31 December, 2005

Endings and beginnings

Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans --John Lennon

I've never really understood the appeal of New Year's Eve. Tomorrow is, after all, merely another day. Hell, January 1 wasn't always the first day of the year! The calendar used to start in April--which, when you think about it, is a much more relevant time for a beginning. But those who refused to follow the New Year's migration to January 1 were dubbed 'April Fools'.

No, I've never understood the appeal of the New Year...until this year. Two thousand and five was my own personal annus horribilus, a year I'm glad to see flushed down the drain. Tomorrow is another day...thank God.

In no particular order...

This past year dawned with us fully expecting to welcome a couple of children into our home by, well, tonight. Talk about a grand new beginning, both for us and for them. We had worked hard to make it happen, keeping children foremost in our minds with every action over the past three years or so. We examined ourselves and each other, then threw our lives wide open to outside scrutiny. After progressing so far along the path to adoption--we had made it to the verge of the selection stage--we learned on April 18th that we had progressed in vain...that we were not fit to be parents.
This assessment flies in the face of pretty much everything we've heard, before or since. I can't think that everybody we've talked to since--our families, our close friends, our bare acquaintances--has simply been polite, that all the fury and exasperation expressed on our behalf was pretense.
Only one person has dared to tell us a reason Family and Children's Services might have found as they did. My wife's brother told us, very cautiously, that we were so close a couple that he couldn't see where children would fit into our lives. He mentioned this several months before our social worker came to essentially the same conclusion. The better part of a year passed before we could bring ourselves to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, they were right.
None of which lessened the shock and bitter pain we felt, of course.

In 2006, we intend to take our first baby steps (you'll pardon the expression) away from the model we had long held up for our lives. We'll travel; we'll renovate; we'll grow more comfortable in our future as DINKs.

The year 2005 also saw a beloved family member beset with serious health concerns that have forced a change in her plans this season and likely beyond. Our thoughts and prayers are with her as we wish her a year free of pain and suffering.

Both my wife and I have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous demands (many of them self-imposed) at our jobs. It sometimes leads us to question just why it is we care so much. In 2006, be it resolved that we shall do a better job of taking each day as it comes, for 'sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof'.

On Wednesday, December 28th, Eva's grandfather passed away very suddenly, at his breakfast table. It was a massive heart attack that felled him; nothing he hadn't suffered several times before. A man of uncommon strength, he had always recovered from each attack to resume his activities gardening, woodworking, and welcoming the love of a large family. He had outlived every doctor's prognosis, until this week.
John Heersink was the embodiment of quiet determination. The house he built stands as a large monument to his physical gifts; his family stands ever strong as a greater monument to his gifts of spirit. Eva and her grandfather were very close. She had visited him at home five days before he passed away. I was at work at the time. I wish now that I had not been, that I had accompanied my wife to Embro to see her grandpa and grandma.

Today, at the close of the year, we attended Grandpa Heersink's funeral. It was, as all such occasions are, a time of great sorrow and emotion, most of all when his wife of 59 years came to the front of the packed room and recounted how she'd met him in 1946 and many details of their ensuing life together. Her own strength and presence of mind today was palpable. She recognized the minister who officiated as the same one who had married us. Think about that a second: could you recognize the reverend at a wedding you attended over five years ago? On any day, let alone a day when you were grieving the recent loss of your lifemate?
It was a difficult day for us, to wind up a difficult year. We're hoping for better in 2006, for us and for all.

Happy New Year, everyone.

30 December, 2005


From The Toronto Sun, December 30, 2005 (letter to the editor)

Somewhere in Toronto is an elderly man (or, if deceased, his offspring) who carries with him in his deepest memories of three decades past, an encounter with this wicked teenage street punk who crossed the line from being a cowardly purse snatcher, car thief and B&E artist, to a gun-toting robber. Thank God, just thank God.
Oh, I had every reason to hate and steal and assault, according to the book. A product of a violent birth father, dumped into the Neil McNeil Orphanage in downtown Toronto shortly after birth and adopted five years later by an alcoholic couple, I committed my first house burglary when I was 7. I committed my last crime shortly after my 18th birthday and in between I spent exactly two days in jail.
When I was 17, a friend showed me where his police officer father stored his service revolver.
The next weekend when they were at their cottage, I broke into this friend's home, "borrowed" the gun and found myself sticking it in the face of this absolutely stunned gentleman at Yonge St. and Bowood Ave. in North Toronto. He had no money, and I had no bullets -- thank God -- so I took off. I broke back into the policeman's home and returned the gun.

So here's the point of my story. I grew up with social workers "counselling" me ad nauseam. I had basketball courts and baseball diamonds and floor hockey. I chose drugs and alcohol and truancy.
I didn't get my gun from U.S. gun smugglers.
What stopped me from my criminal path was a total abject fear of the law and jail -- and a streetwise older copper who picked me up on "suspicion" of house burglary. He looked this punk straight in the eye and said I was going to spend the rest of my life in jail or dead. Neither appealed to me.
And so, after three years repeating, I got my Grade 12 diploma and set out on a straight path, without bleeding heart liberals trying to love me to death and without politicians trying to engineer my life.
Since then, I have spent more than 30 years trying to make amends by living straight, serving others and obeying the law. And I've succeeded.
Do you get it, folks?
Andrew Lyle Smith
Riverside, Calif.

I'm really sorry to keep getting up on this particular horse. I wouldn't do it if I didn't feel it was of supreme importance.

And to those of you who resent the federal election campaign--who, let's face it, resent any election campaign--I have news for you: politics doesn't rest on a calendar's whim, because everything is politics.

Crime certainly doesn't take a break simply because it's Boxing Day. Witness the horrendous shootout that took place on Yonge Street in Toronto on that day, killing one fifteen-year-old girl and injuring six others. All these people were simply out shopping for bargains. The evidence suggests that up to fifteen (!) teens were involved and that, in some undisclosed way, this was payback for one man having been roughed up earlier in the day, in another part of the city entirely. How that works I have no idea.

There are those who suggest we shouldn't politicize the death of Jane Creba. I respectfully suggest we must. Because her death--and a string of deaths just like hers over the past year, 51 in Toronto alone--could have been prevented, had different political and cultural conditions obtained. In the wake of such tragedy, it is imperative that we closely examine our society and arrest the apparent downward spiral.

There are so very many issues that require immediate redress in our 'justice' system alone.
  • Why is bail accepted for virtually any crime, up to and including murder?
  • Why is parole so easily granted in the vast majority of cases?
  • Why is it deemed acceptable to simply 'disappear' any number of crimes via plea-bargain?
  • How did we get to a point where convicted felons get double or even triple credit for time served?
  • Why are youths who clearly know and take advantage of the considerable loopholes offered them, still treated with kid gloves, so to speak?

Then there's the whole gun issue I have spoken of before. If you move in certain circles, you can get a gun as easily as the rest of us can buy groceries. Our governments at all levels have mostly stood by and allowed this to happen. Don't think for a second it won't be just as easy should handguns be banned. For the most part, they already are.

And then there's the obviously low regard these various punks have for the lives of others. How did they come by this mindset? Could it be they got it from our own justice system and the picayune punishments it hands out? Are we not giving some suggestion, when murderers walk free, of how little regard we ourselves have for the lives of their victims?

If you live in a rural area, chances are gun crime isn't a daily concern of yours...yet. Then again, residents of Mayerthorpe, Alberta might feel differently. I would suggest that crime and justice should be a central issue in this federal election...for all Canadians. We each of us have a stake in the society we are striving to build.

27 December, 2005


I really need to stop stressing about my job.
As my longtime readers know, I am the department manager in a discount grocery store. My official title is Dairy Co-ordinator, but I also look after most of the frozen food in the store.
Any time a holiday approaches, the pressure rachets up, and the days leading up to Christmas exert seventy thousand shopping carts per square inch.
I don't know whose sanity is more in question: mine or the industry's. At this time of year, people would gladly pay a premium on things like cream cheese. So why put cream cheese on sale for $1.50? I know the average customer doesn't give a flying express lane, but we're losing a substantial amount of money at that retail. It's practically impossible to keep in stock; we went through something like twelve thousand units last week, and we were out of stock a goodly chunk of the time.
If cream cheese was my only problem, I'd have laughed it off. But we also had
  • Green Giant vegetables @ $2.00 (sold almost double what we did the previous year at the same price)
  • 10% and 35% cream @ $1.00 (sold thousands)
  • Pillsbury Crescent Rolls @ $1.00 (sold over three thousand)
  • Pillsbury Pizza Pops @ $2.00 (sold over 1500)

I could go on...and on...and on, just in my own departments, to say nothing of the rest of the store. One special mention: Astro yogurt cups at 3 for $1.00.

Last year, I threw out some $1200.00 worth of yogurt between Christmas and New Years'. As one of my yogurt reps noted some time ago now, "you can't stuff a turkey with yogurt". So when I saw that these cups were on sale over Christmas, I reacted with disdain. Of course, this year, I couldn't keep the damn things in stock. We've sold something like five thousand cups. Evidently you can stuff a turkey with yogurt. Or stuff something, anyway.

Last Friday I went in knowing an 832-case behemoth of an order would be arriving. It came in four hours late--perfectly expected and acceptable, given the volumes our warehouse had been coping with. The list of out-of-stocks printed on the invoice was, however, daunting. No Old South orange juice. No McCain chilled orange juice. No French fries. Distressingly, no hash browns. (In the last two weeks of December I sell more hashbrowns than in any two-month period of the year).

Never mind that. No butter on the invoice. Not 'out of stock'; not 'substituted'; not even, God help me, 'item scratched'--that latter notation would signify the warehouse people couldn't find any. It just wasn't mentioned on the invoice at all--as if I hadn't ordered it.

This had me nearly in tears. You see, last year, I didn't order enough butter and I got my ass reamed for it. (I wasn't yelled at...but my boss has an all-but-unique method of ass-reaming that uses a normal speaking voice.) I make mistakes--I'm don't claim to be perfect--but I try really hard not to make the same damn mistake twice. I knew I'd ordered butter: ten cases (five hundred pounds!) worth. Sure enough, there it was in my order machine: ten cases (five hundred pounds!) worth. Gremlins, I guess. Meanwhile, there's no butter in the store. There's never a good time for that to happen, but this past weekend was absolutely the worst time. They called Saturday morning: there was no butter in the warehouse. Which explains, I suppose, why I didn't get any.

The delivery schedule this year was...how shall we put this...not optimal. My last delivery was Friday...I had/have to go through Friday night, all of Saturday, all of Monday, all of today, and most of tomorrow between orders. I had nightmares of coming in to find my department completely stripped of product and myself out of a job. "Ken---you're FIRED!" my boss intoned, over and over again, before I jerked awake.

I really should stop stressing about my job.

Saturday was not particularly busy. We were closed Sunday for Christmas, but for the first time ever we opened Boxing Day. I don't think we'll be doing that again: we managed about a quarter of what we'd done in sales the Monday previous. Anyway, the department was reasonably well stocked, all things considered, this morning. I wasn't out of anything critical that I hadn't been out of for days (butter/hashbrowns/etc). Except Astro yogurt cups, of course. All those turkeys, you know.

(Okay, I admit it: I have some serious prejudices that sometimes get in the way of doing my job properly. For example: I never seem to order enough soy milk. Sales on this have skyrocketed since it first made an appearance on my shelf. I started off selling three varieties and now sell ten. I know, I know, milk allergies are contagious these days. But Jesus, I'd rather avoid milk entirely than drink that swill. And so I constantly underestimate the demand--surely there aren't that many masochists in the world?

Our sales, last week, needless to say, absolutely shattered the previous record. We're talking almost twenty percent busier than the busiest week we'd ever seen. Somehow, we got through it. Because we had a full week (Saturday to Friday) leading up to Christmas, I think it will be a long while before we ever see that kind of sales total again.

I hope so, anyway.


Santa was very good to me this year. I got a beautiful hockey-themed shadowbox clock, a comfy sweater and the Polar Express DVD from Eva's brother; a toasty electric blanket from her parents, and a nice black sweatshirt and gold Leafs tickets (!!!) from my dad and stepmom.

On Boxing Day we ventured out to the Brick for their opening (7:00 a.m.) My wife was unpleasantly surprised to see the line that snaked back a couple of hundred feet from the entrance doors. I'd expected something similar, though maybe not to that extent. Eva was a little more surprised, I think. Anyway, we got ourselves a new living room set at an absolutely phenomenal price--such a great deal we had to throw in a dinette set. This is getting to be a holiday tradition for us: last year we got a recliner.

It's been a pretty good holiday season. As usual, I had to go through hell to get here, to the point where I've come down ill. Garden variety cold.

I've simply got to stop stressing about my job.

23 December, 2005

Let's talk about sex, baby...

A fellow blogger over at Dodosville has commented on the Supreme Court's recent decision to legalize "swing clubs".
So have a lot of other people, writing in to Sun Media from all over the land. Here's one such, a woman named Jacqueline Verville, with whom the Sun agreed quite heartily:

Re "Swing shift," (Dec.22): That the Supreme Court of Canada could approve this perverted smut is unconscionable. Just because twosomes, threesomes and moresomes (by dum-twodumsomes) are occuring inside an enclosed space with consenting adults, doesn't justify it in the least.
If it did, then crack dens and gay bathhouses should also be given the same legal affirmation. It's bad enough that we already have legalized casinos and strip clubs in this country.
Swingers' clubs will only compound matters to make Canada sink even lower in the mud than it already has. Before we know it, prostitution, pimping and drug dealing will be legalized also.

Aside from the morality standpoint, the legalization of swingers' clubs will open a Pandora's box for increased STDs, which the taxpayers will be forced to pay for in terms of health care.
We all know that condoms are not 100% effective in preventing AIDs and other such diseases, so to engage in an activity that carries a potentially terminal disease, is nothing short of insane.
Why do these couples bother to get married if they're going to swap partners for someone else, whenever the mood strikes?
These swingers should buy each other a blow-up doll for Christmas and call it a night.

Well, Jacqueline, how do you really feel?

Here's how I feel. First, a bit of personal background.

I'm a very loving person. I've been that way all my life. I'm pretty touchy-feely as guys go. Unlike most men, I have real trouble differentiating sex from love. Of course, historically, I've never had trouble 'making love out of nothing at all', as Air Supply had it.

For many years, I kind of toyed with the idea that I might (could? should?) be polyamorous. That's a coined word from Latin and Greek roots meaning "loving many". After all, I reasoned to myself, I love my friends. I don't love Anne any less for loving Janet...or even George, for that matter. It all brought to mind the question George Carlin once asked when told "give my love to Dave!"...

What form should the love take?

I truly believed (and still do) that love is the only thing you have more of the more you give it away. In the abstract it all sounds so idealistic, doesn't it?
Unfortunately, this is not an abstract world, and having polyamorous tendencies can land you in a world of hurt if you mismanage them. Which I did. Quite spectacularly. In the end, it seemed pretty obvious to me that I was at heart a monogamous person, much as I admired those who had made "poly" work for them.
Same with swinging, which is basically polyamory with the emotional content toned way down or removed entirely: "just sex", as it were. Caveat: I have absolutely no experience with swinging or couple-swapping outside my rather powerful imagination, so I don't really know the thoughts that go through swingers' heads. Their big heads, anyway. But I've read quite a few articles on "the lifestyle". There's one constant that comes up in every one of them. It's always expressed by a woman (because, I guess, nobody would believe a man saying it) and it always looks something like this:

"Swinging makes our marriage stronger".

Of course, this is very quickly, and just as invariably, followed with a warning that swinging isn't for everyone and you need to talk out your feelings on it before you ever set foot in a club. But for these people, it evidently works.
The other point that's almost always made in these articles is that swinging does not equal cheating. It's all done right up front, with no secrets and no double lives. If it's totally okay with all parties involved, who the hell am I to say it's wrong?

I myself could never do it. Well, I could, I suppose, but it would likely lead in short order to falling in love with somebody and my marriage is worth more to me than any (or any amount of) sex with any (or any number of) partners.

But the Supreme Court didn't rule that in order to stay married, I had to start swinging, now, did it? It merely ruled that sex clubs, being consensual and behind closed doors, did not do any demonstrable harm. It's merely an extension of Trudeau's famous edict that "the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation".

The mind goggles at what Jacqueline deems unconscionable. Legalized casinos. Strip clubs. I'd like to know how she was forced through the doors of either type of establishment. I further find myself cringing when she invokes the slippery slope of "prostitution, pimping and drug dealing"...because I think that'd be a fun slope to toboggan down, with very positive results for this country.
Prostitution should be legalized, regulated, and taxed. You can't remove it--it is, after all, "the world's oldest profession"--so you might as well make it as safe as possible for its practitioners and clients alike. And you'd have the additional side effect of drastically reducing the incidence of rape.
Soft drugs should be legalized, regulated, and taxed. You can't remove them--they've tried and failed many, many times before--so you might as well make them as safe as possible for their users and let the government reap the profit. And you'd have the additional side effect of drastically reducing grow ops and their sordid corollaries.
As for Jacqueline's coupling of gay bath-houses with crack dens (there's a lovely double-entendre there, but I think she meant the drug crack), it's spurious in the extreme. Crack kills. AIDS aside, sex doesn't.

Of course, she then brings up AIDS in the guise of other STDs and shivers at the cost to our health care system. To which I say 'pshaw'. While there are always exceptions, swingers tend to be very clean in their sexual habits. I know, to Jacqueline, more than one partner automatically dictates otherwise...but it ain't the case. Having sex with sixty partners who are all free of disease is no dirtier than being with only one or none at all. And unless Jacqueline is totally chaste, has never smoked or drank, has avoided all junk food, and has never done anything stupid ever in her life, she's in no position to cast aspersion. (Jacqueline--if you really are this virtuous, how do you stand living here on earth? And for the love of God, have you never had FUN?)

Why do swingers get married, Jacqueline? I'm quite frankly shocked you'd ask the question. The answer is simple: marriage is about a lot more than sex. (Isn't yours?) Swingers get married for the same reasons other couples do...to build a life together. Their lives simply include a form of leisure you don't understand and therefore can't condone.

And that's how I feel about that.

20 December, 2005

Does it work?

I am a big proponent of "what works". In fact, that's pretty much my political philosophy in a nutshell. Does it work? If so, I support it. Does it not work? Then why isn't something being done to make it work?

Gun crime in Canada is dramatically up in recent years. My 50 Cent(s) says it's the culture that's responsible. Have you seen videos lately? It was a shock when NWA came out with Straight Outta Compton several years back. But that number sounds like the theme from A Summer Place when put on a playlist with some of today's top songs.

So what's to be done about all the gun violence?

Many people will tell you that it's merely a symptom of a disease called poverty. Treat the disease and you'll cure the symptoms, they say. That's a slanderous insult to the vast majority of working poor who are law-abiding. While it's true that more opportunities need to be created to lift the poor out of their ghetto, the mere lack of them isn't an excuse to go and shoot somebody...and those who suggest that poverty is a "root cause" of gun crime are perilously close to abetting it.
They also ignore the large number of killings committed by middle and upper-class youth--youth like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, of Columbine infamy. They didn't fit in to their high school surroundings, apparently.
Well guess what? Neither did I. Last I looked, I haven't killed anyone because of it.

I think much of this rampant gun crime is committed out of boredom, as hard as that is to fathom. What do you do when you're bored? I read a book, most often. But lots of kids take to the streets to act out their favourite video. When you're in thrall to the culture around you and it serves as your primary referent, killing someone is a perfectly valid thing to do "because you feel like it."

Unfortunately, while we've been sleeping over the past ten or fifteen years, this gun culture has evolved to the point where we can't shove it back into its box. Any attempt to ban the artists, the music, or the images will simply push it all underground.

So we're stuck with the culture, at least until something comes along to take its place. What to do with the violence?

Well, the Liberals want to ban handguns. A response to this proposal showed up in my mailbox today. Here it is:

From: Ed Chenel, A police officer in Australia

Hi friends, I thought you all would like to see the real figures from Down Under. It has now been 12 months since gun owners in Australia were forced by a new law to surrender 640,381 personal firearms to be destroyed by our own government, a program costing Australia taxpayers more than $500 million dollars.
The first year results are now in: Australia-wide, homicides are up 3.2 percent, Australia-wide, assaults are up 8.6 percent; Australia-wide, armed robberies are up 44 percent (yes, 44 percent)! In the state of Victoria alone, homicides with firearms are now up 300 percent. (Note that while the law-abiding citizens turned them in, the criminals did not! and criminals still possess their guns!)
While figures over the previous 25 years showed a steady decrease in armed robbery with firearms, this has changed drastically upward in the past 12 months, since the criminals now are guaranteed that their prey is unarmed. There has also been a dramatic increase in break-ins and assaults of the elderly.
Australian politicians are at a loss to explain how public safety has decreased, after such monumental effort and expense was expended in "successfully ridding Australian society of guns." You won't see this on the Canadian evening news or hear your Member of Parliament disseminating this information.
The Australian experience proves it. Guns in the hands of honest citizens save lives and property and, yes, gun-control laws affect only the law-abiding citizens.
Take note Canadians, before it's too late!

I am not a "gun nut". I've never been, and barring a brain transplant will never be one. In point of fact, I hate the damned things. But even I can distinguish between guns owned by law-abiding citizens and guns in the hands of criminals--something Paul Martin is evidently incapable of doing.

Well, okay, let's not be cruel: Mr. Martin knows perfectly well that his proposed gun legislation won't work...but it plays well in Toronto. Maybe next he'll ban criminals. Think that'd work?

19 December, 2005

'Twas the week before Christmas...

God, what an eventful weekend.

We left Saturday at six in the morning, dropping off Tux at a friend's place, hitting Tim's for some go-juice, and then making the run north to Britt. The weather was moderately crappy from MacTier to Pointe Au Baril Station--par for the course on any day from mid-November to sometime in April.
Highway 400 has been extended most of the way to Parry Sound now. There's about six kilometers of two-laned road, still, around the Moon River. North of town, however, 69 is what it's always been, a highway that demands your attention as a driver. It's two-laned, with alternating two or three kilometer long passing lanes northbound and southbound every ten or fifteen klicks.
Why am I telling you all this? Because those three-laned sections, or more precisely the lack of them, cause some pretty scary situations.
Highway 69 is the first glimpse of the north that drivers from southern Ontario see. It's nowhere near as desolate as the roads north of Superior, where towns are hundreds of kilometers apart and gas stations are sparse, but to someone from the urban south, it might as well be. The speed limit is 90 km/hr in most places--justified in most places, too, I'd say--but to many drivers, it's clearly much too slow. When people get caught behind slow-moving traffic and there's no passing lane for an unholy long fifteen minutes, they get antsy.
We saw it twice on the trip north: a guy would roar out from behind us and proceed to pass three cars and a tractor-trailer. The first time we witnessed this rushin' roulette, the gambler managed to veer back in to his lane with a whole second to spare before he would have been creamed by an oncoming southbound SUV. The second time, the passer was even more reckless and lucky, because he had no way of knowing there wasn't anything coming south when he shot out into the southbound lanes to pass the snowplow ON A CURVE. (Less than two klicks from a passing lane! With reduced visibility! On a snow-covered road!)
I don't have official stats, but I'd estimate there's a serious accident somewhere along 69 every other day. As my father has noted on television, it's not the road: it's the drivers on the road.

We made it to Britt and had a wonderful visit, albeit much too short, with my parents, capped off by a delicious turkey dinner (so moist!) I sat down with dad to watch our Leafs get pummelled once again by Ottawa. I'm starting to wonder if we should (a) trade half the team (b) fire Quinn or (c) both of the above.

On Sunday morning, we turned around and made the trip back. Snowsqualls were forecasted, but we managed to dodge most of the mayhem and made it home by ten of noon. The man from Bell arrived to switch us over from digital cable to satellite. A Bell high-speed modem will follow along in the mail some time this week.

I am EXTREMELY impressed with Expressvu so far. It's cheaper than Rogers Digital--always a plus. It has several different 'favourites' lists that allow me to ignore the scores of channels I really don't care about. One of the channels I do care about is a radio feed from CFTR-Toronto...680 News. It's owned by Rogers, but ironically enough only available on Bell.
The best thing about Expressvu is that our four receivers are free, so we get all of the channels on all of our televisions. To do the same with Rogers would cost an ungodly amount of money.
Downsides? A couple of nit-picks. It's hard to decipher all the channels. I've figured out that GLB-T is Global-Toronto, but what's GLB-A? Or CBC-R? What's the difference between Sportsnets 1,2,3, and 4? A detailed channel index would be nice.
The other thing is not Bell's fault at all, just a generalized peeve of mine having to do with 'universal' remotes. They all say they can control your VCR and I've yet to find one that actually could. I've owned several different makes of VCRs and a large number of universal remotes and it doesn't matter what code you punch in, they never seem to work. If any of my readers has ever managed to control their VCR with a universal remote, please write me and include the spell you used.
In the process of hooking up our Expressvu, our Rogers Internet connection was disabled.
Since the Bell modem was due in sometime this week, I shrugged it off. Well, no, actually, I didn't. Being 'netless fills me with a vague sense of dread. Imagine my sense of relief when I discovered this evening that I only needed to plug in one cable to revive my connection.

I got to work this morning to find my store wiped right out. Another record weekend, by far the busiest weekend we've ever seen. The week ahead looks rough. Which is why I'm going to bed...

15 December, 2005

Winter wussification revisited

If you go to Environment Canada's website right now, at 7:30 p.m. EST, and click on "watches and warnings" and then select anywhere through much of southern Ontario, you'll find we are in fact under a weather warning.
A "snowfall warning".
Not a blizzard warning. Not even a heavy snowfall warning. Just a snowfall warning, as in "Warning! White flakes are going to fall out of the sky! Take cover!"
The local radio station's in STORM CENTER mode; the Weather Network's got STORMWATCH in heavy rotation. All for six measly inches of snow, falling over a period of many hours. There's not even a wind to reduce visibility.
(Granted, in some parts of eastern Ontario, they're expecting up to 30 centimetres and even a touch more...which is at least a respectable amount. But here? 15 centimetres. Big whoopty-diddly-doo.
I wasn't a weather freak in early childhood...the disease came on in my teens, as I recall...but I'm pretty sure they didn't go apeshit over six inches of snow in the 1970s. I think people would have laughed the weathermen right off the television if he'd announced six inches of snow in an ominous tone that suggested the world was about to end.

Now THIS is a storm worth getting worked up over:

from St Catharines Standard, January 1977

On Friday, January 28, 1977 a natural disaster struck Canada and the United States. Southern portions of the province of Ontario and parts of western and northern New York State were besieged by the blizzard of the century and millennium. During this winter hurricane, the temperature plunged to near zero Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) as hurricane force winds roared across the frozen surface of Lake Erie. Temperature and wind combined to create a wind chill of 60 below zero (-51 Celsius). Visibility was also zero and remained there from 11:30 a.m on the 28th until 12:50 a.m on the 29th of January. The storm did not subside until February. Wind gusts over 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour occurred each day with official peaks ranging between 69 and 73 miles per hour (111-117 km/h).

I'd say THAT merits some alarm, wouldn't you? Maybe not out in Wreckhouse, Nfld., where that sort of thing happens once or twice a winter, but in southern Ontario, yup, that's a storm.

Six inches is not a storm. Six inches is not worthy of a 'snowfall warning'. What's next? "Tonight, the entire country is under a DARKNESS WARNING. Please drive carefully and remember to use your headlights as the DARKNESS sweeps across our region from east to west. WARNING: some DARKNESSES produce HOMICIDAL MANIACS. Take appropriate precautions".

And yet...

It wouldn't surprise me in the least to see school closures in our area tomorrow. Not in the city, but out in the surrounding areas. That would have nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with a school board fearing litigation should a bus (heaven forfend) get into an accident.

And it doesn't surprise me anymore to see cars spinning like tops any time the road surface is anything other than bare and dry--which is probably why the school board's so afraid. I've said it before and I'll say it again: winter is not summer. People ought not to think of their cars as extensions of their living rooms during the winter months....

Canada. Just when did we become a nation of wusses?

13 December, 2005

Pulling up our pants

We are switching Internet providers. And television providers, while we're at it. We've decided that two years of vigorous Roger-ing is enough.
We've had no problem with the service, either cable or Internet, in and of itself. What bothers us is (a) having to pay in advance for it and (b) the fact the price keeps going up with no corresponding increase in features.
Rogers' billing service is only slightly more confusing than the tax code, and if you're even one day late with a payment (which they somehow calculate a month ahead), they can arbitrarily cut off any number of services without notice. This has only happened to us once.
Once is once too often.

So we're switching back to Bell as of Sunday, December 18th, sometime between noon and 4 p.m. Can you believe they make service calls on Sunday? Neither can I. Hopefully that's just one sign of the exceptional service to come.
The long and the short of it is, we'll be getting satellite with receivers for all four (!) televisions, plus a faster Internet connection (we have "high-speed lite" now, whereas we'll get high speed DSL soon)...all for $30.00 less a month.
The only bad part about all this is that it will cut our Christmas with my parents short. We'll be leaving at 5 Saturday morning and we've got to be home by noon on Sunday. These whirlwind tours are hard on everybody and I am particularly sorry to do a flying Christmas, as it were, but it can't really be helped this time.
Rogers will find out our intentions tomorrow. In case they retaliate and cut me off from the net, I thought everyone should know why. New email address to follow...

Hey kids, bow to the statue of Pierre Trudeau as you enter...

I've been trying mighty hard not to write this blog entry. I get the sense that the Canadian public, and more importantly, my readership, is sick to death of politics and would like nothing better than to disengage for a long winter's nap...at least until after New Years'.
My fingers are quivering...quivering...

And most of what I have to say has already been said! Everywhere! So I need to resist the ever-present temptation to weigh in with both hands.


Ah, to hell with it.

My quiverfinger is due to outrage, and that outrage is directed at the Liberals. Their chief communicator, Scott Reid, is known around Ottawa as 'Paul's Pitbull', and he tore a chunk out of Canadian parents the other day. If you haven't been paying attention to the campaign (and honestly, at this point, I don't blame you), here's what happened:

Stephen Harper has promised $1200 a year, paid directly to parents for each child under six years of age, to help offset daycare costs. (He's also pledged tax cuts to businesses to help create daycare spaces for their employees.) Reacting to that, Reid uttered the following on national television:

"Working families need care. They need care that is regulated, safe and secure, and that's what we're building here. Don't give people $25 a day [sic] to blow on beer and popcorn."

Of course, both opposition parties jumped all over that...sheer hypocrisy for the New Democrats, whose daycare plan mirrors that of the Liberals: a national system I've taken to calling our child registry. Martin has since admonished his aide, but given his own remarks, he's not exactly repentant:

"What if 40 years ago, my father, Tommy Douglas and Lester Pearson had said 'We don't need health insurance, we don't need medicare? I tell you what I'm going to do: I'm going to give you $25 dollars, and you go shift for yourself."

Well, for one thing, our increasingly bloated and ineffectual health care system probably wouldn't be in this fix, but...what a disingenuous comment.

Andrew Coyne over at the National Post encapsulated my feeling exactly. "This wasn't a gaffe," he wrote. "This is Liberal policy."

Liberal policy is that government is always better. Government can raise your children better than you can; government can handle your money better than you can; government will always choose what's best for each one of us; don't worry, boys and girls, Father Paul is in charge.

It occurs to me that Paul Martin's Liberals see this country as one large day care center. All of us taxpayers are, of course, the infants.

Many professional pundits and even more of us bloggers have already noted this, of course: it is the fundamental difference between the Liberal/NDP model of Canada and the Conservative model, which basically states that individuals should have the choice of how to live their lives and how to spend their money. I'll go further, though, and state something I haven't seen elsewhere:

With that daycare announcement, Martin has probably won himself a majority government.

I hope to God I'm wrong, but I don't think so. I think people in what is always characterized as "vote-rich" Ontario like the idea of Big Daddy government looking out for them. With Father Paul in charge, there's no need to think. Paul Martin tells you he'll spend billions of dollars on a national system and how dare you ask whose pockets that money's coming out of? Bad girl! Wait until your father gets home!

The issue, as so many have noted, boils down to trust. Do you trust yourself to raise your kids? Or do you trust the people who brought you AdScam? According to recent polls, Ontario, it seems, would rather just hand the kids over. I find that almost inexpressibly sad.

11 December, 2005

A little something with your groceries?

I am currently watching a rather alarmist Marketplace on CBC. Its subject: food safety in supermarkets. The overwhelming impression you get from this program is that shopping at your local supermarket will make you ill and maybe kill you. There is a litany of mouse droppings, unwashed hands, improper handling and storage of food. Store after store, province after province, coast to coast, they document a truly astounding number of health violations.

I'm eighteen minutes in, and they haven't named one supermarket yet. I've watched very carefully, but they've screened their show even more carefully. I can't identify a single chain, either from decor cues or glimpses of store-brand products. Rather gutless, don't you think? To make all these accusations without naming names? It's like asserting that one-third of all NHL players dope up.

The show did clue me in to Toronto's rating system, which I had thought only applied to restaurants. It is mandatory in Toronto (and Peel Region) to prominently display a colour-coded card at the front door. Green means the place has passed; yellow means there are problems currently being fixed, and red means the store has been closed due to health violations.

Armed with this information, I searched the database for all Price Choppers in the area. Green across the board.
To be honest, this surprised me a little. I've heard some horror stories, you see. I reviewed the history of each individual Price Chopper and did find four yellow cards issued in the past two years. When an establishment is issued a yellow card, they get one week to bring themselves up to code. These PC stores had done so: there were no repeats.

I wondered if perhaps our competitors had fared any worse. I sure hoped so. But no: all Food Basics and No Frills show green, and only a few stores have ever seen a yellow card.

Many customers have remarked on the cleanliness of our store. And well they should: we take great pride in it. Are we perfect? Of course not. Things come in with the products. I've had a mouse run out from the middle of a pallet of eggs. Spiders have crawled out from banana boxes...once, something that looked awfully like a black widow (but probably wasn't). Birds occasionally come in to shop...once they get in, it's beastly hard to get them out.

I'd actually like to see Toronto's rating system expanded to cover the country. I feel pretty confident in saying we'd pass easily.

10 December, 2005

Foods of Mass Destruction

I have a very bland palette.
I mean really bland. I am able to detect a single grain of common table pepper in a bowl of Kraft Dinner. I don't like ketchup because it completely overpowers anything it's put on. And as for "hot" food...

I can't begin to enumerate the number of times I've been offered something that looks like it might be spicy. Such offerings invariably go something like this:
"Hey, Ken, try this."
Ken eyes it suspiciously, looking for telltale signs: smoke, an inner pilot light, a subtle vibration...
"Is it hot?"
"No. Not at all."
"Yeah, right."
"No, really, there's hardly any spice in it at all. It's just really flavourful."
Ken looks at it again, holding it up to the light, examining it from all angles. No steam. He dips a finger in. It doesn't burn through his skin. He gingerly pops it into his mouth and begins chewing.
Like as not, "that shit" is somebody's idea of "mild" sauce.
I still remember the time my father tricked me into trying something genuinely hot.
"Here, Macaw, try this," he said, as he handed me a little pickle.
"Is it hot?"
"Naw. It's a little pickle."
I love pickles.
My father is a legendary practical joker, so I was still a tad wary.
"Yeah, right. What is it, really?"
"It's a piri-piri. It's Portuguese for 'little pickle'."
I popped 'er in and crunched with gusto.
"Hey, this isn't ba..."croak...gasp...wheeze..."Haaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!"
My throat exploded. There's just no other way to put it. I searched frantically for liquid nitrogen. Not finding any, I then looked for a solid nitrogen bar to chew. Still no luck. At this point steam was jetting from both ears and every drop of moisture in my body was swimming down my cheeks for its very life.
I grabbed for a glass of water and upended it over my rapidly charring face. Some of it even made it into my mouth and down my throat.
"Uh, Kenny..."
"I was going to tell you that water makes it worse."
LESSON #1: If you eat a supernova disguised as a small pickle, do NOT drink water afterwards. Water has the same effect on piri-piris as it does on grease fires. Nobody tells you this beforehand, the better to laugh at you as you do the sweaty jiggy-dance.
Eventually I was directed to the milk, and downed about half a gallon. The pain began to abate.
Then I wiped my still-watering eyes.
LESSON #2: If you EVER handle a pickle-shaped H-bomb, do NOT then stick your finger within three hundred miles of an eye socket.
I scrubbed my hands down, you know, in water, because Lesson #1 hadn't sunk in yet. Then I went to the bathroom. And wiped.
LESSON #3...

Piri-piri is Swahili for 'pepper-pepper'. Some of them have a rating of 700,000 Scoville Units, according to online sources. (If you don't know what a Scoville Unit is, think of each unit as a ton of TNT.)
I know people who nibble these things like they're...little pickles. These people look human, but they're obviously cyborgs with throats made out of titanium. How anyone can detect any sort of flavour at all while they're searing their esophagus bewilders me to no end. Why, though, is perhaps the more pertinent question. Some of the side effects from eating virulent chilies include shortness of breath, nausea, and a feeling like you might pass out. And these things are supposed to be GOOD for you?


Today, we went to a Vietnamese/Thai restaurant. I had tried one in downtown Kitchener a month back, and found it surprising tasty. And cheap. And very filling. Most shocking, not hot at all. Of course, I had deftly skated through the menu avoiding any little peppers denoting spiciness...just to be safe, I didn't order anything above or below a spicy item, in case the heat...spread...somehow.
Today, I ordered a variant on what I'd had last month: a vermicelli bowl with shredded pork, pork meatballs, and a spring roll. Very tasty, and well within heat tolerance limits. I also decided to get a little adventurous and try the sour coconut chicken soup.

Many years ago, at a wonderful place in Parry Sound called The Creamery, I tried a Strawberry Cheesecake Milkshake. The thinking behind this little food experiment went something like this: I like strawberries...I like cheesecake...I like milkshakes: I will love this!
I didn't. It was gross. Cheese and milk shouldn't marry in your mouth...it's incest.

A customer called me up at work this morning and said "We bought some Egg Nog Ice Cream last night and got home and had a bowl..." and I'm thinking "I like egg nog...I like ice cream..."
"...and it was truly God-awful. Can we PLEASE return it?" And then I thought "...because if I leave it in the house, it might contaminate the rest of my food!" "Of course", I said.

Likewise, today: I like sour stuff...I like coconuts...I like chicken...I like soup.
Well, four rights make a colossal wrong. The smell tipped me off before I raised a spoon to my mouth. Imagine the heady aroma of your great-grandma's underwear, worn a week straight. Now imagine a bowlful of it. And to think I actually took a spoonful of this stuff and ATE IT.

It got into my mouth and started trashing the place immediately. My brain struggled to analyze the gustatory assault. My face contorted and Eva waited to hear me say "that's interesting..."

"Interesting" is my code word for "I think I'm gonna barf". I use that word when I'm afraid my dislike for whatever I'm eating might possibly offend somebody who has bought it for me. This soup, let me tell you, was mighty interesting. So interesting, in fact, I couldn't even say the word. One spoonful had rendered me speechless.

I took another spoonful for confirmation. Yes, we have a winner: this is the new champeen, the absolute most evil thing I have ever tasted. It belongs on Fear Factor with the hundred-year-old eggnog and the moose testicles. Both those things might have actually been present in the murky depths of my bowl today.

Wordlessly I shoved the bowl across the table at Eva. The ritual predates our marriage, although this was a reversal of its usual form. Normally, she's the one shoving things at me, with the subtle colouring of her face that signals "This stuff is horrible! You gotta try it!"

She tried it. And then tried really hard not to retch.

I must say that the disgusting nature of this soup is entirely a personal thing: no fault of the chef at all. If only I'd known...

07 December, 2005

Possibly the scariest quote I've ever heard

...came on last night's Global National. Kevin Newman was interviewing someone who looked, for all intents and purposes, to be a normal teenage boy on the streets of Toronto. Newman asked the kid whether all the guns on the streets scared him or not. The kid said "No."
Newman: "Why not?"
Kid: "'Cause, like, it's, you know, pretty normal now."
Newman: "It's pretty normal now. Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?"
Kid: "Hey, it's, like, 2005 now."
I have to commend Kevin Newman on his bravery. He basically just told a kid--who probably has many friends with access to guns--that what he said was ridiculous. These days in Toronto, people are murdered for less.
Violent altercations between groups of teens are almost a nightly occurrence at our bus terminal here in Kitchener-Waterloo. Ten years ago, my daily commute took me through that terminal, and I mastered the art of looking totally harmless and yet entirely unworth accosting at the same time. (That takes some doing, by the way.) With every step, I'd be marvelling that teenagers would actually choose to hang out at a bus terminal, of all places. What could possibly be the attraction? I never figured that out. The reputation of that place has only deteriorated since--to the point where I would cheerfully add an hour to my trip if it meant avoiding downtown Kitchener.
What the hell is happening to my world?
There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to the violent culture we live in. One school says that children are largely unaffected by their cultural surroundings. This contradicts all common sense, and yet we still hear it, often--oddly enough--from the very purveyors of pervosity who stand to make huge profits from their video games, music, and television shows.
The other school of thought suggests that children learn what they live. Lesson one for many kids these days is how to kill and be killed.
Hey, it's, like, 2005 now.

06 December, 2005

Enough Is Enough!

I hear that a group of Canadian Muslims is en route to Iraq to plead with the Swords of Righteousness. That's the group that has kidnapped two Canadians, one American and one Briton and threatened to kill them by Thursday if all Iraqis are released from American and Iraqi prisons.
Admirable, brave...and wrongheaded.
There's no pleading with these people, particularly by Canadian Muslims...which, to the Swords of Righteousness, is a contradiction in terms. If you're a true Muslim, according to this lunatic fringe, you're obligated to be in Iraq killing westerners. And if you're not a true Muslim, by definition, you're just as marked for death.
When will the Canadian government, and Canadians in general, understand this? These aren't people who will be shut up if you throw a nice cushy grant their way. Diplomacy does not work in the Muslim world, and it hasn't for centuries. You can't bargain with a fundamentalist...of any faith. Their minds are made up.
Maybe when Canadians start being killed in cold blood, our government's attitude will change. It sure would be nice to see. Canada is by nature a peace-loving and peaceable nation. But sometimes it is necessary to demonstrate what you are by being something you're not--and we have a history of demonstrating that rather well. Think Vimy Ridge.

Random threesomes

Well...looking around the blogosphere tonight, I came across Jen's 'Everything Comes In Threes' entry. It covered some things I don't think I have, so I borrowed it.

Three names I go by: Ken, Kenny (ugh) and Macaw.
"Macaw" is my long-standing nickname coined by my dad when I was about two--because, he said, all I ever did was squawk and shit.

Three screen names I go by: Why would anyone have more than one? I'm Ken Breadbox everywhere.

Three physical things I like about myself: I'd be lying if I said there was even one. Not that my body image is particularly terrible, but it's not particularly good, either. It's not particularly anything; I rarely even think of my body. Think of memorable Christmas presents you have received over the years. Now think about what they came wrapped in. Don't remember, do you? That's how I feel about bodies.

Three physical things I dislike about myself: My chronic inflexibility; my poor eyesight; my misshapen, malformed set of teeth.

Three parts of my heritage: French-Canadian and a mishmash of any number of other things. Because some of my ancestors were adopted, there's no way to know for sure. I'm of the opinion that anyone who thinks they know their heritage going more than three generations back is quite possibly wrong. Adoptions and bastardy are not new shoots on family trees.
This is also one of those things, like celebrities and football, that I Just Can't Bring Myself To Care About. Who cares where you came from? What should matter is where you are now and where you are going.

Three things that scare me: Stinging insects--a real honest-to-goodness phobia of mine--ladders, and snakes. Or is that snakes and ladders?

Three of my everyday essentials: Glasses, the computer, and a book.

Three of my favourite musicans: John McDermott, Secret Garden, and Adiemus. Honk if you've heard of any of them.

Three of my favourite songs (there are, literally, dozens): "What A Good Boy" by the Barenaked Ladies; "Horseshoes" by Moxy Fruvous; "Roses are Red" by Harry Chapin

Three things I want in a relationship: Understanding, compassion, and stimulation (that's intellectual stimulation, thank you).

Three lies I tell: I had to ask my wife for the answer to this question. She reports that there only are two, but they come in an infinite number of variations. They all boil down to "I'm okay with that" and "I understand".
The first is, I'll grant, pretty common. I mean it literallly, too: whatever it is, I'm okay with it. It doesn't rock my boat...there are probably fifty million things I'd rather do...but will I wither and die if I do it? Probably not. My wife insists on calling this a lie by omission. I prefer to think of it as picking my battles.
The other "lie" is kind of similar. I say I understand you, but chances are I've just grown bored with your attempts to explain yourself and frustrated that I can't speak Martian.

Three things about the opposite sex that appeal to me: a sunny disposition first and foremost. A sourpuss gets no votes from me. Second, a peaches and cream complexion. Cue Homer Simpson: Mmmmm, peaches and cream. Third: some meat on the bones. I don't find skeletons sexy and can't imagine why so many men claim to.

Three of my hobbies: Reading--science fiction and historical fiction are my favorites; blogging; and playing piano (though I don't do that as much as I once did...it's my stress relief valve and there hasn't been much stress in my life since I got married).

Three careers I've considered: Journalist (but I can't ask stupid questions, so that's out); novelist (but I can't seem to write more than ten pages at once); a career above store level in the grocery industry (but I suspect, with no false modesty, that I'm too smart for it.) Also, I don't drive. Not driving puts a real stump in almost any career path...

Three places I'd like to go on vacation: Pretty much all of Europe, but with an intense concentration in the British Isles; absolutely anywhere secluded in northern Ontario; a cross-Canada trip culminating in the Inside Passage cruise from Vancouver to Skagway, Alaska. Honourable mention: anywhere with a wide selection of roller coasters.

Three things I'd like to do before I die: Be a published editorialist; be a published composer; have made enough of a mark on the world that the memory of me doesn't fade with my life.

Three ways I'm a stereotypical guy: I whine when I'm sick--vociferously; I'm only slightly lazier than your average tree sloth; and I procrastinate to no end. Why put off 'til tomorrow what you can do next week instead?

Three ways I'm a stereotypical girl: I'm pretty sensitive, especially to the pain, real or imagined of others. I say "I'm sorry" like a girl. When guys say they're sorry, it means "I fucked up. Blame me. I will do whatever it takes to make it up so I can have sex with you tonight." When I say I'm sorry, it usually means "I'm sorry you're hurt/sick/disappointed". Often I've had nothing to do with the situation at all, and I can't tell you the number of times I've heard women say "why are you apologizing? It wasn't your fault". To which I invariably reply "But I'm still sorry you're feeling bad. Can I have sex with you tonight?" Or something to that effect.

04 December, 2005

Scrap Kyoto Now!

I've attempted this blog entry three times now. Each try has proven too strident even for me. My recent conversion into the faith of environmental skepticism has led several people to try and stage an intervention and bring me back to the Suzuki path.
Both sides of the global warming debate have a wealth of information at their fingertips--as with most things in life, you can bend the data to prove whatever you want to, especially if you look at it with preconceived notions of what it's supposed to prove. I think it's fair to say that if scientists have split off into opposing teams, each touting entirely contradictory theories, more research is obviously needed. One group of people doesn't know what they're talking about. Worse, they think they do. That can have potentially disastrous consequences.
Let's look at the much-vaunted Kyoto Protocol closely, shall we? As Canada has signed this treaty, every thinking person here should understand just what it is we have committed to.

Our only obligation under the Kyoto Protocol is to cut greenhouse gas emissions, largely carbon dioxide, to six percent below 1990 levels. To do this--or rather, to attempt it, since I will show that it's impossible--our government will spend up to ten billion dollars, and our corporations will have to spend many billions more than that.
Oh well, it's all for a good cause, right?
It might be, if the rest of the world took any notice. Granted, 153 nations have signed and ratified the treaty, but it was an easy decision for many of them: the developing world--including China and India, two of the biggest polluters on the planet-- is not required to make any cuts to their emissions. Moreover, the United States has no intention of getting with the program. Their rationale is that the Kyoto Protocol is a flawed document which entails enormous costs with negligible enviromental benefits.
Are they all out to lunch down there? Has the altar of American science been desecrated by shills for George W. Bush and his oily cronies?
The director of McGill's school of environment says "Kyoto is a mere drop in the bucket...The agreement will delay the doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 10 to 15 years. To really stop global warming, you don't need a six percent reduction, you need 60 or 70 percent. Is that feasible?"
As of 2003, we as a nation were pumping out 740 megatonnes of greenhouse gasses, according to
Environment Canada. Of that, 358 megatonnes was the byproduct of industry and 190 megatonnes came from transportation of all kinds.
Our 1990 total emissions equalled 609 megatonnes, so our target level is a shade over 572 megatonnes. (By the way, our total emissions have risen since 2002, rendering projected cuts even more steep. Environment Canada doesn't like to acknowledge that our emissions are still rising, so they couch it in terms of GDP...our gross domestic product is rising faster than our greenhouse gas emissions. Makes us look better.)
So, where to cut 168 megatonnes out of our economy? That's almost ninety percent of all our transportation--cars, trucks, trains, planes, boats...permanently shut down. It's Kyoto Survivor! How long can you outwit, outplay, outstarve your fellow Canadians?
Even if we spread the pain, using technologies we (ahem) don't exactly know about yet, we're looking at a monumental impact on our economy and way of life. And while I'd be the first to admit we could do with a little Third World experience, I'd admit even faster that such experience would bring mass civil unrest within days.
But let's stop being so negative. Maybe we can find a way to cut our greenhouse gasses without so much blood, sweat and tears. After all, Rick Mercer says we can do it! Let's keep our eyes on the prize!
Uh...where's the prize, again? From here, it looks like we are being asked--no, volunteering!--to take on a huge portion of the burden, without much proof it is a burden. Global warming, some estimate, would be a huge net benefit to Canada, resulting in higher crop yields and a longer growing season. They could be wrong, of course: global warming might actually be synonymous with climate change. But nobody knows for sure yet.
Moreover, Kyoto does absolutely nothing to reduce air pollution. Have you ever paid attention to the Weather Network's air pollution indices? They measure the amount of pollution in the air at a given site and also tell you what the main pollutant is. More often than not, it's "suspended particulate"--sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, nasty buggers--and these are not greenhouse gasses, so Kyoto doesn't care about them.
Professor Robert Mendelsohn at Yale is one of North America's most respected critics of Kyoto. He says "There is still this mood in the community that climate change is evil, and has to be stopped aggressively. They don't like to hear anything that gets in the way of that."
Maybe we should at least keep half an ear open.

03 December, 2005

Things that make you go, "well, duh..."

When I was a kid, the radio was a magic machine. Voices came out of it, but it had no mouth; all manner of music came out of it, but it had nothing on it resembling a musical instrument. The concept of "radio stations" was eventually explained to me, and I sort of understood. Radio stations were the places where the concerts were held, right? That worked for me until the day when, dialling along, I caught the same song playing on two different stations at the same time. Impossible--how could one band be in two places at once?
Well, duh.
Much later on than I'd care to admit, I found myself singing a well-known Christmas carol to a crowd. Why do all these "well, duh" moments always seem to happen when there are other people around? Anyway, I got to the second verse and belted out:

Later on, we'll perspire
As we dream by the fire...

--"uh, Ken?"
"That's CONspire. Later on, we'll conspire..."
"Huh? What the hell does that mean?"
"It goes with the rest of the verse. "We'll conspire..to face unafraid the plans that we made, and so on and so forth."
"Yeah? Well, I think it's PERspire. Isn't that what you do when you're sitting by the fire? Sweat? I do. "
To which my corrector had nothing to say except "You're wrong."
Well, duh.

Tonight, a third such moment. At thirty-three years of age, I hope to God this is my last. They were blabbering about cowboys on television this evening and I looked at my lovely wife and said...

"Which brings up an interesting point. Why the hell are they called cowboys?"
My lovely wife stared at me. Damn, she wasn't getting it.
"I mean, they have nothing to do with cows at all."
"Of course they do--"
"--They ride horses, not cows!"
She looked at me like I'd gone mad. "They ride horses to HERD cows!"
I looked at her like she'd gone mad. "They ride horses to kill Indians!"
At which point Eva burst into laughter. I guess she couldn't help herself. And then I made it even worse...the fabled "double-duh."
"Wha--okay, were they stealing the Indians' cows? I didn't know the Indians had cows."

A moment's thought would have brought to mind the Calgary Stampede and the hundreds, if not thousands, of cowboys who take part in it. And then my brain, which was utterly convinced it knew what cowboys were, would have directed my mouth to tell you all those folks were just playing a part, a stereotypical part at that. See, I figure that years ago, there used to be a shooting range at the Stampede. It would have been kind of like skeet: these "Indians" would pop up from behind bushes and the 'cowboys' would have to giddy up and shoot 'em down. Political correctness, obviously, came along and put an end to such things, and now they confine themselves to riding bucking broncos....

Oh, never mind. I'm smarter now.

Well, duh...

Art for Art's Sake

There are so many things that I am not.
I am not a sportsman. I am less flexible than most two-by-fours. There is no meal I can't mangle: just ask anybody who lived on Mac 2 West in 1990-91. For all I know they still tell the story of the time (one of the very few times) I used the floor kitchen. I set my Kraft Dinner water to boil and wandered back to my room in search of a book to read. While still combing the shelves for the perfect novel For That Moment, I heard running footsteps and a bellow:
It sounded like Doom on two legs out there. I cautiously opened the door and beheld the don of my floor. Craig stood all of five-two, but he was not a man to be ignored. I once saw him pick up a man who stood six-four, clean and jerk him, and then pitch him across a room. I stepped out into the hall before Craig could yank my arm out of its socket, and half-ran, was half-dragged, back to the kitchen. Rounding the corner, I found flames shooting up all around my pot of boiling water. Some of them were licking the vent hood. That's the kind of cook I am: I can burn--have burned--water.
Oh, and there's something else I'm not: good in a panic, at times when, say, I've started a fire that threatens to burn down my residence. My mind shuts down and takes my body with it. I'll stand there as if rooted, with a vacuous "look-at-the-pretty-flames" half-grin drooled on to my face.
But of all the things I am not, an artist is perhaps the thing I'm not the most.
Remember the crayoned drawings your kindergartener brought home, the ones you oohed and aahed over and awarded pride of place on the fridge, while privately thinking what the hell is that supposed to be? Some of those kids could probably outdraw me.

Early on, art class was an exercise in humiliation worse than gym. I was a strong student academically, and I absolutely hated having my nose rubbed in the fact that there were things at school I couldn't do. The better art teachers would stress the creativity aspect, but all I ever saw was my own ineptitude. Something like that painting at left was as far beyond me as the moon. No, Pluto.

Some people, when faced with a display of talent they couldn't hope to equal in a thousand lifetimes, react with admiration. Not me...not for a long time, at least. For most of my life I regarded painting and sculpture as completely irrelevant. If forced to look at paintings, I could barely conceal my disdain.

Thankfully, that attitude has melted away in the past five or seven years.

I still have my prejudices, mind you. Many of them. While I can, at long last, appreciate the effort and skill that goes into creating a piece of art, comparatively few paintings reach along my optic nerve and captivate my brain.
They pretty much have to have water in them, for one thing. I can't say exactly why this should be: I'm no more a swimmer than I am an artist. But I find the sight of water very calming, even if it's framed in the middle of my living room wall, as the painting above is.

We placed the winning bid on that work--"Shoreline Encounter" by Brent Townsend--at a silent auction in Campbellford two years ago. Townsend, who designed the Canadian two-dollar coin, paints the kind of picture that I lose myself in.

Here's another: "After the Rain". This was painted in Killarney Provincial Park, a place not all that far from my dad's. If I had this view out my window, it's a fair question as to whether or not I'd ever leave home.

It's that Canadian Shield, I think. I remember once trying to explain to my father just how boring the land in Southern Ontario is: flat, empty, devoid of rocks and trees and lakes. To which my dad replied "well, it gets boring up here, too, you know...all those rocks and trees and lakes..." He was kidding, of course--the love of the north country has been imprinted in my genes.

My dad and stepmom got us a painting by Lisa Mullola called "Loon Bay" a year previous to our acquiring "Shoreline Encounter". A reproduction does not seem to be available online. But it's every bit as beautiful: two loons gazing at each other across a flat and rippling expanse of pond.

We plan on a modest collection. Not purchased as an investment--people who do that, in my opinion, have a bank vault where they should have a soul--but because it brightens our home and our life.

"Tranquil Waters"--Brent Townsend

01 December, 2005

Off and stumbling...

Two days into the campaign, and controversy already.
Pity poor Mr. Harper. No matter what he says, no matter what he does, there's a CBC flunky there to discredit him. No wonder the man looks so angry all the time...
Kim Campbell, the astute and intelligent woman selected to be the Mulroney fall girl, said something very telling during her one and only campaign: that "an election is no time to discuss serious issues". She was crucified without wood or nails for saying so, and yet truer words have rarely passed anyone's lips in Canadian political history.
Fresh out of the gate, and the Liberals are jumping for joy because Harper brought up same-sex marriage. Merely mentioning the words 'same-sex marriage' on the hustings is political suicide if you're Conservative. Because if the words so much as leak out, a Liberal will enlist the services of their trusted organ, the CBC, to stomp all over you and call you an ideologue, a right wing homophobe, and worse...if indeed there is a worse insult, as far as the CBC is concerned.
What did Harper say? He said that if he was elected Prime Minister, he would hold a free vote in the Commons on the definition of marriage. If that free vote passed, he would proceed with repealing the Liberals' same-sex marriage bill, although all same-sex couples already married would stay that way. If the free vote failed, he would drop the issue.
Yikes. A "free vote". That sounds scary, doesn't it? It's not the accepted Liberal way of doing things. In Liberal Canada, you vote with da boss or you get turfed out on your ear. Harper is suggesting that his MPs would be free to vote their consciences, or express the views of their constituents.
Double yikes! Express the views of constituents? But what if they're not, you know, "our type"? We can't have that!
Look, Harper had to bring up same-sex marriage, and quickly. He knows it's an Achilles heel, and the best thing to do with those in politics is to acknowledge them right up front, before your opponents get a chance to define them for you. Also, he's got a core constituency that doesn't like gay marriage and he really shouldn't alienate them unless he has to.
And he doesn't have to here. Unless the Conservatives win an overwhelming majority--which won't happen unless everything east of Thunder Bay is vaporized--same-sex marriage is safe. It will survive any vote, free or otherwise. So this is a sop to the folks who are against same-sex marriage. Some of them are even Liberals, although you'll never hear that on the CBC.
Many people--supporters and detractors alike--feel that a free vote in the Commons is how the same-sex marriage issue should have been handled all along. The Supreme Court itself almost came out and said that very thing. (I disagree with them: I don't think human rights--and I consider marriage a right--should be subject to the whims of any group of politicians.) That said, there are enough people out there who disagree with me...there must be something to their position.
Anyway, Harper may be against gay marriage. But he has more respect for Parliament than both Martin and Chretien ever had.
Stephen's next move (and this one was telegraphed months ago) was to announce that if elected, he'd cut the GST by one percentage point immediately, and another in five years. Of course, the same CBC that railed against Mulroney's tax and glossed over several Liberal promises to scrap it was suddenly the hated tax's strongest ally. They interviewed several economists who suggested the GST was a very good, efficient form of taxation and that Harper would be better served by cutting income taxes instead. Other economists disagreed, but their words were buried way down in the story where many people wouldn't read them. To tell the truth, I'm surprised they were there at all. Expect further CBC announcements soon concerning how much it would cost to reduce the GST by one point (too much), how little effect it will have on your pocketbook (too little), and how Stephen Harper is an ideologue and a right-wing fascist. Or something worse, if they can think it up. If Stephen Harper turned water into wine on national television, he'd be accused of being an alcoholic.
Regardless of its purported intelligence or lack of it, this promise will earn Harper some votes. It also gives him a chance to corner the Liberals on their broken promise to scrap the GST. Politically, a good move.
Gilles Duceppe has riled everyone up by suggesting that his Quebec would field teams separate from Canada's at world events. (An equipe du hockey du Quebec could possibly medal in Vancouver in 2010! What a surreal image that makes!) Martin scoffed, predictably, though it's hard to understand why. It's actually good for everyone to see that a vote for the BQ means a vote for separation.
Another in the neverendum series of referendums is a near certainty in Quebec within three years--thanks in no small part to the Martin/Chretien Liberals. Not at all certain is how it would go this time. This is another of those serious issues that will be flitted around with empty rhetoric for the next seven weeks.
I'm just waiting for somebody to mention health care...yet another serious issue. The Supreme Court has ruled that our public health care system constitutes a grave risk to security of the person--if you've spent any time dealing with it lately, surely you'd agree. But the only acceptable solution is to keep shovelling money into it...and that solution only seems to be making the problem worse. (For the love of all that's sacred, don't say the words "health care" and "private" or "parallel" or "alternative" in the same week.)
Martin's running on his economic record. What a hoot that is. There are exactly three reasons Canada's economy is ticking along so well since the mid-90s. One is NAFTA. Softwood lumber aside, the trade agreement has been very good for Canada--even the unions who hated the prospect have warmed up to it. The second is, of all things, the GST, which replaced the "silent job-killer" Manufacturers' Sales Tax. Both these things had nothing to do with Martin or his predecessor. The third thing is explicitly Martin's doing: he downloaded a tonne of responsibilities to the provinces, who in turn offloaded them on to municipalities. This allowed positively obscene federal surpluses, which Martin keeps in his underwear drawer until election time, when, in true Librano style, he attempts to buy votes with them.) Cries of "but there's only one taxpayer!" went unheeded.

Two days in, and this campaign is already too ugly by half. Considering that the outcome will be another minority government, it makes you wonder how these people plan to work together come January 24.