31 July, 2005

Read this!

I've just finished a remarkable book by a remarkable author: Ghosts of Vesuvius, by Charles Pellegrino. It's subtitled "a new look at the last days of Pompeii, how towers fall, and other strange connections", and it's one of those books I don't think I will ever forget.
Charles Pellegrino is the man who gave rise to Indiana Jones: in the course of his archaelogical expeditions, he's been shot, stabbed, and had a grenade pitched at him. He's even had a 727 crash literally on top of him while he was driving a pickup truck. One hundred twenty people died in that little incident, and by some miracle of physics known as a "shock cocoon" Pellegrino was not among them--in fact, his truck was able to move under its own power.
But that doesn't take the measure of the man: not even close. Besides excelling in archaeology--both land and marine--he's an accomplished astronomer and astrophysicist, an agnostic Biblical scholar, and not least of all a writer of rare talent and phenomenal intellect who is able to wind the strands of his knowledge and experience into an absorbing and provoking read. More than once. His horror novel, Dust, is one of the more frightening things I've ever read, and his works on Sodom and Gomorrah, Atlantis, and the Titanic are required reading for anyone even remotely interested.
Now he's out with a book that ties many of his previous works together. It's a ball of yarn of a tome that rambles from moments after the Big Bang to September 11th, 2001 then back to August 24-25, A.D. 79, then back another twelve hundred years to the Thera eruption that wiped out what came to be known as Atlantis...back and forth through time...
It's essentially a book about explosions. Pellegrino has analyzed the forces unleashed in many historical explosions and classified them for easy reference. One World Trade Center is roughly one tenth of a Hiroshima. One Hiroshima is roughly one THOUSANDth of a Pompeii. One Pompeii equals, roughly, one THOUSANDth of a Thera. Think on that a second: the largest force we puny humans have been able to exert equals barely one millionth of what Nature unleashed on Crete in 1234 B.C--or at Tambora in 1815.
Pellegrino takes us into the lives of Pompeiians and Herculaneans circa 79 A.D. We learn of their diets, their occupations, their legal practices and their religious beliefs, all from painstaking archaelogical excavation and analysis of flash-frozen and meticulously preserved documents. He then takes us on a harrowing, minute-by-minute account of the Vesuvian eruption that buried the cities in stories of ash and pumice. This is riveting reading, dispassionate and yet highly emotional. You are placed in a boathouse in Herculaneum where upwards of three hundred people died in less than two-tenths of a second. You find yourself out past the gates of Pompeii, trudging through choking dust clouds and pelted by stones...and then buried in a mass of liquid rock moving so fast you don't have time to see it coming.
Somehow, what made the destruction all the more real and unnerving to me was learning just how incredibly advanced the Pompeiian civilization was. I had no idea. Consider: the houses looked a lot like ours. They had hot and cold running water, flush toilets, and sewer systems; printing presses; steam engines; transatlantic voyages. (Roman vessels have been discovered off Brazil and Venezuela.) They were on the cusp of discovering flight (toy gliders have been found in the Vesuvian ruins). Although they did have slavery, a slave at that time in the Roman Empire had better prospects than most free men at any time up until the nineteenth century. He (or she!) could buy freedom and become a wealthy entrepreneur, and many were treated like family.
In short, Pompeii was a truly civilized society--which makes it all the more difficult, somehow, to watch it go up in smoke and dust. And the knowledge that many of the Roman inventions were seen centuries before at Thera (where they actually had discovered batteries!) further depresses me, somehow. It's like we're on a treadmill to nowhere.
Such depressing, disturbing thoughts cannot be helped as Pellegrino fast forwards to New York City on September 11th and proceeds to give a second-by-second account of Pompeii in miniature. The downblasts, surge clouds and shock coccoons are all present in this man-made conflagration. So, again, are the people, the lucky who lived and the lucky who died.

A stunning read, highly recommended...oh, yes, and James Cameron has snapped up the rights.

29 July, 2005

The (Short) "Long" Weekend

"What are you doing this long weekend?"
"The weather for the long weekend ahead should be ideal..."
"Police warn they will be out blitzing the 400-series highways this long weekend.."

Ah, the long weekends of summer. There's nothing better than to relax at your Happy Place, be that your backyard, your cottage, the beach, or what have you, with your beverage of choice in one hand and a lengthy to-do list consisting of...nothing at all..in the other.
We Canadians prize our holiday weekends, probably at least in part because there are so few of them. We got the short end of the holiday stick: every other industrialized country takes more time out of the year to be unindustrious than we do. This fact leaps out at you particularly in the winter months: we make the long trek from New Year's Day to Easter without respite, trudging brain-deep through snow and slush. But our summer is curiously bereft of holiday weekends, too. In fact, only the first weekend (Canada Day) and the last weekend (Labour Day) of a schoolchild's summer are official long weekends.
That's right, folks: this one doesn't count.
Oh, at first glance, it looks like a long weekend. The government's off Monday--wait, that's a poor indicator of a holiday, since the government seems to take off at the drop of a hat. Okay, well, offices are closed and their workers are paid; factories are closed and their workers are paid; stores are...
Most of them, anyway: store owners are under no obligation to close, nor to dole out stat holiday pay, for the Civic Holiday. (In Ontario, the real name of this pseudo-holiday is Simcoe Day, after John Graves Simcoe, a pioneer who founded Toronto and had a town (nowhere near Toronto), a lake (not in Toronto) , and a whack of other things named after him. Pretty important guy. Not important enough, alas, to shut down the engine of commerce in his name.
I'm not out here typing for pity (well, maybe I am, a little, you lucky bastards). I want to see the first Monday in August made an official, statutory holiday in some other province besides Alberta (where it's Family Day). If that's not possible (and I see no reason why it shouldn't be), I'd like to see and hear some recognition that this isn't a long weekend for all of us. Just once I'd like to hear that.
Just once.

26 July, 2005

Water, water everywhere...

When I was seventeen, I moved from Ingersoll to Waterloo. It marked a watershed moment in my life in many ways. In one respect, that is literally true: I shed my naivete about water.
I'm not sure what the water in London is like nowadays, but back in the 80s you could drink it from the tap. Not only could you: almost everyone did. I'd heard of bottled water, but I thought it was reserved for emergencies--contamination, severe drought, things like that. It would have never occurred to me that people would drive to a grocery store to buy something that you could more cheaply obtain from your kitchen tap.
Then I got here.
This city has water that borders on undrinkable. Various areas are occasionally afflicted with brown grit, but even at its clearest our tapwater tastes strongly of chalk and sports little white 'floaties' that look like tiny swimming maggots. Very occasionally since 1990--under the duress of extreme thirst--I have steeled myself and drank water straight from the tap. Contrary to the laws of Nature, Waterloo tap water will dry your mouth out and leave you thirstier than before you sipped it.
Still I would refuse to buy bottled water, opting instead for a Brita pitcher that would render Waterloo tapwater into London tapwater (or perhaps Parry Sound tapwater, which tasted even better way back when). Of course, because I am the laziest creature this side of a napping tree sloth, I would then proceed to drink anything but water to avoid the onerous task of refilling the Brita.
Actually, I don't really like water all that much, for the same reason I don't like vanilla ice cream.
Too plain, too tasteless. I need to add something to both things to make something I'd actually want to ingest. In the case of vanilla ice cream, a couple of teaspoons of chocolate syrup does the trick. For water--almost anything. Fruit juice, maybe. Carbon and a bunch of cola-flavoured chemicals, even better.
Of course, there are times when nothing but water will do. Real water, I mean, pure water, not from the reservoirs in Waterloo. Eventually, one of those times found me far from my Brita pitcher. I shelled out some money and discovered Dasani water.
Dasani is one of those things you either love or hate. Many have told me it tastes like pool water, with a bouquet of tire. I think it's great. The only thing better I've had out of a bottle--and believe me, this was in my piss-money-away-like-it's-water-days--was something billed as "highly oxygenated" water. I could never figure out the chemistry behind this stuff (if you add oxygen to H-2-0, don't you have H-2-o-2 or some such?) so I just ignored it and enjoyed the taste...when I had the money to do so.
Eventually I didn't. Back to the Brita I went.
I am now married to a woman who sucks up water like a Shop-Vac. You're supposed to drink eight to ten cups a day. That's 1.5 to 2 litres, and sometimes I think Eva manages that in her sleep. (Aside: where the hell does someone find the time to drink all that? A cup in the morning, a cup at lunch, a cup at supper, and a cup before bedtime and shit, I'm halfway there. Not to mention any more water and I'd be pissing out my eye sockets all night, every night.)
Still, I'm trying to drink more water, I really am.
I found myself, as of last week, approaching the Brita-pitcher Event Horizon, the point at which I no longer have the time to do mundane things like eat, sleep, or go to work because I'm constantly refilling the goddamn Brita. You may think we're raising our puppy on champagne, but the fact is Waterloo tap water is unfit for even dogs to drink. We were worried about Tux's disdain for his water dish, so I started giving him Brita water, and lo and behold, he would drink that. And then Ken would have to refill it. AGAIN.
Our Price Chopper, besides selling ten SKIDS of bottled water a WEEK, goes through ten or more of those 18-L jugs of spring water a day. Last weekend, sort of on the spur of the moment, we jaunted off to Wal-Mart and bought a cooler that fits those jugs. It looks like we'll go through one and a half jugs a week, so we're currently costing out the cheapest source. And my Brita arm is slowly recovering, thank you very much.

24 July, 2005

From the mailbox today...

A Rooney-ramble. I love these things--they give me a chance to define myself. On some of these issues, I agree wholeheartedly. On others, I vehemently disagree and think the man's out to lunch.

Where do YOU stand?

Andy Rooney said on "60 Minutes" a few weeks back:

I don't think being a minority makes you a victim of anything except numbers.The only things I can think of that are truly discriminatory are things like the United Negro College Fund, Jet Magazine, Black Entertainment Television, and Miss Black America. Try to have things like the United Caucasian College Fund, Cloud Magazine, White Entertainment Television, or Miss White America; and see what happens...Jesse Jackson will be knocking down your door.

Ken says: I used to agree completely with Andy on this point. Then, one day, I looked in a mirror and noticed I was white.
It's only natural for black people to identify and enjoy black culture, as exemplified by things like Jet magazine, BET and Miss Black America. There's nothing wrong with those things. I still get a bit of a burr in my behind about things like the United Negro College Fund, though. That, in my view, ought to be available to anybody deserving, regardless of the level of melatonin in their skin.
Victimhood, like anything else, is a state of mind. If you decide you are a victim, then victimhood is what you'll experience; the more convinced you are of your victim status, the more everything in your life will tend to reinforce that. This is a lesson for all of us, black, white, or polka-dotted.

Guns do not make you a killer. I think killing makes you a killer. You can kill someone with a baseball bat or a car, but no one is trying to ban you from driving to the ball game.

Ken asks: is Andy Rooney in the NRA? It sounds like it. In the wake of the Columbine shooting, our local paper editorialized "Guns don't kill people. People kill people. With guns."
Baseball bats are designed to hit baseballs with. That they make a pretty fair weapon is true but beside the point. Cars are designed to convey people from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time. Any people they run over in the process can claim that the automobile is a lethal weapon--and it is, in the hands of the irresponsible--but that's beside the point.
Name one thing guns do besides hurting and killing things. Sure, I suppose you can argue that skeet shooting doesn't hurt a soul, but what exactly are you doing, shooting skeet? Perfecting your aim so as to better use the gun for its intended purpose: to hurt or kill.

I believe they are called the Boy Scouts for a reason, that is why there are no girls allowed. Girls belong in the Girl Scouts! ARE YOU LISTENING MARTHA BURKE?

Ken says: Sorry, Andy, you're wrong. Scouting is a relic of a bygone time when girls were expected to grow up to be housewives...okay, maybe teachers or nurses, but that's it. We've left those days far behind us, thank God: there are few things in creation that some women can't do better than many men. The sooner this is recognized, the better. By all means, let there be Scouting: it's a valuable service. But let anyone take any badge they want. I have known quite a few girls who would have excelled in Boy Scouts. My wife is one of them.

I think that if you feel homosexuality is wrong, it is not a phobia, it is an opinion.

Ken says: Well, you're entitled to your (wrong) opinion. You're even entitled to spout it aloud...freedom of speech and all. But do consider your opinion, okay? Before you spout it.
I've heard variants of "Homosexuality is wrong" for a very long time. Some people claim it's unnatural--which is funny, because it has relatively the same degree of commonality through much of the animal kingdom. Some people think it's against God's will--as if anything could be against the will of an omnipotent being. Some people are more honest with themselves and just say it's disgusting. That's a perfectly valid opinion. But opinions are not facts, and shouldn't be treated as such. In other words, your feeling that homosexuality is wrong doesn't make it so.
Oh, yes, and remember this great truth: Anger is always fear disguised.

I have the right "NOT" to be tolerant of others because they are different, weird, or tick me off.

Ken says: Of course you do, you old curmudgeon. You're 86, aren't you? That does explain a lot, you old coot. You know what? You're too old to be a functional member of society. I think it would be a good thing if we just arranged a quick and painless death for y--
Well now, that's not very tolerant, is it? See, that's the problem with granting the "right" to be intolerant. Invariably, somebody, somewhere, will take that right too far.

When 70% of the people who get arrested are black, in cities where 70% of the population is black, that is not racial profiling, it is the Law of Probability.

Ken says: Uh, not quite. When 70% of the people who get arrested are black, in cities where 70% of the crimes are committed by blacks, that's the law of probability.
Of course, up here in Canada we'd rather not know who's committing crimes. Every attempt to quantify the matter on the basis of race is met with howls of outrage. Ironically enough, this lack of information just feeds the prejudices of police officers. If a cop feels that blue people are all crooks, and is not allowed to discover that only a tiny subset of blue people commit crimes, (s)he'll just go on believing that blue people ought to be locked up.

I believe that if you are selling me a milkshake, a pack of cigarettes, a newspaper or a hotel room, you must do it in English! As a matter of fact, if you want to be an American citizen, you should have to speak English!

Ken says: right on, Mr. Rooney. I'll amend that, of course, to say that Canadians should have to speak English or French.
Language is a unifying force--the real point of the Tower of Babel story in the Bible. While there is nothing wrong with preserving and passing on your heritage, including your language, I do feel that citizens should be required to be reasonably fluent in the language of the realm. In our case, that's English. Or French.

My father and grandfather didn't die in vain so you can leave the countries you were born in to come over and disrespect ours.

Ken says: Fair enough--but do watch your definition of 'disrespect' These days, if you harbour a democratic viewpoint in America you are accused of disrespecting America. And if you hold a conservative viewpoint in Canada you are accused of disrespecting Canada.

I think the police should have every right to shoot your sorry behind if you threaten them after they tell you to stop. If you can't understand the word "freeze" or "stop" in English, see the above lines.

Ken says: Yup. Especially in London right about now. Sure, the Metropolitan Police Service owes the family of the man they shot in the Tube the other day an apology. And right after they've given it, they should scream "BUT HE WAS IN A SUSPECTED TERROR HOUSE, EMERGED WEARING A HEAVILY PADDED PARKA IN 20 DEGREE WEATHER, AND RAN FROM POLICE INTO THE SUBWAY SYSTEM WHERE THE BOMBINGS ARE GETTING A LITTLE TOO ROUTINE. WHAT THE %^&* ELSE WERE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?"
You have nothing to fear in London right now...even if you are Muslim. Unless you do something stupid like wear a parka in the summer and run from the nice bobbies who are charged with keeping the city safe. Then you're dead, and I shed no tears.

I don't think just because you were not born in this country, you are qualified for any special loan programs, government sponsored bank loans or tax breaks, etc., so you can open a hotel, coffee shop, trinket store, or any other business.

Ken says: Hmm, America for Americans! Forget about growing the economy! Let all those immigrants slave away for the benefit of, ahem, us white people. Is that how it works, Andy?

We did not go to the aid of certain foreign countries and risk our lives in wars to defend their freedoms, so that decades later they could come over here and tell us our constitution is a living document; and open to their interpretations.

Ken says, well, see here, Andy, right now "we've" got our fingers in dozens of countries' pies all over the globe, far beyond trying to influence their constitutions. So it's okay if America acts in self-interest, but not okay if others do?

I know pro wrestling is fake, but so are movies and television. That doesn't stop you from watching them.

Ken says: You're right, Andy. I know how fake movies and television are, but I still watch them. However, I try really hard to avoid stupid things: stupid movies, stupid television, stupid pro wrestling... (Ken dons an asbestos suit)

I think Bill Gates has every right to keep every penny he made and continue to make more. If it ticks you off, go and invent the next operating system that's better, and put your name on the building.

Ken says: I agree! This might, in fact, be happening now: check out www.jefraskin.com. Anyway, Bill Gates has donated vast sums of money to charity. It may sound odd now, but I strongly believe that in 500 years, Gates will be the most remembered man of the 20th century.

It doesn't take a whole village to raise a child right, but it does take a parent to stand up to the kid; and smack their little behinds when necessary, and say "NO!"

Ken says: there's only one instance where "smacking their little behinds" might be necessary--to stop a bee from stinging them on the bum. Really, Andy, do you condone violence against people who can't defend themselves? Oh yeah, that's right, you're American...

I think tattoos and piercing are fine if you want them, but please don't pretend they are a political statement. And, please, stay home until that new lip ring heals. I don't want to look at your ugly infected mouth as you serve me French fries!

Ken says: Bingo. Couldn't have said that better myself.

I am sick of "Political Correctness." I know a lot of black people, and not a single one of them was born in Africa; so how can they be "African-Americans"? Besides, Africa is a continent. I don't go around saying I am a European-American because my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather was from Europe. I am proud to be from America and nowhere else.

Ken says: nor that. C'mon, people--take some pride in your country! Else why did you leave your old one?
(But don't go overboard on the pride and start thinking that you're superior to others, either by virtue of your bloodline or your nationality. We are all human beings here...)

22 July, 2005

Grand Theft Common Sense

So I'm listening to the radio this morning and I hear that Wal-Mart, among a bunch of other chains, has yanked Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and that the game has had its rating elevated to Adults Only. It's now illegal to sell one of the most popular video games of all time to anybody under eighteen. The game's manufacturers say their net sales will drop by $50 million dollars this quarter...small potatoes, since they've already earned revenues of over a billion dollars on the franchise.
This is the first product to have its rating changed after it entered the market. What prompted the change? The ol' American double-standard.
Everybody knew Grand Theft Auto was violent. It depresses me to no end to concede that this violence is obviously a huge draw. As far as I'm concerned, to even act out stealing a car and using it to run over people, including police officers--to derive any enjoyment at all from pretending to do such things--marks you as mentally disturbed. And spare me any of the "it's just a game!" claptrap. So's Tetris. So's The Sims. So's Halo, which at least couches its violence in a military context.
But despite this maniacal level of violence, the Grand Theft Auto franchise passed into the market unhampered by anything more stringent than a ratings system whose only function is to communicate to pre-teens what the really "cool" games are. (And, yes, proceeded to sell over five million copies--must you remind me at every turn how sick society is becoming?)
But then the pornography was discovered.
Or rather, some hackers discovered what is reportedly a fairly explicit sex scene embedded in this latest installment. To access the scene, you have to download a piece of software from the Internet--it won't come up in the course of spattering blood and brains on concrete.
Well, that's that. Nothing wrong with realistic carnage, but we simply can't have our children observing s-e-x, now can we?

Just so you know what kind of strange creature is writing this blog, I abhor violence in any form. As a child, I used to cry when the Swedish Chef threw pots and pans around his kitchen on The Muppet Show. Any child who has seen pots and pans flying around his own kitchen in the midst of a heated domestic dispute can probably relate. Yes, I am perfectly capable of distinguishing the fantasy-visions on the screen from reality. But I have a very well developed "what if" gland that renders such violent comedy immensely unfunny. What if that pot hit you in the head? You wouldn't laugh then, would you? So why do you find it funny when it hits someone else in the head?

Now, I've never played Grand Theft Auto in any of its incarnations. But so far as I can tell, the violence in these games is served straight up, with no attempt at humour. Yet teens I've talked to say they find it hysterically funny. This scares me, I don't mind admitting it.

But back to the s-e-x. George Carlin once opined that he'd rather let his child see two people making love than the same two people blowing each other's brains out. I wholeheartedly agree: the sooner this world realizes there's nothing sinful, or shameful, about the human body, the better off we'll all be. As it stands, by age sixteen the average child has seen over thirty thousand killings on television--and that's supposedly okay. But seeing even one portrayal of bare skin is wrong, wrong, wrong?

I just don't get it.

21 July, 2005

Be vewwy, vewwy, qwiet. I'm hunting tagwines.

Long, long ago, in a place a little more than two miles away, I attended university. After first year, of course, I attended the computer labs a great deal more than I did any of my classes. I probably should have majored in Computer Science; I doubt the professors read textbooks at you in those classes. Not to mention I could be working for Research In Motion along about now, rather than stocking shelves.
Ah, well, it was fun while it lasted.
One of the things I spent an inordinate amount of time doing was collecting "taglines": short, pithy sayings about anything and everything. At one point I had over a thousand of them, and I had written a little program that randomly appended one to any of my posts or emails.

I've just discovered that somebody, somewhere thought my tagline collection (an early version thereof) interesting enough to preserve. Ya gotta love the Internet: for trips down memory lane, it can't be beat.

Some of these are definitely of the "you had to be there" variety. Others are funny only to computer geeks. A few of them are actually orginal to me. I found myself chuckling in recognition and delight more than once. So, I hope will you. Without further ado, Ken's Reliquary of Ancient Taglines:

"Beam me aboard, Scotty!" [-] "Will a 2 X 4 do, Captain?"
"Daddy, what does FORMATTING DRIVE C mean?"
"Artist seeks Boss with vision impairment."
"Happiness is a warm puppy", said the anaconda."
Nietzsche is dead." --God.
[-------- The information went data way --------]
[tap] [tap] [tap] Is this thing on?
2 rules to success in life. 1. Don't tell people everything you know.
90% of everything is crud. The remainder is outright shit.
A hangover: the wrath of grapes.
A Shower is the halfway point between Bed and World.
A good pun is its own reword.
A belly button is for salt when you eat celery in bed.
A flying saucer results when a nudist spills his coffee.
A penny for your thoughts; $20 to act them out.
A good hot dog feeds the hand that bites it.
A professor is one who talks in someone else's sleep.
A)bort, R)etry, I)gnore, V)alium?
A)bort R)etry I)nfluence with large hammer.
Ability is a good thing but stability is even better.
Absence makes the heart grow fungus. (The Barenaked Ladies)
After silence, music comes closest to expressing the inexpressible.
After all is said and done, usually more is said.
All wiyht. Rho sritched mg kegtops awound?
All I ask is to prove that money can't make me happy.
Any man who can see through women is sure missing a lot.
Anything not nailed down is mine. Anything I can pry up is not nailed down.
Apathy Error: Don't bother striking any key.
Are dog biscuits made from collie flour?
As they say in Beirut, Shiite happens.
Backup not found: A)bort, R)etry, M)assive heart failure?
Backups? We doan *NEED* no steenking baX%^~,VbKx NO CARRIER
Bad command or file name. Go stand in the corner.
Best diet: Eat as much as you want, but don't swallow it.
Blessed are the censors; they shall inhibit the earth.
Boy: A noise with dirt on it.
Boys will be boys, and so will a lot of middle-aged men.
Budget: A method for going broke methodically.
Bureaucrat, n.: A person who cuts red tape sideways.
California raisins murdered! Cereal killer suspected.
Cats took many thousands of years to domesticate humans.
Cleanliness is next to clean-limbed, in the dictionary.
Close your eyes and press escape three times.
Cole's Law: Thinly sliced cabbage.
Commit suicide. A hundred thousand lemmings can't be wrong.
Conscience is what hurts when everything else feels good.
Despite the high cost of living, it remains popular.
Does Time pass? Yes, it does. How else can you explain Visa bills?
Don't sweat the petty things, just pet the sweaty things.
Don't you hate it when life doesn't follow the manuals?
Don't judge a book by its mini-series.
Down with categorical imperatives.
Dynamic linking error: Your mistake is now everywhere.
Earth was interesting, and worth the money I paid for it.
Eleven tons of hair stolen. Police combing area.
God is REAL, unless explicitly declared INTEGER.
Horse sense is the thing a horse has that keeps it from betting on people.
I know I have a purpose because I always seem to need deodorant.
I went to the Net and all I got was this stupid tagline.
I hate laundry month.
I do a lot of thinking in the john. Says a lot for my thoughts.
If laws were outlawed, only outlaws would be lawyers.
It's always darkest just before it goes pitch black.
Love: the word that paints a thousand pictures.
Most of us hate to see a poor loser. Rich winners, though, are worse.
Mr. Bullfrog sez: Time is fun when you're having flies.
Multitasking allows screwing up several things at once.
Music is the only sensual pleasure without vice.
My opinions are not those of my ex-employer.
My other tagline is a footnote.
My Go this amn keyboar oesn't have any 's.
My computer NEVER cras
My last cow just died, so I won't need your bull anymore.
Never forget: 2 + 2 = 5 for extremely large values of 2.
Never hit a man with glasses. Use your fist.
Never call a man a fool. Instead, borrow from him.
Never, never, never *MOON* a werewolf.
Never deprive someone of hope; it may be all they have.
Never put off till tomorrow what you can ignore entirely.
Never eat prunes when you're famished.
Never enough time, unless you're serving it.
Next time you wave at me, use more than one finger, please.
No wanna work. Wanna bang on keyboard.
Nobody can be just like me. Even I have trouble.
Nobody ever goes there, it's too crowded. (Yogi Berra)
Nobody has ever, ever, EVER learned all of WordPerfect.
Nobody home but the lights, and they're out too.
Pardon me, waiter. I like my water diluted.
Politics: n. from Greek; "poli"-many; "tics"-ugly, bloodsucking parasites.
Santa, how much for the list of naughty girls?
Scratch here to reveal your prize ################
Sign seen on door: C I T Y P L A N N ING
Spam Lite: with meat products like these, who needs taglines?
The early worm deserves the bird.
The glass is half full--and what's in it has gone rancid.
The world's coming to an end. Log off and leave in an orderly fashion.
There is a 70% probability of tomorrow. (actual weatherman quote. 1988)
These are only my opinions. You should see my convictions.
To define recursion, we must first define recursion.
Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.
What if there were no hypothetical situations? (Andrew Kohlsmith)
When in doubt, do as doubters do.
When things look dark, hold your head high so it can rain up your nose. (Cathy Clare)
Why take life seriously? You're not coming out of it alive anyway!
Working in a McDonald's kitchen: one [beep]ing thing after another
...ZAP! Process discontinued. Enter any 12-digit prime number to resume.

The Puck Will Drop Again

News from the blueline: hockey's back. After 301 days and the league's seven hundred odd players being run over by the Bettmobile, the puck will drop again.
As nearly everybody predicted, the owners won the war--or rather, some of them did. The suits owning teams in hockey meccas like Miami and Raleigh will find their victory a tad Pyrrhic--the safe bet is that at least a few of those teams will go pads-up in the next year or two.
And really, that's a good thing. One of the NHL's biggest problems is the dilution of its talent level. A few years back, the Hockey News ran an intriguing "what if" article, to wit: what if there were only six teams in the NHL today? You should have seen the prospective lineups of those mock teams--a fan of the game would have little choice but to drool all over him or herself. Mats Sundin was, as I recall, a fourth line center.
Then there's the other big problem the NHL still faces--also related, oddly enough, to expansion.
Did you know that they were giving away tickets to the Stanley Cup FINAL in Tampa Bay? I'm sorry to any Lightning fans out there, but c'mon...it's obviously high time that particular franchise got relocated or dissolved. What really gets me is that the Lightning's season attendance was fairly respectable: they ranked 12th out of 30 teams. What kind of fan base deserts its team the closer that team gets to a championship?

The bottom six teams in attendance for the 2003-2004 season were:

Washington: a team spinning its wheels. This franchise has had some excellent players over the years, but they seem to be traded faster than they're acquired. Fan interest has slipped tremendously: the attendance ranking has fallen from 13th to 25th in only three seasons. Perhaps Ovechkin can make a difference: the fans will support a winner.

New York Islanders: Attendance was dead last (3oth) in 2000-2001. They climbed to 22nd in 2002-2003 but slipped to 26th last season. Fan favorites are routinely traded away. For years, this has been a case study of wasted potential.

Chicago: I take that back. The Blackhawks have been an utter waste for the better part of the last decade. When you specialize in players rejected by the Toronto Maple Leafs, you've got a problem. Still, through sheer futility they've managed to find some serious young talent. I think they'll make waves this year. Whether the fans come out to surf them is anyone's guess.

Nashville: Who decided Dollywood needed a hockey team? Here again, the sucking sound you hear isn't just coming from the players, but from the fans deserting them in droves. A good chance at success under the new CBA...but does anybody care?

Carolina: For the love of God, get this team out of NASCAR country. They play to phalanxes of empty seats every night. Karmanos said his team was losing less money during the lockout than they would have had they played. He felt this pointed to a huge imbalance in the league. Maybe it does, but Peter, it also means your team sucks.

And finally, Pittsburgh. Arguably the greatest talent the game has ever seen isn't even close to saving this franchise. Mario, I'm not entirely sure what the Big One is, but your Penguins bite it.

The next week or two is going to be the most exciting time in this hockey fan's life--given that he was born five years after the Leafs last visited the Stanley Cup Finals. (Ouch. That hurts to say.) The league is going to undergo a wholesale, deep-sea change. It'll be like a fantasy league pool. Past success is no guarantee of future promise: in fact, rather the opposite. Teams like Detroit and Toronto are going to be hard-pressed to make the playoffs, while such sad sacks as Chicago and Nashville will be instant contenders if they play their cards right. And whoever lands Sidney Crosby will be in for a treat.
I will comment on the rule changes when they come to pass, except to say this: I HATE SHOOTOUTS. It's a crappy way to win a game, and a crappier way to lose one. I myself favour unlimited overtime, with no points for a regulation tie. and I don't care if both teams play tomorrow night. With no sure point in sight, I'll bet you anything teams will do their utmost to end it early.
As for the oft-cited malaise that supposedly grips the paying public, I say 'pshaw'! Oh, no doubt attendance will be down for a while--unless the owners get smart and drop their ticket prices, say, 24 percent. (Yeah, and Tie Domi will win the Rocket Richard Trophy this year.) But people will still watch on TV. It's true, we found we could abide a season without hockey. But there's a difference between puttering around the house on a hockeyless Saturday night and deliberately avoiding the living room while the game's in progress.

Drop the puck, already.

19 July, 2005

The Penultimate Potter

"Those who like this sort of thing will find this is the sort of thing they like."
--Abraham Lincoln

"Those who like it, like it a lot."
--Canadian beer commercial

I was nearly late for work this morning because I was trying to finish the last 50 pages of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince over breakfast. (Couldn't...quite...do it, although I finished it as soon as I got home today; would have had it polished off on Sunday, were it not for a very busy weekend away from home.)
As an aspiring writer and a voracious reader, I envy Joanne Kathleen Rowling her phenomenal ability. Critics who--especially with this latest tome--suggest her prose is pedestrian at best, and that she's afflicted with literary bloat, miss the point entirely.
Yes, a nitpicking niggler can make an argument that the last three Harry Potter novels were each at least a hundred pages too long. I suppose one can also assert that Rowling isn't in the class of a Tolkien or even a C.S. Lewis. So what? These days--and my apologies to all you legions of Lord of the Rings and Narnia fans--these days, anybody writing like Tolkien or Lewis marks him or herself as an instant fuddy-duddy.
J.K. Rowling is, at this point, editor-proof. She knows it, and likely her editor does too. "Cut out that subplot that goes nowhere? You're kidding, right?"
And she's got a point. Here's one reader who wouldn't complain if each book was twelve hundred pages long and Rowling spent half of that describing a Weasley shopping trip. "It's the world, stupid!" Rowling is remarkable at world-building. She effortlessly throws in details to make her books seem all the more real, even though they are pure fantasy: the belching wastebuckets, the live-action paintings and photographs, the books that scream and lunge...
And the characters! Rarely has any soi-disant "children's writer" imagined such vivid, complex characters. There's one particular character named Snape of whom I have totally changed my opinion about six times now. (For those of you who have also finished this book, and without giving anything away, at this point I believe Snape is on the side of the angels: further events in Book Seven should bear me out. But I cheerfully conclude I may be off my Knut.)
Speaking of Book Seven, I understand Rowling's finished it. She says she's left Harry Potter behind and will move on to other projects. I wish her well, and I will at least consider buying anything else the woman writes. As far as I am concerned, she's earned every penny she's made.
I was saddened to finish this book. Now I must cast about for something, probably inferior, to read...

14 July, 2005

Wow...doesn't SHE look healthy?

In Titanic, Jack Dawson, in his first meeting with Rose DeWitt-Bukater, says quite memorably that she looks like "kind of an indoor girl".
Well, I like to think I don't have the pretension of the DeWitt-Bukater family, but I'm certainly an indoor guy. Especially these days.
I remember the first time I felt like my neck hairs were smoldering. It was a hellishly hot day sometime in the summer of 1987. I was helping my stepfather weed a parking lot in Stratford...long story. Anyway, the day was crystal clear and maybe 30 degrees, and the sun was beaming down like God's own iron...right on the back of my neck. I felt distinctly crispy...not at all a pleasant sensation.

This summer I feel that awful feeling nearly every day. Even on those days where the smog's so thick it looks like airborne gravy, I can still feel the sun, lurking up there, ready to nuke my nape.
I've only had one bad sunburn in my life. La Guaira, Venezuela, 1986. What can I say: the novelty of swimming outside in February must have addled me. Also, in 1986, if there was such a thing as sunscreen, nobody I know had ever heard of it.
After about four hours splashing around in the pool of the Hotel Macuto Sheraton, I emerged quite well done. The ensuing couple of days (when the very air felt as if it was slapping me) and nights (every blanket in the hotel couldn't keep me from shivering, even as the sheets seared into my flesh) permanently nuked any chances I had of becoming a sun-worshipper.
That experience--that ONE SINGLE BLISTERING BURN-- also TRIPLED my chances of developing melanoma.
The attitude of today's teenagers astounds and confounds me. "We're all gonna die of something!" "Shit, eating broccoli gives you cancer!" "Hey, if I'm gonna die, I might as well look healthy while I'm dying!" Healthy.
This, from the same people who are abandoning tobacco in record numbers. Not because of all the diseases smoking causes, but because cigarettes turn your teeth yellow and make you stink.
Hey, tanners: there's a reason they call it "tanning" leather. Look again at that girl in the picture above. Burn that image into your brain. That's what tanning does to you. Attractive, isn't it? And oh, yeah, then it can kill you. Not that you care about that, right, teens?
I don't know why, but I was a different breed of teen animal. If something hurt me, or was likely to hurt me, I either stopped doing it or never did it in the first place. That just struck me as common sense. Hey, I'm nobody's masochist. I believe quite strongly in the concept of "no pain...no pain."
And while it does seem like anything you do in these modern times has potentially lethal consequences, some things are proven more deadly than others. Let's put it this way: if you not only can buy, but are strongly encouraged to buy, a product that protects you from the sun's harmful rays, it follows, as the smog follows the humidex advisory, that the sun's rays are...harmful.
They are now, anyway.
When I was a child, peanut allergies were exceedingly rare. Now peanut butter qualifies as a weapon of mass destruction in schools everywhere.
Ditto--I swear it--lactose intolerance. The market in lactose free milk is, quite simply, booming. I carry nine different varieties on my milk counter--and I'm not listed for everything on the market.
While I seem to be the only person wondering why these afflictions are increasingly common, we all know why it's getting hotter, why the air's getting more polluted, and why my neck hairs fry up golden crisp every day from May to September--and sometimes even in the dead of winter.
The Coppertone era is--as teens would put it, "like so over." It's time we all got with the program. Say it with me: healthy flesh is...flesh-coloured.

10 July, 2005

Our Tux

I love our Tux.
He's starting to fill out...he's gained about fifteen pounds since we got him. Also, he's mellowed out (for the most part). He still has a touch of separation anxiety: when we get home in the afternoon, his exuberance borders on hysteria. But the rest of the time, he's pretty laid-back and reasonably obedient.
The training progresses. He definitely knows "sit" and "stay". He understands "down" but still is pretty leisurely about obeying that command--unless he knows you'll throw his toy when he obeys: then he goes down like a shot. Likewise, he knows the word "come", but you have to say it very firmly for him to get that you mean he's got to come, and he's got to come now. Once that's gotten through his bear-shaped head, he'll come with alacrity.
On a leash, he's pretty good, all things considered...leaps and bounds better (or rather, no leaps and bounds better) than he was when he arrived. He heels fairly well and will automatically sit when you stop. Distractions are presenting a bit of a challenge for him, though. For instance, if Daddy's walking him and Mommy is ten feet ahead, well, that situation is intolerable for Tux.
I've gotten him to heel without a leash on two occasions--both, I hasten to admit, on our property. He trots into his room without protest each morning and evening. And wow, does he ever love car rides. So much so, I'm almost afraid to type the words "car ride"...God knows, whispering them will cause him to perk his ears up--"did you say 'car ride'? You did! Yay!'--and then thunder down the stairs to wait at the door.
And he loves us, that's undeniable. I'll always be a cat person, but it's hard not to read the love in a dog's eyes without melting.
An article in last week's travel section about a place called Happy Tails Resort (www.happytails.on.ca) caught my attention. It's outside Huntsville, and sounds like heaven on earth for dogs and cats. What's more, the prices are quite reasonable--I wouldn't trust anybody charging any less to take good care of our pet. A few years hence, when we go abroad, we'll make a point of dropping Tux off for his own holiday.
Gotta go play fetch now...

08 July, 2005

What Hells May Come

12:43 a.m.

The last of the evening rush is starting to wind down. The Blue Jay game was a marathon affair, going 17 innings before the home team finally emerged victorious. Those few hardy spectators who had stuck with their team until the end were just now wending their way homeward along the Yonge-University subway line. Some people were buoyant; others looked exhausted. A few young toughs yukked it up towards the back of the car, using language so laced with teenage slang and profanity that it could only tentatively be identified as English. At the front of the train, a scruffy man repeatedly banged his head against a pole and said "Sheeeeeeeyit" over and over.
The subway driver was anxious for this shift to be over. His new girlfriend had promised to wait up for him, and his mind was mostly on her gentle curves as the train negotiated the long yet rather sharp bend to the west of Union Station. Even if he had been vigilant, though, he almost certainly would have missed the tiny glow of little red numbers that had suddenly winked into existence just down and to the right of the train as it squealed and roared past.

3:30 a.m.
The night watchman at Yorkdale Mall had been there forever. He could walk the place in his sleep--and sometimes did. These days, he felt redundant. If he so much as farted through the cage enclosing that jewellery store, lights would flash, alarms would sound, and the police would descend on him before he could say "just kidding".
He thought it was maybe time to call it a career. After almost two decades, he still couldn't afford to even think of shopping in some of the tony boutiques he ostensibly guarded. And nothing ever happened around here.
On a ledge above the entrance to the glass bridge that linked the mall with the subway, a black box sat silent, its display pointed inward, against a wall. It had been placed there almost sixteen hours ago by one of the painters that was redoing the decor in a charming shade of green. Unseen, the red numbers counted down: five hours to go. Oblivious, the watchman trudged on.

The next morning dawned clear and cool for the end of May. You could see your breath.
The morning rush was well underway as a man descended the steps leading to Dundas Station. He had rode into town on a Greyhound the night before, a highly illegal automatic weapon packed in his carry-on bag. Now that weapon rested comfortably against his side as he mentally rehearsed the actions he would take in the next half-hour. A statuesque blonde woman asked him what time it was. He smiled at her and said it was 7:32. She returned the smile, a little uneasily. Something about his eyes...

7:41 a.m.

Union Station was crammed. The southern terminus of the subway line linked up with a cavernous train depot; commuter trains had been scuttling in and out all morning. A GO Train from Oakville had just arrived, a few minutes early for once. A wave of humanity disembarked and flowed down into the subway.
People were chock-a-block in the Designated Waiting Area. A subway train whooshed in and glided to a stop. The doors chimed once before opening, and they stayed open for almost a full minute as the train disgorged most of its passengers and took on a new load.
The TTC trademark tritone sounded, reminding some people of a motif from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, a larger number of people of the beginning to the theme from Sesame Street, and everyone else simply that the doors were about to shut. Several of the cars were standing room only, and precious little of that. The train entered the darkness beyond Union and began to bend northward, approaching St. Andrew Station. An unearthly shriek reverberated around the tunnel. In the third car, a six-year-old started to cry at the sound. Her mommy shushed her and told her that subway trains didn't like to go round corners, so they cried when they did it and that's what the noise was. Look, she said. Look out the window and you might see the subway's tears. There's one now! she exclaimed, and pointed out an orange spark. The six-year-old, whose name was Kara, stared transfixed. Her mommy told her the corner was almost over and the subway would stop crying soon.
Somewhere down and to the right, a set of numbers reached zero.

The explosion lifted the subway clear off its tracks. The train peeled open like a grape as
concussions buffeted each car, blowing out the windows: smoke poured in. The third car jumped the track, smashed through a couple of pillars and came to rest on its side on the southbound rails, four seconds ahead of the train inbound from St. Andrew.

The carnage was unspeakable.

The swarthy man hid a grin. Three stops behind the chaos, radios had crackled to life and everyone was being ushered out of Dundas Station. Most people, he noted, seemed to think somebody had phoned in a bomb threat. They were taking the unexpected evacuation pretty calmly, most of them, although one businessman in a thousand-dollar suit was braying to everyone that he had a very important meeting at 8:30, damnit, and if he was late he would sue the ass off the T.T.C.
Mohammed al-Ziri lifted a hand to his face to hide his grin, which was hideous to behold. He made sure he was at the forefront of the crowd as it jostled and pushed its way through the exit doors. As soon as he was clear of the station, he jogged up ten steps and whirled, withdrawing his machine gun in a fluid, practised motion. Then he opened fire.

Almost twenty kilometers north, at Yorkdale Station, a similar evacuation was underway. News had travelled remarkably fast. Nobody could tell you for certain what was going on, but rumours of a large-scale terrorist attack downtown were circulating among the crowd. One man had grievously overslept that morning and now found himself running almost an hour behind. He realized, with a start, that if he'd been on time today he would have found himself in Union right about now. People flocked out of the station, traversing a glassine bridge between it and the mall. A subway constable was explaining to the busker in the tunnel that she couldn't play anymore and had to leave.
Relief and disbelief battled for supremacy in every mind: the impossible terrorist attack had actually materialized--right here in Canada!--yet they counted themselves among the living.

On an unseen ledge, the numbers zeroed out.

This explosion was larger than the ones downtown. A hail of glass shot out in all directions, eviscerating everything in its path. Then, inferno.

Throughout the day, the death toll, initially reported at fourteen, continued to rise. The next morning's papers reported 111 fatalities and nearly five hundred injuries; dozens of people in hospital were not expected to live. A little girl named Kara had been found, miraculously, holding on to her mother's severed arm.
A sleeper al-Qaeda cell claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were in retaliation for Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.



06 July, 2005

How to save the world.

So the G-8's meeting...again...and there's riots...again. Ho-hum, how utterly, utterly predictable.
Also insane.
You may have noticed the mob, swinging their senseless placards, throwing things at cops as if the cops were the source of all the evils in the world. Nary an economic degree amongst these dolts, I'd wager, yet they presume to lecture world leaders on how to run their economies.
Leaving aside the old axiom that one must not negotiate with terrorists--and what else would you call people who deliberately set out to injure police officers?--let's examine what these people (who claim to have good intentions) are trying to accomplish, shall we?
Well, they call themselves 'anti-globalists'. I think of them as the Flat Earth Society, since they are ignorant of some pretty basic global truths.
For instance, they want aid to Africa immediately tripled. Since 1948, over $500,000,000,000 in aid has been given to Africa, making for some amazingly rich dictators and, well, not much else. It's pretty clear to anyone with so much as one functioning brain cell that money alone won't save Africa.
They want rich countries to cancel the debt owed by poor countries. In and of itself, I have no problem with this...it's not as if anyone at all expected any of that debt to ever be paid, anyway. But it won't help anything. All the interest being paid on all that debt will simply be redirected into a few Swiss bank accounts, and the debt will start its upward spiral all over again.
The anticapitalist zealots direct most of their ire towards multinational corporations--you know, those things whence come all the jobs. While some of their accusations are legitimate--many of these companies are not exactly paragons of social or environmental responsibility--the protestors seem to believe the multinationals can be forced to accept their utopian vision if they only...throw enough rocks at enough police officers. I don't see the logic. Do you?

Unlike the rioters, I have some possible solutions that just...might...work. I don't know how exactly to implement them, because they involve quite a few paradigm shifts that as of right now seem unlikely, to say the least, but I would like to throw them out there for your consideration. Be warned, these are radical.


I might as well start off with the most radical assertion of all.
By "one-world government", I most emphatically do not mean any sort of United Nations. No, this would be a truly global undertaking, modelled on some hybrid of the Canadian and American governmental systems. To wit, each present-day country would be a state/province/territory in the Global Federation. The same sorts of checks and balances we see in federal systems of government would be in place to ensure some semblance of fair governance for all. And this government would have teeth: the decisions of its world court (whose judges would come from divergent backgrounds) would be final and binding...there would be a global army to back them up, if need be.
A one-world government would have the following advantages:

  • It would eventually eliminate nationalism, which is one of the common ingredients in warfare, by virtue of elevating perspectives.

For instance, back in the days before 1776, the 'United States' was anything but united. It was a collection of colonies that were forever at odds with each other, mostly over trade. Through some democratic miracle, an overarching country was formed, gathering all these disparate colonies into itself and adding new ones as the years progressed. People soon realized the inherent advantages of living in a federation. Their pride in their little corner of the world may never have wavered--Virginians are still proud of being Virginians--but they're also proud to be American. Their perspectives have been elevated.

Or think of Europe. A Frenchman is no less a Frenchman for belonging to the European Union and spending euros instead of francs and centimes. His perspective is being elevated.

  • The one-world government could act to standardize the world economy and economically 'liberate' poor countries, without force of arms, in a way all but impossible otherwise.

For instance, such a government could set a minimum wage (and a maximum wage, a concept I strongly believe in). Multinationals would have no escape, because there would be no country exempt from world law. More: we could have global environmental laws and global human rights statutes.

  • Dictators, tyrants, and despots would be consigned to the dustbin of history.

The one-world government, acting on advice from its Security Council, could freeze their assets--all of them--if they persisted in human rights abuses. An empty stomach is a powerful persuader.

  • Armed conflict would be, eventually, all but eliminated.

Disputes between nations would be settled at the World Court, whose mandate would be to ensure win-win solutions whenever possible.

I really don't see a single downside that wouldn't in time prove itself to be very positive.


(Thanks to Neale Walsch for clarifying this point in my mind.)

Right now, the wealthy are those who have the most. In my future ideal dreamworld, the welathy would be those who share the most. And they wouldn't share because it was required of them...they'd share because they saw how sharing was in their best interest.

This would totally revamp the economy. Consider something as banal as lawnmowers. How often do you use your lawnmower? Once a week? Once a fortnight? What does it do the rest of the time? Just sit there, right, being useless--oh, it's helping to feed that idea you have of yourself as a wealthy person in some tiny way..."I have a lawnmower!"

What if you shared that lawnmower with everyone on your block?

Well, that would free up a hell of a lot of lawnmowers, to be distributed among the poorer people who presently have no lawnmower. It would also force lawnmower manufacturers to upgrade their quality control considerably. It would bring people together. And disputes between neighbours over who broke the lawnmower, or whose turn it was to use it, could be resolved by little neighbourhood councils.

Again, given a few paradigm shifts, nothing but upside.


By this I mean openness in nearly every detail concerning money. Neale Walsch had a great idea in his Conversations with God books: that all price tags bear two prices: the price you pay and the price the retailer paid. "Your Cost" and "Our Cost", as it were. This would drastically reduce gouging.

If Susan saw that Steve got twice as much remuneration for doing the same job, what do you think would happen?

If Mbusa saw--actually saw--that his employer was paying him one ten thousandth of what the company president made--what do you think would happen?

If ABC Company's books showed that they gave nothing to the environment, or to the poor, over the past year--and everyone could see that and then immediately compare it with XYZ Company, who donated ten percent of their profits--what do you think would happen?

These three suggestions--which do not originate with me, but which certainly resonate with me--would change the world. In a good way.

02 July, 2005

Taxation ramble

A quick blog today. I hate to ride on the coattails of the Toronto SUN, knowing full well how many in Canada view the SUN chain as a sort of FOX NEWS with nearly-naked women. But their editorial today was pointed and timely. It's on gas taxes.
But wait, Ken! You don't drive!
True. But my wife does, and my job is very much dependent on fuel. After all, a grocery store can't exist without products shipped in from afar, and our customers can't buy many of those products without the means to ship them home.
As I write this, gas is hovering around C$ 0.90/litre. Big Oil's smartened up a bit: they realize they can't hold prices down and suddenly jack them up twelve cents a litre just before a long weekend. They used to do that, and consumers noticed and demanded unwelcome political scrutiny. So now they tend to hold the line until after a long weekend. I predict the average price in Waterloo region will be at least 95.5 cents a litre come Tuesday.
The politicians have been unable to prove collusion at the pumps--then again, they haven't tried very hard. For instance, they've obviously never interviewed anyone who's worked at a gas station. I have, and I can assure you that every station keeps a very close eye on the price at every other station within a few blocks of them. Two visual checks a day is the absolute minimum, and it's quite common for gas bars to call each other to announce a price change. Courtesy, they call it.
No matter. In order to reach either set of parents, we need to travel through cottage country, and you couldn't pay us to make the trip on a long weekend, especially this one. The traffic is simply insane. There's no other way to put it.
But the issue of gas taxes still irks me to no end. Being at least somewhat senstive to environmental concerns, I don't take issue with the price the oil companies set for their product. After all, even at today's rates, our gas is quite cheap. A litre of just about anything else costs more...including bottled water. Bear in mind, too, that our prices are only expensive in comparison to those in the States; in Europe, gas is cheap at twice our price and some places charge three or four times what we do.

Of course, Europe is conveniently compact. Ontario has counties the size of some European nations. So Canada must rely on long-haul shipping and getting people out of their cars and on to our meagre public transit system is no easy task.
So gasoline is essential. It's food, quite literally, for the economy. But unlike a can of soup or a jug of milk, gasoline is taxed, and quite heavily at that. The average amount of tax, per litre, on Canadian gasoline is about 24 cents. Not counting the GST, which in this case is tax on tax.
Paul Martin, as Finance Minister, levied a 1.5 cent/litre surtax on gasoline "to eliminate the deficit", a decade ago. He's run obscene surpluses for eight years running now, yet the surtax remains.
I could accept this--I really could--except that almost none of this money finds its way back into fixing our transportation infrastructure. Last year it was 7.2 percent: only just a little more than the feds collected in GST on gas. No, the lion's share is siphoned into 'general revenues', which is Liberal code for 'nya-nya-nya-nya-nya, we can't tell you'.
Martin's made a big to-do about giving municipalities some of that gas tax money. Well, most of them are spending their windfall on...public transit.
Hello? Did I miss the invention of hoverbuses, or is public transit still earthbound. forced to travel on decrepit roads with the rest of us?
Y'know, I spent yesterday's entry being all fuzzy-wuzzy liberal (not Liberal, please!) regarding the social values we have here in Canada. Today it's the flip side of the coin: I just want to rant about the liberal (and Liberal) fiscal policy. There's no sense, common or otherwise, to it. I mean, here's a country where it's okay to spend close to the average annual wage on each homeless person in Toronto, without doing anything to get them off the streets; where we pay a king's ransom in salaries and perks to a number of politicians whose sole goal is to break up the country; where voters fully expect to be bribed with their own money each election, and react with disdain when they're not. We actually allow public service strikes to cripple our economy and threaten our safety and health. In my world, public service workers would be perfectly free to strike: they'd just lose an dollar an hour for each day they struck. I've no doubt I could find people willing to do their jobs for the money they make. Garbagemen in Toronto are not paid a pittance. Neither, for that matter, are Hydro One engineers.
We're actually looking at forming a national daycare system: one more senseless boondoggle in a nation filled with them. We've wasted billions of dollars re-registering the guns of law-abiding citizens, while criminals shoot up the streets with aplomb.
No, here's how asinine this country is: we've spend hundreds of thousands of dollars housing a psychotic woman for twelve years. We've given her special rights, freedoms, and protections accorded few other prisoners, despite the heinous nature of her crimes. We've fed, watered, sheltered, and educated her at taxpayer's expense. A single bullet, carefully placed, would have been ever so much cheaper.

01 July, 2005

Happy Birthday, Canada

"What Canada Means To Me": I'm sure it's nearly as overdone an essay theme as "How I Spent My Summer Vacation". The various definitions have become cliched, easy hooks to hang one's Mountie hat: the cultural mosaic, the nation of minorities, the mouse in bed with the elephant. As an increasingly proud Canadian, I can't let our 138th birthday go by without adding my two loonies.
The knee-jerk answer is "we're not American". That's so common, and these days so patently obvious, as to be almost useless. As a starting point, though, it'll serve.
How are we not American?
I think the first clue lies in the respective mottoes of our two countries. Theirs, famously, is "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness". Ours, rather less known, is "Peace, Order, and Good Government". These two mottoes are almost antithetical.
The American slogan emphasizes freedom: not surprising, since America had to fight for her independence from the same nation that spawned us. The idea is central to American mythology: "give me liberty or give me death", shortened to "live free or die". In recent years, the United States has attempted to export its vision of freedom around the globe, not always peacefully.
The Canadian motto is vastly different. Our governments are judged on their ability to maintain peace and order. Rather than imposing our attitude on the planet, we invite the rest of the planet to come to us in peace. We make few demands on prospective immigrants. They don't have to speak our language. There's no single Canadian identity for them to assume: indeed, we encourage them to keep their own. We don't even ask them, beyond the citizenship ceremony, to identify themselves as Canadian. Even known terrorists are welcome here, which (rightly) makes our neighbour nervous.
The Canadian tolerance we display within our own borders is not so evident in our recent relations with the United States. Indeed, the legendary American arrogance we so decry up here is matched of late only by our own sense of self-satisfied smugness. In a recent poll, a whopping 94% of Canadians surveyed said that they believed the world had a good opinion of us. I suspect the truth is that close to 94% of the world has no opinion of Canada, good or bad. Worse, to many Canadian eyes, most of the world can't immediately tell the difference between Joe Canuck and their not-so-beloved Uncle Sam. We're the Northern Nothing, lost in a blizzard of indifference.
I believe, at root, most of us are at least somewhat aware of this, even as we deny it. How else to explain our enormous jealousy of all things American? We gobble up Yankee television and by and large ignore our own (except for those shows, like Canadian Idol, that are knockoffs of U.S. programs). We don't seem to accept our celebrities until they've made it big south of the 49th parallel: it's as if we are afraid to voice our approval until we're sure they approve. This, by the way, is the mark of an immature nation. Maybe in another couple of centuries--assuming we're still here, and still Canadian--we'll be able to appreciate what we have just a little more.
And what is it we have?
A positively VAST land, for one thing. A land so immense as to confound the imagination and make Confederation appear all the more miraculous. Then again, once you've managed to gather the mountains of B.C, the sheaves of Saskatchewan, the bustle of the Golden Horseshoe, the...je ne sais quoi... of Quebec, and the resilence of Newfoundland, not to mention everything else in between, it seems inevitable that you'll welcome the world with open arms.
We function, in a way, like the European Union, and have for generations now. Each region of Canada is a nation unto its own--one of them even thinks that way. Is it really any wonder that socially, we're resembling Europe more and more? There are only two countries besides ours that have seen fit to grant homosexuals the right to marry: Belgium and the Netherlands. We are edging closer to a European view on other things, too: marijuana, euthanasia--even health care, which is on the verge of distancing itself from both its current ailing state and the all-but-terminal mess that is the American system.
This, to me, is something to be proud of. More: it's something to celebrate. In so doing, we should take care not to piss off that elephant to the south of us, though...

In point of fact, we ought to extend thanks to that elephant for preserving our sovereignty, such as it is. We don't like to remind ourselves of this, but we long ago ceded responsibility for our own defense to the United States, and we increasingly expect Washington to provide it free gratis. It seems odd that we would entrust our own defense to a country we proclaim to disdain so much; moreover, a nation that has earned itself more than a few enemies worldwide. It seems to me even more odd to repay that nation with endless lip and sass...even when they don't deserve it.

Canadian pride is on the upswing, lately, and I'm glad to see it.

Most people don't even know O Canada has a second and third (and a fourth!) verse, let alone what they are. Here are verses two and three, which to me speak more eloquently than the verse we all know:

O Canada! Where pines and maples grow,
Great prairies spread And lordly rivers flow,
How dear to us thy broad domain,
From East to Western Sea,
Thou land of hope, for all who toil!
Thou True North strong and free!
God keep our land Glorious and free!
O Canada! We stand on guard for thee!
O Canada! We stand on guard for thee!

O Canada! Beneath thy shining skies
May stalwart sons and gentle maidens rise,
To keep thee steadfast through the years
From East to Western Sea,
Our own beloved native land!
Our True North strong and free!
God keep our land, Glorious and free!
O Canada! We stand on guard for thee!
O Canada! We stand on guard for thee!