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Showing posts from 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 …

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 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 (…

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 fr…

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 Amer…

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…

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…

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 …

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' 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.…

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…

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. …

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 th…

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…

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 be…

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 ind…