29 September, 2004

I dreamt of heaven...

I'm currently reading a rather chilling horror novel called The Dwelling. The Canadian author, Susie Moloney, has mastered atmosphere: her haunted house is genuinely creepy.
The scariest books give me nightmares. I've dreamed scenes from Stephen King's The Shining off and on since I first read that book. The Dwelling might yet provoke a night scream or two out of me.
(Yeah, yeah, I know, what kind of masochist buys a horror novel about a haunted house that keeps coming on the resale market...just after he buys a house? That'd be me. Hyuk hyuk hyuk...)
Anyway, last night I went off to bed, checking first to make sure that all the closet doors were firmly closed, that the tub hadn't sprouted claws, and that I couldn't hear music coming from nowhere...or the creak...creak...creak of something long-dead hanging from a beam in the attic. The house checked out normal...at least for now...so off to sleep I went.
And had a truly remarkable dream.
I dreamed that I had died and gone to heaven. Nobody told me I was in heaven, or indeed that I was dead. Dreams come to me with a set of facts presupposed...I'm made aware of them via a kind of mental shorthand before the curtains raise in my theatre of the mind.
Heaven was...different
At first, I was high in the air on some kind of slow-moving amusement park ride. There were scores of faces around me, some of which I knew very well, others that I just barely knew I'd known once. Everyone was smiling, laughing, having a great time. A bunch of people greeted me by name as we flew through the air
We came to rest and without warning I was walking through a Price Chopper grocery store. Don't you just love those abrupt scene changes? Don't you love even more how they seem perfectly natural?
It wasn't the one I work at, but my boss, Larry, was busy stocking shelves. I hailed him and said, "so heaven is a Price Chopper? Seems odd."
He replied "no, only on Thursdays". And without him saying another word, I knew what he meant.
Some days Larry would go out and play a round of golf. Some days, he'd laze around home. But once a week, usually on Thursdays, he'd come to "work" because otherwise he might experience boredom, a state unknown in Heaven. And he'd putter for a few hours because he enjoyed doing so.
Nodding my head, filled with sudden epiphanies, I walked outside.
And met a bunch more people, including my last girlfriend before Eva came into my life.
I'll call her Anne--I do have this habit of thinly disguising people's identities by using their middle names.
I've always wondered what happened to Anne. The breakup was my fault entirely--she was depressed and not entirely stable and I just couldn't handle it. Having made a complete mess of the relationship, I then realized my error and spent about eighteen months trying to win her back. Futile effort. The final split was at her urging, but on (mostly) good terms. She seemed to be getting on with living her life and jettisoning me was important in that regard. I do hope she went on to live well
Anyway, in this dream, I asked for and received forgiveness. I told Anne that meeting Eva had been the best thing to happen to me in my life and thanked her for booting me out so I could go on to do it. And I somehow said that in a way that didn't offend her. I got a nice hug, started to move on to the next friendly face, and woke up.

No idea what had awakened me, but I thought it was the television, which is what we use for an alarm clock. Sensing Eva awake beside me, I started babbling about this dream, only to open my eyes and still find it pitch black in our room. So I apologized and tried very hard to go back to sleep and re-enter the dream.
No luck. I've only managed that particular trick a few times in my life, and last night wasn't one of them. But I was grateful for what dream I did have, because it comforted me...inspired me? Yes, inspired me.

25 September, 2004

Friday nights in Arcadia

I once went three years without a television. Not without digital, not without basic cable...without the actual idiot box. Didn't really miss it much, either. I listened to my hockey games on the radio and read a lot.
No television show has ever made a lasting impression on me. Comedies? Good for half an hour of escapism. Reality? Puh-leeze. Soaps? See under "reality".
But I keep trying. Every year, I scan the TV previews looking for a show to hitch my wagon to. And every year, they either pull my show off the air to spite me (Stark Raving Mad) or prod it into a screaming left turn into tedium after a few episodes (Boston Public).
My wagon soared into space with Enterprise. For a season, I felt this had the potential to dethrone The Next Generation as the best Star Trek serial yet. And then they decided to take a single story arc in season two and set their phasers on "boring".
Back to the drawing board.
Enter Joan of Arcadia.
For those of you who think you have better things to do on a Friday night, go ahead and do them. Just make sure before you go you set your VCR to tape CBS from 8-9 p.m. Eastern. Watch the show at your leisure on the weekend. I will bet you that when next Friday evening rolls around, you'll find yourself wondering what's happening with Joan. A few Fridays later, you'll be staying home to find out.
Joan is your average teenager, normal in pretty much every way except one: God talks to her. God might be anyone in any given episode: a hot guy at school, a kid on the playground, a garbageman...anyone or all of them. Every week, God asks Joan to do something, learn something, be somewhere...which sets a cause and effect chain into motion that can have astonishing results.
Ho-hum. Touched By An Angel meets Degrassi, right?
Not even close.
First of all, the show is not what you'd expect a 'religious' show to be. It doesn't preach. God isn't jammed down your throat. Although specific religions are occasionally mentioned, no one religion is ever held up as the only way, or even the best way, to God.
But the best thing about Joan of Arcadia is that it's not God of Arcadia. The series centers on Joan, her family and her friends. It may be the most realistic portrayal of family life ever put on screen. None of the characters are simple, and the situations they get themselves into mirror life in all its splendor and banality. The show is occasionally laugh-out-loud funny but it will make you cry almost every episode and you won't be conscious of being manipulated from one emotional state to the next.

This show is profoundly spiritual. And even the bit parts are extremely well acted.It was up for three Emmys, an extreme rarity in a first year series, and I fully believe it will capture its share of statues as it ages.

If I was still without a television, I would buy one to watch Joan of Arcadia. Check it out.

23 September, 2004

And awwwaaaaay we go...

Last night was the first of seven adoption seminars we'll be attending into November. And while I can't say I will await the next six Wednesday evenings with bated breath, I can certainly report that the first class exceeded my expectations. That is to say that although I yawned maybe seventeen times in two and a half hours, I never did quite fall asleep. In fact, I was reasonably engaged in the discussion as it went around the room.
I was nervous, no denying that, especially at first. Practically the first thing I had to do was introduce myself to the stranger next to me and make small talk about 'what we hope to get out of this training and what we're bringing to it.' Three things: one, I'm reasonably sure that Doug didn't really care; two, not to put too fine a point on it, but we're all there for, umm, children; three, I'm not completely sold on discussing this very personal quest--which is what it looks like they're going to demand--in a classroom setting.
This first night strongly brought to mind our premarital counselling. That was something required by the minister who married us and I resented it. The mere thought of 'counselling' implied there was something defective about our impending union...not only defective, but requiring outside interference to mend. By all means, call in the hired help to deal with material concerns: erecting a fence, laying a floor, stuff like that. But psychological issues are my self-appointed domain, damnit, and I deem myself fully competent at their resolution.
That mindset melted rather quickly. It occurred to me as I was entering that premarital class for the first session that I had been married in all but name not once but twice, and I had been largely responsible for the first severance and entirely responsible for the second. Perhaps there was something I had still to learn.
And the first thing I learned there was that this attitude--'perhaps there is something I have still to learn' --is probably the correct one. In any case, it is certainly useful.
Some things I learned about marriage in that class: Generally, three periods of stress come standard with any marriage. One, predictably, is the first year. Many unions don't last four seasons. The second danger period is between three and five years, after the initial lust has eroded. And the third occurs after twenty five or so years, when the kids have left home and you discover you've lost sight of each other through all the child-rearing.
Another thing I learned specific to my marriage was that I held an approximately equal share of power in our relationship. I wouldn't have told you this going in. After all, Eva does all the driving, all of the finances, and all of the planning (this woman has lists of the lists she has to make!) But I realized after doing some relationship exercises that Eva wasn't likely to drive anywhere, spend a sizeable or not-too-sizeable sum of money, or plan anything at all without getting my input and considering it. If I hadn't been forced to learn this before the wedding, you can be damned sure that, laboring under the illusion I had no power, resentment would have built up by now.
Another thing I learned was non-aggressive dispute resolution. This is extremely useful: it stops discussions before they escalate to arguments and, done properly, avoids fights altogether. Basically, the idea is to avoid the word 'you' as things heat up. Instead of 'you never stop nagging, do you?', I learned to say 'I feel a little smothered here'. The best thing about this is that your mate can't refute it. "I feel angry." "No,you don't!"
Anyway, this adoption training looks to be much the same. They certainly don't pull any punches about the situations some of these kids come through before they hit their adoptive homes. Nobody said this was an easy path.
But sobering talk of the risks of adoption is tempered by its rewards: a mirror into my mind. Subsequent classes will cover attachment, separation and grief; discipline; matching issues, and so on. It will be interesting.

21 September, 2004

Diary-ahh....

An article in today's National Post cites a British study which claims that keeping a diary is diagnostic of depression: the longer one keeps a diary, the more depressive one is...and those who go back and re-read old diary entries are most depressed of all. And the first thought that went through my head was 'wow...there's a blog entry in this somewhere!' Then the irony hit me and knocked me out cold for awhile.
I kept a daily diary from January 1988 to February 1991. In all that time, I missed exactly two days: once when I locked myself out of the house (moral to that particular tale: never try to sleep on a picnic table) and once when I misplaced the diary for a day. Both days were made up immediately. The 1989 volume got some kind of acidic soapy goo all over it in one of my moves, rendering a swath from March to October all but unreadable--which is really too bad, because some of the most memorable days of my life occured between May and October of 1989. But I still have the 1988 and 1990 editions. I'm not depressed...anymore...but I often look back at these things. The picture they reveal makes me cringe: was I really that much of a train wreck as a teenager?
My journals were the kind with locks on them, and the first thing I would do when I got a new one was break the lock with my bare hands. My reasoning was simple: anyone who really wanted to read this crap wouldn't let a chintzy lock deter them, so why should I have to find a key every day just to scribble a few lines?
After noting the busted lock, you would then start to read the diary proper, and the first thing you would learn about me is that I had an unhealthy obsession with the weather. Most days would start off with something like this: mc (m), tsh (a), vw 29 (36)/22
and you'd need a sixteen year-old Ken to translate: mostly cloudy (morning), thundershower (afternoon), very windy, high 29 degrees with a humidex of 36, low 22.
Thus warned, you'd begin reading. For the first two years most days were done in cursive writing. My cursive was (and remains) damn near illegible. It was only as my life grew more and more interesting in 1989-90 that I switched to printing, on the grounds that I could print smaller. There were days in those latter two years when I would cram three lines of printing in for every ruled line on the page.
You'd think that I had important things to say.
But no...the first two years consisted mainly of me lamenting how much I loved *******, and how much ******* didn't love me. The latter sentiment would be quickly followed by ruminations on how much I could love ####, and how adorable %%%%%%%% was, until ******* noticed me again, or I thought she did, and here we go round the mulberry bush.
How embarrassing can you get?
I traded my dairy exercise in self-flagellation for a slightly more literary version in first year university. It got kind of tiring writing 'wasted gobs and gobs of money on...nothing much' over and over again, so I took a different tack: instead of writing about the daily happenstance of my life, I started using WordPerfect version 0.00001, making weekly (or so) entries detailing slightly deeper thoughts--and including a truly sad amount of self-written poetry. (STEP BACK FROM THE MONITOR, MA'AM! DECONTAMINATION IS RIGHT THIS WAY. WATCH YOUR STEP!)
From then on...and off...and on again...I'd write whenever the urge took me...sometimes ten pages in two days, sometimes a six-month gap. Successive versions of my diaries saw me through two protracted relationship ka-blams. Some of the best writing of my life is contained in old diaries, long lost. They've probably been recycled into toilet paper more than once now..
And yes, most of the really good stuff was written UID...under the influence of depression. Of course it was. As a teenager I was chicken enough to think about killing myself, but too chicken to actually try, so I'd just use my pen to slit a vein and let words pour out instead. Depression makes for fabulous writing, in my experience.
My last journal before the Breadbin was a bright pink volume I called Past...Present...Fuschia. It starts as my last girlfriend pre-Eva began the long flounce out of my life and it ends on the day I got married. That's three and a half years. For at least one of those years I approached the word count of 1989. Looking back at that now, I see what I was trying to do: I was attempting to come to terms with myself in the world. I increasingly realized that I would never find a lasting relationship with a woman until I had fashioned a strong relationship with myself. Writing about the weather wouldn't cut it anymore, and reminiscing about ******* wouldn't get me any further ahead either.
About two weeks before I met Eva, I got to thinking that I'd examined myself enough, and was reasonably content with what I saw. So I wrote down a series of 'test questions' I would ask of any potential mate. Less than six months later, Eva would read these questions out loud and marvel at how she had all the right answers but one. (That one: she smoked, and I swore up and down I would never marry a smoker. She got the second last laugh on that--she's since quit smoking. Ha.)
Anyway, keeping a diary has been a great experience for me. Writing has always been therapeutic for me. Seeing words on a page convinces me that nothing is ever as bad as it looks inside my head.
Moreover, I can re-read old passages and be instantly transported to Teenworld. That heightened sense of where I have been is crucial to understanding where I am and where I am going. Whatever the National Post may say, I'd recommend a journal for anyone who needs one.

12 September, 2004

Hockey Not In Canada

...or anywhere else for that matter, not NHL-calibre hockey and not for quite a long time to come.
As a lifelong fan of the game, I'm more upset than I should be at the prospect of TV-free Saturday nights. And while polls repeatedly show that the majority of Canadians blame the players for this state of affairs, I do not. I blame the owners.
Oh, don't get me wrong: the players make way too much money. Professional athletes by and large rank just behind movie starlets and pop singers on the "overpaid non-contributors to society" scale. In a logical world, the truly essential people (doctors, teachers, firefighters, police officers and such) would be paid the way we pay athletes. And athletes' pay would be based strictly on performance.
But alas, every time I open my eyes I still find myself in this world, wherein a hockey player can be awarded an eight million dollar contract just because somebody thinks he could lead the team in scoring. Yup, I won't exactly be feeling sorry for these overpaid, over-pampered oafs.
But who's paying them?
Answer that and you've rightly assessed blame for this lockout.
Let's say your boss comes up to you and says 'listen. Our department's been pulling its weight lately and you've been a valued part of that. So I'd like to give you a raise, say, to $100,000 a year. '

Do you
(a) laugh in his face
(b) say 'no, thank you, but no, I'm really only worth my current $40,000 salary'
(c) take the money and run, baby!

Well, most of us, living as we do in the real world, would probably chose (a). He's joking, right? People who choose (b) are due to be canonized any day now. And someone who takes option (c) is either greedy or an opportunist, your call.

Now suppose that throughout your company, all the bosses were doling out money like this. Wanda, that new hire out in Reception, is making $100,000. Now Wanda is what you call your dim bulb. She looks flashy and can sometimes pretend like she can do the job, but most days she just doesn't show up. And you're in here busting your ass off and getting results and making $40,000 a year. Doesn't that get you a tad pissed off? Like, if Wanda's worth a hundred kilobucks, you're worth at least double that?
Yeah.
Look, here's proof that the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) can work well...if it's used properly. Last season, NHL salaries went up 2%. That's less than the rate of inflation. Why is that? Because (most of) the owners got smart and stopped spending money they didn't have. If the New York Rangers are losing money, they really have only themselves to blame. Until they dumped salary last season, there wasn't a single player on that team who was--even by the absurd market standards of hockey--earning anywhere near half his paycheque.

The players' union made quite a few concessions in their latest offer, but have no interest in labouring under a salary cap. Now, your average Jane slaving away down on the cube farm knows perfectly well that there is, in effect, a 'salary cap' on her position...her company calls it a maximum, and it's damn hard (or impossible) to get it.
But Jane could jump ship.
Yes, Jane could go off and work at Agro-Cubicle, the big cube farm conglomerate, where they pay better for top talent. Agro-Cubicle is setting a market value for Jane's position that is considerably in excess of what she's making.
The NHL owners are doing the same thing, merely setting a market value for each player, each talent level. If those market values are completely ludicrous, do you blame the player?

The owners, if they really gave a puck about the fans, should be negotiating right now at the very least. The players came out with the most recent proposal, and they weren't even finished presenting it before the NHL adjourned the meeting. It's obvious the owners have no interest even in discussing the issues. They would rather punish the players for taking all that money they were so freely offered.

Who suffers in all this? Not the millionaire players, and not the billionaire owners. It's us fans who suffer. Mark my words: for every eight weeks this lockout lasts, one U.S.-based team will bite the dust...maybe not right away, but within a year of settlement.
Part of me loves this idea--there are probably fifteen teams in the United States that don't deserve to be there--but how would I feel if I was a devout and devoted fan of, say, the Chicago Blackhawks?

At any rate, yours truly will be paying more attention to junior hockey this year. I've never cared before--call it hockey snobbery--but I'll have to get my hockey fix somewhere...

11 September, 2004

9/11

So far, this is the only day of the year that has been abbreviated into an international touchstone. It's so pervasive that subsequent terrorist acts have taken place on "Spain's 9/11" or, just recently, "Russia's 9/11". The Madrid train bombing and the Beslan school atrocity seemingly aren't grandiose enough to merit their own 'day of infamy'.
America has refashioned itself in its own image since, of course. The country that invented Attention Deficit Disorder still has a case of it. For about a month afterwards, it looked like 9/11 might actually have wrought something positive out of the horror, as Americans paused to reflect on who they were, where they belonged in the world, and what the important things in life might be.
Sadly, though, the opportunities for transformation on a national scale have been frittered away. America had the world's sympathy and charity in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, but ask the man on the street how he feels about America three years later and you'll likely get an unsympathetic and grossly uncharitable response. It's precisely because of what the United States has done with the chance it was given.
Iraq.
Why Iraq, George? bin Laden wasn't there. Undoubtedly the world is a better place without Saddam ruling a little corner of it, but holy Shiite, Oilman! You've lost a thousand American troops and counting trying to plant democracy in desert soil. It won't take no matter how much blood you water it with. Your soldiers were supposed to be liberators, but real liberators remove the human weeds and then get the hell out. True, after much anguish you did hand the reins of government over, but you're still trying to manipulate things behind the scenes. Being a puppet master is addictive, isn't it, George? Or are you now the Sorceror's Apprentice?
Okay, so you've botched your foreign affairs policy. It's really too bad, because others see the world through that particular window. But have you done any better prosecuting the war on terror at home?
I have to admit, there have been no further terrorist attacks on American soil. So in that sense you have succeeded, George. Bravo. But have you stopped to notice the America you've created? It hasn't been this polarized since Viet Nam, and you've done nothing to reach out and reassure your citizens. You have a colourful terror alert scale so you can raise a hue and cry wolf whenever it best suits you politically. A million jobs have been lost despite the fact that historically, wartime has been great for employment figures. Naw, you've been a failure here at home too, George.
You do have the luck of Satan, I'll give you that. The Democrats picked perhaps the worst possible candidate to replace you, and many in your country are becoming aware of it. Your vice president still had to stoop so low as to raise the spectre of an American Beslan should your opponent win, though. Dirty pool, Georgie, dirty pool. But then, you're an oilman. Oilmen specialize in dirty pools, don't they?

10 September, 2004

Defining Characteristics Of That Which Defies Definition...

WHO I AM (Part 1 of an infinite series)

As of this writing I am (still) a procrastinator. It's one of my worst failings. Give me something to do and if I am not specifically instructed to do it right away, then it'll get done...eventually.
This burned me back in grade five. I turned in a project four days late, and got 98% on it...minus twenty percent for each day I'd missed. Thereafter, essays and assignments from school were exempt from my prevailing "leave it alone and maybe it will do itself" attitude.
Procrastination is something I would choose to change, if I knew any alternative. It sounds simple, really: just do whatever it is you're supposed to do, when you're supposed to do it. It's not so easy when you live primarily in a mind that refuses to stay still for any length of time.
Anyway:
My two passions are music and the written word. I see them as related, kissing cousins perhaps. If you can't say it in words, say it with music...then describe the music and you'll have come full circle.
Music was a big part of my life before I could read more than my own name. I was composing at four and have now written enough music for at least a couple of albums. Three things hold me back from pursuing a career: one, I have no idea what to do with the stuff I've written; two, I've convinced myself the kind of music I write--mostly New-Agey soundscapes--has no real market; three, I have this fear of rejection. (You can probably say the first two objections are merely different ways of stating the third.)
You know that saying "the only failure is a lack of effort"? Oh, I can spout that until my face turns blue, but I don't seem to grasp that it applies here. After all, what's failure when you haven't tasted success? I'm still a musician.
I only have formal piano schooling to grade six, thanks to two other traits of mine: I bore easily and I insist on my own way of doing things. I was forever noodling around with my assigned pieces, trying to make them my own. And I swiftly grew to hate my piano teacher's insistence that I use certain fingers to play certain notes. It may have been the correct fingering, but it didn't feel right to me. My wife has often demanded, exasperation apparent in her voice, why I absolutely have to do things the hard way. The answer is obvious: the easy way is usually harder for me.
I started stringing words rather than notes together in grade two. I still remember my first lengthy work: a painfully derivative piece of tripe called "Dressed to Kill" in which, despite the title, fashion was never mentioned and nobody...quite... died. I did, however, fill up an entire notebook with this story, and it did have a coherent, if predictable, plot. The work won me acclaim that didn't sit well with me then and still doesn't. It was a story, right? We've all heard stories since earliest childhood, right? There was nothing to it: I simply transcribed what I was thinking.
I still do it that way. I've never written an outline and I shun "rough copies" like the plague and I'm completely bewildered by the reaction this gets.
I had one teacher who point-blank refused to accept an essay I submitted because I had not attached a draft. After a great deal of argument--why the hell would I want to write something twice?--she took my paper and then asked me to rewrite it over lunch hour. I handed her a near-verbatim copy and stormed out of the room. (I was one for storming out of classrooms when things didn't go my way...ask my friend Jen.)
With some pride, I can say that was one educational battle I won. I never wrote another draft. Writing, for me at least, is a simple process of self-examination. I'll stop briefly in the middle of a sentence or a paragraph, as I'm doing right now, to wait for the next words to fall out of my mind, and then I'll pick them up and set them in order on the page and move on.
I've been told I am a writer of modest talent. Again, though, as with musicianship, I have no idea what to do with the ability I have. They never bother to teach this sort of thing in school.
So now I write for me...to get emotions out, to try to resolve a confused brain, and most of all to push my views (which has been called, charitably, rather odd) out in to the world. Hey, folks, it's an odd world. Us oddballs are normal. It's you squares that are weird.

07 September, 2004

ALONE Chapter 1

You’re going, and that’s final.”
“Damn it, dad, you--”
“--and one more word out of you and it’ll be three weeks instead of two”.
Jo’s birthday: exactly two weeks and three days away. I bet he fuckin knows it, too, she thinks. The thought of spending her sixteenth birthday in the middle of fucking nowhere--on a goddamned island, no phone, no computer, no friends…intolerable. She whirled around and trounced up the stairs, indulging in a good solid door slam when she got to her room.
Jo flung herself on to her bed, furious. I know, she thought. I’ll run away. That’d teach them. I’ll get out of bed at five--no, four--tomorrow morning and I’ll just take off. Maybe crash at Amy’s place for a week. Maybe they’ll go anyway and maybe they won’t and I don’t really give a flying fuck.
The phone rang. Jo rolled off her bed and went to retrieve it, but Dad had already gotten it downstairs. Jo sighed a fifteen year old world-on-my-shoulders sigh that would have impressed anyone there to see her. There had to be parents more lame than Dan and Karen MacIlwayne, but right now she couldn’t think of any. Her best friend Amy’s ’rents were off in fucking Paris for a week--second honeymoon, they said. Amy confided to Jo that it was more like a stave-off-divorce trip. Amy’s dad was a lawyer, and he’d been caught with one of his secretaries, minus the, uh, legal briefs. Jo thought maybe he’d need his own lawyer before long. Anyway, they’d left Amy all on her own…there was going to be one ripper of a party at her place Saturday night. Practically everybody Jo knew was either invited or had invited themselves. That included Greg D'Alessio. And where would Jo MacIlwayne, the very life of the party, be on Saturday? Not making out in a corner with Greg, not getting smashed with Amy, not enjoying life in the slightest. No, she'd be on an island, about a hundred miles from the ass-crack of nowhere.
Not if I can help it, she thought.
It was just so not fair! Her parents had talked about this trip for months…two weeks up north in the wilderness, away from what they called stress and what Jo usually called “the action”. Well, there wasn’t much action around this place, Jo thought, but there was a whole lot of stress, most of it hers. Mom had inflicted a curfew on Jo--10:00, even on Saturdays. Just because Jo made the mistake of coming home at three in the morning one night, a little…okay, a lot…drunk. But that was three weeks ago, and school had ended since, and Christy said that Dar and her bitchy friends were calling Jo “Amish” now. It was enough to really piss you off.
A knock on Jo’s door that startled her out of her black reverie.
“Get yourself packed, Jo. That was your mother. She got to leave work early today after all, so we’re going to scoot as soon as she gets home. Beat the traffic.”
Aw, shit, now what the fuck do I do?


06 September, 2004

Thanks for the holiday, organized labour. Now bugger off.

Today is Labour Day, the day we're supposed to reflect on organized labour and all it has done for us.
So, after some serious reflection, I have this to say:
I hate unions. Hate hate hate them. I find it extremely difficult to come up with anything positive to say about them.
Okay, yes, in certain instances, like where a company decided to lay you off for no good reason after you've worked for them for forty years, a union could come in handy. I guess. But then so could government legislation banning such treatment.
What do unions do? Well, they come in to your minimum wage environment and excite workers with the prospect of making $14 or $23 an hour for what remains a minimum wage job. They never let you know that instead of 32 hours a week, you'll get three.
What else do unions do? They interfere with the free market economy and drive jobs away. They negotiate absolutely ridiculous 'benefits' for their workers--like the right to take sick days with no questions asked until you've taken more than three in a row, or the right to get paid double time for working a Saturday, or the right to have three hour lunches every day, or the right to show up for work completely shitfaced. (All of these 'rights' are either explicitly given in a union-negotiated contract somewhere, or implied by the outcome of 'grievance' resolution.)

Moreover, unions tend to establish a culture of entitlement and a slavish devotion to job descriptions that is detrimental to any sense of corporate morale. A union almost always acts like a drag on productivity.

In other words, in an attempt to address 'abuse' of workers by management, they insist that the workers be allowed to abuse management. Something doesn't seem right here.

Even worse, the standard tactic of negotiation is to hold the general public hostage. I'm referring here to strikes.
Ever notice that teachers never strike in July?
Ever notice that 'sanitation engineers' always strike in July?
In my world, strikes would be illegal. All of them. Contracts would be negotiated in their final month, by impartial moderators if necessary, and if employees couldn't agree to terms, employers would be free to find employees who would. You know what? I don't imagine it would be a problem very often.
By withholding services from the public, unions are not doing their workers any favours. How does a welfare recipient feel when she can't use public transit due to a strike? I don't imagine 'solidarity' is high on her list of concerns.
And unions and their members often have no grasp whatsoever of basic mathematics. Let's consider a worker making $10 an hour. His union is striking for $15. The company holds out for three months before capitulating. Has the worker won anything? Well, he will, in two years and two months. That's how long it will take him to make up the wages he lost during the strike and start making, in effect, his full $15 an hour.
Tell me that makes sense.
I'm not saying workers shouldn't have rights. They should, and legitimate abuse of power by management should be dealt with. But workers shouldn't have to pay out-of-pocket for the privilege, now, should they?

Unions were invaluable institutions a hundred years or more ago, back when everyone worked 14 hour days, six days a week, safety be damned. But they've largely outgrown their usefulness in this modern era.

And that's how I feel about that...


03 September, 2004

Three-for-all

A trio of items to tackle today.

1) PITBULLSHIT...

Do we ban them, muzzle them, lock them in a big cage with their owners...what?
Let me preface this by saying: I love dogs. I had a collie named Cyndy who was my constant companion from age two to eleven; through my teens our family owned a succession of German Shepherds. (One year, I handled our dog Mac's to a first-place showing at the London Obedience Trials; my stepfather handled our other dog Seren to a very close second.)
So yes, I love dogs. But I hate dogs used as weapons. And let me tell you that a sizeable percentage of pitbull owners view their dogs in just that way. I have little use for people so insecure with themselves that they need a vicious dog to proclaim their superiority.
Having trained dogs, and done it well, I'm usually susceptible to the argument that 'it's not the dog, it's how you train it.' But not in the case of pitbull terriers and their related breeds. These dogs are bred for ferocity; training can only overcome so much. There have been numerous documented pitbull attacks wherein both victim and dog were simply minding their own business, and without warning the dog latched on...and woudn't let go. In the most recent attack, it took sixteen gunshots between two dogs to discourage them...and even then, one of them was still alive and had to be smothered to death. These aren't dogs. They're unpredictable killing machines dressed up to look like dogs.
So what's the solution? Do we ban the breeds?
If only it were that easy.
If you make pitbull terriers and their related breeds illegal, what do you do with, say, a Labrador-pitbull cross? Do we start practicing canine genocide, elminating all traces of the breed?
It honestly would be fine with me if we did...but then I'd like to live in a dreamworld without alcohol, too. It's quite simply impractical.
No, the answer lies in making pet owners responsible for the actions of their pets. If your little darling mauls a kid, you should be charged with assault causing bodily harm (and it goes without saying that your little darling should be euthanized.) If your dog--whatever the breed--God forbid kills some little kid, well, that'd be manslaughter.

2) TEENAGE ASININITY

Just before midnight last night, a few short blocks from my home, a fifteen year old was critically injured. He was on a skateboard, being towed behind a car driven by his friend, when he slipped off and hit his head on the pavement.
Wonder how much money our health care system is wasting treating this Einstein?
Sorry, that sounds heartless. I do hope that the boy (notice, it's usually boys involved in things like this?) makes a full recovery, and that his recovery involves a brain transplant.
Um, somebody shut me up.
No, really, I'm trying to think back to when I was fifteen. That'd be 1987. I'm wondering if I was ever up until midnight on any night that year. I kind of doubt it. And if I was, I sure as hell never found myself on a skateboard, being towed by a car, at that hour or any other.
Did that make me a perfect kid? Hell no. That made me a normal kid.
My wife says I was overprotected as a child, and I can grudgingly admit she's right. I can even admit that my being coddled as a kid led to my coddling myself as a teenager. But there's a difference between taking risks for the fun of it and pretending your skateboard is a surfboard.
Isn't there?
If there's anything I hope to teach my children--without overprotecting them--it's a healthy respect for potentially dangerous situations. I should hope that my kid's smart enough to just sort of intuitively understand that pavement is much harder than the human head, though...

3) THE TORONTO INTERNATIONAL CAT-KILLING FESTIVAL

I like movies. I like a wide variety of movies, from blockbusters to movies invariably referred to as "films". Subtitles don't faze me. When I go to the cineplex, I want to see a story brought to life.
I've always wanted to go to the Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF ranks second or third in the world for sheer size; you can see a stunning array of cinema from all over the world in a week.
But this year, among the soon-to-be box-office champs and soon-to-be critically acclaimed, will be showing a "film" called Casuistry. What this "film" purports to be about is killing cats as an artistic statement.
I don't mind violence in cinema. Much. And I am not one of those PETA freaks straight out of Animal Farm ... "Four legs good, two legs bad". But any "film" whose sole raison d'etre is animal cruelty has no business being shown in somebody's basement, let alone at a venue like TIFF. And any film festival that dares to defend such a film as art or its perpetrator-creators as artists has forever lost my business.