31 August, 2004

Things your kids really, really want

The cover article in Macleans this week: "A Survival Guide to Gadget World".
I'm so glad I still live in the real world.
It's subtitled "what's good, what's better, and what's a waste of money: a shopping manual for those who don't speak geek".
Tell you what, friends and neighbours: some of it's good...some of it is arguably better than what you might have now...but most of it is a waste of money. In my view, anyway.
What your kids really, really want, it says, and then goes on to list a whole bunch of things our kids are really, really, REALLY unlikely to get. Here's the list, with my thoughts:
GAME CONSOLE. For what it's worth, Macleans recommends the Game Boy Advance SP, for $140, and says it's 'ubiquitous on school buses'. Wow. I imagine school bus drivers must love these things. Remember how, as kids, we used to antagonize school bus drivers to no end...by socializing with the other kids around us? Yeah. Me too. Kind of sad to find out that this is apparently no longer the thing you do while commuting to school...
Oddly, traditional gaming consoles are not mentioned at all. I think that's because everything in the world is going portable these days. And I seem to be one of a very few dissenting voices saying "if you can take home with you everywhere you go, why leave home in the first place?"
You want to play games, kid? No problem. The PlayStation 2 is downstairs. You have half an hour.
PERSONAL DIGITAL ASSISTANT: The "choice" model here retails for $230. We haven't switched magazines or articles here: this is still "what your kids really, really want", not "What to get your CEO father-in-law". The magazine claims that PDAs are being marketed to elementary school students now.
I had one of those when I was a kid. It was called...a NOTEBOOK! You can still find these NOTEBOOK things almost everywhere and they cost a damn sight less than $230. They're easier to use, too.
This is another case of vanishing childhood that really disgusts me. What's next? Nursery schools that stream for Masters in Business Administration?
Moving right along, MP3 players. The choice model here is the iPod mini, at $350.
Back in the ancient '80s, when Walkmans were de rigueur, I often railed against the lack of manners exhibited by the vast majority of their owners, who would blithely parade around town treating passersby to whatever "music" they were listening to. It didn't take long to notice that the quality of the music was inversely proportional to the volume at which it was played. That said, I finally broke down and bought a Walkman sometime in the early '90s. Didn't get to use it much before it was stolen, and never replaced it. I hear music with crystal clarity even in dead silence.
I've grown up with music in my blood. I can certainly understand the appeal of music you can take anywhere. But color me stupid: didn't we already have that, with the Walkman and the Discman? I grant you these MP3 thingies seem to have about a zillion times the capacity...but why? Were you really planning on walking around the world, listening to music the whole way?
Oh, I guess the nice thing about MP3 players is that you can play songs you've stolen...excuse me...downloaded off the net. Oddly enough, with recordable CDs you can do the same thing with a Discman. Again, at a fraction of the cost.
SMART WATCH: $199 (and up, of course), plus $14.95 a month.
Does it tell time? Yes? Good. It's smart enough for me.
But no, you've got to have your news bites, sports scores, horoscopes (good God!) and of course your instant messaging.
Instant: There's a word that sums up what's wrong with the world. INSTANT! Gotta have it now now now now now! Too late, it's obsolete, gotta have THAT instead! Gotta communicate! Never mind that I've got nothing to say, I'm gonna say it NOW! Gotta choke down my instant coffee, get in my car, drive like a maniac...GEDDOUDAMYWAY RIGHT THIS INSTANT! get to work and workworkworkworkwork and then come home and nuke my instant dinner and say hi to the kids because hello is one syllable too long and how was your day might actually provoke a response or oh shit a discussion got no time for that gotta get mywayrightnownownowandthengotobedandwastetimesleepingand
thengetupandstartalloverLIFEISBUTABLUR...................
Screw "instant". I immediately distrust anything that has that word anywhere near it. Didn't your parents ever tell you that anything worthwhile was worth waiting for?
WEBCAMS. $130. Kindly let me quote from the article here:

Girls are, like, all about socializing, and instant messaging and webcams allow them to break curfew without leaving the bedroom. If you do buy a webcam, beware that pleas for high-speed Internet access won't be far behind.

What's wrong with the above paragraph?

WHAT IS A COMPUTER, WITH OR WITHOUT WEBCAM, DOING IN A GIRL'S BEDROOM? Bedrooms are for sleeping in. Bedrooms are certainly not for any perverted hacker to get a look into. What are these parents thinking?

Then we come to CELLPHONES. "It's unheard of not to have one", says one kid who's certainly not my kid. The recommendation here is at first glance almost affordable: $49. But then, of course, you've got to pay for your calls, to and from, and now my curiosity is finally going to bubble over because all these things equal well over a grand and I just have to scream to the high heavens:
WHERE IN THE HELL ARE KIDS GETTING ALL THIS MONEY?
Last I looked, minimum wage didn't equate to $50,000 a year. Yet kids spend money in ways adults would never dream of: they buy lunches every day in high school; they buy outfits that cost as much as an entire wardrobe is supposed to. If they want something, they just get it. This culture of consumption was already taking root when I was in high school fifteen years ago...now, it seems to be completely inescapable. Do parents just hand their kids their bank cards, maybe as a substitute for spending quality time with them? You think that might be it?
If you don't, maybe you should think again.

29 August, 2004

Wedding Daze

Oh, what a weekend I've just had...
Left work two hours early on Friday to make the trek to Parry Sound. This town of 6500 people on Georgian Bay was my second home for a time as a child and would be an ideal place to retire to...if it weren't for the price of real estate. Muskoka is moving northward at a rapid clip.
The occasion drawing me northward this time: my step-brother's wedding.
Eva and I wanted a weekend romantic getaway, because the house has otherwise sapped our vacation budget for the year. The wedding was held at Crane Lake Resort (www.cranelakeresort.ca), an absolutely stunning place about 45 minutes south and west of town. After 'beautiful', the first word I'd use to describe the place is 'isolated'. The road in there is full of twists and turns and forks, some of which were helpfully marked 'Jennie and Rob'...and others of which were not.
A word of caution before you book your honeymoon here: Crane Lake is a housekeeping resort, not an inn. The 'rooms' are three, four and five bedroom cottages, with full kitchens. If you've got a family and $1600.00 burning a hole in your pocket, have a great week.
Alas, we are two people with pockets already scorched.
So: just south of Parry Sound, the Jolly Roger Inn. Not my first choice...or my second...or my third. Booked, booked, booked solid. We were damn lucky to get in even here...according to the reservations agent I spoke with, oh, six weeks ago, we got about the third last room in the place.
The Jolly Roger Inn is so called because they really do give you a jolly rogering. I felt freshly deflowered after just one night there. A C-note a night got us a substandard room, smaller than most, with some unique features:

*A television that lacked movie channels but did have the patented 'epileptic-seizure tube' (EST) which would self-activate at not-quite random intervals (usually when it judged you would be most interested in the content onscreen)
*A 'dry shower'. These are really neat and I've only seen them in a few homes...I've never had to pay to use one before. What this is: you stand in the middle of the bathtub, turn the shower on, and remain dry. The water cascades all around you, making pretty prismatic patterns on the shower curtain, which then gloms itself to your ass. The water pressure was permanently set in the "I dare you to try and outpiss me" position...not that it mattered...as noted above, none of the water would actually hit you anyway.
*No bar fridge, but an air conditioner was included. Unfortunately, it was actually an air conditioner/humidifier, and I never did figure out how to change the setting from "tropical rain forest".
*You've heard of the European and the Modified American Plan? The Jolly Roger, fittingly enough, works on the Piracy Plan, to wit: enter the attached restaurant and have money pirated directly out of your pocket. A hundred bucks a night be damned. You've gotta pay for supper and breakfast too, and beware: the two meals look suspiciously alike. I warned Eva to expect Parry Sound Service, which is only slightly more laid-back than that of, say, Jamaica, but this place raised the gold standard. Waitresses have mastered the art of cruising past your table without looking at you.
Ah, well, the wedding.
It was an outdoor service overlooking the lake (and when I say 'overlooking', I mean it: the bridal procession damn near needed mountaineering equipment to get up that hill). The service was one of the shortest I've ever attended: not counting the signing of the registry, I do believe it clocked in at about seven minutes. But despite its brevity, it was incredibly moving. The vows seemed to be personalized and they brought a tear to my eye, to match the single solitary raindrop that fell on the service, thus conferring good luck on the bride and groom.
Rob and Jennie are a truly lovely couple.
This was the first reception I've ever been at where the groom himself provided the best speech. I think Rob's best man/emcee needed a liberal dose of Dutch courage to get through the evening.
Instead of clinking glasses, anyone wanting Rob and Jennie to kiss had to make a putt on a little putting green set out in front of the head table. Miss the putt and you'd have to kiss somebody yourself. Well, Dwayne shot most of his putts to miss...he has a crushing crush on one of the bridesmaids (who was, actually, ahem, kind of cute...shhh!)...and let me tell you, he never tired of putting!
Imagine me in grade nine. Now inebriate me. Yikes.

It was wonderful to attend. It was great to see family I haven't seen for years. I got to meet my stepsister's twelve-day-old boy, Ryan Raine Barager, and what a cute baby he is, let me tell you...almost as cute as his older sister Regan, the flower girl.

The trip back home was slightly elongated. The weather put one in mind of Arks, and overspray and ponding likely contributed to an eight-or-ten car pile-up south of Barrie that backed up traffic for miles. The prospect of worse ahead drove us off the 400 on to the back roads.

It's nice to get away for a romantic weekend (and what could be more romantic than a wedding?) but it's also nice to come home. Next week, we make the trip again, this time further north to Britt.

24 August, 2004

Pithy Questions, Pithy Answers

And now for something only slightly different:

If at first you don't succeed, shouldn't you try doing it like your wife told you to?

Naw. Just let her do it.

Does a clean house indicate that there is a broken computer in it?

Not necessarily. A totally broken man, broken by the command to clean the house before he uses the computer, yes.

Why is it that no matter what colour of bubble bath you use the bubbles are always white?

...and why do they turn brown whenever I step into the tub?

Is there ever a day when mattresses are NOT on sale?

Never. But the regular price does tend to fluctuate up and down. Does Christine Magee fluctuate up and down too? I leave that as an exercise for the student.

On electric toasters, why do they engrave the message 'one slice'? How many pieces of bread do they think people are really going to try to stuff in that slot?

Can we stuff the poseur of this question into a toaster for not knowing that if you're going to toast just one slice, you should use the slot so designated, so as to get an even toast.

Why is it that no plastic garbage bag will open from the end you first try?

Plastic garbage bags...have openings? Who knew?

Considering all the lint you get in your dryer, if you kept drying your clothes would they eventually just disappear?

Of course! Where did you think the mate to that sock went?

When we are in the supermarket and someone rams our ankle with a shopping cart then apologizes for doing so, why do we say 'It's all right'? It isn't all right, so why don't we say, 'That hurt, you stupid idiot?'

Ah, but they always get my right foot. ALL of my right foot. So it IS "all right"...but they're still stupid idiots.
A better question is, when did the response to "thank you" become "no problem"?

In winter, why do people try to keep the house as warm as it was in summer when they complained about the heat?

This goes back to the whole "I love summer, it's when I get to sleep in my nice air-conditioned flat" conundrum. Either you like heat or you don't, people. Make up your mind.
Corollary: why do people put sixteen blankets on their bed if they hear it's going to be forty below tonight? Have they forgotten they're sleeping inside the house?

Why do women always ask questions that have no right answers?

Why do men still stubbornly persist in trying to answer these questions?

If diamonds are a girl's best friend and a dog is man's best friend, who really is the dumber sex?

Women, obviously. When's the last time your diamond wagged its tail and barked like it was happy to see you? Diamond: dead lump of hardened coal. Dog: living affection machine. Take your pick.

How come we never hear any father-in-law jokes?

Because my father-in-law would beat the snot out of me.

There. That was easy. Ask me some tougher ones.

22 August, 2004

Turning 50

I go to school, I write exams,
if I pass, if I fail, if I drop out does anyone give a damn?
And if they do, they'll soon forget,
'cause it won't take much for me to show my life ain't over yet...

---The Barenaked Ladies, "What A Good Boy"

This is my fiftieth entry. In terms of human years, the Breadbin's deep into middle age.
I observe I've barely gotten started. In that respect, this blog echoes my life.
Remember that question...'what do you want to be when you grow up?' Kids typically answer that with a profession. Although most people will answer the question 'what are you' with their occupation, they're kidding themselves. An occupation is something you do, not something you are. It took many years for me to take this message to heart.

I never could answer questions pertaining to my future, when I was a kid. "What do you want to be when you grow up" yielded, like as not, a blank stare and a muttered 'I dunno'. There were two good excuses for this: aimless mobility and HICS.
AIMLESS MOBILITY
My future seemed to be completely unknowable, written on the wind. We moved every year or two. I longed for roots without ever being aware that's what I was doing...how can one put a name to something never experienced? (In the same way, I suffered from crushing loneliness as a child without becoming aware of it until friends finally appeared, as if by magic.)
So what was the point of making plans? They'd just be overturned in another move...and as a child I didn't even have any control over where those moves would take me. The image I overwhelmingly chose to describe my childhood and adolescence while I was living it: being strapped to the nosecone of a guided missile, one whose guidance systems were permanently disabled. You could see this in your head from any cursory glance at my life and how I lived it. I flitted from girl to girl like a bee at flowers, seeing love blooming in the most innocent of smiles and watching it snuff out just as suddenly. Most of my interests would appear overnight and vanish in a week or a month. You know those people who live their lives by rigid five year plans? I'd love to do that, but I can't, even now. I'm grateful that I'm currently living a life of few shocks...I retire at night comfortable in the fact that nothing was uprooted and everything in my head is roughly where it should be. Five years from now? I just hope the changes that are coming are enhancements, not some grand redesign.
HICS
This is, I'm convinced, an actual disorder I have: Head In Clouds Syndrome. It's also known as Absent Minded Professor Disease and acute inflammation of the Hey, Watch Where the Fuck You're Going! gland. It's hard to describe in the same way that loneliness was hard to describe when I was young. It just is. There seems to be no alternative. Tell me to pay attention to any given thing and odds are at least fair that I can do it. Tell me to pay attention to everything, all the time, and watch elephants fly out of my asshole. The only way I can explain it is a kind of dimming of the world around me that causes my brain to go on autopilot. I'll look right at something, and if I'm not expecting it to be there, I just won't see it. I'm blinded by preconception. The funny thing is, at least half the time this blanking happens, I'm not really thinking of anything in particular. It's not a fugue state: I still retain a good deal of awareness and I can feel time passing. It's more like a trance.
Eva's helped at this, as she has in so many other places, but it would be a monstrous lie to suggest she's eradicated it. I can still drift off at the touch of a feathered dream.
You may begin to appreciate how the future could appear both completely inscrutable and mildly apprehensive to such as me. Still, I've put a lot of thought into the matter and reached some conclusions.
You're going to have to wait for them, though, because in my immediate future is a trip upstairs to bed.
to be continued...

21 August, 2004

Coasting

Today, we stopped by Sportsworld at the south end of town. I hadn't been there in a decade or more. There was supposed to be some mini-golf played, but the arcade kind of waylaid us.
Arcades have sure changed since my freshman 'let's go waste a roll of quarters' days. The pinball games are all a buck a play now. That's a bit rich for wizard nostalgia, so I didn't indulge.
The console games, though! They're all VR, all the time. You feel like you're watching TV.
The first thing to catch the eye in that arcade--and oddly enough, it caught Eva's eye, not mine--was something called 'Coaster Express'..."featuring the coasters of Cedar Point". Ka-SPROING! I'm excited. Cedar Point has my vote for heaven on earth.
Although I had conquered kiddie coasters (and the Wild Mouse at the Canadian National Exhibition) long before, my first experience with genuine rollercoasting came in 1981, the year Canada's Wonderland opened. My dad, who in those days I associated with absolutely anything exotic or exciting in my life, took me and I still remember that day lo these many years later. The Mighty Canadian Minebuster was my instant favorite there. I can quote you stats on height and speed, and they wouldn't do the thing justice...especially if you're nine years old.
Next up: Space Mountain at Disney World in Florida, 1984. Again with my dad. The actual specs on this one aren't too daunting, or rather wouldn't be if the ride wasn't done in TOTAL DARKNESS. I remember two things about this coaster, which we rode twice: one, Dad getting zinged with a penny that fell or was dropped from somewhere overhead; two, the second time through, me thinking I had the course memorized well enough that I could scratch the itch on my nose before the big sudden dropoff...and being proved totally wrong. Whee!
I gravitated back to Paramount Canada's Wonderland again and again over the years, like a junkie returning to his stash. On one occasion, yet again with my father (are you beginning to notice a pattern here?) I was confronted with a big orange monstrosity dubbed The Bat. This "boomerang" coaster brings you through its loopy, twisting course forwards and then backwards. It was the first coaster of its kind in Canada, and staring up at it I at first wanted no part of it. Of course, there was no shirking coaster duty with Dad there, and The Bat quickly joined its cousin Minebuster atop my list of thrillers.
Wonderland just continued thrilling me year after year...until 1992, when I first attended Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. After about 30 minutes at the Point, the realization dawns on you that no matter where your home park is or how enchanted you've been by it, it really is just a kiddie park, with kiddie rides.
Cedar Point is where you grow up. Fast.
That trip in '92 was with an ex-girlfriend. It was our swan song; I suspected as much even before we left home. She told me she'd never been on a coaster in her life. So naturally the first one I took her on was the world-record holder, something called the Magnum XL-200. It's 205 feet tall, it has a top speed of 72 mph, and it turned my girlfriend's face an alarming shade of green. In the picture they snap of you halfway through the course, I saw the first genuine smile ever photographically captured on my face.
I don't scream on coasters. I've always thought it kind of silly. I just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. And what a ride on this Magnum. The second drop looks and feels like it's going to dump you into Lake Erie. The sheer speed is incredible.
Eleven years later, last year, my dad brought me back to Cedar Point. It was his first time there and I feel pretty confident in saying it won't be his last.
Cedar Point will not allow itself to have anything but the tallest and fastest coasters on the planet. Every time somebody exceeds their benchmark, they just turn around and create a new benchmark. Since 1992, they had put in five new coasters. Three of them are taller than the Magnum. And two of those positively dwarf it.
Our first ride of the trip was on Top Thrill Dragster. You can see this thing for miles around and I have to admit to a slight case of watery bowels as we waited for liftoff. Liftoff is the perfect word, too: 120 MILES AN HOUR from a standing stop in less than four seconds. Once you've hit top speed, you go up. STRAIGHT up, a perfect 90 degree angle up, twisting 90 degrees to the left as you ascend to an eye-popping height of 420 feet. Then it's down, STRAIGHT down, twisting 270 degrees and hitting 120 miles an hour again. Then the ride's over. The most intense 23 seconds of my life so far.
I only wish I could have been up there a bit longer to admire the view.
The other 'giga-coaster' they've installed is called Millennium Force. It's 310 feet tall and goes 80 mph. It lasts a good deal longer than the Dragster and it impressed me with its smoothness. No headbanging on this one.
I can only dream about what's next. Five hundred feet? Mach 1? Bring it on!
In the meantime, here we are today with this Coaster Express. It's a coaster simulator featuring six of the older Cedar Point coasters. I picked the two longest-tracked of those on offer, wanting to get the most out of my $4. I can assure you that the graphics are first-rate, absolutely true to my vivid memory of the Magnum XL-200 and the wooden monster Mean Streak. The sensation wasn't bad, either...a coaster junkie like myself will take what he can get. Until I can get back to the Point, anyway...

I'se Phyzicly Unedumacated

I think phys. ed. fizzled for me...permanently...the first time we played a team sport. Remember how the team captains, those gods and goddesses, would issue decrees from on high concerning who was invited to join their team and who was not? Thus would the pecking order be re-established and proclaimed publically. Oh, it might vary at the top from time to time: the more strategic of the captains would immediately choose Hercules Adonis instead of his best friend Bob. And the middle ground was a mishmash of uninspired picks who would contribute little to the team but at least wouldn't actively court defeat.
But then we'd inevitably get down to rock bottom. Two kids left, both of them paralyzed with embarrassment and fear, each fervently praying that he wouldn't be last one out.
I wasn't always the last kid chosen. I won't lie and say I was. In fact, one phys. ed. period in grade eleven I was the kid chosen first. By my best friend and team captain Craig, that was...and I rewarded him by going 3 for 4 with three runs batted in. The baseball accomplishment was just the icing on the cake, though, because quite often in my oh-so-scholastic, oh-so-unathletic life, I was that sad-ass specimen chosen last. And there are worse things, too, than being chosen last. Ever been assigned to a team because neither captain could accept having you even though there was no other choice? Mortifying doesn't even begin to describe it.
I hated phys. ed. I managed to pull down B's and even a couple of A's in it...and let me tell you that the A's were most emphatically of the "A for effort" sort. Other kids, the ones who could bench-press four of me, would coast through the class--it more often than not representing their one slam-dunk A--and wind up with a B or a C. I learned pretty quick to keep my marks private.
Gym was the place where I had to confront my worst fears. I couldn't sit out, much as I wanted to, because although I was weak, unco-ordinated, and about as flexible as your average iron bar, I wasn't actually handicapped. It just felt that way.
I still have vivid memories of trampolining. You had to do a somersault. Pretty simple thing to accomplish...Karen Cockburn, our silver medallist in Athens, could do one in a coma. So there goes little Kenny, and without further ado he's smashed his knee into his nose and provoked a blood-flood.
The next year, when it came time to do that particular exercise again, little Kenny mounted with much trepidation. One spotter who really should have known better...when little Kenny's on the apparatus, you better damn well pay attention...wandered away and little Kenny promptly sailed off the end. Nothing much hurt that time, at least externally. Inside, though...
Looking back and assessing my individual physical skills in public school, it wasn't all doom and gloom. My endurance was almost off the charts...there was a time I could do a 3 km run at a perfectly respectable pace and hardly break a sweat. And outside school, it wasn't at all uncommon for me to put in 40 or 50 km of cycling in a day. I turned out to be a halfway decent hitter in baseball, after much training and gnashing of teeth.
But my balance was iffy and my eye-hand co-ordination was practically non-existent.
Grade eleven, before I'd befriended Craig. There was a super-athletic badminton whiz named Chris who actually asked me to be his partner in doubles. You could have knocked me over with a shuttlecock.
Well, Chris picked me to challenge himself. Without ever saying as much to me, he made it clear that he would retrieve anything not fired directly at me (and even a few things that were). I felt terrible every time the both of us would miss the damn birdie, but he never put me down and he'd cheer me on those few times I managed to return a serve.
Anyway, I asked if I could use a tennis racquet instead of what I found to be an impossibly long badminton racquet. If I ever managed to thwock the shuttlecock, it nearly always hit on the handle. After what seemed like weeks of begging, the phys. ed. teacher relented and let me try a tennis racquet. We won every match that day, and a few of the points scored were mine.
Sorry, I got caught up in the memory riptide there for a second.
It's like I have physical dyslexia. I'm nearly incapable of making my arms and legs move in a fluid, controlled manner. I'll get so caught up in making my arms do whatever it is they're supposed to be doing that I will forget my feet. At dancing I am simply hopeless even now, and you should have seen it in high school...it was a regular laff riot.

I said all that to say this.

I've committed to an Aquafit class on Saturdays with Eva, to improve my flexibility and give myself a much-needed workout. Today was my first time.
The class takes place in the deep end of the pool. Wearing a float belt, you're supposed to follow the instructor as she jumping-jacks, scissors, and shadowboxes her way around the perimeter.
I got a workout, I'll say that. But I didn't get the workout the instructor prescribed and I sure as hell didn't get anything like the workout the rest of the (overwhelmingly female) Aquafitters got.
For one thing, I found it extremely difficult to stay in one place. We'd jog on the spot for 45 or 60 seconds, and I'd suddenly be six feet away from where I started. Whereas everyone else stayed rooted as if by magic, I'd drift off madly in all directions. I just hope everyone else was paying more attention to their own routine, because I felt like a cockroach on a wedding cake.
For another...and this sounds truly ludicrous, but I swear it's true...I'd often and repeatedly forget to breathe. Isn't that insane? Eva had to remind me three or four times...and those were just the times she saw. Fish out of water? I was a cow in water.
Still, I'm going to go back. Gotta get that "A for effort". But I don't think that in my case, "A" will ever stand for "athlete".

18 August, 2004

The News Gives Me Acid Reflux!

And I'm about to burp some hot acidic bile out on to your screen.

1) The Governor-General should just govern herself right the hell out of town. So say I. All in favour, raise thy right foot and give her a boot to her pampered ass.

Why do we even have a Governor-General in Canada, anyway? I know, I know, she's supposedly the Queen's representative. But if that's true, why is she appointed by the Prime Minister and not the Queen?
And just what is it she does, anyway? From here, it looks like her only duty is to find new ways to waste money.. Today's news reveals she's taken the Challenger jet to New York ten times in the past two years. The cost, for transportation alone, exceeds $50,000. What did she do while she was there? Her office won't tell us, except to say that one of the trips was for 'a cultural event' and another was to meet with consul Pamela Wallin. That leaves eight trips unaccounted for, and no way to uncover details. The office of the Governor-General rests comfortably above government scrutiny.

I am a Platonic person. That is to say, for me, form is unimportant; function all-important. I will wear a toque or even a balaclava on cold winter days. I may look ugly in it, but at least I'll be ugly and warm.
I long ago gave up on seeing this philosophy reflected in my government. But it still disgusts me to see people like Adrienne Clarkson living a life that seems to consist of all pomp and no substance...and funded entirely by Joe and Jill Taxpayer.

2) We have a wee little problem here in Kitchener. It seems that a sizeable portion of the city, including the downtown core, has unacceptably high levels of some chemical or other. (I heard this on the radio this morning when I was asleep with my eyes open. I've just attempted to research the name of this chemical, but our pitiful excuse for a paper is unavailable online to anyone who is not a subscriber. Yeah, 'cause that makes sense...I've got this here paper and I need to check the online edition to...umm...make sure the stories are the same. Yeah, that's it.)
I digress. Fuck, I'm cranky lately. Must be early andropause. Or male PMS or something.
Anyway, it turns out that this chemical is probably leaching into the groundwater supply from the abandoned landfill that they dug the wells in the middle of. *PUNCH* *PUNCH* *PUNCH* HELLO? McFLY? Who decided to put WELLS underneath an old LANDFILL and did they breed?
3) Toronto City Councillor Doug Holyday, one of the few sensible people in that loony leftward-leaning bunch, is suggesting that they should register or perhaps (gasp!) fingerprint their homeless, so as to get an accurate count of just how many people Toronto has sleeping on their streets and using Nathan Phillips Square--right outside CITY HALL!!!--as a big flat public toilet. Estimates put the amount of money spent on the homeless in Toronto at $32,000 per homeless person per year, but no one really knows for sure because counting them is against their fundamental human rights or something. Howls of outrage greeted Holyday's proposal. Counting homeless people and trying to make them not homeless anymore is punishing them. Get it? Get it? I don't.
This country is so fucking sdrawkcab-ssa that it actually frightens me. Criminals have more rights than their victims; your government, who knows you only by a nine-digit number, is considered the preeminent authority on what you can watch and how to spend your money; a foreign-trained engineer will find it almost impossible to get a well-paying job in her field here, even if she's from Japan, a country generally understood to have pretty competent engineers; and, at least in Toronto, homeless people are encouraged to remain that way because it's humane to allow them to die on the street.
I feel better. Those digital Tums consume forty-seven times their wordage in excess anger.
See you tomorrow, no doubt for round two.



16 August, 2004

This has got to be said.

If this blog had a wider audience, I could guarantee a heated response to the forthcoming entry. Because every time a newspaper columnist tackles this topic, he or she is beseiged with email, most of it full of misspellings, grammatical errors, and, of course, hatred.
I'm talking about anti-Semitism.
What triggered this was the news today that an Irenian athlete withdrew from the Olympics rather than face an Israeli. For refusing to engage a Jew, this man's government will pay him a lifetime fortune and he will be treated as a national hero.
Disgusting.
And incomprehensible.
I mean, listen, if you truly believe that Jews are the scum of the earth, and you have the opportunity to completely humiliate a Jew athletically...in front of a huge international audience...wouldn't you just be chomping at the bit?
Or are you afraid the Jew might beat you?
Small chance of that, right? You are, after all, favoured to win a gold medal, the first for your country in Olympic history, and he's not favoured to win anything at all. But you never know, right? After all, he's a Jew, and Jews know magic. And they run the world. Right?
Hey! If you face off against this Jew and win, you prove your superiority. And if you lose, you prove he's in cahoots with Satan. So no matter what, you win.
Except that's not what happened, was it? You wouldn't fight at all, and by this action have proven nothing but your own ignorance...and cowardice.
--------------
I've never understood anti-Semitism.
Let's get one thing clear, here. Anti-Semitism means hatred of Jews. It's a ridiculous coinage, since both Jews and the Arabs who by and large hate them are Semitic races, but it's not the first ridiculous coinage in English and it won't be the last. Anyway, anti-Semitism does not mean disapproval of the policies of the Israeli government. I'm against George Bush and his Republican Guard in Washington, but I am most emphatically not anti-American.
So: hatred of Jews. It's pretty widespread even now, over fifty years since its most vicious expression to date. And the first thing we have to ask ourselves is, why?
Let's dispense with that old-saw about "Christ-killers" right away, okay? The Jews around Golgotha on the day Jesus the Christ was crucified were at most complicit in His death, but consider: (a) Jesus of Nazareth Himself was born, lived, and died--twice--a Jew; (b) it's been a long time since Sunday school, so forgive me if I am wrong, but wasn't Jesus's death kind of important? Even necessary? If you believe all this stuff, anyway, and the people who spout off about "Christ-killers" claim to. Oddly enough, for people who claim to love Christ so much, their view of Christianity seems very centered on the Old Testament...'eye for an eye' and all that.
So. Do people hate Jews because they 'run the world'?
In Palestine, this is common knowledge, along with interesting tidbits such as Arabic babies as Jewish delicacies (they use the blood to flavour Seder cakes, apparantly.) Who knew?
Certainly not the Jews, who not only don't eat Arabic babies, but also don't run anything other than their own families...just like human beings the world over. Other than multinational corporations, it's awfully hard to find a candidate for world domination these days...and no one multinational has the upper hand.
It is true, historically, that Jewish people have often set themselves up as moneylenders, like Shakespeare's Shylock. There are also a preponderance of Jews in the creative arts...art is usually pain recalled in times of tranquility, and if there's anything that Jews know well as a race, it's pain. Is it rich Jews who are hated? No, it's all Jews. Is it famous Jews who are hated? No--in fact, in Hitler's Germany a famous Jew could (maybe) avoid the camps. It's all Jews. And the funniest thing in this whole sad mess is that most people wouldn't know a Jew by sight.
I just don't understand it. I doubt I ever will.


14 August, 2004

Calling in sick with olympicitis

Well, we're off. Any predictions on a medal count for Canada? In Sydney we got 14. I can only hope we'll better that this time around.
I'm more of a Winter Games fan, myself...watching cycling and synchronized swimming only serves to remind me I have zits to pick. But the gymnastics can be cool, and so can the diving...and hell, I'll watch men's coxless fours paint drying if there could be a medal in it for Canada.
Maxim magazine, in its April edition, ran an Olympic preview. Of course, being Maxim and being April, about half the articles were elaborately staged practical jokes. But you didn't know *which* half, and since ballroom dancing and synchronized swimming are legitimate Olympic events these days, it didn't faze me in the slightest when I found myself reading about the American tag team's prospects in Athens. That's 'tag', as in "you're it!"
Now part of me was wondering if this was real. But only part. Consider: tag raised to Olympian proportions would be a perfect mix of speed and agility. I'd watch it.
Yup, the Olympics are here. Once every two years I turn into a television junkie for two weeks. And as such, I have a few comments to make on the quality of Olympic coverage. Generally speaking, it sucks Thorpedo's (undoubtedly hairless) ball sack.
AMERICAN COVERAGE:
I just saw a replay of a comedian at Just For Laughs, probably circa 1992 or thereabouts. He was talking about his first time viewing CBC's Olympic coverage after being a slave to NBC for years. He said he was amazed to find out 'that the other countries stick around for the events!"
Pithy. And so totally true. American coverage reflects Americans' legendary ignorance of anything *not* American. It gets downright annoying right quick.And two words for Bob Costas and Katie Couric: SHUT UP! They blabbered throughout the Opening Ceremonies, they blabber throughout events, Bob, Katie, you win the gold medal for co-ed pairs blabbering, okay? Now get the hell off my screen.
CANADIAN COVERAGE: Well, we've solved the single-team bias, by virtue of generally not *having* any Canadians to talk about once they've tripped, fallen, or otherwise snookered themselves out of the first round of whatever event they're in. But they set 'personal bests' in the process, so let's all be proud we live in a country that thinks athletic training costs ZERO DOLLARS!
The CBC is annoying for entirely different reasons. One different reason is Brian "THE TIME IS....SEVEN MINUTES PAST THE HOUR!" Williams. Brian, a little memo for you: my television has a clock built-in. So does my digital cable box. My old VCR had one; I could be wearing a watch; I could even look outside and guess the time by the position of the sun. I don't need to know what time it is in Athens or in Waterloo. Okay? Okay.
And to the mavens at the CBC: I do not want to watch ONE floor routine in gymnastics, followed by ONE half-inning of baseball, followed by ONE lap of cycling, followed by ONE set of beach volleyball. I know that any child showing signs of being a child nowadays is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, but I am an adult and I prefer my sports in sensible chunks. Pick a sport (your ratings book or a general poll will tell you which ones are popular) and follow it. Show the 100m staring contest in the breaks. And speaking of breaks, must there be a commercial every ninety seconds? You're a public broadcaster...you shouldn't even need commercials in the first place!
---------------------------------------------
The idea of an 'Olympic Truce' is inspiring, to say the least. But it really makes you wonder about human priorities in the world. Let's stop killing each other because a bunch of people are off throwing javelins somewhere, okay? Not because killing each other is wrong, hell no, as soon as this damn sporting break is over we'll get right back to the murder and mayhem! Wouldn't it be cool if Jacques Rogge told everyone at the Closing Ceremonies, "Surprise! We're not gonna end these Games! The Olympic Truce is going to go on for *years*!"?
To the athletes in Athens: congratulations and best of luck. The world is watching and saluting you. To the Canadian government officials in Athens, get the hell home and stop wasting taxpayer dollars. We know, you're four-time world champion Liberal profligates, but enough is enough.
The time is NINE FIFTEEN P.M., Eastern Daylight Savings Time, and this is Ken Breadner, signing off.


11 August, 2004

The Hard Cell

A couple of years ago, we downsized our apartment. To this day, I remember the conversation my wife had with a representative from Bell, when we called to get our service transferred to our new address.
Bell flunkie: "We'll need a contact number where we can reach you on your moving day."
Eva: "Umm, that's why you're coming...to connect our service."
Bell: "Either your husband's or your cell number would be fine."
Eva: "We don't have a cell phone."
The Bell boy, who was maybe shaving every second month, was absolutely flummoxed at the thought that there were two people left in the city who did not have cell phones. He recovered quickly, though, and tried to sell us one...only to be informed that we had no interest whatsoever in obtaining a cell phone. Master Bell was at a total loss for words, and I'm sure we were the laughingstock of the call center that day. Hell, for all I know, they still tell the story of the Luddites who flat-out reject cellular technology.
Except we're not Luddites...the mere existence of this blog should prove that. And we don't reject cell phones. They have their place. If, for instance, we lived in Listowel now--as we had been planning--and Eva was commuting to Waterloo, on roads that can get fantastically hairy during the winter...well, then we'd own a cell phone. For emergencies only. Or if I was a high-priced gigolo, like I am in the universe six doors down, I suppose I'd have to bite the bullet and get one.
But I do flat-out reject the idea that we, in our present incarnation, need another phone in our lives. We have three of them already...one on each floor. How much more convenience can one family need?
What was that? What about when you're not at home? Well, for those occasions we have this neat contraption called an answering machine. It's really cool...see, what it does is, you call us, my voice answers, and you get a chance to leave a m--
Oh, you've heard of them. Well, why don't you have one? They've been around for decades now.
You do? Then...why do you need a cell....oh, wait, I get it. You're a Very Important Person. People must call you at all hours of the day. Either you save lives for a living, or you have a ten million dollar stock portfolio, or...
You work in a grocery store?
Oh.
I guess this is yet another of those things that proves that KEN BREADNER IS NOT OF THIS EARTH.
See, I like the idea of being someplace where I can't immediately be reached. It's one of a myriad of ways I keep from going crazy, and I highly recommend it. Peace. Tranquility. So valuable, and so rare in this hurly-burly world. And if anybody truly has something important to communicate, they could (a) leave a message, (b) call back later, or (c) send me an email. (This "Luddite" checks his electronic mailbox daily, almost without fail.)
Another thing I just can't accept about cell phones: they charge you for incoming calls. To me, this is ludicrous. Why have people not revolted over this?
You get a Christmas card in the mail from Uncle Drunkstubble. But you can't open it until you pay postage. Somebody faxes a document to you, but it won't come out of your machine until you insert a buck. Ridiculous, right? So why the hell should you have to shell out every time a telemarketer...or a wrong number...or your friend across town calls you? Last time I checked my phone bill, it didn't list all my incoming calls and charge me for each one. Or any of them. Even the one from California.
And another thing. Text messaging. WHY??? Buddy, you have a PHONE in your hand. Pick it up and USE it. Hit the buttons...BOOP BOOP BEEP BEEP BOOP....and TALK INTO IT.
Leave a message at the sound of the *sigh*....



08 August, 2004

The Grand River Snooze-Cruise

A couple of months ago, my wife asked me if I was interested in going on a 'Grand River Luncheon Cruise'. It sounded interesting: a three hour tour served up with history and a three-course roast beef dinner. The cruise was duly booked for Sunday, August 8...today.
Now, Sundays are our usual laze-around-the-house, do-nothing days. I might tackle the lawn or a spot of housecleaning, but I'm more likely to do that kind of thing on a Saturday so as to leave my Sunday gloriously free. The car rarely leaves the driveway on a Sunday. Still, this was going to be fun, I thought. Better than vegetating at home.
Hmmm.
We drove to a point between Brantford and Caledonia and boarded the Grand River Princess. The boat--really a big pontoon--is 60' long, 22' wide, and seats about sixty people. We shoved off from our dock in Big Creek and were soon floating down Ontario's "Rio Grande".
Our captain's name was Cynthia and Lord, did she like to ramble. She did make some historical points of interest somewhere in that interminable three-hour stretch, but they were lost in mountains of trivia that would bore the dead. I hate people who say "this was soooooooo boring!" and then proceed to bore you with the boring details...so I guess I'm just going to have to suffer from a bit of self-hate here.
"If you'll look ahead of the boat, you'll see some hydro towers. There are 206 spanning the river. 135 of them carry 223,000 volts and the rest carry 500,000 volts."
"If you'll look to the left, you'll see a campground. This is a lovely place to camp, and you can see the corn...."
"..."
"..."
"...that makes a nice litle shield between you and the highway until October, no, um, September, or, well, early October, or middle of September, actually."
"This house on the right is owned by the Zeros. They're lovely people, and I will now tell you all about them."
But wait...it gets better!
There was silence in the air for over a minute as the boat churned. A sense of suspense was building in Captain Cynthia's mind. You could just tell.
"If you'll look on the left side of the boat coming up here, you'll see this beautiful little promontory we call Turtle Island. The turtles love to sun themselves on the logs here and our record is 30 at one time. We'll slow down here so you can take pictures if you are so inclined."
God help me, some people were. The same ones who were videotaping every passing boat and PWC...and there were entirely too many of the latter, zipping around the Princess trying to splash people.
Anyway, we'd left the turtles behind and Captain Cynthia was waxing poetic about lacrosse sticks when we all got a huge surprise that literally took our breath away.
More turtles.
And they came back for another encore just before we docked. They were the only wildlife we saw on the river if you discounted the asshole Sea-Doo-ers. In point of fact, they were pretty much the only thing we saw on the river at all. I found myself pining for more northern locales about three minutes into the cruise...the rocks and trees of the Canadian Shield, to be exact. At least up north, you're guaranteed a photogenic spot will pass your boat every thirty seconds or so. And the history lectures on the Island Queen out of Parry Sound cover far more interesting material then a series of public...then private...then public again!...campgrounds.
Even the meal was mediocre.
Ah, well, it was a cruise. And there was a nice cool breeze out on the river. But I'll live just as long and die just as happy if I never see another turtle.

06 August, 2004

Eva-world

There's a place far, far away from here, perhaps in another dimension...certainly in another universe. It's called Eva-world.
Most Terrans would experience the culture-shock equivalent of repeated bitch-slappings before their interdimensional craft even landed, and that sensation would only intensify with every day until at least a few people would be reduced to gibbering idiots. Or stand revealed as gibbering idiots, more likely. But not many people care to make the trip.
See, Eva-world is invitation-only. Every so often, as we're enduring Earth, a potential candidate for migration to Eva-world surfaces. Before today, the last one was Rob Ford.
Rob Ford is a Toronto city councillor. If he were mayor, I doubt Toronto would be anything like the cesspool of crime and litter it is now.
Toronto city councillors have an annual 'office budget' of $53,100. Many of them do their absolute damnedest to spend as much of that as they can. Mr. Ford's expenses from two years ago: $4. He even apologized for spending that much of the taxpayers' money, as I recall...he'd forgotten to bring change to work that day, or some such thing.
Needless to say, the vast majority of Toronto councillors laugh at Mr. Ford and try to shout him down every time he opens his mouth on cost issues. That hasn't stopped him from trying. Unfortunately, he's hampered by a bunch of nitwits who think that $32,000 per homeless person per year is not enough money; that traffic gridlock should be encouraged; that volunteers should not be allowed to clean up Toronto parks because that is properly the responsibility of unionized workers.
I've thought about mailing Councillor Ford some Eva-world citizenship papers. He'd probably think me some sort of crank. That's too bad. In Eva-world, people like Mr. Ford would find themselves in prestigious positions and compensated accordingly.
Today, I learned of another worthy. His name is Stephane Gendron, and he is the mayor of Huntingdon, Quebec. The town has been plagued by acts of vandalism. Council has recently instituted and began to enforce a rather remarkable bylaw: It's illegal for children under the age of 16 to be out of their houses unsupervised between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Parents are fined $50 for a first offense from their little darlings, and $100 for subsequent offenses. That's over and above any charges the little ones incur.

"Nobody will convince me that a kid should be on the streets at night -- nobody", said Gendron. "It's common sense and that's it, that's all. There's no negotiation on that point."

Of course, the cries of outrage are building amongst those who haven't had their cars keyed, their windows smashed or egged, or their grandma's tombstone overturned. The curfew has already undergone a legal challenge because it supposedly 'discriminates based on age' . The Quebec human rights commission still doesn't like the situation. A spokeswoman said "when you say someone can't go outside, you're contravening their rights, that's for sure."

(Kids still have the "right" to go outside at night...chaperoned.)

What the mayor and I want to know is, what about their responsibilities? Why is it that in Canada, we never talk about responsibility? I believe that human rights are for people who act like humans.

You talk about age discrimination and the first think I think of is car insurance. Sixteen-year-olds pay a fortune in premiums, no matter how well they drive. Why? Because too many sixteen-year-olds drive like assholes and get wrecked. It's something we learned really early in school: a few bad apples spoil the bunch. "It's not FAIR!", we whined. "LIFE's not fair", our elders told us. They were right...and all the liberal social engineering in Canada won't change that.

You know what's really sad in all this? That somebody actually had to make a law to enforce what, as the mayor says, is 'common sense'. WHERE ARE THE PARENTS? Are they out doing drugs like their kids? Or are they abed, dog-tired from working three jobs so they can feed their half-million dollar mortgage and still have enough money left over for a Beemer and an annual round-the-world vacation? Their priorities are ever so slightly buggered, to put it mildly. There's nothing wrong with putting more value on trinkets and perqs than on your children...but just make sure you're safely sterilized before you ever have to make that choice, okay?

In the meantime, Mr. Gendron, welcome to Eva-world. We think you'll like it here.



.

04 August, 2004

Things that make me go "huh?"

You're in your car, and the radio's on. A song comes on that you despise. So what do you do? Well, if you're just about anybody I know, the last thing you do is turn the radio off. And you never consider changing the channel, the way you would if you were at home and a really stupid commercial came on your television. No, instead, you turn the volume down.
Huh?
Still in the car...you're driving in the city. There's a red light, say, 300 meters ahead. Somebody zooms past you in a Mazda, doing thirty km/h over the speed limit, just so they can jam on their brakes five seconds later. Ever wonder what this wiseass is thinking? Ever wonder if people like him have brains to think with?
Then there's the cool dude who likes to lay rubber when the light turns green. Are you impressed with how well he can press his oh-so-masculine foot on to the accelerator pedal? Such skill! Such talent!
Are you one of those people who uses snooze alarms? Why do you do that? Instead of waking up every nine minutes only to slam your fist down on your bedside clock and go back to sleep, why not set your alarm for the time you actually want to get out of bed? That way you could actually sleep, uninterrupted.
If you're a guy, have you ever pissed in the bathroom sink? Are you absolutely disgusted at the thought? Why? It's okay, after all, to spit up all kinds of crap into the sink...you can bleed into it, no problem...heck, people even puke in it. But a little urine, washed down the drain quickly and quietly and with a fraction of the water it takes to flush a toilet...no, that's gross?
You want more advantages? A sink is the perfect height to piss into, even if it's seven a.m. and your penis is in the bathroom before you hit the hallway. You can't miss, even with the first blast.
An aside for you women out there who wonder why your guy can't seem to hit a toilet. A little experiment. Go outside to your garden hose. Draw a toilet-hole-sized circle on the ground. Now, grab the hose and hold it loosely, about fifteen inches...no, ten inches...okay, damnit, six inches...from the end and aim it at the circle. Quickly, jerk the tap on full blast and observe the results. I bet you won't hit that circle right away any more than once in ten tries....and you just might find yourself 'pissing' on your foot.
More bathroom 'huhs'...why in the name of GOD do some people actually care whether the toilet paper goes over or under the damn roll? It's asswipe, people. You use it to wipe your ass. And then you flush it down the toilet. Are you really that, pardon me, anal?
Do you enjoy taking baths? Really? I don't. There's something about sitting in dirty water that, I don't know, makes me vaguely ill. I supposed if I showered first...but well, then I could just, um, take a shower. Hmmm.
I know, I know, I'm weird.
Are you an anachronism who thinks suntans are healthy? I still know a few people like you. Hate to break it to you, but a tan signifies skin damage, not health. And skin cancer is anything but good for you.
Somebody at work today asked me where the garlic butter was. They were looking in the snack foods aisle and seemed surprised when I told them it was in the dairy aisle. At least once a week, somebody's in that dairy aisle looking for (frozen) Cool Whip. It's like they don't remember that it was frozen the last thirty eight times they bought it. I just don't get people, you know?
Now here's something I know is unique to me alone. When we bought this house, literally dozens of people told me it was the best investment I could ever make. That might be true, I don't know. I don't care. To me, a house is not some abstract 'investment' like a mutual fund or a bond. Try LIVING in a mutual fund! The purpose of my house is not to make me money. At least, I don't think it is.
Oh, well, that's enough ranting for one day.

03 August, 2004

The Torch of Scrutiny

Today's newscast spent some time dwelling on secrecy in public places.
It turns out our vaunted Freedom of Information Act doesn't apply to quite a number of governmental institutions. Places like Canada Post, the Canadian Wheat Board, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation are exempt from prying eyes. Ask a question about these taxpayer-funded bastions and you'll be told the answer is none of your business.
What is Canada Post hiding? It was implicated in the Liberal sponsorship scandal, but strangely, little has been heard about its alleged role. As for the CBC, as far as I am concerned it should be sold lock stock and barrel to the highest bidder. Or scrapped entirely.
Our universities, too, exist in shadow. Tuition costs have doubled since 1990, my first year. Even then I wondered why I was paying so much to have professors read textbooks at me. (And the texts! Some of them cost $100 or more...I'd love to know who was raking it in there, because it sure as hell doesn't cost anywhere near $100 to produce a textbook.)
Neale Donald Walsch, in his Conversations with God series, envisions a world where every price tag has two prices on it: "your" cost and "our" cost. Wouldn't that nip gouging in the bud? He also believes companies should publish the salaries of every one of their managers and workers online for the world to see. Do you think President Joe Schmo would gladly accept a million dollar bonus for presiding over a near-bankrupt company if everyone knew it was happening? Do you think that Susan would continue to be paid two thirds Steve's salary for the exact same job if she could click a mouse and see Steve's salary?
I hear people screaming at me that this violates their privacy rights. Oddly enough, the voices sound an awful lot like Mr. Schmo and Steve.
Look, anything that happens in a public space should, by definition, be public knowledge. I'm not advocating Big Brother should be able to look through my TV screen--that's in my private dwelling. (Then again, there's nothing illegal in here...B.B's more than welcome to check that out for himself. And if he happens to catch a glimpse of me walking around naked with the shades drawn, well, maybe he'll think twice about looking again.)
Honestly, I've *never* understood people who trumpet about the all-important right to privacy. All I can think about is 'what is it they're hiding?'