my Eva won't make the cover of Penthouse, she's beyond compare to me. (Let's face it, I'm nobody's stud, either.)

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms
Which I gaze on so fondly today
Were to change by tomorrow and fleet in my arms
Like faerie gifts fading away
Thou would still be adored, as this moment thou art
Let thy loveliness fade as it will
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still

It is not while great beauty and youth are thine own
And thy cheeks unprofan'd by a tear
That the fervour and faith of a soul can be known
To which Time will but make thee more dear
No, the heart which has truly loved ne'er forgets
But as truly loves on to the close
As the sunflower turned on her god when he set
The same look which she turned when he rose

--Traditional

That was the wedding song I chose for our first dance. It still holds true today, as it will (God willing) thirty or fifty years down the road.
EVERYBODY'S looks go. In fact, they're the first thing that does. In this screwed-up society where aging is ridiculed instead of revered, people spend millions of dollars trying to prolong their physical beauty. To me, it's a mental illness, one our psychiatry still hasn't gotten around to identifying. It manifests in so many ways: spray on hair (for God's sake, it's a bunch of fur growing out of or not growing out of your head...it signifies NOTHING); makeup (sure, it has its uses, but daily wear to me signifies low self-esteem); wrinkle creams and nostrums; and something else that merits a paragraph (or book!) of its own:

DIETS. Look, I'm going to say this as bluntly as I can: there are fat people out there whose health is or may be forfeit. Those people have to do something. The rest of you, the most of the rest of you, pardon me, are TOO DAMN SKINNY. Women are not supposed to look like twigs you can snap over your knee. EAT something, for Christ's sake. I shouldn't be able to look at you and count ribs. Skeletons aren't sexy in the slightest. And if any man should happen to walk up to you and call you an ugly fatso, you can tell him to go fuck himself. Or you can SIT ON HIM until he screams. The latter is more satisfying the more you weigh.

"KNOW THYSELF"

--the Oracle at Delphi

"LOVE THYSELF...LOVE EACH OTHER"

--the Oracle of the Breadbin

21 May, 2004

It's not every day I cry reading a newspaper

...but I did today, more than once. The coverage of the funeral of Cobourg Police Constable Chris Garrett pretty much unmanned me.
Const. Garrett was a career cop of 18 years, killed in the line of duty, allegedly lured to his death by an 18-year-old kid. The punk may have committed this horrible crime in a bid for recognition and infamy. So, to show the degree of contempt and revulsion I feel, I will not write his name.
It looks like the murder was only the opening salvo in what might have been something even darker. Molotov cocktails and a bomb were found at the home of the suspect. Constable Garrett prevented further bloodshed by firing repeatedly at his fleeing attacker, wounding him even as the officer himself lay fatally wounded.
Constable Garrett was described by his colleagues in blue as a 'dedicated' officer who turned down a promotion because he felt he could better serve his community as a street cop. Local kids knew him as 'Supercop' and his exploits were legion and legendary.
Reading all this repeatedly and forcibly reminded me of my father, a cop's cop now (thankfully, in my eyes) retired. At his retirement dinner/sendoff, I told the room about the day I went 'on patrol' with him. He pulled someone over for speeding, and as he prepared to exit the cruiser, he told me 'okay, if anything happens, push this button. It'll put you in touch with North Bay. Give the cruiser number and let them know what the situation is.'
Until that point (and I was well past my twentieth year), it had never really hit me, right down there at heart level, that what my dad did for a living was dangerous. It had never really sunk in all the way that there were people out there who hate cops, who are prepared to kill cops. Much less did I imagine that such people could surface on a routine speeding stop (as might have been with my dad), or that a 911 call to report a robbery might not be what it appears (in Constable Garrett's case).
Police officers have their own ways of dealing with the kind of daily stress that would immobilize lesser people. They joke. My dad was and is a master at it. I believe he thought his day wasn't complete until he had caused someone to piss themselves laughing. (Or shit their pants when the cruiser careened wildly "out of control" towards them, after which point DAD would piss himself laughing.) After eighteen years on the beat, I suspect Chris Garrett had something of this sense of humour, too.
But in examining the lives of two cops, one whose life was cut tragically short, you keep butting up most of all against their love of service and their love of community. Heroes, both. Heroes, all.
Constable Chris Garrett leaves behind a widow, two children, and a world that mourns his loss.



20 May, 2004

Go Flames Go!

I've been a Maple Leaf fan ever since I can remember. An infusion of blue and white blood came into me when I was three or four years old, sitting on Dad's knee watching Hockey Night In Canada.
Alas, it's been a disappointing and frustrating lifetime in Leafdom. Actually, it's been much more annoying of late. Back in the eighties, you expected the Leafs to lose every night. Every goal was a win; every win was a playoff berth earned; every playoff berth earned was a Stanley Cup. In short, they sucked rocks and you knew it. In fact, you considered yourself that much more loyal a fan the worse your team played.
Lately, it's been hard. Because the Leafs have been pretty good. They've certainly beat Ottawa often enough to gladden the heart. But the consistency hasn't been there, not when it counted. You never knew which Leaf team was going to show itself on any given night. And no Cups...for 37 years and counting.
So every year, when the Leafs fall again, you have to pick an alternate team to root for. This is not as easy as it sounds; there are many different arguments to make here.
One school of thought says that you should start cheering for the team that beat you, on the grounds that if they win the Cup, you're only one squad removed from glory. (How does it feel to be the team that loses to the team that loses to the team that loses to the team that loses to the team that wins the Cup?)
The brain sees the logic in that, and yet the heart rebels. "I'll take a Flyer on that". Philadelphia has done everything it can to cast itself as a team of goons, dating all the way back to the seventies, and it has molded its fans in its own image. One of these years you'll see it: the Wachovia Center Kitten and Puppy B.B.Q.!
So you start looking around the league for other teams. Dynasties are out: too frigging boring. The New Jersey Trapping Devils and their ilk are out as well: too frigging boring. A Canadian team trumps everything, of course (unless it actually CALLS itself the Canadiens.) But so few of those have even MADE the playoffs, much less threatened for a Cup.
As of right this second, there are three teams left in the hunt for Lord Stanley's Stein: Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, and Calgary. Having no further use for the Flyers, we'll discard them, shall we?
Tampa Bay has all the requisites: a young-gun team on the rise, with some of the finest talent in the game, a willingness to take risks (read: play entertaining hockey), and speed to burn. I wouldn't feel badly if they won it all.
But Calgary's Canadian.
Moreover, it's the kind of team that gives Gary Bettman nightmares: a small-market franchise with a comparatively minuscule payroll, based somewhere in the non-Yankee universe, expected to do the decent thing for the American public and not even make the playoffs. Yet here it is, challenging for the mug. How can you not cheer for them?
GO FLAMES GO!!!

18 May, 2004

Budget day--and don't it feel great?

Yeah, like a kick in the privates.
Listening to Greg Sorbara today, you'd think that the first budget of the McGuinty Era is a work of fiscal brilliance that will transform Ontario into Shangri-La.
Bullshit.
Oh, where to start? The FIBerals, as my beloved Toronto Sun has aptly christened them, campaigned on a promise. Well, as previously noted, 231 of them, but one stood out: "I won't raise your taxes, but I won't cut them either".
Bullshit.
There are dozens of new taxes and increased user fees in here, the biggest of which--a renewed OHIP premium--is going to cost most Ontarians between $300 and $900 a year.
I'm not some heartless bastard who thinks we should just kill off all the sick people, but c'mon. Health care now officially eats up 45% of the provincial budget. Does anybody claim to know where any of this money is actually going? Has there been any sort of cost accounting done, some sort of value-for-money study? Because if there was, I missed it. It seems to me that if one aspect of your household expenses kept going up, year after year, you'd want to, I don't know, LOOK INTO IT?
Besides, the list of stuff OHIP actually covers is inexorably shrinking. You now have to pay for eye exams. They exempted children and seniors from this, but what about people with diabetes? Or people who are slowly going blind, like me? I'm lucky my wife works in insurance and has an eviable benefit plan, or I'd have to pay for physiotherapy. OHIP doesn't cover that anymore, either.
The sin taxes took a predictable leap. Won't affect us; neither of us smokes or drinks. But that doesn't stop me from having three things to say on the subject:
1) Hello resurgent black market. Do you think they'll take the extra money to combat the reserve tobacco specials? I doubt it.
2) Our beer is already the most heavily taxed in the free world. I really don't care--to me, beer tastes like moose piss--but as Canadians, we're rather famous for our beer...and our beer consumption. Do you think this will go over well with Joe Six-Pack? I doubt it.
3) As far as I am concerned, they can hike cigarette taxes to the moon...if OHIP covers smoking cessation aids. Do you think this will ever happen? I doubt it.
Do you think Flip-Flop McFly will be re-elected in four years' time? I doubt it.

17 May, 2004

Some advice for you folks...

...if you ever take a vacation from work...don't bother coming back.
I asked Eva this morning if she thought that we could maybe stay home and get paid if we promised to THINK REALLY HARD about work. Unfortunately, she said no, so off we went.
It's not that they did a piss-poor job while I was away. Actually, they kept it together pretty well. It's Mondays. I hate Mondays. Not for the usual reason most people give, which is BLECH! MONDAY!, but because I get TEN orders in on Monday, with a retail approaching and sometimes exceeding thirty five thousand dollars. There's so much work to do that I can easily keep myself busy all day long without even TOUCHING the major warehouse order.
Mine is the age-old complaint: overworked and undervalued. (Or maybe I'm overvalued--they sure seem to think I can get it all done with a minimum of help). A whopping 98% of visitors to a grocery store will buy something from either the frozen or the dairy department, but because most of my products either lose the store money or make so very little, I'm just a subset of grocery...and it feels like it.
Oh, well, by tomorrow my legs won't feel like guitar strings tuned six octaves past their normal pitch, I won't have this overwhelming urge to plop my head into my supper and fall asleep, and maybe, just maybe, by the end of tomorrow, today's work might be done.
Sometimes I think I need an office job, but that would simply be exchanging one kind of stress for a whole different kind of stress. So I guess what I really need is a couple of million dollars. Anybody got some they can spare?

16 May, 2004

Taxation Thoughts

I don't like paying taxes, and I don't know too many people that do. Especially in this country, where the taxes are up to 75% higher than those of our neighbor to the south.
It's not the actual reaming I mind overmuch, though. Heck, some people find that sort of thing pleasurable. It's that once I've been screwed out of my hard-earned money, my government sees fit to waste it. In a profligate manner, while telling me that they know best and that it's for my own good.
Bastards.
A note up front: I don't drive. (Although I co-own our family car, and let me tell you that raised some eyebrows at the dealership.) I probably never will drive: my vision is on the knife-edge of acceptable and pretty certain to worsen in the years ahead. Besides, one good song on the radio and I'd bop my way into a triple-fatal.
I don't drive, but since all our money's pooled, I do pay for gas, and more specifically for the tax on it. Fuel's running at CDN$0.92.5 a litre. About 45% of that is pure tax. I've done my bit: Harold, our little Toyota, is the most fuel-frugal thing on the road, if you discount the hybrids. In ten or twelve years, when Harold has croaked like the little green frog he is, our next car will be electric. Or hydrogen-powered. Or something. Hell, I'll make it run on my own farts, if I have to. Because by then the price of gas will be sitting up around $3.00 a liter, if not more.
I'd love to see them cut the gas tax, but at half a political promise per ten million litres of fuel, it won't happen. I can live with that--if the monies collected would go towards maintaining roads and buiding an effective public transit system. Right now about 2% of gas taxes actually go into road maintenance, and precisely 0% into public transit, as far as I know. Instead it all goes into "general revenues"--which in today's Ottawa is code for "the pockets of Liberal-friendly ad agencies". Nice, eh?
The taxes don't end there. Oh, no, not in Canada. Our city has raised property taxes an obscene 10.5 percent this year. The mayor has two excuses he calls reasons: one, the previous city council misread a contract and left itself on the hook of a whole bunch of millions of dollars; two, "reserves are depleted". Neither of these things are my problem, and I resent him MAKING them my problem. But, being Canadian, I'll just unzip and bend over.
The list of government waste goes on and on, page after page of frivolous, unnecessary spending that leaves Joe or Jill Taxpayer nauseous. Athough we've had a gun registry up here since the mid-30s, for some reason it was decided we needed another one, and this latest registry's costs are rapidly approaching two billion dollars, with not one life saved. There's been hundreds of millions of dollars (that we KNOW of) siphoned off into the aforementioned Liberal-friendly ad agencies. (In typical Liberal fashion, they're moving to kill the investigation because the heat's getting a bit too much for them to handle.) Billions of dollars have been wasted over the years on official bilingualism, official multiculuralism, senseless arts grants, corporate welfare...it is to vomit.
Our provincial government ran on a platform of "no tax cuts, but no tax hikes either". The Premier made 231 promises in that campaign, and he's working very hard to break every last one of them.
Like I said at the outset, I don't mind paying taxes, even high taxes, if I'm getting value for money. Right now, in Canada, my money has no value--it's thrown around without a care in the world.
Governments at every level have forgotten the axiom that there's only one taxpayer, and they're well on their way to forgetting another one, as well. Something about blood from stones...

15 May, 2004

Political Musings

I once worked at a market research company. It was, quite possibly, the worst job I ever had--and that includes the summer I spent shovelling shit. Aside from the fact that the person who interviewed and hired me eventually also married me, market research had no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
One of the things I did was polling, some of it political in nature. And I learned something very quickly: if you're going to ask a total stranger about their voting preferences, you might as well go ahead and inquire about their dildo collection or their propensity for cross-dressing. You're likely to get the same sort of response.
I never understood this, and I still don't. Look. Suppose you're a big supporter of the Wacky Party. You like Wacky ideas; you're certain the country would be a better place if it were a bit more Wacky. Problem: you're just one person, with one vote. Unless you live in Florida, that's not good enough. It seems to me that you'd be eager to explain Wackdom to anybody who asks. Likewise, your friend Nutjob, who's been a Loony supporter all his life, should be trying to sway you from your Wacky vision, in the hopes that you'll vote Loony. Doesn't that make sense?
I think there are three things, all related, that are severely limiting reasoned political debate in this country:

1) Political parties are dogmatic. Almost as dogmatic as religions. If you announce to the world that you're voting Loony, instantly about seventy eight assumptions are made about you--and some of them, perhaps most of them, will be dead wrong. Dogma is simple; voters are complex.

Take me, for instance. As the son of a lifelong cop, I'm a big believer in law and order. An example: in my world, there'd be no such charge as "attempted murder". You intended to kill: we'll treat you as if you succeeded. (There'd still be a manslaughter charge for unintentional killings--but its consequent punishment wouldn't be much more lenient. A life, after all, was taken.) I also believe in capital punishment, for the Paul Bernardos of the world who are utterly beyond rehabilitation.
I'm a strong supporter of fiscal prudence. I feel that government could probably be cut by two thirds without anybody noticing. Another for-instance: I live in Waterloo, Ontario. If there weren't signs to tell you otherwise, you'd believe it was one city with a population of about 400,000. But no, there are signs. Lots of them. There are three cities here, Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge, each with their own complete governments, and then on top of that there's a regional government. The purpose of this latter has never been made clear to me, but I must assume it's to govern all the things the other three governments forgot to govern. It's farcical is what it is.
Got a good picture of me yet? Got any ideas as to what political party I endorse?
I believe very strongly that homosexuals should have every last right and freedom accorded the rest of us. George W. Bush by turns maddens and frightens me. I am firmly convinced that soft drugs should be legalized, not simply decriminalized...and while they're at it they should legalize and regulate prostitution. Big Brother doesn't scare me in the least: I have nothing to hide.
I believe the way our Armed Forces have been treated over the past thirty or so years is a national disgrace. Our dependance on fossil fuels is killing us, and unchecked development will kill us faster. Welfare cheats should be banned from accepting public money for life. Women should have the right to choose, and euthanasia must be made legal. All elementary--never mind secondary--school graduates should be literate. University tuitions are far too high. Oh, here's one: in vitro genetic manipulation is a boon to society and needs to be widely practised as technology permits.

Still certain how I'm going to vote?

Actually, I know I'm voting Conservative. I have many reasons for doing so, but one of them is NOT that I support everything in their platform. Far from it. The next time you bandy about political stereotypes, remember me...and think very hard about your own political views.

2) Political parties are exclusive--again, just like religions. Each one has the market cornered on THE WAY to govern, and regards the others as a bunch of heathens. Given that most voters are as complex as they are, you'd think that political parties would have evolved by now away from black and white, but any election campaign--or, for that matter, five minutes of any Question Period--will show you otherwise. Although I'm voting Conservative, I bet I can find at least one thing in every party's platform that makes a lot of sense to me. Even the fringe parties.

3) The political system needs a radical overhaul. Young people don't vote, by and large, because the system as they see it is too antagonistic, and too concerned with "power over" rather than "power to" or "power with". Again, I direct you to Question Period, any hour's viewing of which is apt to (a) remind you of a bunch of five year olds and (b) make you wonder how anything ever gets done. The Official Opposition's job is to oppose. Nothing more. So any idea is a bad idea if it comes from the party in power. That's patently ridiculous.
My democracy would be a little different.
First, not everyone would have the right to vote. I know that's anathema to current visions of democracy, but I don't care. "My Daddy always voted Tory" or "I like the name of my local candidate". Both of these rationalizations tell me the voter doesn't take his or her responsibility seriously. Why should his or her vote be taken seriously?
The voters would still decide the makeup of the House, but also which ministries each party would be charged with running. Perhaps the majority of voters like the NDP's ideas concerning health care. The NDP would be put in charge of health care. Perhaps it's found that the Liberals have the best education platform. The Liberals get the education ministry.
Now, I realize that there are bound to be budget wars in this system. That's why I would have a team of auditors and comptrollers in place whose sole responsibilty (under public scrutiny and review at all times) would be to allocate funds and ensure they're spent according to (a) the principles of fair and honest accounting and (b) the vision expressed by the party in question. If it is found that the taxation policies of the Ministry of Finance conflict with the social policies of some other Ministry, a solution must be found by the voting public. I visualize some highly educated people with integrity in an elected tribunal.
A further refinement: the actual Minister in each Ministry should be not just conversant with her file, but an expert on it--just as you would expect if the government was the private sector. The Minister of Agriculture should have grown up on a farm, and preferably have ran one for a number of years. There's value in outside perspective--a high school dropout can certainly have some valid opinions as to how education ought to be run--but the voice of experience is at least as important.

So ends Political Diatribe #1 in a series of seven thousand.

13 May, 2004

Withering weather, wandering, wondering

It's hotter than the hinges of hell out there today: base temperature 27 last I looked, with a humidex value of 34, giving SKIN MELTING conditions, especially for the middle of May. If it's like this now, what is it going to be like in August? Best not to think about that, maybe. Best to just sit here, as nearly nude as the possibility of sudden company will allow, and drip. And drip. And drip and drip and drip.
No thyroid problem here, thank you very much.
It drives me effing nuts. The weather, yes, but moreso the people out cheering about it. How can they stand it? It's like a damn sauna out there, and it feels worse in here. I bet all the people who claim to enjoy this oven roast have air conditioning. They don't remember how it feels to have sheets glued to you every night. Flame-broiled freaks.
I've noticed a couple of ominous changes on the Weather Network's programming, too. They've very quietly altered the UV scale. It used to read like this: 1-3 low, 4-6 moderate, 7-8 high, 9+ extreme. Now, to get an extreme reading you need 11. "Yeah, turn the sun up to eleven, we'll have nice tenderized flesh in no time!"
They no longer print the actual air pollution index, either. I find that telling. Today was the first smog warning of the year. We all love to chew our air, so thank ya, Dubya, for your industrial spewage.
I wonder if there are any jobs in Iqaluit.
One other thing. If I hear "it's not the heat, it's the humidity!" one more time this summer, I will snap. When's the last time humidity bothered you at ten degrees Centigrade? It's the heat, damnit, don't tell me otherwise. I'm Canadian. Give me winter. Lots of it.

We're on holidays this week--the intention was to take them before it got too hot. See, I work as a dairy/frozen department manager in a grocery store, and to be honest, weather like this just makes me miss work. Well, okay, not really, but I could certainly be coaxed into my dairy cooler, if I didn't actually have to DO anything in there.
We spent the first couple of days at my dad's place on the Magnetawan
River. "Rose Point", he's christened it. I'd call it "Sanctuary Much". The mere act of sitting on his dock after dark leaches poisonous stress out of me: two days up there leaves me pleasantly limp.
Aside from that, we've been touring shopping malls...how weird is that, we both enjoy mall walking. You don't lose much weight at that, unless you count your billfold.
Yesterday was my first time ever in Square One in Mississauga. Overall, I was pretty impressed with the place. There are a number of stores in there you won't easily find elsewhere, including an absolutely enchanting "Build-a-Bear" store where you get to do just that. We selected a little beagle, stuck a dog sound in it (we could have put a cat noise in there, and wouldn't THAT have confused the hell out of our cats?) We stuffed it and fluffed it and printed up a little birth certificate, naming it"Lucky". It's nice to discover every now and again that I haven't lost the ability to be "cuted" out of my skull.
Square One wasn't perfect--no decent store for full-figured women, the Kernels didn't even sell what we've been told is the most popular flavour chainwide, the food court was quite pedestrian for a place with 360 stores in it.
Now we're home, the place is clean, and there's nothing to do except relax.
And sweat.

12 May, 2004

There's a first time...

...for everything, and there's a seventh time, too. To be more precise, this is the seventh journal I've kept for any length of time, but the first time it's had a potential audience beyond my immediate family.
I'm a tad apprehensive at this. Let's be honest: this site won't register in Google's top ten. But it's a step forward, and I've come to like it here in my stagnant swamp.
Lately--read, for the last year or two--it seems like everything and everyone is conspiring to whisper in my ear: "Write...write...write..." Every letter I've sent to an editor has been published, almost verbatim. (Why won't they pay for those?) My lovely and insistent wife has been asking me if I've noticed that every letter I've written to an editor has been published almost verbatim. An old girlfriend, whose novel I once edited, is now a published writer. A friend of only slightly more recent vintage (hi, Jen!) has joined the blog continuum. Into every writer's ass the boot must kick.
So here comes the seventh iteration of my written security blanket. Not a moment too soon, either: I've got a home of my own on the way, six weeks off and almost in sight; kids to follow maybe six or nine months later but already in earshot.
Lately my emotions have been Mixmastered on high. Well, mixed, at least...not necessarily mastered. I'm reasonably comfortable with owning my own home--until the first unexpected expense crops up. I'm moderately okay with kids, until the first unexpected...wait a minute, do kids ever do anything that's not unexpected?
I think that in a nutshell, the unexpected is what's unnerving me. It isn't the prospect of adopting a couple of kids per se, because I know that both Eva and I have a lot to offer children. It's that I'm not sure they'll take what we have to offer.
I'm working through this. I'm sure the parenting classes will help, much the way our premarital class did. Ultimately fatherhood and writing have a lot in common: they both require discipline and self-confidence.
Oh yeah, and a quiet space every now and again doesn't hurt.